You may have never heard the term “Dirty Sock Syndrome,” but you’ll know the phenomenon when you smell it. For us here in the Piedmont Triad, Dirty Sock Syndrome is when your air conditioner unit gives off a moldy, foul, or mold-like scent when turned on, which makes the entire house smell like — you guessed it — dirty gym socks.
What’s That Smell?
Dirty Sock Syndrome can smell different to different people, but it all boils down to the scent of decaying organic material. Living in a house that suffers from this syndrome can mean becoming used to the scent, just as a person becomes used to their own body odor. You may only notice an odd smell after leaving the house for a few hours and coming back to a waft of dirty socks.
What Causes Dirty Sock Syndrome?
Dirty Sock Syndrome is the result of mold and bacteria building up on your air conditioner unit’s evaporator coil. When moisture builds up after continued use, mold and mildew thrive. The phenomenon is also fueled by dust particles collecting in your air conditioner as a result of inadequate filtration.
How to Spot Dirty Sock Syndrome
While Dirty Sock Syndrome definitely has its own scent, other issues can cause the AC unit to smell bad, so you’ll want to rule out other potential problems first. Once you’ve identified that unmistakable smell, you’ll want to make sure your drainage pans are empty and free of rust and damage. If the pans are full, empty them and clear any visible blockages, as this is only harboring mold and mildew growth. Wet filters and blocked drainage lines also indicate there’s a problem.
Is Dirty Sock Syndrome Dangerous?
While Dirty Sock Syndrome is a nuisance, it’s not typically dangerous. Most of the mildew and bacteria that accumulates is not detrimental to your health unless you have a compromised immune system, asthma, or allergies.
That’s the good news. The bad news, however, is that mold can be introduced to the HVAC system itself and grow exponentially, distributing into the home along with conditioned air. This scenario can cause respiratory symptoms and eye irritations, and should be addressed immediately. Since the smell stems from decomposition, the odor can gradually make people in the home feel sick, even if there’s nothing physically wrong, making the need to resolve the issue even more urgent.
Preventing and Treating Dirty Sock Syndrome
The best way to deal with Dirty Sock Syndrome is to avoid it altogether. Make sure you always use a high-quality air conditioning filter and change it every one to three months. You also need to prevent bacteria and mold from compromising your evaporator coil, which requires a UV air purifier. UV lights have been used for decades to kill mold spores and bacteria, making them a great addition to any home. Most UV purifiers can also be used on your drain line and drain pan, giving your home extra protection.
When your home has already developed Dirty Sock Syndrome, don’t despair — there are a number of ways you can treat the issue. Start by cleaning your evaporator coil. While you can do this yourself using a homemade solution, it’s always best to hire a professional HVAC technician trained in HVAC cleaning.
While cleaning the system regularly is best left to a technician, you can replace any clogged or wet filters to ensure your system is getting the proper filtration it needs for maximum airflow. You may also be able to clear any blocked drainage lines with a shop vac, although this can be hard to do if you’re not familiar with the unit’s setup. Excessive moisture, in general, is best handled by HVAC professionals, so don’t be afraid to schedule a service just to be on the safe side.
Dirty Sock Syndrome may not be dangerous, but it’s embarrassing and downright annoying, making your surroundings feel more like a locker room than a home. If you suspect Dirty Sock Syndrome, contact Hawley Air Heating and Cooling at 336-231-1982 to discuss our HVAC maintenance and indoor air quality services.