Is AC Refrigerant Toxic? What You Should Know

Every HVAC system relies on the refrigerant in the copper coils to cool or heat a space. The chemical is beneficial when it’s inside the copper coils, but what happens when there’s a leak? Is AC refrigerant toxic when you inhale or touch it?

As the HVAC experts in Niles, IL, we can categorically tell you that AC refrigerant is toxic. You must avoid inhaling it or allowing it to touch your skin. Mishandling the chemical leads to refrigerant poisoning.


The refrigerant in your air conditioner is the chemical responsible for the heat transfer from your home to the outdoors and vice versa. It’s a colorless and mostly odorless liquid or gas.

Most people refer to refrigerant as Freon. However, Freon is only a brand name. Chemicals you may find in older AC refrigerants include hydrogen, carbon, fluorine, chlorine, and bromine. In newer refrigerants, you may find difluoromethane and pentafluoroethane.


AC refrigerant is toxic because of its chemicals, which are dangerous to humans and the environment. The compounds in older AC refrigerants deplete the ozone layer. Modern refrigerants aren’t as detrimental to the environment, but they are still toxic.

In the human body, these chemicals interfere with cellular function to create some of the documented symptoms of refrigerant poisoning.


Refrigerant poisoning is what follows after exposure to liquid or gaseous Freon. There are two types of refrigerant poisoning:

Acute Refrigerant Poisoning

Acute refrigerant poisoning results from short-term exposure to a high concentration of Freon. Such accidental exposure often happens when an HVAC system breaks down and introduces refrigerant gas into the environment.

Chronic Refrigerant Poisoning

This type of refrigerant poisoning occurs with repeated exposure to refrigerant chemicals over long periods. Chronic refrigerant poisoning is likely in industrial establishments where technicians use refrigerant to cool appliances.


Symptoms of mild exposure to refrigerant poisoning include the following:

  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Irritation of the eyes, ears, and throat
  • Skin burns or frostbite

In cases of severe poisoning, the symptoms include:

  • Disorientation
  • Burning sensation in the throat
  • Arrhythmia
  • Bleeding or fluid percolation in the lungs
  • Labored breathing
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness

Looking at the symptoms above, you can see why the answer to “Is AC refrigerant toxic?” is a resounding yes. There is no way to know whether an AC will leak Freon ahead of time, so you must be vigilant.

If you suspect signs of a refrigerant leak, you must act quickly to prevent a health and environmental concern. Open the window to let in some fresh air and seek medical help. After you receive a clean bill of health, call in HVAC professionals to prevent the leak from recurring.


Some of the common signs of an AC refrigerant leak include:

The System Only Blows Warm Air

An AC low on refrigerant can’t absorb heat properly. As a result, it will only blow warm air even when you lower the thermostat below the usual threshold.

However, remember that other types of AC damage can also make your AC blow warm air. So, you can’t know whether you have a refrigerant leak until you get an air conditioning repair team to check it out.

Higher Cooling Bills

A refrigerant leak will make your air conditioner work harder than normal to cool your home, leading to a spike in your energy bill. However, this is another shared symptom, so it’s not enough to order a refrigerant refill on its own.

Ice on the Refrigerant Lines

Ice on your copper coils or refrigerant lines is the clearest visual sign of a refrigerant leak. When the Freon is low, the internal component of your AC unit will freeze up, causing ice to form along the refrigerant lines.

Hissing Sounds From the Internal or External Component

You may be dealing with a serious refrigerant leak if you hear any hissing or bubbling sounds coming from your air conditioner. Reach out to your HVAC team as fast as possible.


If you ever feel the need to type “is ac refrigerant toxic” into your search box, then you need to contact a team of professionals to evaluate your system as fast as possible.

Don’t hesitate to call the A Custom Services team in Chicago, IL, at (773) 831-4891 to get fast help. Do you have a furnace? Check out our furnace maintenance checklist.

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