How to Clean Your AC Unit

Spring has arrived in North Carolina! Although no one knows the exact origins of spring cleaning, one theory is that it used to be the time when everyone cleaned their houses of the soot left from burning wood and coal to stay warm during the winter. But do you know how to clean your AC unit?

While we no longer use kerosene lamps or coal stoves to light and heat our houses, our HVAC units have been working hard over the winter months. Basic A/C maintenance is important, but a spring clean is a little bit more in depth. This handy guide shows you how to clean your AC unit so it’s in tip-top shape for summer. We’ll go through how to clean AC unit coils, condensers, and everything else!

Step 1: Turn Off the Power

Before you do any kind of electrical work on your HVAC, you need to turn off the power on the exterior shut-off box, as well as from the breaker. Verify that the power has been turned off before you proceed.

Step 2: Remove the Grille and Clear Debris

Most outdoor air conditioning units have grilles to protect them from the elements. Use a screwdriver to remove the grille and gain access so you can clean your AC unit. Brush away any dirt, leaves, and twigs that may have accumulated in and around your air conditioner. Clear at least a two foot radius around your AC unit coils.

Step 3: Vacuum

Air Conditioning Condenser Coil

For a thorough cleaning, use the brush attachment on a wet/dry vacuum to suck up every bit of the built-up grit and grime. Pay special attention to the condenser fins – those are the little metal blades around the unit. Be very gentle, as the condenser fins are broken or bent easily. You can straighten bent condenser fins with a fin comb.

Step 4: Hose It Down

Remove the grille on the top of your HVAC unit so you can get the fan out of the way – it’s wired into the unit, so you won’t be able to completely remove it. For the inside, you can clean your AC unit with a damp cloth.

Then, take a hose and spray the unit from the inside out. You don’t want to spray water into your air conditioner, or you’ll just be pushing the dust and dirt farther in, which is not how to clean your AC unit.

Step 5: Lubricate

If you have an older air conditioner, the fan motor or belt-driven compressor will need to be lubricated. Not sure? Check your manual. If (like most people) you don’t have the manual anymore, you can likely find it online.

Use a few drops of electric motor oil on each lubrication port.

Step 6: Clean the AC Drain Line

If you want to clean or unclog the AC drain line, you have to find it first. It’s a small line near the ground that will likely be dripping a bit. You can use a wet/dry vacuum to suck the muck out; you may even unclog the AC drain line if something has been stopping it up!

Step 7: Crank It Up!

If your air conditioning unit has been off for several hours, turn your thermostat off and let the unit decompress for 24 hours before turning the system on again. If it’s been less than four hours, you can restore power and move on.

Learning how to clean your AC unit – and especially how to clean AC unit coils, which are fragile and tricky to clean thoroughly – will be well worth it. The average air conditioner lasts 10-15 years. Frequent cleaning (or a maintenance plan) can save you money and extend the life of your HVAC unit.

 

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