Most Efficient Way to Clean Your Outdoor AC Unit
April 20, 2020
As the temperatures begin their inevitable climb, there’s no better time to inspect the condition of your outdoor AC unit. This can not only help you preserve the life of the appliance, but also improve your utility bills as you transition your HVAC system from heating to cooling. From how to clean coils to how to unclog your drain line, we’ll tell you the basics.
There’s just one warning: if you really want to service it during the spring, it’s going to have to go beyond that of standard yearly maintenance. You might not need professional help airing out the many rooms of your home, but cleaning your outdoor AC unit is not always intuitive to most homeowners and can even be downright dangerous. In fact, there’s a chance that you may ruin more than just your unit. At Precision Air & Plumbing, we recommend the following tips for a more efficient approach.
Before you get started cleaning, there are a few safety issues you’ll need to address. For most people, this just means killing the power (both from the breaker and the exterior shut-off box) so there’s no chance of electrocution. However, there are units with more complex problems, such as exposed or faulty wiring.
Even units that were well protected during the winter may still have been damaged during the months of disuse. Motivated rodents may have found ways to chew through wires or water may have seeped in from unexpected places. If you do notice any abnormalities with the electrical components of the unit, these need to be taken care of before you start cleaning.
Clear Everything Out
All the dirt and debris around an AC unit may be standard accumulation, but it doesn’t take much interference to impact the quality of the air you breathe. You can think of all the natural coverage like a thick blanket that coats your unit and locks heat in during the already sweltering summer months.
If your AC unit has grilles (which it most likely does), you’ll need to use a screwdriver to remove them so you have full access to the interior of the unit. Make sure that all leaves and twigs are swept at least two feet out of the way of the AC coils.
How to Clean Coils
The air conditioning coils are the key to bringing the temperature of your home down to a reasonable number. With the help of the condenser fan, the refrigerant found in the coils works to dispel the warmth of the outdoor air. The more grime has built up on these coils over the months though, the longer it will take for the refrigerant to work and the more likely it is your AC unit will overheat.
Standard DIY advice implores you to hose down the coils or use a wet/dry vac to eliminate everything from visible rubble and caked-on grime to invisible dust residue. However, this general info is much easier said than done. Your outdoor AC unit has some fairly fragile condenser fins, and these tiny metal blades are easy to bend even when you’re being careful.
In addition, the live electricity within the unit does not always take kindly if there’s leftover water after you clean it out. It’s easier to ruin expensive AC units than you think when you clean the coils, and it’s generally not a task that homeowners are encouraged to do on their own. A professional service technician has been trained to do a thorough cleaning job and can troubleshoot unexpected issues that pop up along the way.
Wipe and Spray
After you’ve removed all visible debris and taken care of the coils, the idea is to get access from above and then clean the unit from within. But to do that, you’ll need to first get past the wired-in fan. The best you can do is loosen it up so it can be pushed to the side (rather than remove it entirely).
From there, you can use a damp cloth to wipe down any dust and dirt. Go after any area you can reach and use a little elbow grease to get off some of the more stubborn particles. Can you spray water on your air conditioner? This common question is a little tricky because while you can’t spray it on the air conditioner, you can spray from within the AC unit. If you spray from outside it, you’ll just be pushing dirt and grime further inside, which will only increase the chances of malfunction down the line.
Sound like a paradox? That’s just another reason why homeowners are generally better off sticking with the professionals to keep their outdoor AC units functioning the way they should.
Check the Components
Some of the older AC units will need to have their parts lubricated to ensure they can move with ease. You can find more information about your model online if you’re not sure about your unit or if you need help finding the lubrication ports. You can also clean out the reusable air filter, so you can get the most out of it. Just make sure to be gentle during cleaning!
You may also want to clean out the drain line with a wet/dry vacuum if it’s clogged or otherwise compromised. The drain line is usually located near the condenser unit near the ground. Some people will use a thin brush and manually clear out the drain line. Both methods can be difficult to accomplish though, as it’s common for clogs to form deep in the line rather than closer to the surface.
Restore the Power
If you’ve killed the power to your outdoor AC unit for four hours or less, you should be fine to turn the power back on. However, if it’s been longer than that, you may want to give it 24 hours before turning it back on.
Call the Pros
There’s no doubt that cleaning your unit will extend the life of your appliance, improve the quality of the air, and lower your utility bills. But before you spend all your time worrying about how to clean coils and asking can you spray water on your air conditioner, it might be time to trust the job to a professional. Precision Air & Plumbing has been helping families across Phoenix Valley keep their units in excellent shape, no matter what the seasons hold.