Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

How To Clean Air Conditioner Coils Properly

Air conditioner cleaning process and service

The blazing summer heat brings along with it inflated air conditioner bills. However, there is a way to save money and increase your AC’s lifespan. 

Most air conditioner owners put off cleaning their condenser coils till they can hire someone else to do it. More often than not, it leads to inflated energy bills and additional service charges to pay to a professional. Of course, most are not aware that cleaning air conditioner coils at home isn’t too challenging. 

Once you understand the importance of cleaning and maintaining condenser coils, you will likely never put off the task again. Fortunately, you’ve come to the right place for it. 

Today, we will tell you all about how to clean air conditioner coils properly. Furthermore, we will explain why it’s essential to keep them clean to lower energy costs and enable your AC to work longer without breaking down. 

So let us begin, shall we?

How To Clean Air Conditioner Coils 

Asian man hand hold air conditioner filter cleaning concept

Why Is It Important To Clean Air Conditioner Coils?

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Before we dive into the topic of cleaning air conditioner coils, it is vital to understand why cleaning them is important. Without understanding this, you are likely to de-prioritize the task for a later stage – and face the inevitable consequences. 

Avoiding the task of cleaning air conditioner coils will inevitably lead to the decreased performance of your AC unit. Along with heat, debris, grime, and contaminants are often trapped within the coils. Cleaning them out is essential to prolong the life of your AC.

Now that you know the importance of cleaning the condenser coils, let us talk about what the different types of coils are.

  1. Evaporator Coil

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The evaporator coil is one of the most critical parts of an air conditioning unit. This part is responsible for cooling heated air before it is blown into your home. Typically, the evaporator coil is hidden behind the metal casing of the air conditioner, where it is well protected. 

These coils work efficiently to remove hot air from your home, replace it with cool air, and throw it back into your home. A liquid refrigerant enters the coil and passes through a metering device. This controls how much refrigerant is released into the coils for cooling. 

Most homeowners don’t realize that an AC does not actually produce cool air. The coils and liquid refrigerants are in charge of cooling the warm air of a room, so they need to be in optimal working condition to function correctly. 

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What Are The Common Problems With Evaporator Coils?

    • Refrigerant Leak

The liquid refrigerant, which is responsible for cooling hot air, is contained within coils. However, normal wear and tear can lead to minor leaks over time. This leads to decreased cooling and other issues. 

If you’re wondering how to spot the symptoms of a refrigerant leak, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered. Check out these common symptoms that tell you it’s time to clean and replace the evaporator coils.

  • Hissing sounds originating from the refrigerant lines
  • A frozen evaporator coil
  • Slow cooling air conditioner 
  • Sudden inflation of energy costs
    • Dirty Evaporator Coils 

One of the most common problems that can lead to reduced performance of your air conditioner is dirty evaporator coils. A light layer of dirt and dust is enough to sacrifice the performance of the machine. Hence, it is vital to regularly clean and maintain the coils to ensure optimal performance.

    • Frozen Evaporator Coils

As you already know, liquid refrigerant is contained within the evaporator coils. As such, the temperature of the liquid refrigerant is very low, which in turn cools down the evaporator coils. However, the continual flow of warm air through the coils ensures that they do not freeze over time and reduce performance. 

A clogged or dirty air filter is one of the most common reasons for frozen evaporator coils. It is essential to clean the air filters regularly or as recommended by an expert technician. This ensures that there is frequent airflow through the evaporator coils, thus keeping them in a stable condition. 

  1. Condenser Coil

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The second type of coil in an air conditioning unit is the condenser coil. This coil is situated in the outer unit and is made of copper tubing. It contains a set of thin strips of aluminum which are known as fins. 

Many technicians believe that condenser coils are one of the most critical aspects of an air conditioning unit. These coils power the entire operation of the unit by trapping the heat from outside and cooling it down before sending it back into your home. 

The refrigerant effectively absorbs hot air and travels back to the coils, where it is cooled down. This process is made easier with the help of the fans, which pull the heated air (and refrigerant) through the coils to cool them. 

The condenser coils do the final job of increasing the air pressure around the gaseous refrigerant. Eventually, this increases its boiling point and turns it back into its original liquid form. Once this process is over, the liquid refrigerant passes back through the coils to engage in the cooling process once again. 

If you have read the above section carefully, you might have figured out how important it is for the coils to work efficiently. However, it is natural for them to pick up dirt, dust, grime, and contaminants over time. This decreases their efficiency, thus putting more pressure on the unit to perform optimally. 

Over time, it leads to slower cooling of your room, more pressure on the unit, and increased energy costs. Of course, there is a way to prevent this. It is vital to clean air conditioner coils thoroughly to ensure that work optimally. We will discuss this in detail in the following sections. 

How To Clean Air Conditioner Coils

By now, you know that there are two types of coils when we talk about air conditioner coils. The condenser coils are contained in the outer unit, while the evaporator coils are in the inner unit. It is crucial to clean both these coils to ensure that your air conditioner unit is working properly. 

However, both the coils are incredibly delicate, so you must handle them with care. 

How To Clean Condenser Coils 

The outer condenser coils are typically wrapped around the inner components of the AC unit. In many cases, they are already exposed, giving you easy access to clean them. However, in some cases, the condenser coils may be wrapped under a wire coil guard, which protects them. 

Depending on whether or not the condenser coils of your unit are exposed, you may move on to the next step of the cleaning process. In case they are not exposed, you may need professional help to straighten the bent fins of the outer and inner casing to reach the coils.

Step-By-Step Guide On Cleaning Condenser Coils

Before you begin cleaning the condenser coils, there are a few essential cleaning tools you need. Fortunately, most of these tools can be easily found around the house. However, you may likely need to purchase a few additional tools (if you don’t have them). 

Here are the essential tools required for the job:

  1. Screwdriver
  2. Coil comb
  3. Fin brush
  4. Coil brush
  5. Garden hose
  6. Foaming coil cleaner
  7. Non-absorbent gloves
  8. Zip ties

Step 1 – Shut Off The Power

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First and foremost, you need to shut off the power to the AC unit from the thermostat. Remove the fuse and stab connections carefully to ensure that no power is going through the condensing unit. This step is vital, so make sure you complete it before starting the cleaning process.  

Keep in mind that pulling the disconnect will not cut power to the disconnect itself but only from the condensing unit. In case you do not have a disconnect, you can shut down the power from the breaker panel, which is connected to the AC unit. 

Step 2 – Removing The Top Of The Condenser Unit

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Using a drill or power tools, remove the top of the condenser unit and detach it from the rest of the condenser. Be careful not to remove the fan while doing this. Now, carefully set aside the lid with the fan. You will most likely have access to the inside of the unit. 

If not, try and cut the tie on the wires to gain access. Ensure that you don’t cut any of the wires themselves or damage them in any way. Since the power is off, you can do this without worrying about getting shocked.

Please remember not to disconnect any wires at this step, as assembling them again will be challenging. If you have trouble with this step, take the help of a professional or someone else around you.

Step 3 – Removing The Cage

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The next step is straightforward and self-explanatory. Remove the outer casing by unscrewing the bolts at the base of the unit. Be careful while doing this as you don’t want to damage the fins. 

Step 4 – Cleaning The Debris From The Base Of The Unit

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Typically, when an AC unit is not running for some time, it will trap dirt and debris – which is mostly unavoidable. 

This debris can have an extremely detrimental effect on the performance of the unit. It effectively decreases airflow and leads to corrosion, insulation of the compressor, and other related issues. 

You can clean most of the debris out by hand without any tools. However, ensure that you wear protective gloves to avoid injury. 

Step 5 – Combing Out The Fins

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It is now time to take out your handy comb tool. Use the tool to comb out the smashed portions of the aluminum fin gently. Ensure that you use the large-spaced side of the coil combing tool to avoid damaging the fins. 

Moreover, do not use any pressure while doing this; otherwise, you are likely to damage or break the fins. If you don’t have a coil combing tool, don’t worry. You may use a butter knife or any other tool for this step. Avoid using sharp tools as they may damage the fins, moreover, take your time while doing this. 

Step 6 – Pre-Soaking The Unit

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Now comes the fun part. Take your garden hose and begin spraying the unit from the inside out. Essentially, you want to flush out all the debris, grime, and accumulated dust from the inside of the unit. 

During this step, ensure that you don’t spray any of the electrical components inside the unit. Also, avoid spraying the disconnect directly to prevent damage. Remember, it is okay to get some water on these components, but you should not soak them or apply direct water pressure. 

Next, do the same thing on the outer side of the unit. It is best to use a regular garden hose for this instead of a pressure washer, as the pressure from these tools is far too much for the unit to bear. 

Step 7 – Using The Cleaner Mix

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It is now time to use a coil cleaner mix to clean the condenser coils thoroughly. Spray the cleaner mix directly on the coils using a spray bottle. Let it sit for a few minutes before hosing it down with water. 

Then, repeat the above steps till you are satisfied. It is recommended to check the manufacturer’s instruction regarding the dilution of the cleaner mix and how long you should allow it to sit before washing it off.

You will find several coil cleaning agents in the market, but it is best to opt for one which is not overly abrasive and is environment-friendly. 

Alternative Cleaning Solutions

In our opinion, the method we mentioned above relating to the cleaning of condenser coils is the best one for deep cleaning. However, there are a few alternative cleaning solutions that you may opt for. Here are some of the most common ones. 

  1. Compressed Air

If you want to clean the condenser coils using compressed air, we recommend getting expert help. This method may sound more straightforward than the previous one. However, it is best done carefully by an expert technician to avoid damaging the coils and the unit. 

The professional cleaner may use a shop-vac, compressed air, and commercial coil cleaning solutions. However, each AC unit model has varying specifications, which you might not be well versed with. As such, this job is best left to a professional. 

  1. Detergent Solution And Water

Those who don’t want to use commercial cleaning solutions may make their own cleaning mix using a mild detergent and warm water. You may use any household detergent for this, as long as it is not too abrasive. 

Apply the detergent solution using a spray and ensure that you are wearing safety goggles and protective gloves during the entire process. Moreover, you may use a cleaning brush to aid the deep cleaning process.

Again, it is best to avoid using a pressure washer for this process, as it may damage the fins. If you still want to use one, opt for a low-pressure water sprayer for minimal damage. 

How To Clean Evaporator Coils 

The evaporator coils are located on the inner unit of your AC. If the AC unit has an access panel, it will be easier to get to the evaporator coils. If not, you may find it slightly challenging, but don’t worry. We are here to guide you through the entire process. 

Step 1 – Turn Off The Power

Similar to cleaning the condenser coils, begin by turning off the power to the thermostat. Moreover, it is recommended to turn off the breakers from the breaker panel in your home, to be safe. 

Once you have done this, put on your safety gear and open the access panel to reach the evaporator coils. 

The evaporator coils are typically located at the back of the unit, so getting access to them can be slightly tricky. In most cases, you may need a ladder to reach it, so be careful during the process. It is best to have a second set of hands to help you. 

Step 2 – Remove The Debris And Build-Up

Similar to the condenser coils, you need to remove all debris and build-up from the evaporator coils using your hands. Of course, remember to wear your protective gloves to avoid injuring yourself. Keep a trash bag nearby or lay down some plastic on the floor where you can dispose of the debris that you collect from the unit. 

Use the fin comb to gently brush out the coils, going from the top towards the lower side. Be extremely gentle while doing this and avoid pulling at the coil to prevent breakage or snagging.

Step 3 – Using A Coil Cleaning Solution

The next step is to use a commercial coil cleaning solution. You may choose to apply your homemade detergent solution as well. However, in the case of stubborn grease and build-up, it is best to opt for a strong, commercial cleaner. 

Opt for a foaming coil cleaner which will slowly set itself on the build-up and gunk on the coils. Let it sit for a few minutes before washing it away. However, ensure that you wear safety goggles throughout the process to avoid accidental spraying into your eyes. 

While waiting for the cleaning solution to work its magic on the coils, use the time to clean the drip tray. This area traps and accumulates most condensation and grime, so it is best to use a cleaning tool like a scraper to remove it. 

Tip – You may notice a PVC joint attached to the lower end of the drip tray. This is called the drain line. When cleaning the drip tray, ensure that you scrape the debris away from the drain line and not towards it; otherwise, you risk pushing the debris into it. 

Step 4 – Rinsing The Coils

The final step is to rinse out the coils and drip tray using plain water. You do not need to use a pressure washer for this step, as it may push the debris or gunk further into the coils, making it harder to remove. 

To clean the drain pipe, run hot or warm water gently through the drip tray for a few minutes till the water runs clear. However, if the evaporator of your AC unit is placed above a bathtub, you can attach the drain pipe to the drain of the tub. 

Once you have completed this process, you can begin reassembling all the parts. Conduct a final check and look out for leaks, cracks, tears, breaks, or any odd noises which were not present before. If everything is clear, assemble the parts back and reconnect the unit to its power source. 

How Often Should You Clean Air Conditioner Coils?

This is a good question, and if you ask any AC technician, they would advise you to book a half-yearly or annual cleaning appointment with them. However, it is likely that your air conditioner coils do not need such frequent cleaning.

As such, we recommend cleaning the coils when they get dirty – or when you notice other symptoms. It is not always possible to open up the access panel to check whether the coils are dirty, so you need to pay attention to the symptoms instead. 

Moreover, how frequently you need to clean the air conditioner coils also depends on how much the AC unit is used. The more it is used, the more frequent cleaning it requires. If you make a habit of cleaning or replacing the air filters, you may need to clean the coils less often. 

We recommend contacting a professional once a year for a routine maintenance check on your unit. It is best to get this done before summer arrives so you can enjoy your air conditioner during the hot months. 

What Are The Symptoms To Look Out For?

As we mentioned, it is imperative to look out for certain symptoms that tell you when it is time to get the air conditioner coils cleaned. Here are some of the common symptoms to keep an eye out for. 

  1. A Sudden Rise In Operating Temperatures 

One of the most common symptoms you may notice is a sudden rise in the operating temperature of your unit. This is primarily due to the collection of grime, dirt, and debris on the coils, which strains them, causing them to work harder. Moreover, it forces the unit to operate at increased temperatures to get the same effect of indoor cooling. 

  1. A Sudden Decrease In Cooling Efficiency 

Another symptom you may notice is a sudden decrease in the cooling efficiency of the unit. In most cases, this occurs because the coils are unable to optimally absorb hot air and cool it down inside the coils. This eventually leads to slower cooling times and increased discomfort. 

  1. An Increase An Energy Costs

If you do not notice the symptoms mentioned above, you may surely notice a sudden increase in energy costs. More often than not, this is a direct result of the symptoms mentioned above. Of course, you may also need to consider the frequency of your usage to gauge the reason behind these increased costs accurately. 

  1. Frequent Servicing Or Repairs

Do you find yourself often reaching for the helpline to have the AC unit repaired or checked out? Keep a note of this, as it may be due to increased wear and tear of the units compressors and coils. While it is always a good idea to get the unit checked out by a professional, the cause behind frequent repairs may be a simple one – unclean coils.

  1. Higher Moisture Levels Indoors 

As long as an air conditioning unit works optimally, you will notice a substantial decrease in humidity levels inside your home. However, once the system stops performing as well as it used to, one of the first things you may notice is an increase in the humidity level of your room. 

Another vital sign to look out for is sudden discomfort – even if the AC unit has been working for a while. If everything is working correctly, you will experience a cozy, comfortable, and cool environment indoors. If not, you may observe a feeling of discomfort even though the air conditioning was turned on hours ago. 

When Should You Call An Expert?

In this guide, we have discussed all the methods by which you can efficiently clean the air conditioner coils yourself. However, certain situations call for professional advice and help. 

In the case of annual deep cleaning, it is best to contact a licensed HVAC specialist. Moreover, a professional is better suited to guide you through the correct cleaning procedures and diagnose any recurrent issues with the unit. 

While cleaning the condenser coils is not too challenging, mainly because they are situated on the outer area of the unit, this isn’t the same for the evaporator coils. As such, you need to have clear access to the evaporator coils, which are located in the inner part of the unit. However, this can be challenging without the ease of an access panel.

These situations call for expert help, so don’t hesitate to contact a reputed and licensed HVAC specialist for help. 

How Much Does It Cost To Have Air Conditioner Coils Cleaned Professionally?

Well, this depends on several factors like where you live, the rates charged by companies in the area, who you call, etc. Moreover, the longer you wait to get the air conditioner coils cleaned, the more you may have to pay (for a deep cleaning session). 

As such, you can expect to pay anywhere between $100 and $400 to have your air conditioner coils cleaned professionally.

Close up of dirty inside compartments air conditioner, repairman clean mold in system air conditioning system

Summing It Up

We are finally at the end of our comprehensive guide, and we hope it helped you learn more about cleaning air conditioner coils. On that note, ensure that you put on safety gear before starting the process and remember to turn off the power source beforehand to avoid accidents. 

We recommend cleaning the coils at least once a year on your own or calling a professional to do it. This will automatically enhance your indoor cooling experience while saving a lot of money on repairs and bills.  If you have any questions, please feel free to comment below and let us know.

Until next time!

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Anna Vaughn

Anna Vaughn

Immense painting experience recommends Anna. She shaped The Little Painters, a small local painting workshop for children that invites the little ones to explore painting through simple and creative means in a safe, loving and extremely colorful environment. In her home panting studio she plays with all paint mediums but watercolor is her expertise.

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