Are Refrigerant Leaks Dangerous?

Are refrigerant leaks dangerous

I normally see many people ask the question, “are refrigerant leaks dangerous?” in various platforms on the internet. For some, a refrigerant leak may not seem like something dangerous.

But the truth is, refrigerant leaks are dangerous and it’s something you should pay attention to in case you are suspecting your HVAC system is leaking – whether it’s a refrigerator, AC, humidifier, or dehumidifier.

If you’d like to learn more about this, why don’t you read our article. We’ll highlight some of the reasons why refrigerant leaks are dangerous, signs of a leak, and what you should do in case of a leak at home, commercial space, or industrial premises.

Are Refrigerant Leaks Dangerous, or not?

The answer: A refrigerant leak – whether minor or major – is dangerous and shouldn’t be ignored. If a flammable refrigerant finds its way into the atmosphere it can cause a fire, lead to negative environmental impacts & death of plants and animals. Also, inhaling it in large amounts can have serious health implications on your respiratory system.

Basically, refrigerants, regardless of type or purpose, should not be released into the atmosphere at whatever circumstance. They should only operate within an enclosed system where they change from gas to liquid and back to gas to remove heat.

Hence, whenever a leak occurs, the refrigerant can cause significant damage to the environment and the living organisms that come into contact with the chemical, depending on its qualities.

For instance:

  • Hydrocarbons and natural refrigerants, although most of them are non toxic, are flammable. Hence, if a significant amount sneaks into the atmosphere, they can cause an explosion and damage to property. A good example is this ammonia leak at Tyson Foods that caused a huge fire in an commercial premises. 
  • HFCs are less flammable refrigerants; however, they have an impact on global warming since they contain fluorine. 
  • HFO refrigerants may have a lesser impact on global warming. On the other hand, one of the cons of HFOs is that they are toxic and can affect aquatic life. 

Besides this, inhaling large amounts of a leaking refrigerant (regardless of the type) can have serious health implications on a human’s respiratory system or what we refer to as refrigerant poisoning.

Signs of a Refrigerant Leak

What are the signs of a refrigerant leak

Unless you have experience handling refrigerants, it can be difficult to detect a refrigerant leak on a system since they are tasteless and colorless. 

So, what exactly should tell you that there’s a refrigerant leak in your system?

  • You’ll hear a hissing sound

If it is a pinhole leak, where one of the refrigerant system pipes has a small hole, you’ll hear a hissing sound similar to a punctured tire.

  • The appliance will not be efficient at cooling

For instance, if you are using an Air conditioning system to cool your system, you may need to alter the setting to increase its cooling efficiency. That’s a clear sign that the system doesn’t have enough refrigerant to meet the cooling demands of your home or space.

  • The evaporator coils will appear frozen

Although the evaporator coils may freeze due to several reasons, a low amount of refrigerant  can also cause this to happen. This is because your system is overworking to cool your space since it doesn’t have enough refrigerant for proper cooling.

  • High electric bills

Since your refrigerator or AC is overworking to cool your home, it means that the appliance will use more energy than usual to achieve your cooling needs. The overall result: increased energy bills at the end of the month.

  • Refrigerant poisoning

A small leak may not have any impact on humans on a short term basis. However, inhaling large amounts of refrigerants on a long term basis can cause refrigerant poisoning. You’ll experience severe headaches, difficulty breathing, nausea, skin irritation, throat irritation, eye irritation, among other signs.

The image below shows a list of symptoms that you may notice due to refrigerant poisoning.

symptoms of refrigerant poisoning

  • Plant death around the leak

Any plants around the area where the leak occurs will dry up after sometime.

  • You’ll find liquid refrigerant on the floor

Refrigerants are usually heavier than air. Besides a smell of chloroform or sweetness coming from the vents, you’ll find a pool of refrigerant falling on the floor since it’s heavier than air.

  • Lubricant on the vents

Other than a hissing sound or leaking refrigerant, you can spot refrigerant oil on the vents since it finds a way to escape through the hole.

What to Do In Case of a Refrigerant Leak

If you’ve noticed any of these signs on your air conditioner or refrigerator, what steps should you take next?

Don’t make a mistake of:

  • Continuing to use the system even if the leakage is minor
  • Sealing cracked holes to stop the refrigerant 
  • Releasing all the refrigerant into the atmosphere
  • Inhaling or coming into contact with the refrigerant

Instead, you should:

  • Shut down the system immediately
  • Open all the windows and doors for proper ventilation
  • Call a professional installer or repairer immediately

Why should you avoid handling the repair by yourself?

Professional repairers have:

  • Proper certification to handle the refrigerant safely
  • The needed experience and expertise to solve such problems
  • The right tools (including leak detectors) to find the source of the leak within no time
  • They’ll also advice on the right steps to take after diagnosing the problem

How to Avoid Leaks

Before we can talk about how you can avoid these leaks, it’s best to know what causes refrigerant leaks. Generally, refrigerant leaks occur due to a malfunctioning unit. This could include:

  • Improper installation and connection
  • Corroding vents and gas pipes
  • Poor maintenance
  • An malfunctioning old unit or system
  • Natural disasters such as changes in weather
  • External damage such as when the system topples during maintenance or moving from one place to another

We always invest large amounts of money in buying air conditioners, refrigerators, humidifiers, or any other cooling appliances. Hence, it’s always good to know what you need to do to avoid refrigerant leaks.

Here are a few things we recommend.

  • Ensure proper installation of your units
  • Invest in a unit with high-quality components. For instance, a condenser made of copper will last longer than the one made of aluminum
  • Carry out regular maintenance on the system; regular inspection on the refrigeration system to identify any faults or leaks
  • Keep your cooling system in the proper environment. For instance, avoid placing AC units under direct sunlight or in areas where it’s extremely cold


How long does refrigerant stay in the air after a leak?

The refrigerant will evaporate when it gets into the air after sometime. Its smell may dissipate after 20 to 30 minutes if it’s a small leak. For significant leaks, the refrigerant smell will not dissipate quickly.

How long does refrigerant last after a leak?

Refrigerant is meant to stay in a HVAC system for the lifetime of the unit. If the system has a leak, the refrigerant may last a few months (depending on the nature of leak) before it ends completely within the system. Which is one of the reasons why people take long before they can notice any of these signs.

How to tell if AC is leaking refrigerant or water?

If the AC is leaking a refrigerant, the unit’s cooling efficiency will become worse, you’ll notice high energy bills, and the evaporator coils will freeze. Water leakage might be a sign of ice melting off from the evaporating coils.


That’s it folks. Thanks for taking time to read this article to the end. We hope that the information we provided was helpful and informative. Next time you notice any of the signs highlighted in this article, be sure to call a HVAC repairer to have a look at your system.

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