Is Leaking Freon Harmful?

The good news is that there are really only two circumstances under which coming in contact with Freon may lead to serious problems. They are when someone:

  • Works directly with refrigerants like Freon, whether because they work in the HVAC industry or otherwise work with products with refrigerants
  • Deliberately sniffs Freon to get high; when deeply inhaled, this substance can cut off oxygen to someone’s lungs and body cells

By the time that contact with Freon turns into a situation of severe poisoning, lists that the following symptoms are likely to occur:

  • fluid buildup or bleeding in the lungs
  • burning sensation in the esophagus
  • vomiting up blood
  • decreased mental status
  • difficult, labored breathing
  • irregular heartbeat
  • loss of consciousness
  • seizures

If you ever suspect that someone is in this situation, call 911 immediately or contact the Nation Poison Control Hotline at 1-800-222-1222 and let them know that this may be a case of Freon poisoning.

More Typical Freon Situations

What we’ve described above are the most extreme situations that can happen when Freon is inhaled. More typically, if there is a Freon leak, someone may end up with exposure to the substance and may experience some less severe symptoms, such as the following:

  • headaches
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • dizziness
  • coughing
  • eye irritation
  • throat irritation
  • ear irritation

If Freon gets on someone’s skin, there can be a rash. If the Freon is liquid, it can produce symptoms of frostbite.

If you have any reason to believe that you—or someone else—has been exposed to Freon and are suffering from symptoms, get away from the area. The symptoms should go away once you’re away from the substance, and there are no known long-term effects. According to, “It is not likely that a person will develop poisoning from a leaking home appliance, assuming it is in a well-ventilated area.”

What is Freon, Exactly? Why Was it Invented?

People needed a way to keep their food cool and, in the late 19th century, a certain type of refrigerators were created. Unfortunately, the cooling came about through the use of toxic gases. When methyl chloride would leak from the refrigerators, people would sometimes die as a result, and so these refrigerators were often kept outdoors.

To find a safer solution, three American companies—DuPont, Frigidaire and General Motors—collaborated. In 1928, Thomas Midgley, Jr., with the help of Charles Franklin Kettering, invented Freon. This was a much safer alternative, with a refrigerant leak no longer the potentially deadly event that it had previously been.

In fact, in 1930, Midgley presented this substance to the American Chemical Society, and he deeply inhaled some Freon and then breathed it onto a lit candle, extinguishing the flame. That showed how Freon was non-flammable (although, as later evidence showed, inhaling Freon on a regular basis can cause serious, even deadly, health consequences; it can be assumed that Midgley only did this as a demonstration).

In 1932, this “miracle” substance began to be used in home air-conditioning units. By 1935, it was used in eight million new refrigerators sold that year—an astonishing number when you consider that this was during the heart of the Great Depression. So, Freon was a significant step forward in refrigeration and air conditioning technology.

Eventually, it was discovered that the type of Freon invented by Midgley and Kettering (now referred to as R22), while a much safer refrigerant for people, was damaging the ozone layer of the environment.

(Side note: People search in Google on “Freon leak air conditioner harmful” in significant numbers. So, with the history of this substance in mind, the answer is that Freon was a much safer, non-toxic alternative for people, with an unanticipated negative impact on the environment.)

Fortunately, more eco-friendly refrigerant alternatives now exist.

Freon R22

When it was recognized that R22 was causing environmental problems, more environmentally-friendly options began being created. These refrigerants are often still referred to as Freon, no matter what their composition really is. Through 2003, some new air conditioning systems continued to be manufactured for R22 use, while others used newer, more eco-friendly options.

Effective January 1, 2020, R22 can no longer be manufactured in or imported into the United States, per the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). So, if you have an air conditioning system that uses R22, you have the rest of 2019 to have any Freon leaks fixed and the refrigerant brought back to acceptable levels.

What Happens When Freon Leaks

When air conditioning systems are installed and when they are maintained, one of the jobs of the technician is to ensure that just the right amount of refrigerant is in the system. When it operates as it should, refrigerant doesn’t need topped off, as the substance is recycled and reused. When there’s a leak, though, there’s less refrigerant available for the system to use, so it becomes less efficient.

Here are five signs that you may have a refrigerant leak.

Sign #1 Your AC System Isn’t Cooling as Well

If it takes longer for your house to become comfortable—or if, even when you turn down the temperature, it doesn’t cool down enough—then that’s a sign that you may have a leak. That’s not the only possibility, but it’s one thing that an AC technician would check.

Sign #2 Your Energy Bill is Going Up

When this happens, again, a Freon leak isn’t the only possibility, but it’s sure one of them. If you notice a spike in your bill, especially if it happened right around when you also noticed one or more of the other signs, then you should have your system checked out for a refrigerant leak.

Sign #3 You Hear Hissing Sounds

If you have refrigerant slipping through cracks in the coils of your AC system, this can make a strange hissing sound. If you hear a gurgling sound, it may mean a larger Freon leak. Although weird noises coming from your AC system can mean a variety of things, a leak is definitely one of them.

Sign #4 Your Evaporator Coil is Icy

Your evaporator coil is part of the outside portion of your AC system, part of the back section that leads into your house. If there is ice building up on this coil, or frozen condensation appears to have melted and dripped into puddles, this may indicate a leak. If your coil feels cold when you touch it, that’s another sign.

Sign #5 Something Stinks

Freon leaks can have a pretty weird smell. So, if you notice this, it makes sense to have your AC system checked.

Different Sizes of Leaks

Leaks in your AC system can be pretty small, even pinhole-size. In that case, technicians can typically spot tiny bubbles in the coils. It’s better to catch the problem when the holes are still considered “champagne leaks” than waiting until they get bigger. Bigger holes can equal bigger problems.

Charlotte Air Conditioning Repair Services

If you suspect you have a refrigerant leak, or if you’re not sure what the problem is but you know your AC system isn’t operating properly, please contact us online or call us at 704-216-4301. We’re here to help with fast, professional air conditioning repair service, available 24/7 in the greater Charlotte area.

Charlotte Air Conditioning Maintenance Services

Our trained technicians are also ready to professionally maintain your HVAC system twice a year to keep it in premium condition and to help you get the absolute most out of your system. Every spring/early summer, we will maintain your AC system—and, in the fall/early winter, we’ll do the same for your heating system.

If you need air conditioning maintenance services in the Charlotte, North Carolina area, contact us online or call us at (704) 703-4220. If you’d like to take advantage of significant savings, then we invite you to join our Comfort Club. As a club member, you will go right to the front of the line when it’s time to receive your precision tune-up, professional cleaning, and overall rejuvenation of your air conditioning, along with an annual safety check—as well as the same type of service in the fall/early winter for your furnace.

When you regularly maintain your HVAC system, it becomes less likely that you’ll have a system breakdown. In fact, if you do have one when you’re a Comfort Club member, then you’ll get the next six months of your membership for FREE.

New Air Conditioning System in Charlotte, North Carolina

If it’s time for you to get a new, efficient air conditioning unit, then we invite you to book your appointment today. You may want a replacement system because your old one uses R22 Freon—or you may be ready to take advantage of today’s energy-efficient models that will save you money on your energy bills.

We provide services throughout the entire Charlotte area—and, if you don’t see your area listed, contact us, anyhow, because our area of operation extends far beyond that of the Charlotte metro region!