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Spring Cleaning: How to Clean an Air Conditioner

how to clean an air conditioner

It’s time for spring cleaning, and you’re bursting with joy. There’s the entire inside of the house to clean, the full closets awaiting your skills and, of course, your car needs a good washing. And then there’s your air conditioner.

Wait, what?

That’s right. Like your house, your air conditioner needs a good spring cleaning, too. And getting it done is easier than you think.

Ready to check another item off your spring cleaning list? We’ll show you how to clean an air conditioner in 9 easy steps.

How to Clean an Air Conditioner

The idea that your HVAC system doesn’t need routine maintenance is a myth. Not keeping up with tune-ups, cleaning and more results in further cash spent down the road.

In fact, dirty filters are one of the most common reasons an HVAC system breaks down.

To clean your air conditioning unit, you’ll need:

  • A vacuum with a soft brush attachment
  • A hose and sprayer
  • Bleach
  • A screwdriver or wrench
  • Gloves
  • Butter knife
  • Coil cleaner

Make sure you clean your HVAC unit on a day when it’s relatively nice out (over 60 degrees Fahrenheit) to avoid accidental damage.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a hands-on person, you’ll find these steps easy to understand and complete.

1. Turn Off the Power

Before beginning your cleaning duties, turn off the power to your HVAC system. The power is usually found in a box near the unit. Most units require you to pull out a box or flip a switch to shut off the power.

2. Clean the Unit’s Exterior and Surroundings

Tidy up your HVAC unit and the cumbersome nature that surrounds it. Pollen, dirt and more decrease efficiency and eventually harm the unit.

Remove all grass, plants, and branches within 2 to 3 feet of the unit. This helps with airflow.

Next, take your soft-brush attachment and vacuum the condenser fins. The condenser fins are the thin blades of metal on your unit’s exterior.

Now, remove debris in the interior. Use a wrench or screwdriver to remove the fan cage, the circular or square metal cover that looks like the front of a house fan. Use your vacuum cleaner or your hands to remove material that found its way inside.

Finally, use your water hose to gently spray the condenser fins.

3. Fix Bent Fins

After you’ve cleaned the interior and exterior, check the fins for any bent blades. If you find any, use a butter knife to bend the fin straight.

The fins are weak, so be careful. Do not insert the knife deep between the metal blades.

Bent fins reduce airflow. Therefore, this step increases efficiency.

4. Spray With Coil Cleaner

Now spray the outside unit with coil cleaner approved for your device. Let it sit for about 15 minutes.

The coil cleaner bonds with dirt, giving your unit’s exterior an extra clean. Rinse it off with a gentle wash from the garden hose.

This is an optional step but provides a deeper clean than only a hose gives.

5. Turn the Power On

Turn the power back on to your external unit. Most units don’t require special startups, but some do.

Refer to your owner’s guide to check.

6. Clean the Evaporator Coil

Move to the inside unit. Now, it’s time to clean the evaporator coil.

Before doing anything with the inside unit, turn off the power to the furnace. Usually, there is a switch nearby or at the breaker unit.

The evaporator coil absorbs heat from your house. It’s located inside the blower compartment or air handler and looks like a triangular prism (oftentimes an “A”) with small “U”s along it.

You may have to remove panels to get to the coil, but this only requires a screwdriver or wrench.

Gently remove any debris on the evaporator coil with a soft brush and apply your coil cleaner. You do not need to rinse the cleaner; it will drain into the drain pan at the bottom of the coil.

7. Clean the Drain Pan

To avoid algae buildup or buildup of other materials in the drain pan, the next step is to clean it.

Use the bleach to create a 50% water, 50% bleach mixture. Pour it into the pan to remove any blockages.

Sometimes, the bleach mixture may not drain fast. If this occurs, it means the drain pipe is plugged.

To unplug the drain pipe, look for the tube running from the evaporator coil. It usually runs to a hole in the basement floor or goes outside. Follow it to its end.

Attach a wet/dry vacuum with duct tape for suction to the end of the pipe. Let it run for a few minutes to remove built-up particles.

8. Check Your Filter

Next, check your blower filter. The blower filter is located in the blower compartment where the air duct meets the unit.

Some filters are housed in filter cases. In these cases, you will have to remove screws from the case to access the filter.

Get in the habit of writing the date you add the filter onto it with a Sharpie. Check your owner’s manual for how often you should change the filter.

Double check any new filter purchased has the same airflow rating as the old one. When replacing the filter, ensure it faces the correct way.

This is a simple step that saves costly future repairs.

9. Turn the Power On

You’ve done it! Turn the power back on to your furnace and enjoy more efficient cooling.

Clean up any missed debris. Check around areas you worked to ensure there are no leaks, odd sounds or stray branches, twigs, etc.

If you notice anything odd, contact an HVAC professional to avoid further damage.

This entire process should only take a few hours, and it will increase your AC’s efficiency. Keep in mind, however, older units may slowly lose efficiency over time even with regular cleaning.

Spring Clean the Easy Way

Now that you know how to clean an air conditioner, you may have the motivation to do it yourself.

Then again, there is that car. And the house. And the closets.

Why not leave HVAC spring cleaning to the professionals? At Temples Air Conditioning and Heating, LLC, we’re always thinking about what’s best for our fellow Tampa-area citizens.

Check out our specials online and take advantage of our competitive prices. Now, you can check something off your list and keep your focus on those closets.

All the while, know you’ll breathe fresher air at lower costs. That’s the Temples way.