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AC odor removal and cleaning

After a year of owning the Tesla Model 3, the car is starting to build the smell of mildew when the AC turns on. The smell goes away after a few minutes, and lucky for my fiancé, she can't smell it, but I can't get over dealing with the smell on a daily basis.

The Tesla service center deemed AC smell as something that is not covered under warranty, so it's up to us the car owners to figure this out.

img_2224.jpg


Cleaning the AC condenser is technically pretty easy. You just need to find the AC drain pipe, stick the included tube up to the condenser, and just inject the cleaner.

96030.jpg


Unfortunately, the Model 3's drain pipe is pretty hard to reach as it's smack in the middle of the car and hard to get to without lifting it. Also, the cabin filters are place right behind the condenser, so it's not a good idea to just blast all the cleaning foam from the drain pipe.

Lucky for us we can clean from a location we can see the condenser. Tesla released DIY documents on how to replace the air cabin filter, and using that guide, you can remove the cabin filters, and that gives you a clear sight of the condenser.

replace-cabin-air-filter.gif


Here is what the condenser looks like

img_2222.jpg


The is a ton of empty space on the opposite side of the condenser, so I couldn't just stick the tube in and spray away.

There is probably many ways to clean the evaporator. You can probably spray a bunch of mold and mildew cleaner on the condenser and call it a day. Though I already bought a foam cleaner, and so it's time to build something that can let the foam cleaner work its way into the condenser. If you are using a liquid mold and mildew cleaner, look for something that doesn't contain bleach or any chemicals that create harmful fumes.

The idea here is to contain the area where the foam would be delivered. I happen to have packing material for a portable hard drive, otherwise I would just cut up a plastic tupperware.

img_2203.jpg


The tube is fed to the middle of the cover, and the back is taped with velcro.

img_2209.jpg
img_2210.jpg

I then found a piece of wood and taped velcro to the end.

img_2212.jpg


The cover happens to be about the same height of the cabin filter. So I just need to move around as I spray the foam cleaner.

img_2214.jpg

The whole contraption goes into the cabin filter box like this

img_2217.jpg


It was pretty easy to spray the cleaner from this point on. I barely had enough foam to cover the whole condenser. I suggest using the Nextzett Klima cleaner which has much more foam content.

After letting he cleaner work itself for 15 minutes, run the fan for a couple of minutes and we're all set to put everything back. Next day the AC smell is gone, and I'm a happy camper. Hope you find this useful!

Tesla firmware after Fall of last year will let the fan run for a few minutes after the AC turns off, leaving moisture out and inhibiting mildew growth. Hopefully we don't have to deal with the smell long after this fix.
 
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Az_Rael

Well-Known Member
Supporting Member
Jan 26, 2016
5,681
8,982
Palmdale, CA
Awesome!! I have a bottle of Klima cleaner ready to go, just hadn’t had time to figure out how best to deliver it. On my S I went thru the drain line so was thinking I would have to for this as well. But that looks way more accessible, relatively speaking. Klima cleaner was what finally did the trick on my S after several service center treatments. I like it because it isn’t as overpowering as the Lysol or other household cleaner methods that make your car smell like Lysol for days.
 

Az_Rael

Well-Known Member
Supporting Member
Jan 26, 2016
5,681
8,982
Palmdale, CA
in the tropics all cars have this. the only way to prevent it is to switch the aircon off 1min or so before you switch the car off...or have some fancy tesla software trick to do it i guess.

The downside with Tesla is it will turn your AC on while your car is in the parking lot in the summer to cool the battery (not cabin overheat). You can’t control that, so hopefully they will get a working software fix.
 
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Reactions: dhanson865

Eno Deb

Active Member
Aug 17, 2018
2,641
3,402
SF Bay Area
The downside with Tesla is it will turn your AC on while your car is in the parking lot in the summer to cool the battery (not cabin overheat). You can’t control that, so hopefully they will get a working software fix.
AFAIK the cooling for the vehicle systems such as battery, motor and computer is on a different loop than the A/C evaporator, so if the car is using the compressor to cool the battery etc. that doesn't necessarily mean that coolant is also flowing through the evaporator.
 
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Reactions: SantaMonicaBum
Is this a solution to the vinegar like smell I’ve experienced sometimes when the AC is just starting/for a short period after the AC being turned off? I’ve read a few other people experiencing the same thing, but I’ve yet to pinpoint the cause.

Unrelated, but has anyone else had issues with the AC air being blown not being very cold unless air recirculation is on?
 

Tes La Ferrari

Active Member
Jun 1, 2018
1,299
9,519
Canada
After a year of owning the Tesla Model 3, the car is starting to build the smell of mildew when the AC turns on. The smell goes away after a few minutes, and lucky for my fiancé, she can't smell it, but I can't get over dealing with the smell on a daily basis.

The Tesla service center deemed AC smell as something that is not covered under warranty, so it's up to us the car owners to figure this out.

img_2224.jpg


Cleaning the AC condenser is technically pretty easy. You just need to find the AC drain pipe, stick the included tube up to the condenser, and just inject the cleaner.

96030.jpg


Unfortunately, the Model 3's drain pipe is pretty hard to reach as it's smack in the middle of the car and hard to get to without lifting it. Also, the cabin filters are place right behind the condenser, so it's not a good idea to just blast all the cleaning foam from the drain pipe.

Lucky for us we can clean from a location we can see the condenser. Tesla released DIY documents on how to replace the air cabin filter, and using that guide, you can remove the cabin filters, and that gives you a clear sight of the condenser.

replace-cabin-air-filter.gif


Here is what the condenser looks like

img_2222.jpg


The is a ton of empty space on the opposite side of the condenser, so I couldn't just stick the tube in and spray away.

There is probably many ways to clean the evaporator. You can probably spray a bunch of mold and mildew cleaner on the condenser and call it a day. Though I already bought a foam cleaner, and so it's time to build something that can let the foam cleaner work its way into the condenser. If you are using a liquid mold and mildew cleaner, look for something that doesn't contain bleach or any chemicals that create harmful fumes.

The idea here is to contain the area where the foam would be delivered. I happen to have packing material for a portable hard drive, otherwise I would just cut up a plastic tupperware.

img_2203.jpg


The tube is fed to the middle of the cover, and the back is taped with velcro.

img_2209.jpg
img_2210.jpg

I then found a piece of wood and taped velcro to the end.

img_2212.jpg


The cover happens to be about the same height of the cabin filter. So I just need to move around as I spray the foam cleaner.

img_2214.jpg

The whole contraption goes into the cabin filter box like this

img_2217.jpg


It was pretty easy to spray the cleaner from this point on. I barely had enough foam to cover the whole condenser. I suggest using the Nextzett Klima cleaner which has much more foam content.

After letting he cleaner work itself for 15 minutes, run the fan for a couple of minutes and we're all set to put everything back. Next day the AC smell is gone, and I'm a happy camper. Hope you find this useful!

Tesla firmware after Fall of last year will let the fan run for a few minutes after the AC turns off, leaving moisture out and inhibiting mildew growth. Hopefully we don't have to deal with the smell long after this fix.


Thanks @Lanzer for taking the time to document this process complete with pictures. I’m sure it will be very helpful to a lot of owners!
 
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Reactions: navguy12
Is this a solution to the vinegar like smell I’ve experienced sometimes when the AC is just starting/for a short period after the AC being turned off? I’ve read a few other people experiencing the same thing, but I’ve yet to pinpoint the cause.

Unrelated, but has anyone else had issues with the AC air being blown not being very cold unless air recirculation is on?

Most likely yes. Condensation forms in the hvac system which can get trapped and then lead to smells wether its mold/mildew, etc. On ICE cars it's particularly bad because it sits in a hot engine bay. Once it spreads to the vents, it's a pain to get rid of it completely.

I usually have my ac off with recirculation off during the last mile to my destination to decrease the moisture in system.
 

Az_Rael

Well-Known Member
Supporting Member
Jan 26, 2016
5,681
8,982
Palmdale, CA
Did mine today with 1 can of Klima cleaner. I did not make a nifty application device, just went to town spraying with the applicator. Possible it will need a 2nd can just to get better coverage, but we will see. Only hard part was getting the climate to stay on HI fan for 1 minute after waiting the 20 minute “soak” period. Car kept turning off the fan when I closed the door even with climate set to stay on. Had to sit in the seat to keep it on at max fan. Car too smart for its own good, LOL.

I didn’t replace my cabin filters, although I probably should have. Tesla did them not too long ago, next time I am down there I will buy some replacements. Wish we could order them online. I used to change my S one way more frequently because of the desert dust here.
 
This is the other thread in question: #46. I put in a request for the same service and will see what happens.

Thanks for pointing out the post. They were talking about the fact that Tesla changed the firmware so that the fan will keep running when the car is turned off, this will help remove the condensation. Cars purchased prior to late 2018 will suffer from mildew build up because of this.

The tricky part is that the firmware change was a feature and the lack of this feature made the car work like any other cars on the road, which wasn't a manufacture issue. So it'll be up to the manager of the service center to determine what they are willing to do. Good luck!
 
  • Like
Reactions: Shygar
Is this a solution to the vinegar like smell I’ve experienced sometimes when the AC is just starting/for a short period after the AC being turned off? I’ve read a few other people experiencing the same thing, but I’ve yet to pinpoint the cause.

Unrelated, but has anyone else had issues with the AC air being blown not being very cold unless air recirculation is on?


My MS had no airflow unless recirc was on. The service center found the fresh air actuator wasn’t opening.

Once repaired, airflow for fresh and recirc was about equal. Prior to the fix, fresh on 8 was about the same flow as recirc on 2. Should make a heck of a difference come winter when I can defrost with fresh air.
 

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