does air conditioning cause air pollution

Does air conditioning cause air pollution? The thing is that we have become so used to these cooling appliances that we ignore their effects on the planet.

Interestingly, most people probably picture themselves lying on a beach drinking coconut water when they think of somewhere with a warm climate. 

But the reality is different, and in settings up to 30°C, you cannot live without these appliances.

But, wait, does air conditioning cause pollution? Is it possible? Well, it is!

The primary method an air conditioner adds to air pollution is through its gas-powered engine, which is used by the vast majority of these devices.

The Idea of Living without Air Conditioning

When you ask someone, “do air conditioners pollute?” you may not get a clear answer. 

But, the truth is that there are more than one-way air conditioning systems that can contribute to air pollution.

man controlling heat using ac

It is hard to live without air conditioners in many parts of the world. About 600 people each year die in the U.S. from heat-related causes, as reported by the CDC

Because of this, many people rely on their air conditioners to keep their homes and workplaces comfortable and cool.

Moreover, these appliances are lifesavers in many situations. For instance, they are extremely useful for those who:

  • Suffer from allergies 
  • Have to live with respiratory illnesses 

Does Air Conditioning Cause Air Pollution or Not?

The energy needs of air conditioning systems are high, and not all of the power they use is clean.

Here is a bit more about the different ways air conditioning may play a role in aggravating the issue of air pollution

Burning of Fossil Fuel

Air conditioners cannot operate without the power they get from fuel. Mostly, they are electric appliances, but they are capable of consuming 318W continuously while they run.

split type air conditioning system

Total costs could be very high when factoring in both the wattage and the time spent running the air conditioner.

Something that makes air conditioners problematic is that: 

  • They use gas to run.
  • They use electricity to work.
The Burning of Gas

They often rely heavily on energy produced by burning coals, which is responsible for releasing high volumes of carbon dioxide into the air.

The gas is not usually piped in from clean sources, even if the electricity is.  In fact, using gas-powered engines is the primary reason why air conditioners can cause air pollution.

These engines have to consume fossil fuels and other greenhouse gases, which is how they contribute to air pollution.

 And it is due to this particular fact that electric motors are likely to take over gas-burning engines in the future. 

Leaving Ducts Unclean

The negative impact of air conditioners is evident on a global scale, but even on a lesser scale, these systems contribute to air pollution.

Air conditioners acquire dust and germs over time, mainly because the air ducts become dirty after a while. 

clean air filter

And when you run your air conditioners, they discharge these particles into the air.

Most of these substances are harmful to humans and have a wide range of potential side effects, mainly because of contaminated and compromised indoor air quality. 

An Important Consideration

Besides contributing to air pollution, clogged ducts may also lead to sinus issues. 

The constant infiltration of dust, pollen, and animal dander into the nasal passages leads to irritation and, eventually, sinus infections.

Fact: More than 82% of U.S. households have air conditioning, and about half of these appliances run on gas, giving you a ballpark figure for the daily release of carbon dioxide.

The Problem of Thermal Pollution

Manufacturers put great effort into making sure your air conditioner delivers maximum comfort.

That is why they are specially designed and equipped to prevent excess heat from jeopardizing indoor comfort. 

ac releases heat outside home

But, you need to understand that the air conditioners capture inside heat and release it outside.

This is an endless loop that may last for the lifespan of the air conditioner. The more commonplace air conditioners are, the more likely it is that temperatures will rise outside.   

Various Materials Used in Air Conditioners

Some components of air conditioners are known to be harmful to wildlife and vegetation.

In most cases, recycling is not an option for these long-used products because of different materials, such as:

  • Polymers
  • Fusible metal
  • Copper
  • … and many others 
defective aircon

What’s more, depleting elements like cadmium and lead are found in large quantities in air conditioners made from steel and aluminum. 

So, not disposing of these materials properly can lead to pollution. 

Depleting Ozone Layer

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are considered ozone-depleting compounds and may be found in some antiquated air conditioning systems.

It is for this particular reason that you have to be very careful when disposing of older models. 

An Important Consideration

A/C refrigerant operates in a closed-loop system, which means you do not need to worry about the chemicals as long as the air conditioner is properly functioning.

However, leaks of refrigerants do occur occasionally, which can be harmful.

man fixing refrigerant leak

Therefore, regular maintenance is important to prevent refrigerant leaks caused by rusting.

 Remember, inadequate cooling in your home is a telltale sign of refrigerant leaks, so don’t ignore it.

Fact: The EPA has mandated that CFCs be phased out of the production of new air conditioners due to their harmful effects on the ozone layer. 

How Do You Lower the Impact of Air Conditioning on Pollution?

When you understand how air conditioners may be responsible for causing air pollution, it becomes easier to devise a strategy to lower that impact. For instance: 

Use Energy-Efficient Appliances

When thinking about a new air conditioner, the first thing to do is to research models that use the least amount of energy possible.

Current air conditioning and heating technology have come a long way in terms of energy efficiency, resulting in a smaller carbon footprint. 

new air conditioner

So, look for more efficient models to reduce air pollution. 

Switching to Solar Air Conditioners

Learn to save energy by switching to solar air conditioners.

The transition to solar-powered AC units is gathering steam. There is a high probability that solar air conditioners may become more commonplace in the future. 

Clean Ducts Regularly

Air ducts require proper cleaning to prevent the buildup of harmful organisms. 

Remember, dirty or clogged ducts are not only harmful to indoor air quality but are equally damaging to the unit itself.

dirty air duct being cleaned

If you want to play it safe, you may want to invest in more eco-friendly, cutting-edge ductless mini-split models. 

They may sometimes cost you more but save you money in the long run by cutting the maintenance cost.

Fact: More than 35 million Americans suffer from sinusitis each year, a condition typically brought on by bacteria and viruses dispersed in the air. 

Use Air Conditioners Wisely

The more often you run your air conditioning system, the higher its impact on the environment.

Improving ventilation through natural means will always make a difference here. 

This means you won’t have to run an air conditioning system for long enough to regulate indoor temperatures.

In order to have a pleasant indoor climate, you should look at alternatives to turning on the air conditioner.  

For instance, you can make a huge difference by switching to your fan instead of your air conditioning system. 

Plant More Trees

This one is a no-brainer, isn’t it? Make an effort to grow more trees in your local area because it will greatly impact the air quality.

It lowers temperatures and limits the need for running the air conditioning all day long.

man planting tree in his garden

Moreover, it plays a role in lowering air pollution, as trees often work as natural filters to provide you with fresh, clean air.

Fact: The HVAC system design works more efficiently in maintaining temperatures in your home and limiting the impact on air pollution as a whole. 


Does air conditioning cause air pollution? While you may not think that way, the truth is that air conditioning systems can contribute to pollution.

It is especially the case when you use gas-powered air conditioners or do not know how to dispose of older units.

Similarly, keeping the air conditioning running continuously can lead to thermal pollution and hurt the environment in other ways.

So, run your air conditioner responsibly and pay attention to regular maintenance to reduce its environmental impact.