Spring A/C Maintenance Keeps Air Smelling Fresh

Published on March 03, 2016 02:18 PM in Maintenance
Spring A/C Maintenance Keeps Air Smelling Fresh

You’re driving to a special event on the first hot day of spring and switch on the air conditioner. You expected cool crisp air and got a damp musty odor instead.

What happened?

“Air conditioning systems use hoses to drain condensation,” said Tony Molla, vice president of the Texas-based Automotive Service Association. “When they get clogged, the moisture allows mold to grow in the system.”

Molds breeding in your vehicle’s air conditioner system may contribute to passenger allergy problems, Molla said. It also generates unpleasant odors that can affect clothes and upholstery, too.

According to Molla, sometimes simply spraying a can of biocide into the air conditioning system can eliminate the problem. Biocide is a chemical designed to kill the mold and is an easy application.

Many people are allergic to mold,” Molla said. “By the time you can smell it, the problem is fairly advanced and requires a special process to eliminate the problem.”

How is it done?

Removing stubborn odors involves thorough cleaning of your vehicle’s climate control system. The process requires specialized equipment available at a dealership or a specialized air conditioning shop, Molla said.

“Technicians disassemble the air box and ductwork in the car. That usually involves getting under the dash and, in some cases, taking it out.”

The removed parts are thoroughly cleaned with antibacterial disinfectants before being allowed to completely dry and being reinstalled in the vehicle.

In what Molla described as extreme cases, the mold can get into the carpeting, and that will need to be removed and cleaned as well.

Vehicles in humid climates like Florida and even California are more susceptible to having mold problems. Even parking a vehicle on an incline can keep the drain from functioning correctly, allowing mold to grow, Molla said.

Modern air conditioning systems are almost maintenance-free, Molla said. He suggested drivers check their vehicles’ owner’s manuals to see recommended maintenance schedules.

“Mold problems are typically something you’d find in higher-mileage vehicles or vehicles more than five years old,” Molla said. “Dust, dirt and crumpled leaves get sucked into air conditioning systems. The contaminant buildup in the air conditioning is a slow process like plaque building up in an artery.”

Molla made the following recommendations for drivers concerned with mold and odors coming from their air conditioning systems:

  • Inspect your air conditioning system in early spring. Turn it on high volume and watch for foul odors that could be a sign of mold in the system.
  • Ask your service technician about options for killing mold. Inexpensive treatments such as biocidal sprays may do the trick.
  • Do you have a vehicle five years or older with heavy musty odors? Consider professional odor removal treatment that involves system cleaning.
  • Avoid trying to clean air conditioning systems yourself. The systems are complex and contain many parts.
  • Address mold problems as soon as they appear. Procrastination can cause the problem to spread into vehicle upholstery such as floor mats, seats and rugs.

“Problems with mold are not uncommon, especially in older vehicles,” Molla said. “Drivers should get it treated as soon as possible, especially if they are prone to allergies.”