There is nothing better than escaping the heat and humidity of the outside air by blasting your car’s AC.
Since the average temperature of the air outside is rising every year, we tend to use our car’s AC more and more. However, the overuse of air conditioning in your car increases the likelihood of your car’s AC to start emitting a bad odor. This unpleasant smell could be described in many ways – musty, dirty socks, sweaty, etc.
Whichever the case, you can easily, quickly, and cheaply remove bad odor from the system by using special evaporator cleaners (disinfectants).
There are a lot of AC evaporator cleaners on the market and you might get overwhelmed in your search for the best one. To save you the headache, we’ve done the research for you and found the 4 best car AC evaporator cleaners on the market.
What Causes Bad Odor in the Car’s AC System?
Moisture is the main reason for the musty odors in AC systems. Your car’s evaporator cools the inside air of your car by absorbing the heat and moisture, thus making the evaporator the perfect breeding ground for bacteria.
A well-functioning air conditioning system gets rid of moisture on the surface of the evaporator by draining the moisture via a drain tube and, for the lack of a better word, evaporating the leftover moisture.
However, if the moisture on your car’s evaporator gets stuck and pools around the unit for a while, bacteria, and mold start to take over. Unfortunately, mold and bacteria tend to smell a bit funky, thus your car’s AC starts to smell funky as well.
How to Prevent Bad Odor from Your Car’s AC
Don’t worry, you won’t have to keep buying evaporator cleaners every summer if you prevent the bacteria from making a home for themselves in your car’s AC system.
- Make sure the drain tube isn’t clogged. If your drain tube is clogged, you will have to use evaporator cleaners that are designed to be sprayed through the drain tube. Spray the cleaner through the drain tube and let it soak for 5 minutes. Make sure you don’t remove the spray nozzle from the drain tube or the contents will spill prematurely. If you’re unsure how to clean the drain tube and don’t want to risk damaging the evaporator – get your mechanic to do the job for you.
- Let your evaporator dry out. Before the end of your trip, turn off the AC and let your blower motor dry out the moisture for at least 10 minutes. Some cars have this feature and do it automatically approximately 30 minutes after you shut off your engine – so don’t worry if your car turns on the blower motor out of nowhere, it’s probably not possessed.
- Clean your evaporator with a special cleaner. Spray the antiseptic evaporator cleaner directly onto the evaporator or onto the vents. AC evaporator cleaners are designed to kill all the bacteria and mold in the car’s AC system.
- Replace your cabin air filters. This is often overlooked but replacing your cabin air filter makes a big difference. The cabin air filter is designed to capture and prevent dust, pollen, and other contaminants from entering the cabin. Since the filter collects all kinds of contaminants it could act as a source of food for mold. For best results, replace your cabin air filter with an Active-Carbon air filter as they are considerably more effective at purifying the air and preventing bad odor.
Best AC Evaporator Cleaners for Cars
Now that you’re armed with knowledge on how to prevent bad odor and keep your car’s AC fresh, here are the top car AC evaporator cleaners:
|Nu-Calgon 4171-75 Evap Foam No Rinse||Check Price On Amazon|
|DWD2 Clean AIR||Check Price On Amazon|
|Lubegard 96030 Kool-It||Check Price On Amazon|
|FJC 5914||Check Price On Amazon|
Nu-Calgon 4171-75 Evap Foam No Rinse – Strongest Formula
Evap Foam No Rinse is a heavy-duty detergent that will immediately start foaming and liquifying grease, dirt, and other residues once it comes in contact with grime. Nu-Calgon claims that this product is fortified with corrosion inhibitors, meaning that it won’t damage the coils of the evaporator, unlike acid-based cleaners. The Nu-Calgon Evaporator Coil Cleaner is completely self-rinsing due to its fast-breaking foam, so there is no need to rinse the evaporator after cleaning.
The detergent has a pleasant lemon scent, that isn’t too aggressive. Evap Foam No Rinse doesn’t come with a tube, which means it’s going to be more difficult to spray the foam onto the evaporator.
- Good value
- Can be sprayed from any angle
- Great foaming action
- Doesn’t come with a tube
DWD2 Clean AIR – Premium Pick
Clean Air by DWD2 is designed to clean, disinfect, break down and wash away allergy and odor-causing mold and bacteria on your car’s evaporator. Just like the Nu-Calgon 4171-75 Evap Foam No Rinse, DWD2 Clean AIR is non-corrosive and non-toxic. The cleaner comes in an 8oz aerosol can with a 12-inch tube, which helps to spray the foam directly onto the evaporator.
DWD2 Clean AIR does recommend drilling a small hole into the plastic case that is housing the evaporator to inject the cleaner directly onto the evaporator’s surface for the absolute best results. But if this sounds a little unnerving, you can still use the tube of the DWD2 Clean AIR and spray the cleaner through your car’s air vents, or directly onto the evaporator if you have access.
- Comes with 12-inch a tube
- Comes both scented and unscented
- A bit pricy for the amount
Lubegard 96030 Kool-It – Easiest To Use
The Kool-It Evaporator & Heater Core Foam Cleaner by Lubegard reduces allergens and contaminants while also improving the efficiency of the car’s cooling system. It doesn’t require any tools and is easy to apply thanks to the handy 30-inch hose and foams up immediately when contacted with grime. The manufacturer recommends spraying the foam through the drain tube of the evaporator for best results (located under the right side of the vehicle for most car manufacturers).
Kool-It Evaporator and Heater Foam Cleaner have a mild minty smell. For some cars, one 6 oz can may not be enough depending on the size of your car’s evaporator.
- Very easy to use
- Comes with a 30-inch hose
- Great foaming action
- Pleasant minty smell
- Some cars may need more than one can
FJC 5914 – Best Value
The FJC 5914 Foaming Evaporator Cleaner is an effective and non-corrosive evaporator cleaner. The cleaner comes in a big 18 oz aerosol can with a tube, so you probably won’t have to worry about buying more than one can. Like most cleaners, the manufacturer recommends spraying the foam through the drain tube of the evaporator for the best results.
The product doesn’t require any tools for application and is not scented, so you don’t have to worry about the smell of the cleaner lingering for a long time after cleaning, however, some people do like a light pleasant perfume to mask any unpleasant odors.
- Great value for such a big can
- Easy to use
- Comes with a tube
- Good foaming action
How to Clean a Car AC Evaporator Using an Evaporator Cleaner
Now that you’ve decided which evaporator cleaner is the right one for you, it’s time to learn how to use the product to clean the evaporator.
The following steps are just a general overview of the cleaning process – different cleaners require different steps. Always consult and follow the manual that comes with the product, because failure to do so could damage your car’s AC system.
A Few Tips Before You Start:
- Make sure your evaporator’s drain tube isn’t clogged. This is the only way for the evaporator cleaner to drain out after it’s done the job.
- Replace your cabin air filter after cleaning. Reusing the same nasty cabin air filter after cleaning is similar to putting on dirty socks after you’ve washed your feet. The filter is designed to soak up all the grime from the outside air and it could give the funky odor on its own. If you don’t replace it, you will increase the chance of bad odor coming back early.
Through Your Evaporator’s Drain Tube
Some products recommend cleaning your evaporator by spraying the cleaner through the drain tube.
You can find the drain tube for the evaporator on your car by letting the AC run for a few minutes. After letting the AC run you should see water dripping from under your car – this is your car’s drain tube. If you don’t see any dripping from under the car it probably means that your drain tube is blocked, in which case you should get it unblocked.
Step 1: Spray the evaporator cleaner through your car’s drain tube. The amount that you will have to spray is different for each cleaner so consult your manual.
Step 2: After you’re done spraying the cleaner, place a container underneath the drain tube and let the cleaner do its thing. Give the cleaner at least 15 minutes to kill the mold and bacteria.
Step 3: After foaming stops and the cleaner turns into a liquid, the dissolved contaminants will start dripping down the drain tube into the container that you’ve placed earlier. Let the contaminants drip out completely.
Step 4: Run your blower motor for 5-10 minutes to dry the area out.
Here is a great video by Lubegard, outlining the whole process:
Through the Interior Vents
Another way to clean the evaporator is through the interior vents. This way is the least effective but easier than crawling under the car to find the drain tube.
Insert the hose that comes with the cleaner into your car’s interior vents as far as possible and spray the cleaner as you would normally. Then, follow steps 2, 3, and 4.
Directly Onto the Evaporator
This is the most effective way to do it but it does require a lot more work. The goal is to get direct access to the evaporator to see the evaporator itself and adjust the spray to cover the whole area and leave no contaminants untreated.
Getting to the evaporator is a different process in every car. It’s most often located under the glove box. The evaporator itself sits in a plastic box that protrudes outward from the firewall. The blower motor will be attached to it.
Some cars make it easy by putting the cabin air filter next to the evaporator. In this case, take out the cabin air filter and you will get access to the evaporator. If that’s not possible, you could remove the blower motor to get access to the evaporator.
Once you’ve got access to the evaporator, make sure to cover the whole area with foam and check if all the contaminants are flushed.
Car AC Evaporator FAQ
How to Clean Car AC Evaporator Without Removing It?
The only way to clean a car evaporator without having to remove it is by using an evaporator cleaner that’s specifically designed for this purpose. As mentioned earlier in this article, evaporator cleaners are specifically designed to be sprayed through the vents or the evaporator tube underneath the car.
This means you don’t have to remove the evaporator or any other parts in order to clean it. However, you will need access to the interior vents or the drain tube in order to spray the evaporator effectively and completely cover it in disinfectant foam.
How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Car AC Evaporator?
On average, it costs around $1000 to have the evaporator replaced. The evaporator is very difficult to access, thus it takes a lot of time to get it out of the car and also a lot of time to replace it with a new unit.
The evaporator itself usually costs around $150, therefore most of the cost will come from labor. Additionally, if any other parts of the AC system are damaged or need to be replaced in order for the evaporator to be replaced, the cost will likely be even higher.
Eddie is the co-founder of CarCareCamp.com, and the site’s primary contributor.
Under his belt, Eddie has a bachelor’s degree in Automotive Electronics Engineering and almost a decade of experience working as a semi-truck technician (specializing in electrics).