Does Your Air Conditioning Have a Scent? Here's What It Means


Summer is in full swing — and so is the use of your car’s air conditioning. However, when you go to blast the A/C, you might smell something strange. What does that mean? 


A smell coming from your air conditioning can mean a number of things. It can simply mean something needs to be cleaned or replaced — but it also might indicate that a more serious and toxic malfunction is occurring. The first way to determine what is wrong with your air conditioning is to determine what kind of scent it has: whether non-specific (like mold) or specific (like gas). 

Musty or Non-specific Scent

If you can’t identify the scent of your air conditioning, or it’s just a musty smell, the scent might be bacteria, mold and/or a dirty filter. 


  • Bacteria/mold. Air conditioning can create condensation in which bacteria and mold can thrive. Further, the older your car is, the longer mold/bacteria has a chance to build up and create an odor. 

  • Air filter. Dirt, pollutants and moisture can build up in your air filter if it is not cleaned or replaced regularly. As a result, a quick replacement can fix your problem right away. 

Dirt, mold and pollutants can cause non-specific scents to emanate from your air conditioning. But if your air has a specific smell, it could mean something more serious. 

Sweet or Gas-like Scent

The two specific scents to watch out for when running your air conditioning are either a sweet scent or a gaseous odor. 


  • Sweet. If your air conditioning smells sweet, it could mean your antifreeze is leaking. This is a serious, dangerous issue, as the chemical producing the smell, ethylene glycol, is toxic. So, a sweet smell must be addressed right away. 

  • Gas. A gas smell can mean that you have a gas leak. Since air is circulating through the area with a gas leak, it can be making its way to the cabin and into the air you breathe. A gas leak and inhaling gas are both serious and are also an emergency fix. 

While non-specific, musty smells are usually benign, sweet and/or gaseous smells are toxic and must be addressed immediately.

What to Do

What do you do if you have a musty or sweet/gas scent coming from your air conditioning? The best thing to do is take your vehicle to a professional for an examination. Even if the smell is benign, it is ideal to allow a professional to ensure the health of the car and the safety of the air you breathe. 


Air conditioning can be a convenient feature of the car that allows you to travel in comfort and safety in hot weather. However, the air conditioning affects the air quality inside your car and any smells emanating from it should be addressed as soon as possible. Contact us at Living the Dream Auto Care for assistance! 


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