The Dreaded Dirty Sock Syndrome

Dirty Sock Syndrome sounds like an affliction of teenage boys, something parents wrestle with while trying to find detergents to brighten their laundry to the greatest degree. Or, it sounds like something fabricated, as though it were not an actual problem at all. However, you will know the sneaky Dirty Sock Syndrome by its most famous attribute, its smell, and it most assuredly is real.

What is it?

Dirty Sock Syndrome is when your air condition gives off a foul-smelling odor, like decaying organic material, when it is turned on or off, or transitioned to and from heating and cooling mode. It may even smell like your son shoved his gym-socks into the AC unit, or your house may be smelling like a musty old gym in general. Dirty Sock Syndrome smells different to different people and living in an afflicted house may mean becoming used to the scent.

Dirty Sock Syndrome happens when your air conditioner goes through a period of heating to cooling or vice versa.

Cooler nights when the heat is on, followed by warmer days when the AC is on, mixed with the dust, moisture, and darkness of your AC unit are the perfect recipe for Dirty Sock Syndrome. This is just one reason why it’s so important to change that filter every few months.


Is Dirty Sock Syndrome dangerous? While it is a nuisance, the mildew that accumulates due to Dirty Sock Syndrome is not typically dangerous unless someone in the home has a compromised immune system, asthma, or allergies. This does not mean that Dirty Sock Syndrome is something to be ignored, provided you can deal with the smell.

These mildews and bacteria can be introduced further into the home through the HVAC system and spread exponentially, distributing themselves along with the conditioned air. In this case, people can have some respiratory symptoms and eye irritation, however the odor remains the main issue, largely causing illness or nausea, even if there is nothing physically wrong. This increases the urgency to eradicate the issue.

It is important to note that while mildews and bacteria can be introduced into the home and spread, just because you have Dirty Sock Syndrome or smell some mustiness in your home, does not mean that molds and bacteria have definitely spread throughout your home. This is something that the professionals at AirTeam could help you deduce.

How it can be prevented

There are two main factors to consider in the prevention of Dirty Sock Syndrome. First, make sure you choose a high-quality air conditioning filter and change it every one to three months. Keeping the mold and bacteria away from your coil is one of the key ways to prevent Dirty Sock Syndrome. One interesting fact – the filter is actually for the AC unit, not for you!

Second, using a UV air purifier goes a long way. These purifiers are typically used in hospitals and kill bacteria, mold, and its spores, quickly. Most UV purifiers can also be used on your drain line and drain pan, giving your home extra protection.


While proper filtering and use of a UV air purifier are good preventatives, they are not ideal solutions, once Dirty Sock Syndrome has set in. UV air purifiers will only kill what the light can reach, meaning they will miss the bacteria hiding in the nooks and crannies of your air conditioner. What is really necessary is a thorough cleaning.

  • The first step is to rule out any other potential issues that could be causing the odor.
  • Make sure your drainage pans are empty. If they are full, empty and clean them out, clearing any blockages.
  • •Ensure your air filter is providing proper filtration for your air conditioner and is not moist. If it is wet, replace it.
  • Clear any blocked drainage lines. Some moisture in your air conditioner is common, but too much moisture is a problem.

If you have resolved the above issues and you are still noticing the dirty sock smell, you most likely need to clean or replace your evaporator coil. While you can clean your coil yourself, it is always best to hire a trained technician to help with this. The processes and best practices vary, depending on the manufacturer and installation of your unit.

Additionally, while cleaning or replacing the evaporator coil is an ideal solution, it is not always the best solution. Sometimes the entire unit simply must be replaced. AirTeam is always available to help you diagnose when something goes wrong with your AC unit and get you back on track.

Dirty Sock Syndrome may have a silly-sounding name, but it is nothing to be trifled with. If you suspect your AC unit of having Dirty Sock Syndrome, try checking your filter, drainage pans, and drainage lines, to ensure additional moisture in these elements is not causing the problem.

If you are still experiencing symptoms, better to call the professionals at AIRTEAM to help you diagnose the best next steps, be it cleaning your evaporator coil, replacing it, or taking additional measures. Excessive moisture, in general, is best handled by professionals, so it’s not a bad idea to schedule a maintenance appointment. Dirty Sock Syndrome may not be dangerous, but it can be embarrassing and can make your home somewhat uncomfortable. AirTeam’s superb technicians can alleviate that worry and discomfort, with friendliness, knowledge, and attention to detail.

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