What is ‘Dirty Sock Syndrome’?
Oh, no, what is that stench? It smells like a sports locker room in here!
Don’t blame the kids or the dog, it could be your heating and cooling system. ASHRAE (the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers) tells us that the expression ‘Dirty Sock Syndrome’ started to be coined in the 1970’s when heat pumps became increasingly popular. ASHRAE writes:
“…the Dirty Sock Syndrome odor emanating from heat pumps stems from the decay of accumulated organic debris by microorganism activity — similar to sewers, plumbing traps, and other rotting, decomposing organic material.”
For example, when a heat pump runs in the morning, then stops and cools off around noon or later, it can produce and build up condensate toxins in the system for up to 16 hours – only to release the odor from these toxins during the next morning heating time. This may become a sickly cycle if your heat pump coil temperature doesn’t raise enough to kill these proliferating microbes, and the odor is then transmitted through the air you breathe.
Other heating systems, such as forced air, can also cause these foul odors to invade our homes and buildings when dirt and debris build up in filters, ducts and traps. The blower fan then picks up the musty, dirty smell and blows it through the vents.
Air Conditioning Odors
Recirculated air gathers a variety of organic materials and microbial species that begin to decay, causing a cumulative cycle of rot and foul odor. This is compounded by debris, dead bugs, and microorganisms that breed in condensation pans or leaks, and the air from the ducts blows the musty odors into your living area.
Other Nasty Odors in Your HVAC System
Oil Smells – This can come from clogged filters. If the filter is old and has been in use too long, it can clog with dust, dirt and debris, including dander and body oils from people and pets. Cleaning or replacing your filter can solve this. If the smell persists, it could be coming from an oil leak which can be dangerous. You’ll want to have your HVAC technician take a look.
Musty Smells – Again, this can come from dirty filters and ducts, especially if there is a particularly humid summer, or if your humidifier is making it too damp in your basement. Again, changing the filters might eliminate this problem. Or you may want to install a dehumidifier or other clean air equipment.
Dust Smells – This can happen when a furnace has been turned off for a long period of time. A build-up of dust and matter around and inside the unit will burn away. Although not harmful to the system itself, this burnt dust being blown about can leave a residue. A pre-winter checkup can allow your HVAC technician to be sure your system is clean and ready to go when cold weather sets in.
Electrical Smell – such as might come from hot or burning plastic or metal. This could indicate melting wires, a motor burning out, or some other electrical malfunction. Best to call the experts right away, and even turn equipment off until they arrive.
Sulfur Smell (Gas) – Worse than ‘dirty socks’, this smells more like ‘rotten eggs’. Does your HVAC system operate on natural gas? The gas company adds an extra agent to natural gas (which is normally odorless) to let you know when you have a potential leak. This is dangerous. Don’t hesitate. Turn the system off immediately, leave the premises and call your gas company or technician.
The Nose Knows
Our perception of odor differs from person to person. There are some people who have damage to their olfactory nerve, and have little or no sense of smell. Regardless, detecting a bad odor can come from stimulus not only to your nose, but through other reactions, such as watering burning eyes, or throat irritation.
Some Dirty Sock Syndrome Prevention:
- A thorough and regular cleaning of the coils could be the solution.
- Antimicrobial agents might temporarily stop microbial growth, but this needs to be done often as new growth can quickly occur.
- UV lamps are currently one of the best solutions, as they provide 24/7 cleaning of coils and drain pans.
- Clearing and cleaning the drain lines, condensation pans and traps is always important at any time.
- A change or correction in drain line angles can be implemented.
- Water and air leaks need to be found and sealed.
- Cleaning or replacing your system filters more often might solve the issue.
ABEL Heating and Cooling Can Help
Once you or someone in your family or place of work detect strange odors, take action. These could be emanating from your HVAC system. Don’t hesitate to call ABEL for an inspection.
At ABEL Heating and Cooling we have trained technicians who can track down that ‘Dirty Sock’ smell or any of the above odor causing agents.
Call 952-472-COOL (2665) or CONTACT US today.