How to Clean your AC Unit: Spring Cleaning Edition

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How to Clean your AC Unit: Spring Cleaning Edition

Written by: Jackson Systems



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Here we are! We’ve made it out of the dark days of the winter season. Spring is here, and that means a lot of changes are starting to take place in your home. The dusting, battery replacements, washing blankets, banging out rugs, the list goes on and on. There’s one vital spring-cleaning practice most homeowners completely forget about. Keeping the ac unit, and more specifically your condenser coils, clean is a vital part of air conditioning maintenance.

What better time to check up on your AC equipment than in those breezy spring months. The last thing you want is your AC to fail in the middle of a hot summer night while you’re trying to sleep. If your unit has a significant amount of dirt build-up it can lead to high energy bills, improper home cooling, and potentially damaging or ruining the unit altogether.

Where to Start

Before we begin, we want to emphasize the importance of calling your local HVAC contractor if your unit has significant wear and tear or shows signs of dirt/filth outside of your capabilities to clean. All the maintenance practices we will go over are simple DIY-style solutions and do not replace the need for a professional touch. Let’s go over some basic tips to keeping your condenser safe from a breakdown before it happens.

  • Give the condenser a 2 to 3-foot radius away from any plant or vegetation growth. You don’t want anything to start growing in or too close to your condenser coils.
  • Keep an eye out for any strange rattles or banging sounds. It’s always good to have an idea of what your unit sounds like when it’s running properly. Checking for odd sounds is a great way to detect issues.
  • Look up your manufacturer’s owner’s manual online to keep helpful checkup timelines in mind. Knowing roughly when your unit could use upkeep and repairs can help you avoid large emergency bills.

Cleaning Your Equipment

Ok, the first thing you want to do is access the situation. Start by turning the power off to your home as a safety precaution. The easiest area to start at is the condenser which is usually located outside of the home. Next remove your fan assembly on top of the condenser to access the inside of the equipment. This should be a few simple screws holding it together but may vary based on manufacturer.

Once you have the fan removed this will give you the best vantage point for cleaning. Look around and access for any damaged materials, debris, or dirt buildup around the coils. Start removing the large debris around the bottom like twigs and leaves. Next, you can move to a vacuum or shop vac to suck up and dirt or dust that settled at the bottom of the condenser. This makes sure to avoid any wiring or smaller parts while sucking up dirt and grime.

Heat Exchange Fins

This is the section you really want to treat with caution if you are new to AC maintenance. The fins are the very small wavy metal plates that line your heat exchanger. They are delicate so be careful not to use excessive force or powerful hoses to clean these. Again, if your equipment seems too dirty or damaged always call your local contractor for proper maintenance and care.

If you’ve never had your condenser cleaned before, more than likely you’ll be able to see caked-on dust and dirt built up on the fins. But if your unit is only a year or two old, try shining a light from the inside facing outward. If you cannot clearly see the light on the outside of the condenser it’s probably time to clean your heat exchanger fins.

Left: Example of dirty heat exchange fins
Right: Example of clean heat exchange fins

This process can be supplemented with coil cleaner. It’s usually applied to the fins and helps break down the build-up of dust and dirt. It’s totally fine to just use water for this portion. You’ll want to use a nozzle spray with a medium to a low-pressure setting to protect the fins. Start by spraying from the inside of the condenser pointing outward. Cover the entire surface of the condenser until you see most of the dirt break away from the fins. This should dislodge most of the debris build-up making air efficiency noticeably better.

As a final precaution go ahead and lightly rinse off the outside of the condenser of any latched-on debris you might have missed. Use the light test again to check on your coils. They should be easier to see through! Once you are satisfied with the job, carefully reattach the fan and screw the top back on your condenser and turn your power back on. Your air should have an effortless path through the coils putting less strain on your energy bills and equipment overall.

Just like that, your condenser is ready for the summer heat! Simple maintenance like this once a year is a great way to avoid those pesky damaged equipment bills and make cooling your home much easier. As always you can find awesome tools for making this process easier at Jackson Systems. Happy cleaning!

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