June 13, 2024

KJ Home

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How to Clean an Air Conditioner

4 min read

Learning how to clean an air conditioner is critical, especially before summer gets into full swing and scorching hot days become the norm. During the summer, your air conditioner works overtime, especially if you like to keep cool by staying inside. And if you always want cool air blasting from your portable air conditioner, you definitely need to learn how to keep your air conditioner clean.

Whether you have central air or a window unit, here’s how to clean an air conditioner like a professional. Plus, check out air conditioning maintenance tips and tricks from our experts you can easily do to protect yourself from the summer heat.

  • Dave Mejean is the HVAC manager at B&W Plumbing and Heating Co., Inc.
  • Brian Kleinschmidt is a home improvement expert and American Standard Heating & Air Conditioning partner.
  • Mika Kleinschmidt is a home improvement expert and American Standard Heating & Air Conditioning partner.
  • Giacomo Calzavara is the Managing Director of JMATEK North America, a licensee of Honeywell portable cooling products.

How Often to Clean an Air Conditioner

Window AC

Air conditioning units need to be cleaned regularly. “I would recommend cleaning [a window AC unit] every two weeks,” says Giacomo Calzavara of JMATEK North America.

Central Air

As for a central AC unit, it’s a good idea to have a professional inspect and clean your system once a year. They can make sure the coolant levels are on target, check for leaks, and clean the coils.

How to Know When Your AC Needs Cleaning

While it’s best to clean your air conditioner at least once a year, there are signs you can look for that indicate it needs to be cleaned between annual washdowns. Dirty air conditioners not only affect the unit’s performance, they can also send pollutants and irritants into your home’s air, so keeping them clean is vital.

Your AC Isn’t Cooling Efficiently

If your air conditioner isn’t cooling your home or room as well as it usually does, or if the air being blown out of the unit is not cold, that’s a massive sign that your AC needs maintenance. When the AC doesn’t work efficiently, you might be tempted to crank the thermostat down or let it run for longer; before you do that, try cleaning it so you don’t run up your electric bill.

Your AC Is Making Weird Noises

Your AC unit should not make noises other than a mechanical hum or the sound of the blower. If you hear a knocking or whirring or the unit sounds louder than usual, it may be time for a cleaning.

Your AC Smells Off

Your air conditioner should not be releasing any odor into the air. If you suddenly notice a musty, earthy, or burning smell, check your unit—it probably needs to be cleaned.

Your AC Unit Looks Dirty

A significant sign that your AC needs a good cleaning is that it simply looks dirty. Yes, a certain amount of dirt will collect on the part of the unit that sits outside. However, if you notice dust or dirt on the fins, dirt in the runoff pan, or even mold, your AC needs to be cleaned. Running a dirty air conditioner decreases its efficiency and can damage your entire system, so it’s critical to keep everything clean.

Your Energy Bills Increase

Noticed a sudden uptick in your electric bill? The cleanliness of your air conditioner might be to blame. Dirty ACs don’t function at their highest efficiency, which means they have to work harder, driving up energy bills. If you’ve noticed an increased bill with no explanation, check your AC unit.

Considerations Before You Get Started

The first and most important step in cleaning your air conditioner unit is to disconnect the electricity. For window units, make sure they’re unplugged. If you’re doing light cleaning of your central AC, turn off the electricity via the circuit breaker.

There are two primary areas to focus on when cleaning a window AC unit: filters and coils.

  • Filters remove the dust from the air and when they’re clogged, they force your AC unit to work harder and use up more energy to cool your home—that costs more for you without delivering results.
  • Coils help move the hot and cold air, so make sure they’re not clogged with dirt and dust.

Of course, for some air conditioning systems (like central AC), it’s best to have a professional HVAC contractor inspect the unit, check the ductwork, and ensure it’s operating efficiently.

“Companies like ours should come out and do the heavy maintenance on it, but in between, there are air conditioning maintenance tips people can follow themselves,” says Dave Mejean of B&W Plumbing and Heating. “It’s like a car: You have to have your mechanic tune it up, but there are still things you can do to make sure it’s running too.”


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