How to Remove Smell in a Portable AC

How to remove smell in a portable AC?

Quick answer: The only way to remove smell from a portable AC is to open it up and clean the components. You may have to identify where the smell is emanating from and what’s causing it, but it’s safer to clean and deodorize the entire appliance regularly.

To remove the smell from your portable AC, just follow the steps below!

How to remove portable AC smell

Identifying the cause of the smell is sometimes a try-and-error method. You must check each component and clean or change what is necessary until the smell is gone.

Here are the steps to follow.

#1 Replace air filters

Most portable air conditioners have two filters; one for the evaporator and one for the condenser. Both filters must be changed regularly (preferably monthly or per the manufacturer’s instructions) to keep mold and bacteria from growing inside the AC.

But if you have reusable filters, take them out and clean them with household detergent or vinegar/water solution. Once they are clean, rinse thoroughly, and air dry outside before putting them back.

#2 Dry-brush air filters

Air filters keep dust and debris from getting inside the AC, but they also ensure there’s enough airflow. This means filters must be kept in tip-top shape throughout, even if it’s not yet time to change or clean them.

Between changes, dry brush the air filters weekly or as required depending on how dusty your area is, or if you have furry pets. You can also use a vacuum to draw out the dust and debris from the filters.

That said, never wet wipe air filters during the mid-month cleaning, as this can encourage mold growth. A good vacuum or dry brushing will be enough until you change the filters.

#3 Clean evaporator coils

The second part you have to clean is the evaporator coils.

Evaporator coils are the part of the AC that gets cold and cool the room’s air. They also dehumidify the air and allow warm moist air to pass through them, leaving traces of moisture. This, combined with dirt, make the perfect home for bacteria and mold growth that can cause a horrible stench.

You will access the coil after removing the filter or the front grill.

  • Shine a flashlight to inspect the coils for any debris, dust, and hair and also to find out if there is mold.
  • Next, use a vacuum cleaner to suck out any debris from the coils’ surface. You can also use this AC cleaning brush set (click here to view it on amazon) to fluff everything from the coils.
  • Finally, spray a coil cleaning foam on the coils to deep clean the surface and remove grime. If you notice any mold or mildew, use a clean towel with mild household detergent or this CLR mold cleaner to wipe off the coils, and then repeat the same with clean water to rinse.

#4 Clean the drain pan and drain line

The condensate pan can be a rich haven for foul odor. This is where moisture ends before being directed outside through the drain line. You must empty and clean the two parts regularly to ensure there’s no blockage or bacterial and mold growth.

  • Drain the water out of the condensate tank and clean it with soap and water until it’s slime-free.
  • Remove the condensate drain line by pulling it off the drain spout slowly. Then, clean it using water pressure from a hose or faucet and get rid of any slime and mold growth.
  • You can pass the tank and the drain line through a bleach and water solution to kill any mold and mildew.
  • Allow the parts to dry completely before reattaching.

#5 Clean the AC exterior

While the portable AC is still open, use a dry brush to clean the panels inside and outside, and then wipe clean with a damp cloth. Be sure to get between the vents and any space where dust and debris can hide, and then let the entire appliance dry under the sun.

Why does Your Portable AC Smell?

A few things can cause a portable air conditioner to smell bad. All of them however are an indicator that your AC is in dire need of a clean-up or a service.

More often than not, a bad smell from an air conditioner indicates an airflow and moisture issue inside that’s causing the growth of bacteria, mold and mildew. Without regular maintenance and cleaning, the inside of your AC will be full of dust, debris and moisture, all perfect conditions for bacteria and mold growth.

Running your portable AC on low often can also cause bad odor. The AC’s performance is subpar when it’s on low, and it fails to dehumidify the air, leaving all the moisture inside.

Very rarely though, the smell could be coming from a refrigerant leak. This smell is very distinct, and it smells like gas or car exhaust. If the gas leaks, you may also notice poor performance a few days in.

How to Prevent Smell in a Portable AC

To prevent smells in a portable AC you must keep your portable AC clean and change the filters regularly. This routine maintenance alone plays the biggest role in keeping organic matter from growing inside.

Another precautionary measure is to let the AC run just a little longer on fan mode. After cooling, don’t turn off the AC immediately because the humidity, which enhances mold growth and smell, is still inside.

Instead, keep running it on fan mode (no-cooling) for a few minutes to blow the humidity out.

If you don’t have a fan mode, reduce the cooling settings to the warmest temperature possible, which minimizes the cooling to almost zero.

Is Portable AC Smell Dangerous?

The smell itself is not dangerous, even if the refrigerant is leaking. However, bad odor from a portable AC indicates something is wrong with the appliance.

In the best case scenario, you are breathing dirty, bacteria-infested air because the AC interior is too dusty. In the worst case, the AC is blowing dangerous mold fumes your way, or it’s about to break down due to overworking or internal damage.

Breathing mold can be particularly dangerous to your respiratory health, so you should remove mold from an AC as soon as you smell it or even before the smell starts.


You can remove bad smells from a portable AC by simply cleaning the internal components and changing the filters. If the smell doesn’t go away after cleaning, or you suspect a refrigerant leak, call an AC technician to check out the appliance and advice. The solution could be a simple repair or cleaning of parts that you couldn’t open on your own.