How to clean your air conditioner

If you’re still sweating through summer even with your air conditioner on full blast, you might be scratching your head as to why. While there are a few reasons as to why your air conditioner might be malfunctioning, it is probably due to a build-up of dirt and dust. If you want to restore your air conditioner to its full capacity, the first thing on your to-do list should be a full and thorough clean.

A dirty air conditioner can be a major disrupter to your midsummer chill out. While many modern air conditioners come equipped with self-cleaning functions, nothing beats a proper hands-on clean of the various bits and bobs within your unit that can get clogged with dust and dirt over time.

For those unfamiliar with the process, we’ve put together a step-by-step guide detailing how to clean your air conditioner and turn it back into a lean, mean, cooling machine. Note that this guide has been written for split-system air con units, so if you have a vented, window, or portable air conditioner, your unit’s cleaning needs may vary from what’s outlined in this article.

How do I clean my air conditioner?

Cleaning your air conditioner is not as difficult as it may sound, and once you’ve done it for the first time, you’ll be able to do it again and again. Areas that you should cover in order to properly clean your air con include:

  • Using a proper air conditioner cleaner
  • Clean the condenser coils
  • Clean the filters
  • Clean the fan coil

Air conditioner cleaner

You can choose to make a homemade cleaner or buy a commercial cleaner to help clean your AC coils. A good cleaner will help break down grime so you can easily remove it by rinsing or wiping. Air conditioner cleaner can be purchased at a hardware store like Bunnings, or you can make your own out of vinegar, water and dishwashing detergent.

How to clean the condenser coils

Air compressor installation on pedestal.outdoor

Before you begin, turn off all power running to the air conditioning unit. Turn off any power points it’s plugged into, and even turn it off at the circuit board if possible. You’re going to be dealing with the big outdoor component of your system for this step, and it’s crucial there’s no power running through the system.

To access and clean your air conditioner’s condenser coils, you’ll need to remove the outer casing, which will most likely require a screwdriver or similar tool. Once you’ve removed the outer casing, remove any other components obstructing access to the coils, and locate the coils. Brush off any surface dirt or grime using a stiff brush or duster, and then remove trapped or caked on dirt by applying a suitable cleaning agent and then rinsing it away with water (spraying from the inside) after 10 or 15 minutes. While you’re there, you should also check the coil fins, and if any appear bent or damaged, you can comb them straight with a ‘fin comb’, which can be purchased from most hardware or specialist air conditioning stores. You can also clean the evaporator coils in your indoor unit with a compressed air canister.

  • What’s the difference between condenser coils and evaporator coils?

Don’t forget that you’ll need to clean both the indoor and outdoor components of your air conditioner. Most air conditioners have both an indoor and outdoor unit, and each contains a different type of coil you’ll need to clean. Without getting too technical − the indoor component has evaporator coils (typically made of copper) that absorb heat from indoor air, and the outdoor unit features condenser coils that release heat into outdoor air using a refrigerant and compressor.

How to clean the air conditioner filter

cleaning air conditioner filter

It’s time to move to the indoor unit for this step. If you remove or flip up the front grille on the inside air conditioner unit, you should be able to remove one large mesh panel or two smaller ones. These filter panels are your unit’s primary line of defence against various airborne nasties such as dust and bacteria. This means they tend to get dirty and clogged incredibly quickly and need cleaning more regularly than other parts of the unit. The flipside of this is that the filters are the easiest part to clean.

To clean the panels, simply take them outside, being careful not to dislodge any of the dust inside your home, and give them a bit of a bash on a railing or post of some sort. This will dislodge most of the dust and grime, and any remaining nastiness can simply be vacuumed off.

How to clean the indoor unit’s fan coil

This is the part of the indoor unit that actually deals with blowing the cool air out of the unit and into the room it is serving. To access the fan coil, you’ll need to completely remove the indoor unit’s chassis, which will most likely require the use of a screwdriver or some similar tool.

Once you’ve gained access to the fan coil, simply spray it with a suitable air conditioner cleaning solution, leave it for a few minutes, and then rinse it off with warm water. Don’t worry about spillage or mess, as most, if not all of the runoff will be caught in the drip pan. Rinse the fan coil until the runoff is completely clear and no solution remains, but be careful not to flood the drip pan! Allow it to drain off before rinsing further. Allow the fan coil to dry at least partially before putting the chassis back on.

How do I service my air conditioner?

Like a car – or any machine, really – it’s important to take some steps of preventative maintenance to ensure your air conditioner lasts longer and runs at high efficiency. This will mean your home is easier to keep cool and could even save you money on your power bills because your air conditioner will not have to work as hard to do the job.

Air conditioner maintenance tips

General maintenance Air Conditioner

Once you’ve completed the three main steps outlined above, there’s a handful of smaller things you should do which will also go a long way towards keeping both you and your air conditioner happy and healthy.

  • The first of these is to spray an approved anti-bacterial solution onto all the recently dealt with components of your air conditioner. This includes the filters, the fan coil, the drip pan, and the drip tube. This will prevent bacteria and mould from thriving inside your air conditioning system, which will, in turn, prevent you and your family from inhaling air laden with nasties.
  • The second smaller job you should do is a brief clean of the unit’s drop channels. A stiff wire or pipe cleaner will do the trick, as all you’re trying to do is remove any clogging or obstructions, which may reduce a unit’s ability to dehumidify the air that passes through it.
  • The third step is to simply give the exterior casing of both components a quick wipe-down. This won’t make a huge difference to the overall efficiency of your unit, but who wants a dusty air conditioner? It’s unsightly, and having dust in the air isn’t good for your health; plus, people with allergies may be more sensitive to such dust.

Professional cleaning

Professional Air Conditioner Cleaning

We get it, cleaning an air conditioner isn’t very much fun, and you’d rather be spending time getting out and about on the weekend rather than cleaning. So, if you’re time-strapped, then perhaps consider a professional service technician. A Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) expert will be able to:

  • Undertake cleaning and servicing of your air conditioner such as sealing leaky ducts if it’s a ducted system
  • Recommend any further servicing
  • Recommend new parts and replace faulty ones
  • Inform you of ideal air conditioner positions and how to operate it efficiently
  • Do all of the above with safety and security

A HVAC technician is a licensed tradesperson, and they can be your best friend in the summertime if your air con is on the fritz. As a rule, you should never undertake any electrical work by yourself, and it’s always best to consult an HVAC team before undertaking anything other than cleaning.

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How often should you clean your air con?

It’s advised to clean your air conditioner at least once every 12 months and preferably before the hot season starts (ideally in spring) to ensure your AC is working at its peak efficiency during summer. Regular AC maintenance is also advised to extend the lifespan of your air con. It’s also recommended to service your home air conditioning system annually. You should also clean and service your heating system once a year before winter.

Your cheat sheet for when it’s time to clean your air conditioner

Weekly Monthly Bi-annually Annually
Run the dry mode on your air con (which works like a dehumidifier) to remove condensed moisture and prevent mould and odours. Use a clean, damp cloth to wipe down your indoor unit including any ducts or vents. Give the inside of the indoor unit a good wipe (as far as safely possible) as well as the exterior casing. Clean or replace the dust and purifying filters in your indoor unit, as per the manufacturer’s instructions of your split-system or ducted air con. You may need to repeat this step more often if you use your air con all year-round or if you live in a dusty environment. Thoroughly clean your indoor unit including all filters, condenser coils and fan coils, as well as your outdoor unit to remove excess vegetation and other obstructions. You could alternatively opt for a professional service.

Is it worth cleaning my air conditioner?

It might be a bit of a chore, but cleaning your air conditioner is definitely worth the effort you put in. Not only does a cleaner air conditioner mean cleaner, healthier air, but it also makes for a more efficient air conditioner, which can mean reduced electricity bills! With those factors in mind, there’s really no good reason why you shouldn’t give your air conditioner a clean now and then – even if it’s only once or twice a year, you’ll still reap the benefits.

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