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car ac smell like fish

Why Does My Car Air Conditioner Smell Like Fish? & How To Remove It?

It is not uncommon to see a car air conditioner that blows air with a fishy smell, which you want to get rid of as soon as possible.

If your car air conditioner smells like fish, you have come to the right place because I will illustrate all the common causes and solutions in this post.

Simply put, the fishy smell in a car ac is caused by decaying food, leaking antifreeze, and dead animal. 

This is just a short answer. You can find more useful information in the following sections.

Why does my car ac smell like fish?

why does car ac smell like fish

Even though the air from the car ac has a bad smell, it doesn’t always mean that there is something wrong with the ac system itself. Other parts, in my experience, can produce a fishy smell and disperse into the car ac system.

Rotten food

Can you recall anyone who has eaten food in your car? If yes, the pizza or hamburger left in the back seat may be the culprit of the fishy smell. 

The windows and doors are closed in your car, and the odors produced by the decaying food will disperse into the ac system gradually. 

Leaking antifreeze

The antifreeze has a fishy smell. If your car is clean, but the fishy smell continues to come out from the ac system, it is likely that the antifreeze is leaking. 

The antifreeze can cool down the engine and provide heat for the heating system in the winter months. It can leak from a heater core, a loose clamp, or a cracked hose.

Things can worsen if the antifreeze hasn’t been replaced for a few years because the chemical components may change over time.

Dead animal

If none of the causes of a car ac smelling like fish mentioned above apply, you should examine the motor, drain pan, intake vent and other internal parts of your vehicle. 

Your vehicle is an ideal environment for these rodent animals because it is warm and cozy. They will sneak into your car system and mark their territory by relieving themselves. That’s why a car ac can smell like pee

Nevertheless, the happiness will end up with tragedy. When the motor is on or the tube is too smooth, these animals will die in the vehicle, producing a fishy smell.

How to get the fish smell out of my car air conditioner?

The fishy smell in a car air conditioner is unbearable, there are some ways to remove the unpleasant odor.

Give your car a deep clean 

If you doubt the fish odor comes from the dead mice or pizza left in the back seat, you should give your vehicle a deep clean. 

You can either do it yourself or drive your car to a professional car wash. If you attempt to save money and clean it yourself, you should wear a glove to take out the decaying carcasses and food.

Soda or vinegar is proven to be an effective homemade cleaner to remove the smell. Spraying some air freshener can also assist in that. 

Visit a mechanic


If cleaning the car doesn’t help in mitigating the smell, you should see a certified mechanic see if there is something wrong with the antifreeze and identify where the leak is. 

They will have the expertise and tool to fix the problem.

How to prevent the fishy smell in a car air conditioner?

If you don’t want the fish smell in the car ac coming back again, you should make some changes.

Take out the rubbish in time

You can try not to allow yourself or your passengers to eat food in the cabin. If it is hard to achieve, you should get used to throwing away all the rubbish every time you drive the car. The food in your car will also attract the animal to get into your car. 

Use a vacuum cleaner to suck away all the tiny pieces every nook and cranny left behind. Giving your vehicle a deep clean every so often is also advisable.

Maintain your car regularly

Regular maintenance can keep your car in tip-top shape, making the antifreeze leaking hard to happen. During the process, they will also examine if something is getting into the system, like a dead bird, mouse, or even a real fish. 

Final thoughts

The fishy odor in the car air conditioner is awful. To combat the foul odor, you should not only examine the AC system itself but also check other places in your car. In most cases, the culprits are the decaying food in the cabin, the leaking antifreeze, and dead animals.  

You can solve this problem by cleaning the car or seeing a mechanic. It is not very complicated to do in general. 

If your air conditioner at home also releases a fishy smell, check this post here

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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 more than 150 products in person, including 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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