I'm trying to remove smells which come when I put the ac on. I've seen videos where they used chemicals such as lycol. Im not a fan of strong chemicals. Would something like white vinegar be safe and effective to use?

  • white vinegar is a chemical (acetic acid)...
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Aug 13, 2019 at 7:59
  • Thankfully at 3-5 % concentration (french fry strength ) it is safe. Industrial strength at 97% will dissolve your A/C,french fry and you, Recommend doing this in a shaded area.. Apparently UV radiation reacts with even mild acids and cause chemical burns
    – Old_Fossil
    Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 4:58

3 Answers 3


Firstly I assume you mean Lysol - lycol is a medication.

Secondly white vinegar - essentially acetic acid does have some anti-bacterial properties and might work. But I can't imagine it's going to smell particularly pleasant and I'd be hesitant about what it might do to the various materials in the HVAC system.

Thirdly it is "chemical" - as much as the ignorati like to spread nebulous FUD about "chemicals" it's mostly just that - FUD. To paraphrase an old joke:

I don't trust chemicals, they make up everything

You're likely breathing in at least 9 chemicals with every breath that you take!

Lysol is safe and effective for cleaning AC systems - more than one major manufacturer recommends doing just that.

There's really no need to sub in alternatives because of baseless fears.

Edit following further update from the OP:

Yes it is a chemical however I meant to say for me it’s safer/easier to use. I have a lot of environmental allergies as well as sensitivities to chemicals. As such I usually use white vinegar for cleaning as I am not sensitive to It.

If you've used it for other applications then I'm sure you're already aware that acetic acid (i.e. white vinegar) is corrosive to human tissue - particularly affecting eyes, the esophagus and lung tissue when in vapor form - and that applies to all people not just those with particular sensitivities. Basically unless there is a particular component of Lysol that you react badly to then in pure biology terms acetic acid is more harmful to humans.

So if you were to use it you'd have to follow the same procedure as with something like Lysol - i.e. A/C on, Fan to max, windows down and run the car like that (without you in it) for >15 mins after spraying. In fact that might not even be sufficient - acetic acid evaporates much slower (like.. 18 times slower) than ethanol (the main constituent of Lysol). Lysol will evaporate in minutes whereas acetic acid will take much, much longer.

I still strongly advise against it though since it's also corrosive to certain types of rubber (e.g. polyurethane which is commonly used in HVAC ducting or things like seals for cabin filters) and certain metals - oh, and for extra fun the fumes you get when you heat it can do rather nasty things to the respiratory system.

Basically, no - I wouldn't recommend spraying it in the HVAC system.

If Lysol is definitely a no-go for you - and I'd be surprised if that were the case as it would be trivial to avoid any direct exposure then I would advise looking elsewhere for an alternative. To be honest just having a friend do the actual spraying and then leaving the car for an extra 15-20 mins to ventilate after spraying would probably do the job.

  • Yes it is a chemical however I meant to say for me it’s safer/easier to use. I have a lot of environmental allergies as well as sensitivities to chemicals. As such I usually use white vinegar for cleaning as I am not sensitive to It. Commented Aug 13, 2019 at 11:48
  • @JamesWilson I've expanded my answer in response to your comment :) Commented Aug 13, 2019 at 12:39

It depends on where the smell is coming from.

First and foremost check your cabin air filter. A gross filter can cause a smell. I have found disgusting things in the filter including but not limited to dead baby mice.

Once the filter has been checked and changed, a "chemical" free solution is ozone. Ozone is toxic to biological life. A place I worked at provided a service that used an ozone generator to kill bad smells in a car. You may have to search for such a thing as the service is not common. Simply, they placed the generator in the car. Closed all the doors and windows. Left the car KOEO and placed a battery charger on the car. Then ran the AC in recirculate mode. This circulated the ozone through the AC and killed all the bad smell making stuff. Really bad cars were left overnight. Once the service is complete the ozone degrades to regular oxygen.


AC smells are caused by mold growth on the evaporator coil. The only effective way to get rid of the smell is to inject a foaming agent to kill the mold and treat the coil. See this post for info on what causes the smell and how to get rid of it.

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