Portable air conditioners are convenient and mostly trouble-free. You can easily forget that these portable air conditioning units do require some occasional cleaning and maintenance to function efficiently. A dirty air conditioner can develop foul odors which can lead to inefficiency and potential health problems for you and your family.
Types of Portable Air Conditioners
Portable air conditioners come in several types, including:
Video of the Day
- Portable indoor units that sit on the floor and are vented via tubing mounted in a window or through a wall.
- Window-mounted units that sit within a window opening.
- Wall-mounted units, which are basically the same as window units, but are instead mounted in an opening in a wall.
Causes of Odors
Many smells emanating from any air conditioner have the same cause: mildew or other molds, bacteria growing inside the air conditioner parts, or simple dust particles stirred up in the air. Eliminating these causes of odors is simply a matter of finding where the offensive substances are located and cleaning them away.
It should be noted that permanent air conditioning systems have the same parts and are subject to the same odors with the same causes. With permanent, whole-house units, odors are also eliminated by finding and cleaning the parts where molds, bacteria, or dust accumulates.
Odors From Bacteria and Molds
Most foul smells in a portable air conditioner are caused by bacterial growth or by mold and mildew growth. This is because air conditioners work by removing moisture from the air. As this moisture condenses inside the mechanism, it provides a perfect growth environment for mold and bacteria. The unit's various components can become dirty and moist, providing the perfect environment for bacteria or fungus to thrive.
Smells from mold growth range from a mild musty odor often related to mildew to a rotten or spoiled food smell that indicates mold or bacteria growth. Without proper maintenance of the filters, coils, and drains, a portable air conditioner can become overrun with mold, but it's easily cleaned away in most cases. Monthly cleaning or replacement of these parts prevents the odor from returning.
The key to eliminating odors is to find where the bacteria or mold infestation is located. There are three prime targets: the filter, the drain line, and the evaporator coil.
Odors From Filters
Your air conditioner's filter is designed to trap dust and other small particles and prevent these contaminants from entering other parts, such as the coils and drain line. When too much debris accumulates, an unpleasant odor can develop. Sometimes this is due to the debris trapping and fostering mold or bacteria, and sometimes it's because the dust itself begins to circulate in the air. Dirty filters also block airflow and reduce your air conditioner's efficiency.
Filters are easily cleaned or replaced, depending on the portable air conditioner model. If you have a reusable filter, remove the front cover from the unit and take the filter out. Gently clean the filter with household detergent or vinegar and water to kill any mold and mildew and to clear the dust and dirt away. Rinse thoroughly and let the filter dry completely before putting it back in place.
Clean or replace your air conditioner filter once each month to prevent odors from returning. If you use the air conditioner daily or have pets, you may need to clean it more frequently.
Odors From the Drain Line
Dirty filters can also result in mold and bacteria forming inside your air conditioner's drain, which can cause odors. To remedy this, remove the drain line — which is usually a plastic tube on the side of the unit facing outside — and flush with a mixture of three parts water to one part bleach. This will kill mold or bacteria growing inside and also clear away any debris that might be clogging the drain line. Allow the drain line to dry before reattaching it. If your air conditioner also has a drip pan, this should be pulled out and cleaned each month as well.
Odors From the Evaporator Coil
Mold or bacteria growing in the evaporator coil can also result in a bad-smelling air conditioner. The evaporator coils can usually be accessed by removing the top of the unit, or sometimes by removing the entire outer casing. Appliance parts stores sell sprays that will kill mold and bacteria and prevent smells from developing.
Before spraying the coils though, shine a flashlight inside and look for debris, which can also cause mold and mildew growth. Remove anything large enough to pick out, such as leaves, and wipe the entire area with a wet cloth. If you see mildew or mold growth, use a mild household detergent to clean it away and rinse with water. Leave your air conditioner to dry completely before replacing the top and turning it on.
Odors From Leaks
A chemical or gas smell can be a sign of a refrigerant leak inside the portable air conditioner. If this is the issue, you'll likely notice that the air conditioner isn't cooling very well. Have a professional look at the air conditioner if you suspect a refrigerant leak. You can't refill the refrigerant yourself, so you'll need to have the unit repaired or replaced if that's the issue.