Why Does My Air Conditioner Smell Like Chemicals? [5 Causes & Solutions]

Liz Yang

Air conditioners cool the room by blowing cold air into it. On hot summer days, we can’t live without it. However, it can go wrong at some point. Whenever it starts to emit a chemical-like smell, you should pay attention. It can sometimes be an indication of a serious problem.

Generally speaking, the reasons your air conditioner smell like chemicals include refrigerant leaks, open or broken containers of chemicals, flooring, ozone from electronic filters, and glue in the ducting system.

In this post, I will analyze each cause and provide the corresponding solution. Continue reading if you want to understand and get rid of the chemical odor in your air conditioner.

Causes and solutions of an air conditioner smell like chemicals

As I said, many problems can cause a chemical odor in your AC. The smell does not always come from the air conditioner. Let’s look into the causes and solutions together.

1. Refrigerant leaks

If you find your air conditioner unit starts to give off a sweet and chloroform smell, it is likely that the refrigerant in your AC is leaking.

You should take action as soon as possible because it can not only damage your AC but also pose health risks to your health and the environment. 

Under normal circumstances, the refrigerant will be untouched and circulate between the coils and compressor. However, the coil can crack due to extreme weather or wear and tear, causing the refrigerant to leak. 

Since the refrigerant is in charge of heat transfer in your AC system, it will reduce your device’s cooling performance.

There are two types of refrigerant in AC – R-22 Freon and R410A. The former can cause the depletion of the ozone layer, whereas the latter is safer for the environment but still can cause difficulty breathing and suffocation. As a result, the sweet smell is an indication of danger, and you should never leave it unattended, even if you don’t care about the performance of your air conditioner.

What to do? 

refrigerant leak repair

Aside from the sweet smell, an increased utility bill, hissing from your air conditioner, and a frozen evaporator coil could all be signs of low refrigerant levels

You may be able to identify the problem, but it is not allowed to recharge your AC on your own. You are required to make the call to a certified HVAC expert to fix the leak and recharge it. Don’t worry! The recharge will only take around half an hour

However, if you use a model that contains R-22 Freon, the recharge cost could be high.

2. Open or broken container of chemicals near your AC

Many of us have some chemicals stored at home, like paint supplies, cleaning products, or lawn chemicals, and we like to put these products in the basement or attic. As you know, these places are often where the air handler is located. 

If you forget to close the container or it breaks accidentally, the strong chemical smell will enter the air handler and spread throughout the room or house.

What to do?

Examine the surroundings of the indoor air handler. If you find any chemicals, inspect the container to see if it needs to be replaced.

3. New flooring, carpet, or furniture

If you have recently moved into a new home, replaced the flooring, or purchased new furniture, the chemical odor may be emanating from them.

Because your air conditioner will use the indoor air directly, the chemical odor will enter it and spread to other rooms in your home. Although the air filter can remove some airborne particles, it may not be able to remove those strange smells.

What to do?

Contact the seller or manufacturer to ask what causes the chemical smell. The smell may mitigate or disappear after one or two weeks.

Otherwise, you may think about returning them because they may put you and your family members at risk in the long run.

4. Ozone from an electronic air cleaner

Some air cleaners are ozone generators. It can emit ozone in the hopes of removing air contaminants, though the effect is minimal.

You can smell ozone if the air cleaner produces too much of it. The ozone often has a strong chlorine bleach smell and can cause chest pain and lung damage.

What to do?

You can fix it by turning off or dialing down the settings on the air cleaner. Or you can replace it with other types of air cleaner, which is safer. 

5. Glue in the new ducting system

HVAC technicians will use glue to put the ducts together. The glue has some chemical smell but is usually safe to use. If you use a central AC system, the smell will come out from the AC vent,giving you the impression that something is wrong with your AC.

What to do?

You have no control over the situation. The odor will fade over time, and your air conditioner will no longer smell like chemicals.

How to prevent chemical smells in your AC from coming back?

Since the main reason your AC has a chemical smell is that the refrigerant leak, your best bet to avoid it is conducting regular maintenance.

Asking a professional to inspect your air conditioner before the season begins can ensure that it is in good working order. They can detect leaks before they become substantial. Meanwhile, your air conditioner will run at high efficiency, allowing you to save energy.

Another way to avoid bad smells is to keep all household chemicals properly stored. If at all possible, avoid putting these items near your AC indoor unit.

Recap

Your AC is a good ally on hot or cold days. But it can cause damage when it starts to release a chemical-like smell. 

In most cases, it indicates a refrigerant leak in your air conditioner. However, chemical products in your home, new flooring or furnishings, or even new ductwork can emit such odors and disperse them through your AC system.

This guide will help you identify the issue. If the problem is caused by leaking refrigerant, you should have it repaired by a certified HVAC professional.

Liz Yang is the founder of Airsmartly. She has been working at home for a few years and realizes that the performance of the HVAC system plays such an important role in our life. She has tested a lot of products in person, like humidifiers, air purifiers, dehumidifiers, and ACs, and wants to share tips about using or troubleshooting these products with you. Her uncle is an HVAC expert with over 30 years of experience in the field, and often offers assistance when she is unsure how to handle a situation. He is also in charge of reviewing the articles on this site.