Why Does My Car AC Smell Like Chemicals? Myths Busted!

Picture this: you turn on your car air conditioner and notice that it begins to emit a chemical-like odor. You are terrified and have no idea what the smell is or what to do..

Calm down, buddy. The reason your car AC smells like chemicals is usually due to coolant leaks, a damaged chemical product container, or you have a new car.

In this post, I will explain why these conditions cause chemical smells and how to get rid of these unpleasant smells. 

Let’s get started!

Why does my car air conditioner smell like chemicals? 

Car ACs often smell like pee or vinegar because of a lack of cleaning. However, if it begins to smell like chemicals, it could be a sign of serious problems.

Refrigerant leaks

The car AC, like any other air conditioner unit at home, uses refrigerant (also known as coolant) to remove heat from the air and cool the cabin.

Under normal conditions, the refrigerant circulates between the compressor, evaporator coil, and condenser coil, which remains untouched.

However, the components may deteriorate over time due to wear and tear or other factors. A refrigerant leak can be caused by a broken gasket or a cracked coil.

The refrigerant has a sweet smell and will get stronger when the leaking hole becomes substantial. 

A damaged or open container of chemicals near the car

car in garage

We like to put everything we don’t know where to store in the garage, including paint supplies or fertilizer chemicals. These chemical products have a strong odor, so you should always keep the container closed.

If the container is open or damaged, the chemical smell can be sucked into your car AC system when turning on your car in the garage. This is also why home air conditioners can smell like chemicals.

A new car

It’s great to have a new car, but your new vehicle may emit some chemical odors. It’s commonly referred to as the “new car smell.”

The smell comes from the rubber, plastic, and leather components containing formaldehyde and benzene. As you know, these two substances are very volatile. They produce a strong smell, which will disperse into the car vents and then spread all over the cabin through the AC system.

Both formaldehyde and benzene are carcinogens, putting you and your passengers at risk. It will cause other discomforts, like a running nose or burning eyes.

How To Get The Chemical Smell Out Of Your Car Air Conditioner?

Now that we have understood why your car AC smells like chemicals let’s dig into the solutions for removing these annoying odors.

Remove chemical products around your car

If the chemical products around your car emit a chemical odor, you can eliminate the odor immediately by relocating the products. Remember to inspect the container and replace it if it is broken.

Open the window while driving and parking

The new car smell will not go away quickly. If you want to reduce the impact of these harmful chemicals on you, keep the window open while driving and parking at home.

You can also use a car air purifier to eliminate odors.

Visit a mechanic

If the first two methods fail, there is a good chance that the leaking refrigerant is causing a sweet chemical odor.

Because refrigerants are hazardous to both our health and the environment, you are not permitted to repair the leak on your own.

Please take your vehicle to a qualified mechanic. They will repair the leak and recharge your vehicle.

How to prevent the chemical smell in the car AC from returning?

Given that the car AC system will make use of air inside and outside the vehicle, you should keep everything around and inside your car free of chemical smells. 

If possible, don’t store household chemical products near your vehicle. Some chemical products are flammable, which is dangerous anyway. 

The most important thing to remember is that your vehicle requires routine vehicle maintenance. This ensures that minor leaks are detected in a timely manner, lowering your repair costs.

If you plan to buy a new car, ask the vendor if any models are made with safe materials and do not have a strong new car smell.


This post has included almost all the information you need to know about the chemical smell coming from your car AC. Luckily, the issue can be fixed with a breeze. 

In most cases, the culprit is the leaking refrigerant, which needs to be repaired by a certified mechanic. 

If you place some chemical products in the garage, they could also be the cause. 

Finally, your new vehicle will have a chemical odor. Please do not leave it unattended, even if it indicates that your vehicle is new! By opening the window while driving, you can reduce the harmful effects of these chemicals on your health.

About The Author

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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 dozens 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.

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