How to Check Air Conditioning Ducts at a Home for Dead Animals

Elizabeth Falwell

If you smell a rotten, foul odor every time you turn your air conditioner on, there's a good chance an animal may have died somewhere in your ductwork. Although most ventilation systems are sealed from the outside, a crack, leak or improperly installed unit can allow small animals to enter the ducts.

If you find a dead animal in your home's ventilation system, contact a professional to remove it.

Once they do, it's difficult to remove them, and these animals often die inside your home's ventilation system. There are several ways you can check your home's air conditioning ducts; however, if you find a dead animal inside, you should contact a licensed professional or animal control officer to remove it.

  1. Turn off your home's air conditioning unit. It can be dangerous to work on or in this system while it is still running. For best results, turn off the unit at the circuit breaker.

  2. Determine which part of your home's ductwork is the problem. If you only smell the foul odor on the second level of your home, it's more likely the animal is trapped in the attic ducts. If you can smell the odor on the first floor or basement, the animal may be stuck between floors.

  3. Open the grates to your home's air conditioning system. Removing the vents and the registers will give you better access to the ventilation system.

  4. Use a flashlight to perform a cursory examination of the vents. Because vents twist and turn within a home, this method will only get you so far. It will allow you to see if there are any animals or other debris trapped within the first few inches or feet around the vent or register.

  5. Rent a remote-operated camera to explore further into the ducts. This type of camera will have a small lens at the tip of an extendable rod that allows you to penetrate further into the ducts for a better view.

  6. Use a vacuum cleaner (using the vacuum's attachments may be necessary) to suck up small animals. You may have to use heavy duty gloves to reach inside the vents and remove the carcass manually. Place the dead animal into a trash bag and take it outside.

  7. Disinfect the area where the carcass was found using rags and cleaning supplies. If the odor persists, you may have to call in a professional cleaning crew to help you.

  8. Call a professional if you cannot locate the source of the smell. Depending on the size of your home, your air conditioning system's ductwork can be extensive and extend beyond your physical reach. A professional HVAC company or an exterminator will be able to go deeper inside your home's ventilation system and remove the source of the odor.

  9. Tip

    Consult local laws regarding the proper disposal of the carcass. Different municipalities have various rules about how to dispose of dead animals. Avoid tearing up your homes walls, floors or ceiling to remove the animal. Professionals are often equipped to locate the source of the smell without causing major damage to your home's infrastructure.


    Avoid touching the animal directly. Dead animals may be infected with various diseases or bacteria that can make them dangerous to humans. If heavy duty gloves aren't enough protection for your liking, call in a professional immediately.