Believe it or not, more than 12 percent of the average homeowner’s energy costs come from heating and cooling their home. And when the system is dirty or damaged, those costs will only be higher. If you’re like most people, the thought of cleaning your AC unit probably hasn’t even occurred to you. After all, you take care of minor repairs as they’re needed. Cleaning isn’t necessary, right?
Wrong. Even the best-maintained HVAC systems get dirty and need a little TLC to get them back up and running properly and efficiently.
Here’s how to clean an air conditioner so you and your home can stay comfortable without blowing your budget.
Start with Your Filters
Every air conditioning system has a series of filters. These filters trap many of the annoying contaminants that can cause upper-respiratory aggravation before they can enter your home.
Over time, the filters get dirty and the dirtier they get, the harder it is for air to flow through the material and into your home. This can result in an increase in energy costs and a lack of cooling in certain rooms.
Before you start relying on your system, inspect your filters for wear and tear. If they look dirty or are visibly clogged, replace them. And plan to replace them at least once every three months.
The more you use your system, the more often you’ll need to clean the filters. Throughout the summer, get in the habit of checking your filters each month and consider having a few new ones on hand to replace dirty filters as needed.
Clean and Unblock Your Air Vents
During the winter, it’s normal for furniture to shift around. But this can mean your air vents end up getting blocked.
Walk around each room and make sure your air vents are visible and able to send air throughout the room without hitting a piece of furniture. Remember, air conditioning the back of a sofa won’t help cool the room.
Once you’ve found all the vents, make sure they’re clear of dust and that the registers are open so air can circulate through. A closed air vent is just as bad as a blocked air vent.
And leaving multiple vents shut throughout the house means your air conditioner will have to work harder just to cool the space.
Inspect Your Evaporator Coil
Once your vents and filters are clean, you’ll want to inspect the evaporator coil. The evaporator is the component that absorbs heat and cools the air so the compressor and blower can send cool air throughout your home.
Over the course of the year, it’s likely to get covered in dust and dirt.
Dust the coil with a soft bristled brush—an old clean toothbrush will do the trick, but you can also use a clean microfiber cloth.
If you feel confident enough, clean the evaporator coil with a dedicated cleaner. These are available at most hardware stores. Once the coil is clean, the cleaning solution will drain into the drain pan.
Remove the drain pan and wash it out thoroughly with soap and water. This will get rid of dirt, algae, and contaminants that could make your unit less energy efficient.
Clear Away Clogs in the Evaporator Drain
The evaporator coil creates condensation and moisture that drips into the drain pan. Once there, the water slowly drains away through the evaporator drain.
But that drain can often get clogged with algae, mold, and dirt. When this happens, the pan can’t drain and you’ll start to see a puddle beneath the unit in your home.
To clean the drain, find the spot where the water leaves your home. This may be outside by the main condenser unit, but it may also lead to a designated drainage area in your basement.
Inspect the opening for clogs and damage. If you see anything out of the ordinary or feel worried about the flow rate from the drain pan, schedule a repair appointment with your technician. Removing clogs on your own is tricky and if you’re not familiar with the process, you could damage your drainage system.
Inspect Ductwork for Damage
It’s common for most homes to have visible air ducts in at least a portion of the house. Inspect those areas for signs of damage.
Look for rust on the bottom of the ductwork. Check the metal for punctures and dents. You can also peek behind the air vents to see if the ductwork looks clean and clear.
If you notice any damage or see that the ductwork is hanging loose or has shifted over the winter, meet with your repair technician.
When the ductwork is in bad shape, air can leak from the ducts into the walls and empty spaces of your home. Over the course of the summer, this means your air conditioning unit will have to work harder to keep your home cool.
Getting the ducts repaired and cleaned will help you reduce your energy costs and makes sure your home stays comfortable no matter what the weather is like outside. Just remember that you won’t have to have the ductwork cleaned every year.
As long as you keep an eye on the system and monitor it for damage, you should be fine.
Check for Refrigerant Leaks Inside
Leaking refrigerant is bad for both your air conditioner and your health. It’s highly toxic and even minor leaks can put a strain on your air conditioner.
Without proper refrigerant levels, your HVAC system won’t be able to cool the air and keep your house comfortable. And even a minor leak can result in high energy bills.
Inspect the areas around your blower unit and evaporator coils. If the space smells bad or you see liquid on the ground, schedule a repair appointment. The sooner the issue gets fixed, the more comfortable your home will be.
Remove Debris from the Outdoor Unit
Once you’re done with the indoor components, you’ll want to turn your attention to the outdoor unit.
Clear away plants that are growing alongside the condenser unit’s cover. And remove any dead plant matter from the outside of the unit.
Once you’re done, you’ll want to clean the inside of the unit. Unscrew the top and remove any visible plant debris with your hands. You can also use a garden hose and a gentle spray of water to remove dust and dirt from the sides of the unit.
The cleaner the outdoor compressor is, the more air it can circulate. This helps the system run more efficiently, saving you money when the temperatures rise.
Dust the Compressor Fins
Along the wall of each outdoor compressor unit, you’ll see a system of wavy metal tubes. These are the system’s compressor fins. And they get dirty quickly.
Unfortunately, dust and dirt can clog the fins which hurts your system’s airflow. Grab a damp microfiber cloth and wipe the exterior of the fins down.
This should be enough to remove the worst of the buildup. If you still see a lot of dust stuck between the fins, you may want to rent a shop vac to remove the dirt.
Whatever you do, remember to be gentle. Damaged fins are time-consuming to repair and replace.
Straighten Damaged Fins
When it comes to energy efficiency and your AC unit, it all comes down to air flow. And bent fins can block your AC from getting the air it needs to run properly.
Plant matter, storms, and animals can bend the fins quickly. Take a moment to inspect the tubing for damage or warping.
If the fins look straight and aligned, you’re good to go. But if they look warped, straighten them.
Use a butter knife or dedicated fin tool to gently bend the tubes back in place. Keep in mind that you’ll want to be extremely gentle during the process.
If you straighten the fins too aggressively, they’ll break or snap, forcing you to schedule repairs before the summer heat is in full swing.
Schedule a Professional Tune-Up
Once you’re done cleaning your AC unit, you’ll want to give the system a complete tune-up. This will allow you to take care of any minor repairs before they turn into major problems.
But unlike cleaning the unit, an experienced technician must handle this step. They know what’s normal wear and tear and what’s a huge underlying problem that could threaten the efficiency and durability of your unit.
During the tune-up, they’ll inspect the entire system to make sure things are working properly. If anything looks out of place, they’ll make the necessary adjustments or recommend repairs to help you get through the summer without any unexpected breakdowns.
Stop Worrying About How to Clean an Air Conditioner
If you’re worried about how to clean an air conditioner in preparation for summer weather, this checklist is a great place to start. But if you feel that you’re out of your depth or aren’t confident in performing a certain task, step back and leave it to the pros.
Contact our experienced team to schedule a tune-up and cleaning for your system. We’ll make sure your air conditioner is ready for everything that the summer weather can throw your way.
Looking for HVAC coupons to save on your next A/C unit or even furnace?
HVAC Maintenance Plan
Want two preventative maintenance visits per year AND VIP treatment on any repair service?