How To Clean Your Home AC Unit
Written By: Alexis Bennett
Edited by: Andrew Dunn
Are you wondering if home AC unit cleaning is a requirement to keep your system operating properly? If so, you are already ahead of your peers.
Most homeowners give little thought to cleaning their HVAC system. Yet, it can really extend the life of your heating and cooling system.
So, we put together a guide that answers essential questions like:
- How often should you clean your HVAC system?
- Can you clean your air conditioner yourself, or do you need to hire a professional HVAC company?
- How do you perform DIY air conditioner cleaning?
- What parts of your HVAC system do you need to clean?
- And more!
Do not miss out on the opportunity to save money on your energy bills and reduce your need for air conditioner repairs by learning how to clean your HVAC properly. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know.
What's In This Guide?
Is It Safe To Clean Your AC Yourself?
There are some AC components that you should let an HVAC contractor clean. However, you can clean most of your air conditioning system with a few simple to follow DIY tips.
The parts of your air conditioner you can clean yourself include:
- Evaporator coils
- AC vents
- Condenser coils
- Air filters
A licensed HVAC technician or company should clean any other part of your central air conditioning.
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How Often Should You Clean Your HVAC?
There is no set timeframe you should follow for HVAC cleaning. However, you should perform this essential chore as often as you need to, to keep your coils free of dirt.
What Safety Precautions Should You Take When Cleaning Your Air Conditioner?
Like any time you make home improvements, you need to take precautions and have some tools to do the job safely.
If you are ever in doubt about whether or not something you are doing with your air conditioner is unsafe, stop! Contact a professional before proceeding.
Otherwise, follow the steps below every time you clean your air conditioner to prevent accidents or injuries.
Turn Your Air Conditioner Off
Anytime you do work on your air conditioner, you should make sure it is off. You also want to be careful to avoid any electrical wires.
Even if you turn the power off, your air conditioner still has electricity running to it. So, you should not touch any of the wiring, especially if you are handling water.
Before you do any work on your outside unit, you need to flip the condenser unit breaker to shut the power off. Otherwise, a family member could come home while working on it and turn the AC on.
If that happens, the condenser fan will come on, and it could seriously injure you. You can find the circuit breaker near your outdoor unit. It is a small box that is likely painted the same color as your home.
When you open the box, flip the switch down. With the power shut off, you do not have to worry about the unit turning on.
You should always wear protective eye gear, gloves, and clothing. If possible, you should also wear an N95 mask or better.
Air conditioners filter out bacteria, pollen, dander, dust, dirt, and a ton of other things that can make you sick. So, you want to protect yourself from any contaminants or germs you could encounter.
When you finish cleaning your air conditioner, it is best to shower and change your clothes when possible to remove any chemicals, insulation, or mold spores you may have come into contact with while you were working. You do not want to contaminate your home.
Protect Children and Pets
If possible, do your HVAC cleaning when small children are outside the home and pets are secure. If you are in the middle of a critical task and your child gets into something dangerous, you could both be in danger, and it is not unheard of for small pets to fall into air conditioning units or ductwork.
When a pet crawls or falls into an air duct, you have to call a professional HVAC company. You lack the tools to locate the animal and rescue them.
Furthermore, if an animal does get trapped, it will undoubtedly cause significant damage as it tries to escape. So, it is best to avoid these situations altogether.
What Parts Of Your Air Conditioner Do You Need To Clean?
There are several air conditioner components that EnergyStar recommends you clean regularly. Performing these routine maintenance tasks can help to prevent system damage that can lead to costly repairs.
It is important to note that you should not perform DIY HVAC cleaning or repairs if you are uncomfortable with the task or lack the knowledge or tools necessary to do the job correctly.
Cleaning AC Coils
If you are inexperienced, cleaning your air conditioner coils might be intimidating. However, it is a fairly simple chore that can really extend the life of your HVAC system. So, if you are up for the challenge, here is everything you need to clean your coil fins correctly.
Tools and Cleaning Supplies
You will need a few tools and cleaning supplies. Here is a list of items you should gather before you begin:
- A garden hose with a sprayer nozzle
- Coil cleaner
- A vacuum cleaner with a soft brush attachment
- Screwdriver (Philips and Flat Head)
Evaporator Coil Cleaning
The evaporator coil is the component responsible for cooling your air and reducing the humidity in your home. It is often referred to as the indoor air conditioner unit.
If you notice that your indoor unit is not working as efficiently as when you first got it, the evaporator coil may be dirty.
Cleaning the coil is not difficult, but you need to be careful when doing it. The indoor unit is more difficult because you probably won’t have access to a garden hose.
Instead, you can fill an old bottle or mixing bowl with water. You may also want to place a drop cloth under the area where you are working.
The condensate pan is under the evaporator, and it should catch most of the water. However, if you have a drain clog, the water may overflow.
Before you begin, you need to make sure the unit is turned off, and there is no electricity running to the unit. Then, you need to remove any debris on the coils.
You can do that with a vacuum cleaner or a soft brush. Gently brush the dust away from the evaporator, being mindful not to bend or damage the dirty coils.
After you remove the debris, you should use a coil cleaner. Follow the directions on the container.
Most ask you to leave the cleaner on for 5 to 20 minutes. While the coil is soaking, you should see the cleaner foaming and helping to release the build-up.
You can use your soft bristle brush to work the cleaner in between the fins if you need to. You can also use a coil comb to straighten any bent fins.
After the cleaner has had time to work, you need to wash it off with plenty of plain water. You must rinse all of the cleaner and debris from the unit.
Otherwise, particles may stick to the cleaner, causing it to get dirty quicker, and that is the last thing you want after you just cleaned it.
AC Condenser Coil Cleaning
It is just as important to clean your condenser coils. The process is a bit easier because you are outside and do not have to worry about making a mess.
You do need to take precautions before you begin, though. For example, you need to make sure the air conditioner thermostat is set to off.
You should then turn the power off to the outside unit by flipping the condenser unit circuit breaker. Once the power is off, you must carefully remove all of the leaves and debris from around the unit.
After the area around your condenser is clear, use your screwdriver to remove the unit’s top. Be careful not to damage any of the wires.
After the cover is off, use a vacuum to suck all of the leaves out. You can also use your vacuum with the soft brush attachment to clean the condenser coils.
When vacuuming it, make sure to use an up and down motion. Vacuuming from side to side can damage your condenser fins.
After you vacuum all of the dirt and debris from your outdoor AC unit, you can use your coil cleaner to remove any dirt deep in the dirty coils.
Follow the instructions for soaking time. Then, rinse the cleaner completely. When rinsing your condenser, do not spray the fan motor with water.
When you finish, let the coils dry completely before turning your unit back on.
If you want to learn more about coil cleaning, check out this video by an HVAC professional:
Condensate Drain Pipe And Pan
In addition to the coils, your AC has a drain pan that needs cleaning from time to time. Anytime you perform maintenance in your unit, it is good to make sure the condensate drain is functioning properly.
If it is not, you need to clean the pan and drain pipe to remove any clogs. To do that, you need a solution of bleach and water.
You should use one cup of bleach to every gallon of water. Once you are ready to clean, you can start by vacuuming any standing water in the pan or around the unit with a wet/dry vacuum.
Once the pan is empty, use a soft pipe cleaner or bottle brush to clean out the drain. Then, place a bucket under the outside drain.
Next, you need to check to make sure the line is working properly. There is a pipe that sticks up where the drain pipe is; you can pour water in it.
If the line is working correctly, the water you pour in should end up in the bucket outside your home. If the water is not draining, you will need to pour the bleach solution into the drain pipe and wait 20 to 30 minutes.
Then repeat the process to make sure the clog cleared. Keep repeating the steps until the water drains.
Regular Cleaning And Air Conditioner Maintenance
In addition to cleaning your condensate drain and air conditioner coils, there are other things you should do to keep your system running optimally. One of the most important things you can do to keep allergens, dust, and other harmful particles out of your home is changing your air filters.
You should change your filter every 30 to 60 days, and it is better to buy less expensive filters and change them more frequently than costly filters that you can’t afford to change as often.
When you are cleaning your home, be sure to vacuum the area around your air handler and the filter access panel. It is easiest to keep the grating clean if you do it often and use a vacuum with a soft brush attachment to trap the dust.
You can also clean your air vent grates to prevent dust or contaminants from building up in your ducts. When cleaning the air vents, you can use your vacuum cleaner to lift away any dust.
Then, you can wipe them with a damp cloth and cleaner. That way, you have peace of mind that you have a clean AC.
Is There Anything You Should Not Do When Cleaning Your Air Conditioning Unit?
If you choose to tackle this task on your own, there are a few things you should never do, like using a blower or pressure washer to clean the coils. You should also never handle refrigerant or other chemicals in your central air conditioner.
DIY air duct cleaning is another thing you should not attempt. Ductwork is intricate and vital to both your heating system and air conditioner.
If you damage a duct, hot, dirty air from your attic will mix in with the cold, clean air your air conditioner is putting out during the summer. During the winter, it will be challenging to maintain the temperature in your home.
The result will be an uncomfortable home during heating and cooling season, higher electricity bills, and wear and tear on your air conditioner and heat pump.
When Should You Hire A Professional To Do Your HVAC Cleaning?
While cleaning your air conditioner is a task most homeowners can accomplish, there are times when it is best to hire a professional. Attempting to complete a job you are unsure of could result in a costly repair bill.
So, when in doubt, let a professional do the job. Other times you should call an HVAC professional include:
- If your air conditioner is not producing cool air even after you cleaned the coils.
- If you are not sure where the evaporator coil is in your home.
- If you are unsure how to properly handle liquids and chemicals you encounter while cleaning your air conditioner.
- If you are uncomfortable removing and replacing parts.
- If you have small children in your home that could get in the way while you are cleaning.
- If you lack the tools necessary to complete the job properly.
- If it has been more than a year since your last HVAC tuneup.
- If you need your air ducts cleaned.
There is no shame in hiring an expert to handle your HVAC system maintenance. In fact, in many cases, that is the best thing to do.
Air conditioning and heating contractors have years of experience and training. So, they know what parts are susceptible to water damage.
They also know techniques to avoid contact with those components, and if they damage another part of your system, they are responsible. So, if you need assistance cleaning your air conditioner or with other HVAC system maintenance, give your local air conditioner repair person a call.