Your air conditioning unit is there for you during the scorching hot days of summer. Show your appreciation by cleaning it routinely. Over time, your AC unit accumulates dirt and debris and its parts can corrode from normal wear and tear. Cleaning the system not only ensures operational efficiency and lower utility costs but also lets you inspect mechanical parts and pipes that you wouldn’t normally see.

Cleaning an AC unit, however, can be perplexing, especially if it’s your first time doing it. Follow the steps below to make the process as safe and stress-free as possible:

Understand Your AC Unit’s Anatomy

It’s not a requirement, but it definitely helps you navigate your way around the machine. One of the most fundamental things to know about your AC unit is that it is comprised of an indoor section and an outdoor section. Each section houses a different kind of coil that you’ll need to clean. The interior section of the unit houses the evaporator coil, which is composed of copper and contains coolant. The coil is designed to conduct and absorb heat easily as warm air passes through it.

The outdoor section of the unit is referred to as the condenser unit. It houses the condenser coil, which expels heat from your home to the outside with the help of an exhaust fan.

1. Switch Off the Power to Your Air Conditioner

Air conditioning units have a number of moving components. You don’t want the fan blades, for instance, moving while your hands are moving around inside the unit. Before cleaning, turn the power off directly from your home’s circuit breaker. The box can usually be found in one of your closet spaces, crawlspace, or attic. Open the box and pull whatever switch or button is connected to your AC unit to the “off” position. If your AC unit is in a dark corner of your home, you’ll want to set up sufficient lighting.

2. Open the AC Unit

To reach the evaporator coil inside the indoor section of your AC unit, you’ll have to remove a panel or door. Depending on what specific model you have, you may need to remove the foil duct tape securing the edges of the door. You’ll also need a screwdriver to loosen the bolts or screws that are holding the panel or door in place.

3. Brush the Evaporator Coils

Now that you have access to the evaporator coils of your AC unit, it’s time to get to the cleaning part. While it’s not required, use work gloves during this step. You’ll also need a soft brush or a vacuum cleaner with a brush extension. Lightly scrub the dust and dirt particles off the coil. Note that the dust accumulation may consist of pollen, so wear a face mask to avoid triggering an allergic reaction while cleaning the coils.

4. Clean the Coils With Cleaning Solution

After wiping the coils, you’ll want to spray it with a no-rinse coil cleaner, which you can purchase at your local home improvement store. When applied, the solution foams up and then empties into the AC unit’s drain pan. Allow 10-15 minutes for the solution to just seep through the coil so that it absorbs as much dirt and dust. Be sure to spray the solution as evenly as possible. Ideally, you’d want to do this step on a warm day. When you switch on the unit, the condensation inadvertently rinses off the coil.

5. Wash Your Drain Pan

Once the coil cleaner has emptied into the drain pan, it’s time to clean the pan. Use soap and hot water and then equal parts of bleach and water to sanitize the surface. Pour the solution down the drain to make sure it isn’t clogged up. To avoid any algae growth in your drain, you can buy drain pan tablets, which you can find in most local home improvement stores. Aside from algae, these tablets help prevent sludge and scum accumulation that cause odors and overflows.

6. Declog the Drain

When you pour the bleach-water solution down the drain, watch how quickly it goes down. If it goes down easily, you need not worry about this step. However, if it takes a while to empty, your drain may be clogged. Without routine cleaning and maintenance, chances of mold and algae buildup are higher. You can clear out blockages in your drain line with a vacuum. Place the vacuum hose at the end of the drain line and then run it. Block out the air escaping from the sides by holding a towel or piece of cloth around the gap. You can also use duct tape to get a tighter seal.

7. Clean Your AC Unit’s Outdoor Section

Cleaning your AC’s outdoor section is relatively more time-consuming and laborious than cleaning the indoor section. That’s because the exterior part of your unit is exposed to the outside elements. It will often hold a great amount of yard debris, including grass clippings, leaves, pebbles, and dirt. You may also need more tools to clean it.

8. Power the Unit Off and Uncover the Box

Again, safety is paramount when it comes to cleaning your AC. You don’t want the machine to be running with 240 volts of electricity while you’re doing work on it. Shut off the power supply through the outdoor disconnect box. Loosen the sheet metal screws on the top portion of the unit. Once they’re removed, lift the fan and grille. Depending on what AC unit you have, you may need to disconnect some wires in order to completely lift the top of the unit up. Once you have the top off, place it on the ground.

9. Get Rid of Debris

You’ll find a huge amount of debris collected at the bottom of your AC unit. Entry-level units won’t usually have guards in place that restrict debris from falling onto the top of your fan unit. Expect to find leaves, seeds, and other gunk inside the fan box.

10. Clean Your Condenser Coils

Cleaning your condenser coil will require a cleaning solution and sprayer. You can find both at any local home improvement store. Keep in mind that cleaning solutions for condenser coils are highly toxic. They can cause burns and, when inhaled, can lead to severe health consequences. Note that the fumes from mixing or diluting cleaning solutions can be highly toxic. Make sure to wear a face mask and avoid getting any of the cleaning solutions on your skin. If you do get it on your skin, wash it off immediately with a hose. Seek medical treatment, if necessary.

Get Comprehensive and Affordable Services

Summertime in Denver, CO, or the surrounding neighborhoods can be uncomfortable without a properly working AC unit. Our experts at Summit Heating & A/C can help you get the most comprehensive and economical service your money can buy. We offer maintenance, repairs, and installation of AC units. In addition, we also offer maintenance, repair, and installation services for furnaces, heat pumps, and more. Give us a call today and we’d be happy to discuss with you how our heating and cooling services work!

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