With warmer weather approaching, I thought I’d write an article concerning a recurring problem many experience when using their car’s air conditioning; that’s right, I’m talking about the well known “sock” smell that comes from your vents when you turn the system on. Your smell may vary…it may smell like urine, cheese, body odor, or worse. Whatever the smell, it’s awful and embarrassing.
Since our cars are equipped with cabin filters, a lot of people will recommend a filter change when the smell occurs. Other helpful souls will recommend spraying Lysol or some other spray into the air intake. Some will suggest checking for a clogged drain hose. Sadly, none of these approaches will fix the problem. They may mask or temporarily reduce the smell, but they don’t directly address its source—bacteria and mold that has grown on the evaporator and the evaporator case.
The evaporator evaporates (duh) moisture from the outside air during the cooling process. The resulting condensation drains onto the ground when the system is on--hence the water puddles you find under your car during the summer. When the system is turned off, some moisture remains on the evaporator and case and the moist, dark environment provides the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and mold—the REAL source of the foul odor.
Obviously, the mold and bacteria need to be removed to get rid of the raunchy smell. You can pay a mechanic a few hundred bucks to “treat” your system or you can do it yourself, know it was actually done (and done right) and save money and time. DIY treatment generally involves spraying a foaming anti-bacterial cleaner onto the evaporator. The foam saturates the evaporator and case, then turns to liquid and trickles back down the drain tube. Many of the cleaners available come with a long flexible tube to facilitate reaching the evaporator without having to disassemble anything. There are many products available and most cost less than $20 per can. Here is a short list of ones I am familiar with; you may find others:
1Z einszett Klima-Cleaner : http://www.superiorcarcare.net/einsz...a-cleaner.html
Interdynamics Evaporator Odor Eliminator: http://www.oreillyauto.com/site/c/de...1787&ppt=C0050
Kool-it Evaporator Cleaner: http://www.autobarn.net/lubegard-hea...m-cleaner.html
BG Frigi-Clean: http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/BG-FR...Q5fCarQ5fParts
FJC 5914 Foaming Evaporator Cleaner: http://www.amazon.com/FJC-5914-Foami.../dp/B002EAKX88
Foaming Evaporator Cleaner: http://www.nostalgicairparts.com/air...rce=googlebase
Note: The aforementioned items ARE NOT air fresheners, they are evaporator cleaners. Many of them will at first provide a pleasant scent which will soon disappear but by no means does this indicate that the products have stopped working. If you want a long term air freshner, buy something other than the above. If you want a clean evaporator that leads to odor-free air, then these products (among others) will work for you.
Although the instructions will vary slightly depending on the product you choose, I’ve had great success treating systems by spraying the cleaner up the evaporator drain hose (using the provided flexible tubing) from underneath the car, directly into the evaporator case. Generally speaking, two treatments per year will keep the funk away.
After you have treated your car, there are some steps that can be taken to help keep the odor from returning:
1. Turn the A/C off (but keep the blower on) about a mile from my destination to help dry some of the condensation and reduce the moisture level on the evaporator coils and case.
2. Minimize the use of the “recirculation” feature, because it allows for the recirculation of mold spores and makes the smell return sooner.
I know this process may sound overly simple, but it really is very easy.
There’s nothing worse than getting into a clean, well-maintained, good-looking car and being blasted by the eye-watering stench of funky feet. So be proactive and stop the stank before it starts.
Side note: Since I started using this process, I no longer experience the "sneezing fits" that I used to have at the beginning of my morning commute. My non-expert guess is that lower mold levels lead to less sneezing.
I hope you found this article helpful, perhaps even sticky-worthy.
Disclaimer: follow product directions and if in doubt, consult a qualified technician.