Dirty Sock Syndrome: All You Need to Know

If you have never heard of dirty sock syndrome before, you might take the name literally. But actually, this problem has nothing to do with bad smelling socks. Dirty sock syndrome is when your air conditioner produces a foul smell when it is turned on. This odor is often described as moldy and musty which is an unpleasant smell to have in your home. As your air conditioner pushes air around your home, the smell travels too. This can make all of the rooms in your home smell disgusting and not unlike a pair of dirty socks. But as soon as you turn off your air conditioning unit, the smell will begin to disappear. If you don’t know what the cause of this mysterious smell that comes and goes is, it can leave you feeling confused and unsafe.

Due to it’s mold-like smell, many homeowners mistake dirty sock syndrome as a mold problem in their home. Mold can cause health issues such as respiratory conditions and headaches. So this can obviously be a cause for concern. Unfortunately, this can lead to homeowners spending time and money looking for mold, which they don’t have. So to help you avoid unnecessary costs and confusion here is everything you need to know about dirty sock syndrome.

What Causes Dirty Sock Syndrome?

Continual use of your air conditioner can lead to moisture build up on the evaporator coils. The coils are an integral part of the air conditioning unit as this is where the cold air originates from. When moisture builds up on the coils, dust can collect inside your unit and attach itself to the coils. This can be made even more severe if the air conditioner does not have sufficient filtration in place. When attached, the moisture and dust can transition into bacteria. The hot and cold temperatures used by your AC unit makes it an ideal environment for this bacteria to thrive and this is how dirty sock syndrome is caused.

The heat created by your AC unit is enough to help the bacteria spread to other areas of the appliance. But it never heats up enough to completely kill it. The cool air generated by the unit also encourages more moisture to develop which helps the bacteria to grow even more. The moisture can also turn the bacteria into mold too. This often won’t happen immediately, but this will depend on how often the unit is used. The mold and bacteria produced will then cause the AC unit to slow decompose from the inside. It’s this decomposition that you can smell when you turn the unit on.

Could It Be Dangerous?

There’s no denying that dirty sock syndrome smells terrible and is a real nuisance. But thankfully, it’s not typically considered a dangerous household issue. The bacteria that forms inside the unit isn’t regarded as hazardous to your health. But it can cause problems if you have allergies or respiratory conditions such as asthma. The bacteria can enter the air and act as a trigger which can cause allergic reactions or asthma attacks. It has even been known to affect those with weak immune systems too. This is why it’s so important to spot and deal with dirty sock syndrome as quickly as possible.

Another reason why you need to tackle this problem quickly is to stop the bacteria from developing into mold. When this occurs, this risk to your health can be increased considerably. You and your family might experience irritations to your eyes and have difficulty breathing normally. Since the strong odor derives from your unit decomposing, it can also make you feel sick. This can leave you feeling very unwell when you spend any time in your home. So rather than letting mold develop, it’s vital that you tackle your dirty sock syndrome issue promptly and don’t wait for it to get worse.

How Can I Spot It?

Dirty sock syndrome is easily identifiable by it’s distinct foul smelling scent. But believe it or not, many people don’t always realize they have it. If your home has smelled the same way for a long time, you will notice it less and less. So even though the moldy smell might be strong, you may not pick up on it. The best way to determine whether you have a smell is by leaving the house for a few hours. Let yourself breathe in plenty of fresh air to reinvigorate your sense of smell. When you return home, the smell around your home should be more apparent.

It’s also important to remember that your AC unit might smell terrible for a number of other reasons too. So you need to see if the smell is being caused by dirty sock syndrome or something else. Once you’ve noticed that your unit has started to smell, you need to try and identify the cause. Check the condition of your drainage pans and look for signs of rusting that could causing the odor. You should also check for any blockages as this could be the cause of the smell too. If you can’t find any other issues, dry sock syndrome might be the most probable cause.

Is it Possible to Prevent Dirty Sock Syndrome?

You’ll be pleased to know that there are things you can do to prevent dirty sock syndrome from developing in your AC unit. Firstly, you need to change your filters on a regular basis. Doing this will reduce the amount of dust and bacteria that enters your unit and attaches to the coils. Make sure you use high-quality filters to catch as much as possible. If you use your AC unit regularly or live in a humid environment, you might want to consider buying an air purifier for your home too.

You will also need to empty your AC unit’s drainage pans regularly too. This will be useful for two reasons. Removing the water that sits within the pans means that bacteria buildup is less likely to occur. Always make sure they are as dry as possible before putting them back into your unit. Checking the drainage pans can also tell you whether your AC unit is draining correctly. This means you are able to pinpoint and deal with issues before they become more severe. It can also be beneficial to have your unit serviced each year for an extra preventative measure.

What Can I Do to Treat Dirty Sock Syndrome?

If you suspect that you already have dirty sock syndrome, your evaporator coils need to be thoroughly cleaned. This will remove the bacteria and mold, while also stopping your home from smelling bad. You can do this yourself using online guides and specialist cleaning products. But keep in mind that you will be coming into contact with surfaces that have bacteria on them. So you will need to make sure you throw away any gloves or clothes away afterward to avoid spreading the bacteria around your home. If you feel nervous about doing this task yourself, always contact an AC specialist to assist you. They can treat your dirty sock syndrome and also give you advice on how to prevent it again in future.

Now you know more about dirty sock syndrome, you can spot the signs and treat it before it becomes a major issue. The sooner you address this issue, the quicker your home can return to smelling like normal. You may even be able to avoid dirty sock syndrome and keep your home smelling fresh and clean always. This will create an environment that is not only pleasant but healthy also.