How to Remove Musty Smells From Your Portable Air Conditioner | HVAC Training Shop (2024)

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What’s that smell?

If it’s a musty, moldy smell, it could be coming from your portable AC.

In this article, I’ll go over the causes of musty smells from a portable air conditioner. I’ll also discuss how to remove musty smells from your portable air conditioner.

Table of Contents

What causes musty smells from a portable air conditioner?

Musty smells from a portable air conditioner are almost always caused by the growth of mold, mildew, or bacteria.

So how do these things start growing in your air conditioner?

Air conditioners produce water by removing moisture from the air.

As the air conditioner cools the air, condensation forms on the evaporator coil and then drips off into a collection tank.

Water collected inside your air conditioner creates a humid, moist environment. The moist environment inside your air conditioner is the perfect place for mold, mildew, and bacteria to grow.

But these organic substances need more than water to survive. Dust, dirt, and particles provide food for organic substances in your air conditioner.

As your air conditioner runs, dirt and dust accumulate inside of it. Mold, mildew, and bacteria grow by consuming these particles within your air conditioner’s moist environment.

What to do when your portable air conditioner smells musty

Oftentimes, giving your air conditioner a thorough cleaning will help reduce its musty smells.

However, if you let the mold and bacteria growth get out of control, it will be very difficult to completely get rid of the smell.

Excessive organic buildup inside your air conditioner will cause the smells to become deep-rooted in the parts of the AC.

Here are the steps that you should take if your portable AC smells musty:

  1. Clean the air filter
  2. Clean the evaporator coil
  3. Clean the condensate tank and drain pan
  4. Clean the condensate drain line

I’ll go over them below.

Clean the air filter

If your portable air conditioner smells musty, the first thing that you should do is clean its air filter.

The purpose of the air filter is to trap dirt, dust, and other particles before they enter your portable air conditioner.

Portable air conditioners almost always have reusable filters. These filters are cleaned by blowing them with air or rinsing them out with water.

There are usually two air filters in a portable air conditioner:

  1. Evaporator air filter
  2. Condenser air filter

Both of these filters need regular cleaning to keep mold and bacteria from growing inside your air conditioner.

The particles on an air filter provide a source of food for mold and bacteria to feed on.

To clean your portable AC’s air filters, follow the steps below:

  1. Turn your AC’s power off
  2. Remove the plastic grille that is covering the filter
  3. Remove the air filter
  4. Clean the filter out
  5. Replace the air filter and grille

Turn your AC’s power off

Ensure that the AC is powered completely off before removing the air filters.

Remove the plastic grille that is covering the filter

Sometimes the grille gets a little dusty, so you might want to clean it as well.

Remove the air filter

Be careful to ensure that any caked-on dust or debris does not fall off the filter to the floor of your home.

It’s a good idea to put the filter in a trash bag so it won’t get your floors dirty while you move through your home.

Clean the filter out

If the filter is lightly soiled, then you can dust it off to remove most of the debris.

For air filters that are really dirty or have caked-on debris, then you will need to rinse them out with water in your sink.

Ensure the filter is completely clean and dry before placing it back into your air conditioner.

Replace the air filter and grille

After everything is completely dry, reinstall the air filter and grille on the air conditioner.

Clean the evaporator coil

Musty smells can also come from a dirty evaporator coil, so clean your portable AC’s evaporator coil out of its dirty.

The evaporator coil on a portable AC is the part that gets cold and cools down your room’s air.

You can usually access the evaporator coil by removing one of the air filters from the back of your portable AC. Use a flashlight to inspect the evaporator coil for any debris such as dirt or hair.

Use a vacuum to suck out any debris from the surface of the evaporator coil.

If there is deep-rooted grime in your evaporator coil, a simple vacuum won’t do the trick. Instead, use a spray-on coil cleaner solution to deep clean your evaporator coil.

Clean the condensate tank and drain pan

The condensate tank and drain pan are a haven for mold and bacterial growth.

Follow these steps to clean the condensate tank in your portable AC:

  1. Turn off your portable AC and unplug it from the power outlet
  2. Drain the water out of the condensate tank
  3. Clean the tank or pan with soap and water
  4. Rinse out the tank with clean water
  5. Drain out all the remaining water from the tank

Turn off your portable AC and unplug it from the power outlet

You don’t want your AC to power on while you’re cleaning it so unplug it before proceeding.

Drain the water out of the condensate tank

Set a bucket or container under your portable AC’s drain spout and unscrew the cap to let the water out.

Clean the tank or pan with soap and water

Scrub your portable AC’s tank and pan with a non-abrasive scrubber and mild detergent.

Rinse out the tank with clean water

Rinse out your tank and drain pan with water. Make sure you don’t miss cleaning any parts. Any remaining dirty areas will serve as a point where future mold and bacterial growth can restart.

Drain out all the remaining water from the tank

Drain out all the water so you have a clean, empty tank when you’re finished.

Clean the condensate drain line

Cleaning the drain line is one of the most important maintenance tasks that you can perform on your portable AC. It is very important, especially if your portable air conditioner is leaking.

The condensate drain line carries away moisture from your portable AC. Since it comes into contact with lots of water, the drain line is prone to algae and mold growth.

Follow these steps to clean your portable air conditioner’s drain line:

  1. Turn off and unplug your portable air conditioner
  2. Empty the condensate tank and drain pan
  3. Remove the condensate drain line
  4. Clean the drain line
  5. Flush the drain line with a drain pan cleaning solution

Turn off and unplug your portable air conditioner

You don’t want your air conditioner to turn on while you are cleaning the drain line, so unplug it before proceeding.

Empty the condensate tank and drain pan

Empty out the condensate drain tank before cleaning the drain line. You don’t want any water to accidentally drain out of your AC while the drain line is removed.

Remove the condensate drain line

Remove the drain line by slowly pulling it off of the drain spout.

Some drain lines may have a zip tie that needs to be removed.

Clean the drain line

Use water pressure from a faucet or garden hose to dislodge any built-up grime in the line.

Use a hose cleaner tool to scrub out built-up grime on the interior walls of the hose.

Flush the drain line with a drain pan cleaning solution

Use a drain pan cleaning solution to prevent slime and mold growth in the future.

How to Remove Musty Smells From Your Portable Air Conditioner | HVAC Training Shop (2024)


How to get rid of musty HVAC smell? ›

What Should I Do If My AC Smells Musty?
  1. Step One: Change Your AC Filter. ...
  2. Step Two: Make Sure Your House's Airflow Isn't Restricted. ...
  3. Step Three: Seal Your Leaky Ducts. ...
  4. Step Four: Get Summer Maintenance Done.

How do you clean mold out of a portable air conditioner? ›

You can use diluted bleach or distilled white vinegar, or you can buy an Environmental Protection Agency-registered mold removal solution from your local hardware store. Aim for a 1:3 ratio of cleaning solution and warm water. Take apart the AC unit: Use a screwdriver to remove the grille from the front of the unit.

How to deodorize an AC unit? ›

Use an odour absorber

You can also use an odour absorber like activated charcoal to help eliminate smells from your AC system. Simply place it near the intake vents and let it absorb any unwanted odours.

Why does the air coming out of my AC smell musty? ›

Check for excess moisture in ducts.

Ducts are attached to the vents in your home, and when excess moisture accumulates, caused by high humidity levels or a drainage leak, it can result in a musty or dirty sock smell. Your HVAC professional should perform a thorough duct cleaning and repairs to remove the odor.

Why does my portable AC make my house smell? ›

This smell often arises from a clogged or dirty evaporator coil. “Moisture and dust on the coil create a breeding ground for these organisms,” says Ben Green, CEO of Green Leaf Air. Cleaning the evaporator coil with a coil cleaner and treating it with an antimicrobial agent can eliminate the odor.

What neutralizes musty odor? ›

Along with all its other uses, baking soda is an excellent deodoriser that's suitable for use in the home. For example, to clean a smelly bin, try adding around 50 grams of baking soda to the bin followed by hot water.

How do you get rid of musty smell from moisture? ›

Use fans or exhaust fans to reduce stagnant air and improve overall ventilation. Thoroughly clean and freshen surfaces. Clean surfaces that contribute to the odor by using a mild detergent or specialized cleaner mixed with water. Remove dirt, dust, visible mold, or mildew.

How do you deodorize AC vents? ›

7 Ways to Fix Smelly AC Vents
  1. Clear the Drain Hose.
  2. Sanitize the System.
  3. Disinfect Every Six Months.
  4. Replace Your Cabin Air Filters.
  5. Turn on the Fan Periodically.
  6. Use a High-Quality Air Purifier or Deodorizer.
  7. Turn Off the AC Stopping the Vehicle.

How do you clean the inside of a portable air conditioner? ›

Portable Air Conditioner - Cleaning & Maintenance
  1. Unplug the unit.
  2. Use soft cloth dampened with water to clean the cabinet. Do not use a liquid or spray cleaner to clean the air conditioner. ...
  3. Dry thoroughly with a soft cloth.
  4. Plug the unit back in.

Is it OK to use an AC with mold? ›

Is Mold in AC Units Harmful? In addition to smelling bad, moldy air conditioner units can cause a variety of health problems. Mold spores can become airborne and cause allergic reactions, asthma attacks, and other respiratory issues.

How to prevent mold in portable AC? ›

One method is to reduce moisture buildup in the AC unit by regularly emptying the collection reservoir or investing in an air conditioner with humidity control. You can also prevent mold growth by cleaning the unit at least once a week and checking the filter.

What can I put in my AC to smell good? ›

The smell of your favorite herbs and spices will quickly fill the space. Popular items for potpourri bags include cloves, rose petals and lavender flowers. Lemon scent: A lemon scent is one of the easiest to create. You simply need to fill a small spray bottle with water; then add a few drops of lemon essential oil.

Which of the following is used to remove offensive odour from AC? ›

Conclusion: Activated Charcoal Is used in filters to remove offensive air from the smell.

Can mold grow in a portable air conditioner? ›

Unfortunately, your air conditioner can turn into a prime target for mold growth if it is not properly maintained. Organic matter from airborne dust and dirt can build up in the filter, giving mold the material it needs to breed.

How to clean portable air conditioner coils? ›

Instead, use a soft bristle brush or shop vac with a brush hose attachment to remove as much surface dirt or lint as possible. If you see a lot of oil or grease on the coils, you can use a chemical cleaner (after making sure it's non-acidic and safe for evaporator coil use) and gently rinse using a spray bottle.

How do you get the musty smell out of the air? ›

Use an air purifier

Air purifiers are a cost-effective and effortless way to remove moisture, allergens, and mouldy smells from the air in your home. If you have a persistent issue with damp odours, try using an air purifier to eliminate the problem.

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