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Simple DIY Air Conditioner Cleaning

two outdoor air conditioner condensers amid sparse greenery

Image by Pixabay

A major part of getting your home ready for winter is air conditioner cleaning. Taking proper care of the various components of your A/C will make sure it’s ready to go when spring rolls around, ultimately saving you in energy and repair costs.

For your DIY air conditioner cleaning, you’ll need the following items:

  • Replacement filters
  • Rags
  • A soft brush
  • A wet/dry vacuum
  • A hose
  • A screwdriver
  • Dish soap
  • Baking soda
  • Tarp and bungee cords or an air conditioner cover

Shut Off the Power

circular thermostat on a mustard yellow wall

Photo by Moja Msanii on Unsplash

The first step to air conditioner cleaning is to shut down the power. This is especially important in the winter since you don’t want it randomly turning on during slightly warmer days. In addition, you don’t want the unit turning on while you’re working on it.

Both the outdoor condenser unit and your thermostat should have an on/off switch, so be sure they’re both in the “off” position. Then find your breaker box and flip the switch to your A/C to be extra certain it doesn’t start running on you.

Replace Your Filters

The next step is to clean or replace your air filters. These get clogged over time and should be cleared out every month or so. The filter is usually found in your indoor utility cabinet, though some systems use them in the return air duct (i.e. the duct that draws air from your house into the air handler).

When changing filters, make sure you have the right size. The size is typically printed on the side of the filter.

If you’re using reusable air filters, you can either vacuum it clean or wash it in water. If you wash it, make sure it dries thoroughly before placing it back in your system.

Clean the Evaporator Coils and Drain Pan

The next step of air conditioner cleaning is dusting the evaporator coils. These are located inside your air handler where they absorb heat from the inside of your home. This process causes moisture to form, which drips into the drain pan and condensate line underneath.

Dust often collects on your evaporator coils. If this is the case, just dust them off with a soft brush (either a paint brush or a specialized coil brush). Then vacuum out any dust in the drain pan.

If it turns out that the drain pan is full of water, it means the condensate drain line is clogged and needs to be cleaned out. Use a shop vacuum or rags to clear out the water, then head outside. The condensate line leads to an outdoor drain, and you can use your vacuum to pull the clog out that end. Just place your vacuum over the opening, cup it with your hand to improve suction, and run it for about a minute.

Once you have the clog out, flush your system with a vinegar or dish soap solution. Just pour the solution into the access point (usually a T-shaped vent with a PVC cover) and let it sit 30 minutes before flushing it out with warm water.

If it still doesn’t drain properly, your best bet is to call a professional.

Clean the Blower Fan

The indoor unit will also have a blower fan to distribute air around your home. This part of air conditioner cleaning is simple—just dust it off with a brush or rag and you’re good to go.

Hose It Down

In winter, the outdoor components of your air conditioner are particularly vulnerable to debris and moisture, so you need to make sure those are cleaned up. The outdoor condenser can be easily hosed down (just do it before everything freezes over).

Clear out all leaves, dirt, debris, bird droppings, and other filth. Anything left behind can be easily wiped up with a damp rag. Some areas may only be accessible by removing the metal cover, which can be easily done with a screwdriver. Just make sure you keep track of the screws.

Carefully Clean the Coils

The outdoor unit uses condenser coils to remove heat from the system, and keeping those clean will allow it to work better when spring comes again. If these don’t get clean when you hose down the unit, you may need to do some deeper cleaning.

The coils are very delicate, so you need to be careful. A gentle cleaner made from dish soap and baking soda will usually be enough to get the job done without being too harsh on the coils. Make sure you use a soft brush to avoid bending anything.

Clear Debris and Cover Up

To wrap up the air conditioner cleaning process, clear the area of debris, either with a rake or leaf blower. Finish by covering the unit with a waterproof tarp or specialized A/C cover, which is available at most home improvement stores. If you use a tarp, make sure you secure it with bungee cords or rope to keep it from blowing away.

Proper air conditioner cleaning will keep your unit running smoothly for years to come. Even so, occasional repairs may be necessary. In the event that your A/C needs repairs or replacement, a home warranty will cover you. Check out your options here to determine which plan works best for you.

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