If you’ve ever used nail polish or know someone who has, you’re probably familiar with the smell of acetone. After all, nail polish remover has a characteristic and highly recognizable odor that you’re unlikely to mix up with something else.

But what if you suddenly start smelling acetone even though no one in your house is using nail polish? In that case, there might be a problem with your HVAC system that requires your immediate attention. If you want to know more about the potential sources of the smell, as well as ways to get rid of it, keep reading!

What Is HVAC?

HVAC is short for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, and it’s a system that moves hot and cool air throughout your home, ensuring that you stay comfortable. Typically, this system consists of heat pumps, vents and mini ducts, and air conditioners. But it may also include air purifiers and similar devices that control the humidity and quality of air.

HVAC systems — in particular its cooling components — contain a refrigerant that absorbs the heat from the air. Afterward, the refrigerant vaporizes, then moves into a compressor to get pressurized, and finally into a condenser. Once there, it turns back into a liquid and begins the cooling process once again.

Although refrigerant doesn’t contain acetone, it can still smell like nail-polish remover when present in higher concentrations. So, if there is a persistent acetone smell in your home, you could be dealing with a refrigerant leak.

How to Identify a Refrigerant Leak

The smell of acetone wafting through your home will be the first warning sign that something is wrong with your cooling units. But if you need more evidence to be sure the source is a refrigerant leak, look for the following signs.

Loss of Cooling Power

If a refrigerant is leaking, your cooling unit won’t be as efficient as it used to be. For instance, instead of needing ten minutes to cool your room, now it will take an hour. Pay attention to how well your cooling unit is doing its job. That’s a good indicator of whether there’s enough refrigerant in it.

Blowing Warm Air

As explained above, the refrigerant absorbs the warmth from the air and vaporizes it. Then, the newly-cooled air is expelled through the ducts into the room, lowering its temperature. But if there’s not enough refrigerant due to a leak, the air will stay warm even after passing through the cooling unit. A quick check of the air’s temperature should be enough to tell you whether there’s a leak.

Hissing or Gurgling Sound

Refrigerant leaks are usually caused by cracks and holes in the coils through which refrigerant passes. These holes will produce hissing or sometimes gurgling sounds, indicating something’s wrong. However, make sure there are other signs pointing to a refrigerant leak, as hissing and gurgling can indicate other issues as well.

Frozen Coils

When there’s not enough refrigerant circulating through the evaporator coils, they aren’t able to absorb heat properly. As a result, the condensation on them might freeze, causing ice and frost buildup. This ice might melt and start dripping on the floor over time, creating puddles around your cooling units. That’s a clear indicator that something isn’t quite right and that calling a professional might be in order.

What to Do When There’s a Refrigerant Leak

If you’ve determined that the nail polish remover smell is indeed coming from a refrigerant leak, you might be wondering what to do next. The answer is quite simple — get a professional to assist you as soon as possible. While refrigerant leaks aren’t an emergency, it’s still not wise to run a leaking system. The unit could suffer further damage, eventually forcing you to replace it.

In addition, refrigerant exposure can be damaging to your health. While inhaling refrigerant in small doses isn’t dangerous, larger concentrations can lead to poisoning. Some of the symptoms include:

  • Throat, ears, and eyes irritation
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Coughing
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Breathing difficulties

Of course, if your home is properly ventilated, refrigerant poisoning is highly unlikely. Still, it’s better to be safe and get the leak fixed as soon as you notice it.

How to Fix a Refrigerant Leak

When you call an HVAC technician to fix a refrigerant leak, their method will depend on the severity of the damage. If the leak is small, the technician will simply patch up the damaged coil and bolster it against future leaks.

But if the damage is greater, the HVAC technician will have to replace the entire coil and other malfunctioning components. That’s more expensive than a regular repair, which is why it’s advisable to regularly perform checkups and avoid running a damaged system.

Finally, sometimes the damage to the cooling unit is so great that even replacing components won’t work. In such a case, your technician will suggest buying a brand new unit. Of course, this option is the most expensive one but still occasionally necessary.

How to Mask the Nail Polish Remover Smell

The best way to make the acetone smell go away is to get a refrigerant leak fixed. But in case you can’t do that right away, you might wish to mask it somehow, as it can get unpleasant. Here are a few tricks you can use to cover up the nail polish remover smell:

1. Cat Litter

Cat litter is excellent at absorbing unpleasant odors, and the smell of acetone is no exception. Put small boxes of clay or crystal cat litter around your home, especially in places where the smell is the strongest. Soon enough, it should be neutralized.

2. Ground Coffee

Freshly ground coffee neutralizes unpleasant smells and fills your house with a nice aroma at the same time. Put some in a bowl and stir it once a day for maximum effect. You should replace the coffee about once a week to ensure it keeps its scent-absorbing power.

3. Essential Oils

Take your favorite essential oil (or several of them) and put a few drops into a bowl of warm water. Then, place that bowl near the source of the smell and let it work its magic. You could use a diffuser instead — just follow the instructions on it to make sure you’re doing it correctly.

4. Charcoal

Charcoal is well-known for its odor-neutralizing properties, so if the smell of acetone is bothering you, buy a bag or two. It’s a natural, non-toxic way of removing unpleasant odors, and a single bag will serve you for up to three months. Of course, by that point, you should already have your refrigerant leak issue fixed.

5. Baking Soda

Baking soda is an odor-neutralizer that everyone has in their kitchen. Put some in a bowl and let it stay there for a few days. Soon enough, you’ll notice that the smell is gone.

Final Thoughts

The persistent smell of nail polish remover in your home isn’t cause for panic, but it is for concern. It’s a sign of a potential refrigerant leak in your HVAC system, and as such, it should be taken seriously. After all, running a malfunctioning cooling unit can only lead to further damage and possible health issues.

Still, you shouldn’t attempt to fix the leak on your own unless you have experience with it. It’s always smarter to let professionals take care of it. They’ll be able to identify where precisely the problem is and how serious it is, and advise you on the best possible solution. And once you address the root cause, the nail polish remover smell will be quickly gone!

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