The Dreaded Dirty Sock Syndrome

If you’ve ever found your home smelling like a locker room but can’t quite figure out where the stench is coming from, it may be time to check your HVAC unit. That locker room type of smell is commonly referred to as “Dirty Sock Syndrome” and is caused by the growth of mold and bacteria on the indoor cold and drain pan of the heat pump. Dirty Sock Syndrome is also fueled by the dust that collects in your air conditioner over time from inadequate filtration. All Summer long, moist cooling coils can serve as an ideal breeding ground for mold. Water and organic debris sitting in the drain pan can also form a fertile garden of microorganisms. But enough with the technical jargon, here’s what you need to know:

Dirty Sock Syndrome is especially common when your HVAC switches from cooling to heating. During springtime weather, it’s not uncommon for Sarasota County homes to have the heat on during the night and into the morning, before transitioning to cooling later in the day. This heat mixed with dust and moisture in the darkness of your AC unit is the perfect recipe for dirty sock syndrome. These are some of the reasons that it is so important to prevent mold and to provide adequate filtration for the air entering your air conditioner.

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How Can You Prevent Dirty Sock Syndrome?

  • An important factor in preventing dirty sock syndrome is to make sure that you choose a high-quality air conditioning filter. Mold, mildew and bacteria need dust and other porous substances to thrive.  Removing these from the air before they get into your coils is one of the key ways to prevent dirty sock syndrome.

A clean house, with a high quality filter system, changed regularly, is the first line of defense. Most air filters do not trap tiny particles of mold spores, viruses and bacteria. It is important that the evaporator coil, drain pan and drain lines are clean. Annual cleaning of the coil, drain pan and drain lines is important because there may be some air bypass of the filter.

  • A second way to prevent mold and bacteria from growing on your cooling coils, is to use a UV air purifier. These air purifiers have been used in hospitals for decades and quickly kill bacteria, mold and spores.
  • According to the EPA, the ideal level of humidity is 30% to 50%. A whole house dehumidifier, with a fresh air exchange option is a good combination. Fresh air exchangers, known as Energy Recovery Ventilators (ERV) or Heat Recovery Ventilators (HRV) are also available for different applications. Exchanging fresh outdoor air with stale indoor air is important to a healthier home.
  • Schedule a Professional Cleaning – While you may be able to conduct basic cleaning on your own, it’s far better to call in a professional for help. Older units may need to be replaced or repaired, especially if they haven’t been properly maintained. Our experienced technicians will take care of HVAC repairs and cleaning for you.

Is dirty sock syndrome dangerous?

Not initially, but it can be annoying and eventually lead to problems in the future.  After all, who wants their house to smell like a locker room?  These smells and odors are a direct result of the mold and bacteria that can collect in your air conditioner, but there are several ways to prevent and treat them.  If something your contractor is telling you doesn’t seem quite right, or you need a second opinion, consider calling our Sarasota air conditioning service for a free consultation.

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Aside from the nasty odors, which are sometimes compared with those experienced in locker rooms, there is another good reason why dirty sock syndrome should be dealt with. It is your health. Bacteria is associated with disease and it is in your interest, as well that of your family and others staying at the property, to have the problem dealt with as quickly as possible.

Mold can wreak havoc with human health. A 1999 Mayo Clinic study found that mold was the culprit in nearly all chronic sinus infections. Other recent studies have implicated mold as a factor linked to a tripling of the asthma rate over the past 20 years in the United States. In our homes, we trap pollutants, such as the chemicals released from carpets and cleaning products, gases, auto exhaust, emissions from combustion appliances, and much more. Indoor humidity levels that are too high, or too low, also can affect the well-being of occupants, and the durability of the home or building itself.

In South Florida, homes are being built tighter and more insulated than ever before, saving us money on energy bills. But the construction methods and materials that keep modern homes more energy-efficient than older draftier houses can have a troublesome side effect: Many of today’s houses are too airtight. Without adequate air circulation and dehumidification, moisture can build up in a home’s hidden places; inside walls, under floors, above ceilings, behind shower walls, allowing mold to form.

Hopefully this gives you an idea of why Dirty Sock Syndrome occurs and how it can be eliminated. If you have a foul smell coming out of your HVAC system, call TIES360 today and our expert HVAC team can find the source of the problem – fast!


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