House Smell Like Nail Polish Remover? (Here's Why & What to Do)

Upgraded Home Team
by Upgraded Home Team
Acetone is commonly used in nail polish remover, but it is also found in your HVAC system’s refrigerant. Nail polish remover throughout the house happen for several reasons, but it is usually a refrigerant leak. Follow along as we explore each possible explanation for a persistent acetone smell in the house.

If you get manicures and pedicures often, you’re probably familiar with the smell of nail polish remover. It’s certainly a unique smell, and when it emanates throughout a home it’s impossible to miss. So, what causes a house to smell like nail polish remover?

The acetone smell, which resembles nail polish remover, can originate throughout a home when there’s an HVAC system refrigerant leak. Air conditioners, ductless mini-split systems, and heat pumps can all leak refrigerant. A unit that’s producing this odor must get professional attention, or else the system could be rendered inoperable.

To understand more about why air conditioners and other HVAC units leak refrigerant, read on!

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What Happens When An HVAC Unit Leaks Refrigerant

All HVAC systems and air conditioners use refrigerants. Without refrigerant, a unit would not be able to provide cool air. This explains why a refrigerant leak could render a system inoperable.

Why Refrigerant Leaks Happen

A refrigerant leak could be caused by:

  • Poor installation
  • Accidental puncture
  • Factory defects
  • Poor connections

Also, cracking caused by formic acid can lead to a refrigerant leak.

Units that are off balance are also prone to refrigerant leaks, so one must make sure their unit is never off balance. To ensure your unit is balanced, consult the tips in this post.

Identifying A Refrigerant Leak

While the smell of nail polish remover is the most common indication of a leak, there are other signs. For example, a unit may fail to cool a room, even after running for an hour. A leaking system may also make strange noises.

Other signs which indicate a unit may be leaking refrigerant:

  • The unit is blowing warm air.
  • Water is collecting on the ground under the unit.
  • The unit turns on and off quickly (rapid cycling).
  • There are oil stains.
  • Frost or ice are building up on the copper lines.

The Safety Concerns Associated With Refrigerant Leaks

To determine refrigerant levels, one should have their unit inspected at least once a year. If the refrigerant level is abnormally low, there may be a leak.

Once a leak is identified, it’s best to get professional assistance. Running a leaking system could cause a lot of damage, and not only to the unit.

Gasified refrigerant is very dangerous, and the refrigerant used in older models is even more dangerous. One may experience dizziness, heart palpitations, or an irregular heartbeat as a result of refrigerant exposure. Extreme exposure can cause suffocation.

Refrigerant is also incredibly flammable, so a leaking unit could cause a blaze quite quickly. It’s best to have a professional take care of any leak-related issues, as they know which precautions to take.

How A Refrigerant Leak Is Fixed

If the leak is coming from the copper tubing inside the unit, the fix is pretty simple. Using a torch and solder that contains a lot of silver, the damaged line can be re-soldered.

Another way of resolving a refrigerant leak is by replacing the damaged/malfunctioning components. While this method is more costly than a repair, it ensures a leak won’t occur in the near future.

In some cases, the damage caused by a leak renders a unit inoperable. While total replacement is sometimes the only option, it’s one that can be avoided. Regular maintenance, especially when conducted by professionals, can ensure costly problems like leaks don’t occur.

Addressing a refrigerant leak is something best left to professionals. The smell of nail polish may seem harmless, but it indicates that a potentially lethal subject is leaking. An expert can address this problem without putting themselves or homeowners at risk.

Other Smells That Can Emanate From An HVAC System

The smell of nail polish remover isn’t the only one that can emanate from a malfunctioning HVAC system. Here are some other common smells and the issues they may indicate:

Burning Dust: This smell is common, and it often manifests on the first run after a period of inactivity. Dust collects on the heat exchanger if the system isn’t run often, and it’s burned off within minutes of turning the system on. If the smell lasts for longer than several minutes, there may be a bigger problem.

Electrical Odors: Bad wiring is often what causes electrical odors. Another cause is a unit’s motor being burnt out. For any electrical issues, contact a trained electrician.

Rotten Eggs: This smell should not be ignored, as it may indicate there’s a gas leak somewhere. If the rotten eggs smell is emanating throughout your home, shut your system off immediately. After opening all the windows in your home, go outside to a safe location and call for help.

Decay: If something is decomposing in your vents, the smell will be unbearable. A decomposing carcass will also drastically reduce the quality of your home’s air. It’s best to call a technician immediately in this instance, as they can safely remove the carcass.

How To Mask The Smell Of Nail Polish Remover

Masking the smell of a refrigerant leak is possible. It’s best, however, to get the leak fixed, as smell masking doesn’t negate the other hazards. But if a technician can’t fix your system right away, here are some things you can do to hide the nail polish remover smell:

  • Put fresh ground coffee in a bowl and stir this. The smell will be powerful enough to emanate through multiple rooms.
  • Place small boxes of cat litter in the rooms where the odor is strongest.
  • Mix essential oils with water in a glass bowl.
  • Spray odor-neutralizing agents until the smell is gone.

Long-Term Fix vs. Masking The Smell

Even if the smell of nail polish remover isn’t unpleasant to you, it’s best to get the root problem addressed immediately. When it comes to refrigerant leaks, every moment the leak goes on unchecked puts the system at greater risk of failing.

Operating Your Unit With Leak Prevention In Mind

If you don’t overwork your system, it won’t be at risk of failing when you need it most. Most AC and HVAC systems aren’t built to run round the clock, and problems like leaks and component failure are often the result of overuse.

A malfunctioning thermostat could also cause a unit to leak. If the system is continuously producing cold air without resting, a pipe could crack or the condenser could break. It’s best to let the unit rest after hours of operation, as this practice will ensure it runs for a long time.

A Leaking Unit Is Bad For The Environment

HVAC systems use a lot of power, and one should be mindful of their energy consumption for a couple of reasons:

One: The longer a system runs, the more is paid in electricity bills.

Two: Careless energy consumption harms the environment.

Moreover, if a system isn’t running in peak condition, it’ll consume even more energy. A leak will put a significant strain on a unit, and one might notice this in their energy bills before they notice a smell.

Hiring Professionals To Handle A Leak Is The Best Option

When a system leaks refrigerant and the smell of nail polish remover manifests out of nowhere, such can be alarming. Acetone has a very distinct chemical smell, and one might think they’re inhaling noxious fumes if they don’t know where the smell is coming from.

A certified HVAC technician will be able to find the source of the leak, something an inexperienced person couldn’t do easily. A technician can also repair, if possible, the part of the unit which is causing the leak. And if replacement of parts or the whole unit is necessary, a technician will know this.

It’s true that some HVAC system owners don’t bother to call technicians at the first sign of a refrigerant leak, but this is certainly not a recommended course of action. The longer a system leaks, the higher the likelihood that the system will be inoperable. Find out why your house smells like mothballs.

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Related Questions

Can the smell of acetone kill a person?

Inhaling a small amount of acetone isn’t going to kill you, but the irritation it causes should indicate that something needs to be done. Studies done on animals show that long-term exposure to acetone can lead to kidney, liver, and nerve damage.

What does freon smell like?

Freon travels through the copper coils inside a unit, and when this leaks a sweet, chloroform-like smell is emitted. It’s best to get an expert to address this problem, as dealing with freon isn’t something that should be taken lightly.

What can I put in my vents to make my house smell good?

If your system is blowing air that’s slightly odorous, here’s what you can do:

  • Split a dryer sheet in half and attach each half to the vent shutters using clothespins.
  • Use a clip-on air freshener.
  • Dab fragrant essential oils on the vent.
  • Use dried lavender.

Check this out if your AC vent smells like sewage.

Does acetone cause cancer?

Both the Department of Health and Human Services and the International Agency for Research on Cancer do not classify acetone as a carcinogen. Additionally, studies show acetone does not cause skin cancer in animals.

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Upgraded Home Team
Upgraded Home Team

We are a team of passionate homeowners, home improvement pros, and DIY enthusiasts who enjoy sharing home improvement, housekeeping, decorating, and more with other homeowners! Whether you're looking for a step-by-step guide on fixing an appliance or the cost of installing a fence, we've here to help.

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