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What is Dirty Sock Syndrome?

Does your home occasionally smell like dirty socks? It could be due to mold and bacteria growing in your HVAC system. Let’s discuss Dirty Sock Syndrome.

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November 5th, 2021

Does your home occasionally smell like dirty socks? It could be due to mold and bacteria growing in your HVAC system. Let’s discuss Dirty Sock Syndrome.

Hi, I’m Roger with Fire & Ice. Have you ever walked into your house and found it smelling musty or like dirty socks? We call this Dirty Sock Syndrome and it’s a common problem seen in the HVAC industry. In this video we’ll go over what it is, the risks associated with it, how to get rid of it, and prevent it from happening again.

What Is Dirty Sock Syndrome?

Now you might be asking yourself, “what on earth is dirty sock syndrome?” It’s the phenomenon where your house smells like an old pair of socks. And it's caused by a buildup of mold and bacteria growing in your HVAC system. More specifically, it’s inside your evaporator coil.

Why the evaporator coil? Well it's the perfect place for bacteria and mold to grow. Bacteria and mold love cool, dark environments and need organic material and moisture to grow. Your evaporator coil creates moisture every time your AC kicks on. As for organic material, well there's plenty of it circulating in the air. Generally, your air filter does a good job keeping it in check. But if a filter goes too long without being changed, dirt and debris can build up and circulate through the rest of the system. 

As the excess dirt and debris in the air mixes with the moisture from your evaporator coil, mold and bacteria can begin to grow inside your HVAC system. Before you know it you have a musty, smelly house.

What Are the Risks of Dirty Sock Syndrome?

What are the risks if your home suffers from Dirty Sock Syndrome? It can affect both your health and your HVAC system. For the most part Dirty Sock Syndrome isn't life threatening. It's more annoying than anything. But it can cause discomfort and harm to some. Prolonged exposure can cause eye irritation, a scratchy nose or throat, headaches, general fatigue, and respiratory illnesses.

Dirty Sock Syndrome also poses a bigger problem within your HVAC system: increased static pressure. Static pressure occurs when an air filter becomes clogged and restricts air flow. This can be harmful to your HVAC system as a whole. It can result in less overall comfort, higher utility bills, or even premature breakdown of the system.

How to get rid of Dirty Sock Syndrome?

Now that we’ve gone over what Dirty Sock Syndrome is and the risks associated with it. Let’s see how to get rid of it. As with most things, there are quick fixes and long-term fixes. If you’re looking to get rid of the smell quickly the first thing to do is change your air filter. Changing your filter every 30 to 90 days is recommended. Set reminders to change your filters as suggested by your filter type.

Another solution is to clean your condenser drain pan. Over time the drain pan can become plugged up and can collect dirt leading to bacteria and mold growth. Cleaning it is a good way to make sure your home is odor free.

A third solution is to have your ductwork cleaned. Your ductwork is a perfect place for bacteria and mold to grow. A thorough duct cleaning is a great way to remove the dust and debris that can result in bad smells. Last is to have your evaporator coil cleaned. We recommend an HVAC technician do this. Trying to clean the coil yourself could result in a costly repair if it’s not done carefully.

Now, up to this point we’ve covered the short-term solutions to remove the odor. But how do we prevent the problem from ever happening again? Remember, mold and bacteria need organic material and moisture to grow. You may find regular filter changes aren't enough to combat Dirty Sock Syndrome. If this is the case, you may want to consider upgrading your filter to something that can capture more dust and debris floating in the air.

Additionally, getting rid of excess moisture is another way to combat Dirty Sock Syndrome. Your air conditioner already dehumidifies the home but in some homes it’s not enough. Investing in a whole-house dehumidifier is a great way to remove excess moisture.

Last but not least, use ultraviolet light. UV rays can kill microscopic organisms like mold and bacteria. Having an air purifier that uses UV light, like the Reme Halo, installed to your HVAC system can be an added line of defense.

What are the next steps?

I hope by now you have a better understanding of what Dirty Sock Syndrome is and how to protect your home from it. If your home suffers from a smelly basement and you are in the Central Ohio area, give us a call. We’d love to go over your options to make your home more comfortable. Thank you for watching and we look forward to making your day better.

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