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3 ways to banish HVAC smells

A white woman in an olive T-shirt pinches her nose while frowning in a living room

What smells come to mind when you think of home? Is it your favorite food, flowers from the garden, or fresh coffee? For many, the scent is pleasant, but if you notice anything stinky wafting through your home, it could be an issue with your HVAC system. Let’s dive into three common HVAC smells, what they mean, and how to fix them. 

Smell #1: An air conditioner that smells like feet

Have you turned on your air conditioner for the first time in a while, only to find that it smells like feet? This is likely a sign that it’s time for some maintenance! During all those days spent not in use, bacteria and mold may have started growing on the evaporator coils and/or other components of your A/C unit. 


Give your air conditioning unit some TLC with a great maintenance routine to start your summer off, foot smell-free.


A man holds his bare feet up to show two smaller versions of his face (one on each foot)  making expressions of disgust, like something stinks


Smell #2: A skunk/other animal HVAC smell

You may notice a smell that seems like a skunk or other animal has gotten into your A/C unit or ductwork. There’s no trick here – there really may be an animal (or two) in your HVAC system that needs to be removed. 


Call your local Animal Control team or HVAC professionals to remove the animal(s). Because animals can also bring insects with them, make sure your entire HVAC system is sanitized/fully cleaned with disinfectant before using it again. 

 Pro Tip: The skunk smell (or the smell of rotten eggs) could also be a gas leak; call in a professional to rule it out! 


An external A/C unit shoots sparks and smoke while mounted to an outside wall


Smell #3: A smoke smell 

If using your HVAC system makes the whole house smell like smoke, you could be dealing one the issues below. 

  • A damaged motor
  • Frayed wires
  • One or more short circuits
  • Other electrical concerns


Turn your HVAC system off immediately and call your local fire department. This is a matter that should only be handled by a firefighter or a trusted HVAC professional.

Pro Tip: Make sure your family is always prepared for a sudden evacuation – practice household fire safety (alternating fire drills between daytime and evening) to make sure your family is ready in case of emergency.

By following these steps – and your nose – you can find the culprit of any house-wide odors, allowing your household to ultimately be able to breathe in peace.