From the Field: Dirty Sock Syndrome

When the heat pump goes into defrost mode, or the HVAC unit is switched from heating for a brief time, then back to cooling, a condition known as “Dirty Sock Syndrome” can arise.

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Okay, it’s that time of year. For much of the U.S., the heating season began about a month and a half ago. Here in North Carolina, and more specifically my household, the heating season has only been around for about three weeks. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s been cold enough at night to run the heat, but during the day we find ourselves turning the AC back on – a common thing in the Southeast.

When the heat pump goes into defrost mode, or the HVAC unit is switched from heating for a brief time, then back to cooling, a condition known as “Dirty Sock Syndrome” can arise.  DSS is described as a musty, moldy, dirty sock odor coming from HVAC systems when they first start into cooling mode. DSS is caused by bacteria that attaches to, and grows on indoor evaporator coils. When the coils cool down and get damp, the bacteria release their gases all at one time into the air causing the unpleasant odor.

Some people have gone as far as to almost sell their homes because they couldn’t get rid of the smell. BUT HAVE NO FEAR! Here is a way for you to eliminate that smell and maintain a clean, healthy environment through a little preventive maintenance.

  1. Clean the coils at the end of the cooling season with Instant Powder Kegs. Cleaning the coils before the heating season will get rid of any contaminants such as dirt, biological buildup and other material.
  2. Sanitize the unit thoroughly. Use EPA-registered Fast Attack, an HVAC system sanitizer specifically designed for HVAC interiors. Iodine based sanitizers are an ideal choice, as iodine’s effectiveness has been well documented. Hospitals have used iodine to sanitize before surgery for the last 150 years for a reason!
  3. Protect the coil from fouling by using Green-Certified First Strike Micro Coat. Transform the coil into a “self-cleaning” coil, one that repels particles and keeps matter from adhering to the surface.
  4. Round off the procedure by adding a timed-release drain pan protectant. This will eliminate clogs and overflows that can occur once the cooling season starts back. Either Green-Certified PanGuard or EPA-Registered Algae Guard will work.

All of these products are safe and easy to use, requiring minimal PPE. By following these simple steps, it will ensure that when you start up your AC at the beginning of the cooling season, you aren’t left saying….“Ewww, THAT SMELL!”

James Brown, Application Specialist of Controlled Release Technologies, Inc., a research, development and manufacturing firm based in Shelby, North Carolina.  CRT is an IFMA CSP, EnergyStar Partner and manufacturer of independently-certified Green products for HVAC maintenance. Since 1986, CRT has been creating leading edge HVAC maintenance products that have become industry standards, used in thousands of commercial buildings world-wide. CRT employees are members of BOMA, ASHRAE, ASHE and the American Chemical Society. www.cleanac.com (800) 766-9057.


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