Freon has a distinct smell with a sweet note to it that many people describe as smelling like chloroform. The specific smell of freon gas makes it easy to smell a freon leak. If you notice an unfamiliar smell close to your AC unit or refrigerator, you should inspect it for a freon leak.
Yes, a freon leak in your home is dangerous, especially if it’s been around for a while and the gas has accumulated in larger quantities. Typically, most households won’t have enough freon in their interior to pose significant health risks, but there are exceptions. For example, if you leave your home for a few weeks and keep all doors and windows closed during that time, freon could accumulate in quantities large enough to cause problems. You might also get freon poisoning from your air conditioner if it's leaking freon gas and you leave it running in a small, unventilated room for an extended period of time.
In any case, even if your home is properly ventilated on a daily basis, you should never ignore a freon leak, as it can potentially turn into a hazardous condition if left unattended for long enough. It’s also a sign that one of your appliances is malfunctioning, which deserves immediate attention.
Freon leaks are caused when the integrity of the circulation systems in an appliance that uses freon is compromised. Air conditioners and refrigerators are the most common sources of freon leaks. The most common cause is a break or a tear in one of the hoses carrying the gas.
Freon leaks can also occur when there’s an obstruction in the circulation system, which can cause freon to build up at a certain point and leak out. Airflow problems can also cause a freon leak.
If your appliances were manufactured after 2020, they likely don’t contain any freon and can be safely ignored. Freon was banned in 2020, so only appliances produced before that carry a risk of leaking.
Freon leaks shouldn’t cause any noticeable symptoms initially. If the gas accumulates for some time, though, it can start to cause certain problems. The most common symptoms of a freon leak include:
- Breathing problems
Freon doesn’t stay in your body for long. If you get away from the source of the leak, it should be out of your system in 24-48 hours. However, it’s important to note that allowing freon to build up in your body over a longer period of time can be very hazardous. Freon poisoning can reach fatal levels after as little as 72 hours.
- Ventilate the Room
- Determine if You Can Repair the Leak
- Get Professional Help
1. Ventilate the Room
The first thing you should do if you smell a freon leak is to ventilate the room. You'll want to open doors and windows to circulate air through the room and get the dangerous freon gas out of the home before it can build up.
2. Determine if You Can Repair the Leak
Sometimes a freon leak can be easily repaired with sealant. Before you can examine the source of the leak, it's best to unplug the appliance. If your AC is leaking freon, you don't want it running as that will increase the amount of dangerous freon gas in the air.
3. Get Professional Help
If you cannot repair the freon leak yourself, you'll need to hire a professional. For an HVAC air conditioning unit or a fridge, it might cost $1,000 or more to repair a freon leak. In many cases, if your refrigerator is leaking freon it's cheaper to simply replace it with a new one.
Freon leaks are more serious than some people assume. If you suspect you might have one in your home, you should investigate it promptly. The leak won’t go away on its own, and in the meantime, it could damage your appliances, inflate your power bill, and pose a hazard to your health if left unattended long enough.