Tesla Model 3/Y AC Smell: Ways to Get Rid of That Vinegar/Wet Socks Smell

By Muhammad Hassan •  Updated: 08/11/22 •  8 min read

Is it just me that smells a pitiful sour scent like wet socks/vinegar in my Tesla cabin? Or is there anyone else going through the same thing?

If you’ve ever wondered about this after encountering that nasty stench in your Tesla, know that you’re not alone, as there has been a lot of uproar in the Tesla community about this lingering bad odor. 

Well! Hold the Odor! Because this is the most illustrious and genuine article on the internet discussing every nitty-gritty of this persisting smell issue.

After many hours of study, combing through dozens of forum pages, and reading various articles in the Tesla community, I’ve crafted this article to help you get through this smell assault.

So without any further ado, let’s put on the detective’s hat and begin by finding out “Why are Teslas more prone to this awful smell?”

Why Are Teslas Prone to This Awful Smell?

Well, this situation is not unique to the Tesla Model 3/Y only — many cars go through this smelly problem, but Teslas seem more prone to it for some reason. 

A few Tesla owners think it may be related to their unique cabin overheat protection feature that can run the air conditioner when the car is parked. Tesla even released a software update to modify this feature to combat the smell. 

Below is the list of some other possible reasons that might make Tesla prone to this awful smell.

#1: Clogged Filters of Tesla Cabin

Clogged cabin air filter. Credit to Driving the Future

If you notice a little vinegary stench every time you ignite your Tesla Model 3, then there is a high chance that you’re dealing with cabin filters that aren’t performing their job properly. 

You might be thinking why would my car’s cabin filters get faulty? Cabin filters might be damaged due to frequent wear and tear or high humidity in the area where you reside.

Dirt and debris collect in the cabin filters over time, leading them to progressively get blocked. If you discover that your cabin filters are blocked, changing or cleaning them will help you eliminate the stinky smell in your Tesla Model 3.

#2: Clogged Drain of Tesla Air-Conditioning System (ACS) 

Another glossed-over reason that could cause your Tesla to smell like dirty wet socks or sour vinegar is clogged drain causing mildew to grow, resulting in a musty smell in your car’s cabin.

Even though this is a simple problem to address, things may get difficult, owing to the ludicrous positioning of the drain in the Tesla Model 3.

Tesla has offered its users with manuals, including DIY guidelines for cleaning their vehicle’s air-conditioning system. This booklet also includes helpful instructions for clearing blocked drains.

#3: Defected AC Filters/AC Coils

Tesla is prone to produce a foul stench every time you start it, in case of defective AC filters/AC coils. The stench might be anything, from a stinky pair of wet socks to a forgotten musty gym bag opened after three weeks of fermenting under your kids’ bed.

Whatever the circumstance, this odor is lethal, and you must address it as soon as possible since it cannot be ignored. It is typically the only guaranteed method to get rid of this foul smell.

#4: Defected Air-Conditioning System

If there is a malfunction in the system, Tesla’s ACS may generate a weird, foul stench. It might be due to leaking refrigerant or antifreeze in your air-conditioning system, which is generally the root cause of that horrible stench you get when you start your Tesla. 

Mildew growth in the air vent causes a foul odor to be produced every time you start the engine.

There are various DIY methods for removing mildew from the air-conditioning system, but I’d recommend contacting Tesla service experts for assistance in this circumstance to prevent causing more harm than good.

#5: Faulty HVAC Molds

Lieff Cabraser is looking into allegations that the HVAC systems in the Tesla Model Y, Model S, Model 3, and Model X automobiles produce offensive musty scents into the passenger compartment.

Tesla owners report that their cars appear to have a serious design issue that permits mildew and mold to accumulate in the HVAC system, resulting in incredibly unpleasant odors that permeate the vehicles whenever the air-conditioning is switched on.

Lieff Cabraser claims that the reported HVAC flaw in Tesla cars appears to affect models from way back 2012. The questioned model years are as follows:

3 Easy Solutions to Fix This Issue

Solution #1: Clean & Remove Smelly Things From the Car (Quick Fix)

Before blaming it all on Tesla, make sure that there isn’t anything placed by you in the car that stinks. If there’s anything that’s stinking, make sure you remove it ASAP to get rid of this smell assault and have a pleasant joy ride on your Tesla instead of a regret ride.

If you are a regular driver or have kids and pets, it’s certainly difficult to maintain the interior of your car nice and clean, and we acknowledge it. But still, there are some ways that could help you keep your Tesla interior clean over a longer period of time and thus protect you from the lethal odor:

  1. Do not eat inside.
  2. Knock your shoes before getting in.
  3. Clean floor mats regularly.
  4. Do not wash your vehicle in direct sunlight.
  5. Go for day-to-day cleaning because it consumes less time than once-a-year cleaning.

There is a high chance that the smell might not be coming from the AC but from something that either needs to be cleaned or removed from the car. There’s an example of a Model Y owner putting his gym clothes in the frunk — and that actually made things really worse.

Solution #2: Replacing the Air Filters & Cleaning the Evaporator (Mid-Term Fix)

Tesla advises changing the cabin filters every two to three years, so if you’re past that time frame, it’s high time to get your cabin filters changed and the evaporator cleaned. 

The EveryAmp YouTube channel demonstrates the whole procedure quite in-depth:

I’ve cut through the introduction and placed the video right into the start of the tutorial

Best Tesla Model 3 HEPA Cabin Air Filter Replacement: TEMAI

Fits: All Model 3 & Y years and trims


✅ Certified HEPA 11 Class
✅ Provides a testing report
✅ Comes with required installation tools
✅ Resists bad inner and outer smells
✅ 5-star user rating


❌ Some customers might consider the placement of pull tabs in the wrong corner

>> Check out our roundup of the best aftermarket Tesla cabin air filter options for replacement.

Solution #3: Have Your HVAC Checked by Tesla (Long-Term Fix)

Our M3 has started to stink again, so replacing the filters seems to be a very short-term solution, although I do think that’s where the issue lies (and the mold/fungus issue). It for sure smells very musty….

AO – Pete

In case you are a regular cleaner like AO – Pete (i.e., clean your Tesla interior often) and have tried changing the cabin air filters and thoroughly cleaned the clogged drain but this awful smell is still lingering on, having the HVAC checked by Tesla seems like the only way left.

Different HVAC issues like leaking refrigerant or antifreeze in your air-conditioning system are generally the root cause of that horrible stench you get when you start your Tesla.

Having the HVAC system checked by Tesla technicians becomes even more important in case your Tesla air-conditioning is malfunctioning due to low refrigerant, failing compressor, broken electric motor, or damaged coolant pipe.

A service from scratch will certainly give a genuine long-term fix to this persisting smell issue.

Case Studies From Actual Tesla Owners

#1: From Dylan Hong

My Tesla Model Y smelled like feet, vinegar, and mildew all together. Here’s detailed instructions in a video guide showing you how to replace your Tesla’s cabin air filter and clean your air conditioning evaporator coils:

Great video! Really taking off that smell out of your Tesla

#2: From EveryAmp

Quick story about a smell and a hissing sound in my Model Y that took months to resolve, but Tesla finally got it:

An idea where the problem lies does play an impact when reaching out to the maintenance team

Final Thoughts

An awful odor can be quite humiliating in social situations (not mentioning the inevitable jokes about your car having a “gas” problem, which may become annoying after a while).

I hope reading this article till the end has helped you get familiar with the root cause of the smell in your Tesla and determine if you can fix it yourself or if a trip to the Tesla service facility is required.

Usually, Tesla owners get rid of this foul smell after doing regular cleaning in the cabin. But for a more long-term approach, I’d suggest getting the cabin filters changed and the evaporation drain cleaned to weather out this issue completely from the comfort of your home.

Muhammad Hassan

Engineer by trade and writer by passion, Hassan is an automotive enthusiast who thinks EVs are the future. At TTU, he discusses the coolest features and products Model 3 owners look for -- so they can better experience their cars. In his free time, he enjoys tea, reading, and listening to podcasts.

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