What is Causing the Locker Room Smell Emanating from My AC?
Summer is the season for central air conditioning. It is also the time of year when poorly maintained HVAC systems start smelling like the boys’ locker room at the local high school. Just turning on the AC makes the entire house smell like a combination of sweaty socks and stale corn chips
So what causes this smell? Air conditioning experts didn’t really know until science shined a light on the problem a decade ago. In the years since, further testing has revealed multiple causes of the locker room smell emanating from a residential AC.
Cause #1: Bacteria
One of the first things scientists discovered when they start looking into the issue is the tendency for bacteria to form on AC coils. That bacteria puts off certain odors just as a byproduct of living. Needless to say the odors can be rather offensive.
Bacteria can grow on AC coils when the right conditions are present. Those conditions include moisture and sufficient darkness. Darkness is inevitable in the internal components of an AC unit, but moisture is not. If moisture is getting inside, it likely means there is some sort of breach in the system or the system is not properly insulated.
Cause #2: Excessive Humidity
Humidifiers are pretty useful during the winter months when dry air is forced from central air heating. But in the summertime, humidity is the enemy. Air that is too humid can condense as it passes over AC coils, leaving moisture in its wake. If the air in your home is too humid, you can actually encourage bacteria growth. It can also add to any musty smell that already exists.
Cause #3: Running the Fan
Believe it or not, running the fan even when the AC unit is not on can contribute to rank odors. by forcing unconditioned air to run through the system. The air can pick up even the smallest molecules and odors present in the system and spread them all over the house.
Cause #4: Recirculating Air
If bacteria and humidity are not the problem, HVAC personnel start looking at recirculating air. In other words, they look at other sources of odors within the home that can be exacerbated whenever the AC unit runs. Perhaps that locker room smell is not coming from bacteria. Perhaps it is coming from your son’s bedroom.
It is entirely possible for the odors in a single room to be carried throughout the house by the AC system. It is especially easy if the door to the offending room is kept closed. Whenever the system kicks on, the air circulation it creates forces smelly air from the room down through the cold air return and back into the system for recirculation.
Combating the Problem
Combating a locker room smell coming from the AC starts by identifying the source of the odors. If the problem truly is bacteria or excessive humidity, there are mechanical solutions to those problems. If it is a matter of running the fan or distributing existing odors throughout the house, a good remedy is a home diffuser that utilizes essential oils to freshen the air.
The Zephyr Fresh system is one example of a device that uses the HVAC unit to do the work. It attaches to the duct work very near the filter and diffuses essential oils directly into the system on a regular schedule. The AC distributes those essential oils throughout the house every time it runs.
If your AC is putting out odors eerily reminiscent of your high school locker room, now you know why. Go fix it.