Stinky Feet Smell [SOLVED]

Stinky Feet Smell [SOLVED]

Problem Description: After the car has been heat soaked in a parking lot, and you go out to it the HVAC will be running full bore with recirculate on and there will be a "dirty-feet", vinegar or generally stale smell. It lasts about thirty seconds to one minute and then it is gone. This issue is described all over the different forums for Model 3s and apparently there have been (a) firmware fixe(s) that have been pushed out to deal with it. If you do not see water collecting under your car you may have a condensate drain blockage causing your problem and you will probably need Tesla Service's help getting that fixed. But, if you do have water collecting under the car that is good and this write up may address your issue. I tried using the Mothers car deodorizers and that just masked the smell (a little) and did not solve the problem. Usually i1Teslas videos are super helpful but this one did not solve my problem: If your issue is general pet smell and maybe a little different than mine that video may help you so I have included it.

Difficulty: If you can change the oil in a car without making a total mess of it you should be able to do this.

1) nextzett 96110515 Klima-Cleaner Air Conditioner Cleaner - 10 fl oz
2) a T20 torx bit and a way to rotate it in a confined space (a screwdriver will probably be too big and will not work)
My tools:
3) Paper towels to clean up the cleaner that will ultimately be dumped on the floor of your garage or wherever you are doing this.

(In the steps below I refer to the part that needs cleaning as the condenser @vlinev pointed out that this is more correctly referred to as the evaporator. Apologies to all those who are HVAC engineers. In case it aint obvious I just play one here on this forum ;) )

1) Remove and clean both your air filters. These are my air filters, note the 2017 date of manufacture: This will not solve your issue in any way but now that you have them out you will be able to inspect and clean them, which is a good thing. Follow this official howto from Tesla and/or this video on youtube to get the filters out. You need to take them out to get to the condenser to spray it with the Klima cleaner.
2) Once you have everything out, the condenser looks like this:
3) Replace the Klima cleaner nozzle with the long nozzle provided with the purchased Klima cleaner. At this point I put down a trash bag to generally cover the footwell area in case there was overspray. But I did not have any.

pmagid | 16 augustus 2019

4) Use the long nozzle to spray the ingredients of the whole can all over the condenser. After spraying mine looked like this:
5) Leave it to sit for 20 minutes.
6) Most (if not all) the cleaner should drain out the bottom of the car. You may want to have some rags or paper towels handy to clean the mess on the floor since this is not just condensate.
7) Once you are sure the condenser is dry or at least mostly dry to the touch you can reverse the steps in step 1 to put your filters back and seal everything up correctly.
8) Run the HVAC for 10 minutes at full bore to make sure it is dry.
9) You are done... Hopefully your smell is gone like mine.

pmagid | 16 augustus 2019

Soapbox Rant:
My car is 9 months old (new) and is stored in a garage most of the time in Los Angeles (a relatively dry climate). Apparently a lot of early deliveries had this issue. Probably becuase they got their cars before Summer and noticed the issue in the first Summer's heat. My car on the other hand was delivered at the tail end of Summer and the issue was not apparent during Winter. As soon as the second Summer of Model 3 availability rolled around there it was... This should not be happening this soon. Further proof is the alleged firmware fixes that have been pushed to address this. I presented my car to Tesla Service with this issue and they quoted me the $239 to address it. I get it, the warranty does not cover washing the car and nor does it cover this. Also, they told me they would not goodwill it either. When I went in my expectation was not that this would be taken care of in perpetuity every time the smell came back but that this first time would be goodwilled (because there is an issue) and the firmware fixes would make this a manageable issue and I would deal with it in the distant future on my own. I was told this is normal for all cars by the service manager. (Toyotas get it Hondas get it) This is utter rubbish and not a good position for Tesla Service to take. I have owned quite a number of vehicles in the LA and San Francisco Bay areas and not one has developed this issue this quickly. Sure other cars get it but after several years. Given that this is a widespread "thing" with Model 3s, I don't think my expectation that they would fix it this time was unreasonable. Instead I was left with the impression that Tesla is cheap. The exact thought I had was are they going to start programming the purchase web site with a dialog box that says "oh and let me go check with my manager over this deal".... Once the premium value perception is destroyed. Its gone..... I am not spending $239 to do something I can do for $15. I am not going to buy my tires at a premium from Tesla instead of America's Tire. Whereas before I was left with this cheap impression I would without a doubt have justified to myself and my CFO spending the money at Tesla because the service is premium for a premium car. This whole thing is penny wise and pound foolish on teslas part.

lilbean | 16 augustus 2019

Thanks so much!

vmulla | 16 augustus 2019

pmagid | August 16, 2019
Soapbox Rant:
My car is 9 months old (new) and is stored in a garage most of the time in Los Angeles (a relatively dry climate). Apparently a lot of early deliveries had this issue. Probably becuase they got their cars before Summer and noticed the issue in the first Summer's heat. My car on the other hand was delivered at the tail end of Summer and the issue was not apparent during Winter. As soon as the second Summer of Model 3 availability rolled around there it was... This should not be happening this soon. Further proof is the alleged firmware fixes that have been pushed to address this.


You don't say??

Sorry @pmagid, that wasn't for you.

My car was delivered Jan 2018 and I've seen this come and go.

lilbean | 16 augustus 2019

Let. It. Go.

Magic 8 Ball | 16 augustus 2019

Exactly, apparently someone does not know the meaning of alleged and the OP's post confirms a physical cleaning is needed since software is not taking care of it and any alleged attempt to address with software was a fail not a fix. Taking every opportunity to come back with a smug remark concerning this is something that just can't be let go apparently.

vmulla | 16 augustus 2019

Why @lilbean? Let people see the nonsense that goes on in the name of defending Tesla.

Yesterday you took issue with something I said, I apologized even for the unintentional negativity.
And time and again I'm attacked for providing the best info I have - info that's being repeatedly corroborated.

No it's not right. Letting it go lets self appointed defenders of Tesla emboldened to forum trample upon others.

Magic 8 Ball | 16 augustus 2019

@vmulla I had no intention of entering this thread until you came in with a snarky baiting remark that was obviously directed at me.

vmulla | 16 augustus 2019

Let us see how many other stinky car threads talk about OTA fixes. Smug or not that's what's being corroborated.

Don't want to believe? Here's info from all the others:

vmulla | 16 augustus 2019

Want to the see ugliness directed at people who share info with the best of intentions?


This is worth getting suspended out of the forum for

Magic 8 Ball | 16 augustus 2019

Incredible! Talk does not mean anything. Physical action has to be taken to address the situation not waiting around for an OTA. Poisoning every thread like this starts with the same person with chip on shoulder who over and over is as condescending as it gets.

lilbean | 16 augustus 2019

Why? Because many are sick and tired of this back and forth crap on so many threads.

rob.kibler | 16 augustus 2019

Thank you @pmagid. I'm copying the recipe that you provided to clean up the A/C system before the thread get's killed because of bad actors.

vmulla | 16 augustus 2019

Point taken.

I'm not the one who is deleting posts by owners and making this problem look smaller than it is.

wildcardb | 16 augustus 2019

A question about the procedure. Is the condenser located right inside the panel where you remove the filters? Does the excess cleaner run out under the car?

Magic 8 Ball | 16 augustus 2019

@wildcardb Check this thread out and seek the post by cmichael who has more links. The link from TMC is particularly helpful, IMO.

The Blue Meanie | 16 augustus 2019

@pmagid, thanks for the detailed write up! It's very helpful. It is annoying to have this smell happen so soon. While I do know this eventually happens to all cars, my 2010 TL with 92k daily driven miles doesn't have the stench...yet. I do notice the Model 3 seems to drain much more water than any other car I've owned though.

Regardless, the fix seems to be relatively easy, and it is a small price to pay for the daily joy I get out of my Model 3!

pmagid | 16 augustus 2019

@wildcardb Yes the condenser is right up against the filters.... Once you take them out you have access to the condenser. I would say all or nearly all the cleaner runs out the bottom of the car through the condensate drain. I read the instructions alluded to by @Magic 8 Ball and in general the upshot is the same in that basically spray the condenser with a condenser cleaner. The key difference is the other procedure requires the fashioning of a baffle to get the cleaner into the condenser because of fear the gap is too wide. I did not do this and it appeared to be unnecessary as I was able to get good coverage on the condenser anyway.

Magic 8 Ball | 16 augustus 2019

@pmagid Thanks for the writeup. A few questions and maybe discussion on preventing this.

Are you using A/C auto or a different setting like ON or Recirc?
My wife uses auto exclusively and claims it brings in fresh air from the outside and does not recirc. (maybe why we have not been hit yet?). I am advising her to turn off AC about 5 minutes before trip end, if possible, or run fan only for about 5 minutes after using AC. I just advised her to start doing this but doubt she has actually done it. Thoughts?

vincelorto | 16 augustus 2019

I suggest washing your feet with soap. If it's too strong, perhaps powder with baking soda.

vlinev | 16 augustus 2019

Just a little correction of naming of parts- it is an EVAPORATOR, not a condenser.Please, no bad feeling.

rxlawdude | 16 augustus 2019

@vlinev, thanks for the correction. Evaporator it is. Maybe that explains no condensate under my car after all - it all evaporated! j/k

pmagid | 16 augustus 2019

@Magic 8 Ball To answer your question re usage patterns: since receiving the car I left it on auto the whole time and did not dicker with settings other than temp. Since the issue popped up I have been turning recirc off since I read / heard somewhere this dries out the condenser better (It could have been the service manager who mentioned this)... I dont know about the efficacy of turning off the AC 5 minutes before the trip end etc.... I would be curious to find out why that would help and more specifically how effective it is....

pmagid | 16 augustus 2019

@vlinev, thanks for the correction. I put a note correcting the error in the original post.

Frank99 | 16 augustus 2019

Great writeup, pmagid.
I did this about a month ago, and have had absolutely no smells from my A/C since then.

I have a theory that we'll have to evaluate in the future: The manufacturing of the evaporator leaves a film of on the metal surfaces that supports microbial growth (mildew, bacteria, fungus, whatever). Thus, the evaporator is very susceptible to growth of microorganisms that stink. I'm hoping that evaporator cleaner (I used the same Klima can that you used) not only removes the microorganisms, but also strips whatever film is left from manufacturing so that this problem doesn't recur. Let's see if this works out.

pmagid | 16 augustus 2019

@Frank99 Interesting theory...

Magic 8 Ball | 16 augustus 2019

Running fan only should run fresh air through the evaporator, without evaporator being cold, which should dry it out. Running air through the evaporator, while it is cold, is what causes the moisture to build up and provide an environment for the stink to grow. The alleged software fixes would seem to be able to do that sort of thing but they are obviously fails since people are still dealing with the issue and having to do the same thing you describe. There are many stories here now where the SC is basically telling customers to lump it or leave it and setting expectations that there really is no software fix. That does not mean there won't be a fix in the future but there is no indication that there is functional "fix" currently.

It is true the issue exists with all/most cars when used in certain conditions and your story about being shined on by the SC is consistent with many other accounts. So, for now, I am going to go with dry the evaporator out by manually running the fan only for a while after prolonged use of A/C (that is the only thing I can think of without seeing the entire HVAC diagram and knowing where the resistive heater is in the flow diagram.

pmagid | 16 augustus 2019

@Magic 8 Ball: Got it, that makes sense as to how it would be effective. Unfortunately, for me, that is not a fix I would entertain. These cars obviate away so much of the silly stuff you have to do with traditional cars that requiring that I do a certain set of steps with the AC (even if it is as simple as just turning it off for the last 5 minutes of a trip) feels like a step backward. I am kind of annoyed as it is by turning off the recirc every time I find it on. Tesla needs to fix this properly.

Magic 8 Ball | 17 augustus 2019

It would be great if they do fix it “properly” but I do not see evidence of it. Do you feel or do you have information that a “proper” fix has been implemented? I can’t tell for sure if you believe a functional software fix is on the car currently to prevent it from coming back or if service told you that is the case?

Magic 8 Ball | 17 augustus 2019

Oh, BTW I don’t think recirculated air makes much difference concerning root cause of moisture. In fact recirculating same air should dry the air out. Maybe that is part of a fix that does not appear to be effective?

Magic 8 Ball | 17 augustus 2019

Wild ass spitball possible cause. This will make some sense to pilots familiar with pitot tubes. If the drain has air flowing past it or into it that will effectively create a block while driving and the condensate will not drain out until car is stopped. If I were to design a drain I would angle it back so a venturi would help suck moisture out of the evaporator box. When I worked on cars the most common root cause was a clogged drain. I have not been under our car to check and I have not seen good pics of how the drain is situated relative to airflow when the car is in motion so this is just a wild guess but I am intrigued why this is happening.

gmr6415 | 17 augustus 2019

@Magic 8 Ball, there is more to using outside air than drying the air out, which obviously in super humid environments it probably won't do completely. You are overlooking the fact that there is also saturation. To some extent, any surface or any material in the car that can absorb moisture will do so, so even outside humid air can, under those circumstances, be dryer than inside air especially if the car has gotten hot inside and the heat is pulling the moisture out of those saturated surfaces and materials. It makes the inside of the car like a steam bath every time it gets hot.

"Air Ionizer Benefits"
"Is an ionizer good for health? Evidence shows that air ionizers purify the air of bacteria, dust, cigarette smoke, molds, soot, pollen, and household odors. This has a significant impact on people suffering from hay fever and other seasonal allergies."

A quote from researchers:

"Pollution reduced"
"Negatively charged air is also destroyed by recirculating air in buildings, tobacco smoke, city smog, and other pollutants. On the other hand, good quality negatively ionized air is found in abundance in natural outdoor environments, especially around evergreen trees, beach surf, or after a thunderstorm."

Fresh outside air is always charged, to some extent, with negative ions. The other purpose of blowing outside air through an AC system instead of recirculated air is ionization. Just for a test...take a wet shirt directly out of the washing machine and hang it outside in indirect light where it can't be rained on for a few days. Make sure it's left out a good day after it's fully dry. Take another shirt from the same load and run it through the drier. The shirt hung outside will be ionized, which removes almost all odors and will have a fresher smell than the shirt that went through the drier.

Running outside air through your vents will do the same thing in the ducts. My proof is anecdotal, but my M3 is in high humidity all year round, and I can honestly say to date I have no stinky AC. I run a week with fresh air on and a week with recirculate on alternatively. Why do I do that, because living in Central FL all of our cars in the past have ended up with stinky AC smell and turning off the recirculate has always been the fix and the best preventative. It doesn't cost a dime.

gmr6415 | 17 augustus 2019

@Magic 8 Ball, "Wild ass spitball possible cause." From knowing how pitot tubes work, but not from being a pilot, but as a mechanic who has rebuilt a lot of Alison Transmissions in the past. Pitot liquid flow pressures are used for various readings in automatic transmissions generally related to rotational speed of an internal component such as a torque converter turbine.

Simply using a flexible hose at the bottom end of the evaporator drain that hangs slightly below the bottom surface of the car could create a vacuum pitot effect that would pull the moisture out of the evaporator housing. As the car picks up speed the flexible tube will bend toward the back of the car. The airflow past the open end of the tube bending toward the back of the car, cause by forward movement creating airflow under the car, would create a vacuum in the hose, which should pull the moisture out of the evaporator housing.

Magic 8 Ball | 17 augustus 2019

@gmr6415 Good stuff, I had no idea AT uses pitot flow pressures. The question is does the M3 have a flexible tube that bends backward? Is it possible the drain tube install, on some, cars actually have the tube in a positive airflow? I have not seen the drain tube geometry myself, you?

As a kid most everyone in our 'hood put clothes on a line outside to dry, never see that anymore.

Magic 8 Ball | 17 augustus 2019

Oh, on the topic of saturation that is another one of my wild ass guess as to why some experience different smells. Depending on the surface that saturated air is exposed to it seems like various components (I.E. foam gaskets) can be a medium for stuff (I.E. bacteria) to grow on or in. If air is being dried out by circulating past an evaporator (commercial air dryers use that concept) the dry air goes back into the cabin and picks up as much moisture as it can and then when it passes past the evaporator again it dumps that moisture and goes back into the cabin to pick up more moisture, no?

gmr6415 | 17 augustus 2019

@Magic 8 Ball, we went back to line-drying clothes after we purchased a front load washing machine. They are very economical in that they average using 12 gallons per load; whereas, a top load uses around 50 gallons per load. The problem is that we found when it was about a year old that front load washers are famous for growing mold in the front door seal and that mold can really make your cloths stink particularly if they get wet again from 1) sweat, 2) getting caught in a rain burst, etc.

I don't know exactly where the heat coil is in the M3 but all modern freezers have a heating coil that can heat the evaporator coil and melt off frost, i.e., the defrost cycle.

It may be helpful if the heater coil is in the appropriate place that Tesla turn it on periodically even while the AC is on. I don't know how they would do that without effecting inside cabin temp though.

My 1997 Dodge Dakota does the opposite. It periodically turns on the AC to help keep the windshield defrosted in the winter.

We found that by doing some research they do in fact have a clean cycle, which we didn't see in the owners' manual. It brings the water deeper in the bottom of the washer covering the bottom of the door seal, which it doesn't do when washing a load of cloths. Now we run three clean cycles monthly, first with bleach, then with citric acid and then with baking soda. It seems to help, but not a true solution. We have removed the seal and cleaned it several times.

As a result other then buying a top load washer we now hang our cloths on a line in our lanai, under cover, for a few days. No more stinky cloths if they happen to get wet.

gmr6415 | 17 augustus 2019

@ Magic 8 Ball, I haven't physically seen the drain tube geometry. Next time I need to rotate tires (coming soon) and I put my car up on my lift I'm going to seek it out. I know where the puddle develops under my car, so I know about where to look.

pmagid | 17 augustus 2019

What we need is MORE PITOT HEAT...... (Not more cowbell) :)

I am optimistic that this can be fixed with software... I hope so.

Magic 8 Ball | 17 augustus 2019

@gmr6415 As you can tell I am interested in trying to solve the M3 stinky car issue. Back in my engineering days I would often not sleep for days until I was able to solve a problem or find a solution. As many know there have been plenty of cars, without fancy software, that do not have "stink" issues owned by same owners in same environment. IMO this is a first principles problem that would seem to be based in a hardware/design issue as root cause. A software fix would be throwing a phone book at a problem that should not need a phone book fix, IMO. I do like the theory that maybe there is a contaminant left over from manufacturing that acts as a grow medium but I have seen many evaporators, ducts, plenums, ect. with mildew so I am not suspecting that as much as a moist environment in the evaporator plenum that does not dry out enough for some reason or another.

rpc_in_va | 17 augustus 2019

@M8B: the 3 doesn’t have a tube that protrudes below the car. I posted some photos in another thread, but the drain tube terminates about 5 inches above the front tray, and faces forward out of the bulkhead (what would be the firewall in an ICE). The condensate just drips down onto the top side of the tray a few inches from the tray’s trailing edge.

Magic 8 Ball | 17 augustus 2019

@rpc_in_va That is my understanding, as well, which has me focused on the end of tube possibly being in a turbulent airflow (back eddy) condition. Even a tube pointing backwards in airflow, with wrong end geometry, can have a local back eddy turbulence condition causing a pressure block.

It is a long shot but, IMO, there is some reason that the evaporator plenum in the M3 is staying wet longer than most cars, I think, that would cause accelerated growth of stuff.

gmr6415 | 17 augustus 2019

@Magic 8 Ball, A vacuum style pitot on the end of the evaporator drain tube would create a suction in the tube and prevent back flow turbulence. Whether or not that would solve the problem would remain to be seen.

If the drain tube stops short of the bottom of the car it would have to be extended then this style vacuum pitot would have to be installed.

Magic 8 Ball | 17 augustus 2019

@gmr6415 Exactly! Again, it is a longshot but there is a first principle design/manufacturing violation, IMO, since many cars, without fancy software, do not seem to suffer as much if at all. We will have to give it some more time before we understand if a one time spray of cleaner/killer is enough or if a software "fix" will take care of it. What we do know is current "fix" is the old fashioned way using a cleanout.

I also think that since people are reporting that the car chooses recirc when using, I think, COP that the thought would be to use the system to dry out the air and the plenum (like a commercial air dryer). We have never used COP so, for us, the car A/C has only been using the "Auto" setting.

gmr6415 | 17 augustus 2019

@Magic 8 Ball, The COP may be part of it. My car sits on the west side of the house all day in FL. The sun hits the car about 11:00 am depending on the time of year and the angle of the sun. From that time on the COP (set to no AC) runs a lot of the day. I often also hear the fans for the battery overheat protection come on too..not saying that has anything to do with this issue, just proof how hot my car gets on a daily basis. My neighbor once stated it sounded like the car was preparing to take off.

I'm assuming COP set on fan only brings in outside air. I can't see how recirculating inside air would be effective.

I've had no problems with stinky AC so far. It'll be a year an about a week since we took delivery. Maybe it's the large amount of air being moved through my car every day that prevents the stank.

Magic 8 Ball | 17 augustus 2019

@gmr6415 My theory on recirculating inside air is the air eventually dries out just the same way commercial air dryers work. As moisture is removed it goes out the condensate drain and eventually, since there is no fresh moisture laden air coming in from an outside source, there is no more moisture to be removed and dry air is eventually the only air going through the system. Saturated air is dried out using this process all the time.

We also do not have issues, yet, which makes me consider the drain tube may have slightly different variations in where one position may have a pressure block and maybe millimeter or two difference in position gets it out of a pressure block situation. There are a lot of variables but they key to my understanding is some owners, living in same environmental conditions, are reporting this issue showing up early on in their M3 where they did not experience it with "less sophisticated" cars that don't use software to "fix" an issue like this.

rpc_in_va | 17 augustus 2019

@m8b, I agree it’s a long shot. Although that area isn’t air tight, I don’t think it’s exposed enough for there to be turbulence. That said, I didn’t examine the space with that in mind.

@gmr6415, it would be almost trivially easy to create a pitot tube for the condensate. The only downside is having to drill a hole in the under tray, which I’m reluctant to do in my new car. However, if this became the known fix I’d do it in a heartbeat.

Magic 8 Ball | 17 augustus 2019

@rpc_in_va It is a longshot but my model of understanding is based on unclogging condensate drains on other cars from other manufactures and the reports of this being an issue on less than one year old M3's whereas same owners of previous cars have not had the issue in the other cars.

I also like the theory that there is some manufacturing contaminant on something or a material used in the design that promotes growth of stuff that may not be used in other cars. Something simple is being overlooked if they think they have to throw software at this Software may work but running the fan and compressor takes juice and we don't like using juice if we don't have to.

Magic 8 Ball | 17 augustus 2019

@gmr6415 A bit of clarity. I have been talking recirc with A/C. I agree recirc without A/C on makes little sense for drying anything out.

gmr6415 | 17 augustus 2019

@rpc_in_va, I think a very simple pitot may work if poor drainage is the problem, but depending on the physics of the situation it may require a restriction in the pitot where it would attach to the evaporator drain tube.

A restriction at that intersection would increase the velocity of the air moving through the restriction (a venturi effect), which according to Bernoulli's equation actually reduces pressure at that point and would create a stronger vacuum in the drain tube. I also think the increased velocity of the air (resulting from a venturi) exiting the pitot would help prevent a back flow or turbulence at the back end of the tube, i.e., a cowl effect.

updated image with venturi

This sort of vacuum injection device is commonly used in fertigation where you are pumping irrigation water through the irrigation system and you want to pull in something like a liquid fertilizer into the irrigation stream.

TickTock | 18 augustus 2019

I have found many great instructions on cleaning the cond^H^H^H^H evaporator coils but have not had any luck with finding the drain tube for inspection. Anyone got a good link or can post good instructions here?