Smell Coming From a Car Air Conditioner

I have a four year old car that runs great, a dream to drive and gets reasonable gas mileage. One problem however, it has a peculiar odor when the air conditioning is running. I took it in to the dealer. He told me it happens occasionally to vehicles and I happen to be one of the unlucky people to have this problem. He sold me a can of spray for the vents under the hood. It smelled like talcum powder for a few days then the odor came back.


Have any of you had this problem? If so, were you able to remedy it? Sure hope someone can help. This is such a great and helpful website. No harm in asking.

Thanks in advance.


Smell Coming From a Car Air Conditioner

I'd get a CARFAX on it, see if the car has been flooded or damaged. I saw an expose on Dateline a few yrs back how that can happen and one of the signs that something had happened was a smell from heating/air conditioning. Hopefully, this isn't you, but hey, just a thought. Also, check to see if there is anything in the lines or under the hood. Check to see if it needs freon. I think the CARFAX at that time was under $20. Cheaper than a mechanic. (08/31/2005)

By KLS8800

Smell Coming From a Car Air Conditioner

Are you sure it isn't your catalytic converter? It smells like rotten eggs when it goes out. We had the same smell one time and it would almost gag you, but our son is a mechanic and as soon as I described the odor to him he said I needed a new one, so we had it fixed and the smell went away instantly. Check with a different mechanic and mention the converter to him. (08/31/2005)


By peaches

Smell Coming From a Car Air Conditioner

I don't know if this is your problem or not, but I have heard that if you always run your A/C on "max" it leaves moisture in the A/C system. The article I read said to be sure to run it on regular for most of the time, and definitely for the last little while before you turn it off. That dries out the system, apparently. Leaving the system wet lets mildew grow in it because of course, the car is warm in the summer when you use the A/C. Kind of a vicious cycle, huh? (08/31/2005)

By Katie A.

Smell Coming From a Car Air Conditioner

Don't use powder, use Lysol spray in the vents. It kills the bacteria that is causing the ordor. (09/01/2005)

By Joanne

Smell Coming From a Car Air Conditioner

I am laughing at all the above advice.


Most cars and trucks now a days have a filter, yes a filter that filters the incoming air. This filter will eventually get full of dust and debris since it is a filter. And over time it can even plug. As it gets wet and dry it will breed bacteria, fungus, etc. This is what causes the problem smell.


Dig it out and clean it every other year, or buy a new one from the dealer and you will end your stinky ride. Most are located in the cowling in front of the fan. Not always easy to get at, but worth the effort to replace or fix.

And now you know! (10/22/2005)

By William

Smell Coming From a Car Air Conditioner

Yes, yes, yes. I once had that problem. When I would turn on my a/c it smelled kind of like BO and bad breath. I would have paid anything to get rid of the smell. Luckily, I received some good, low-cost advice. First, spray Lysol directly into the vent area outside your car where the windshield wiper is. This will help to kill the bacteria that is causing this smell. I was also told to make sure to run the a/c using outside air first, for the first 2 miles. Then, you can revert to the inside circulation which provides a stronger rush of air.
Do these 2 things and hopefully that will be the end of "the dreaded smell". (08/04/2006)

By Leslie

Smell Coming From a Car Air Conditioner

The guy who is laughing at the advice given is simply wrong. While it may be possible for the smell to come from the cabin filter, this problem has been around since long before cabin filters were invented. In fact, the problem has been known since auto A/C first came on the market. It is caused by mold and mildew on the evaporator. This is a well-known and documented problem. (06/17/2007)

By ZoneIII

Smell Coming From a Car Air Conditioner

Another thing that gets this smell started is going through drive through car washes with you air on "intake from the outside" mode. if you go through a drive through car wash, shut of your air or at least turn it to "recirculate" so the water does not get taken in through the vent by the windshield wipers. (07/12/2007)

By Lindsey

Smell Coming From a Car Air Conditioner

It is funny I came across this site. I just changed the hepa filter in my 2006 Jetta. Car still smells though. I actually expected that. The filter is for particulate matter, dust, dirt, and pollen. It does have charcoal in it, however, that will not stop the problems we have. I am in the refrigeration business and I do believe that the tighter coils have to play some part in this. They hold moisture. Where there is moisture there is bacteria. I did manage to spray some cleaner right into the squirrel cage, that freshened it up for the moment, but I bet it will be back tomorrow. In my opinion I would have to be able to get at the evap to spray some cleaner on it. I think the ultimate would be a UV retrofit to kill off the bacteria on the evap. We use these on our units in the field and they work great. I think Lexus actually uses this system now. It would be a nice aftermarket mod for those of us who are sick of this stupid problem. Furthermore, sometimes having a filter is worse than not having one. At some point it is just a trap for all of the garbage. If you don't swap it out your problems will be compounded. Basically, cleanliness is the key. Now, if we could only get in there easy to do it life wouldn't be so hard. (09/20/2007)


Smell Coming From a Car Air Conditioner

I just found this website that has great advice: (07/30/2008)


Smell Coming From a Car Air Conditioner

I believe many of you might have what happened to my minivan a few years ago and it is the a/c evaporator which is usually behind the dashboard; it accumulates bacteria and mold till it gets strong enough to smell like piss, fish, rotten smell, etc. To replace evaporator is a very time consuming and costly job; I did it in my newer minivan this year after getting one year subscription with following detailed manual; it save me a $1500 job, but it took me 2 long days. It worked! I hope yours could be different, but this is the usual reason for this ugly fishy smell. (11/16/2008)

By Gustavo

Smell Coming From a Car Air Conditioner

All of you are smelling the same thing - mold.

The automotive suppliers are still using foam based insulation in their evaporators, an ideal food source for fungi. Mold needs 3 things to grow: moisture, a food source, and little or no air flow. The auto's evaporator becomes a fungus breeding ground the moment the AC is turned off.

The new Honda Civic is the most notorious vehicle on the market today for thriving mold. What's needed are class action law suits to force the auto giants to clean up their act. Mold is very dangerous in large concentrations and causes the lungs to bleed internally when exposed. If you can smell the musty vinegar odor, then the mold mycotoxin concentration is alarmingly high. And the mold spores emanating from the HVAC system cling to clothing causing cross contamination in the home, potentially seeding the entire house!

Ultimately the entire HVAC system should be replaced at the manufacture's expense. Ozone may work if the concentration is high enough for a long period of time. A unit producing 3600 mg/hr of ozone might be effective if allowed to penetrate the evaporator for a minimum of 5 days continuously. But the evaporator will have to be completely dry, and the ozone forced through the system.


By Jeff

Smell Coming From a Car Air Conditioner

I found a solution from another forum toyotanation. They suggested Frigi-Clean and Frigi-Fresh. I found it at (08/19/2009)

By carfaxfun


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