How To Clean An Air Conditioner: A Pittsburgh Tech Explains

Notice that your AC is getting a little dirty and wondering what you can do to clean it? We’ve got you covered.

Below, we’ve outlined a step-by-step process of how you can clean your AC on your own.

But, before you begin, we will warn you that to properly clean your entire AC system, you’ll need the help of a professional. So, while we’ll share tips on a few items you can do yourself, we’ll also cue you in on the tasks you’ll need a professional to do to give your AC system the cleaning it deserves.

Rather have a professional handle the entire thing? We can help with that! We’ve been helping Pittsburgh homeowners keep their AC system’s clean for quite a few years, so we know what we’re doing.

How to clean your AC yourself

Step 1: Turn your outdoor AC unit off at the breaker

The first step to cleaning your AC system is to turn your outdoor unit off at the breaker. This will prevent you from harming yourself while cleaning your system and could prevent some of your AC components from being damaged as well.

Note: It’s not good enough to simply turn your AC off at the thermostat, you need to shut off all power to your AC to clean it safely.

Step 2: Replace your air filter

If you aren’t sure whether your air filter is clean or dirty, use this picture to help. If your air filter looks like the one on the right, it’s time to replace it

After you have turned your AC system off at the breaker, check your air filter and replace it if it’s dirty. During the summer, you should check your AC filter every one or two months.

Step 3: Clear your condensate drain line

After you’ve replaced your air filter, the next step is to move outside and clean out your condensate drain line (usually located near your outdoor AC unit).

Your AC system not only cools your home, but it also dehumidifies it, and your AC gets rid of the moisture it collects from your home’s air via the condensate drain line (seen above).

Over time, mold and debris can build up in your drain line, and eventually, it can clog. So, while you’re cleaning the rest of your outdoor AC system, you should clean your drain line of any build-up.

To do this, try to create an air-tight connection between your condensate drain line and the end of a shop vac. Turn the vacuum on for a few minutes (2-3) to suck out anything that’s stuck in the line.

Step 4: Clear away any debris around your outdoor unit

Example of an outdoor AC unit with debris that needs to be cleared away.

The next step on your AC cleaning checklist is to clear any debris that’s around or on your outdoor AC unit.

If there is debris that you are unable to clear away by hand, you can also use a shop vac to try and remove smaller pieces. However, be careful not to damage the fins of the unit when using a vacuum.

You should also trim back any trees or other foliage that is within a 3-foot radius of the unit. This will help protect your outdoor unit from any falling leaves or other foliage that can fall into your outdoor unit and potentially cause issues.

Step 5: Clean out the inside of your unit.

Open your outdoor unit by unscrewing the fan and removing it. Gently set the fan down and make sure that there isn’t a significant amount of stress on the wires connecting the fan to the inside of the unit. Then, clean out any leaves, sticks, and debris that are at the bottom of the outdoor unit. You can also wipe down the inside of the unit with a cloth.

Example of how debris can settle at the bottom of your outdoor unit

Note: The specifics on how to remove the fan of your outdoor AC unit depends on the make and model of your AC unit, so you’ll want to look online or in your AC manual for instructions on how to properly and safely access the inside of the unit. However, the fan is heavy and it can be hard to remove it so leave it to a professional if you’re uncomfortable completing this step on your own.

Step 6: Clean the fins

The fins are the thin metal blades that make up the outside of your outside unit. The fins help your AC move heat from your outdoor unit to the outdoor air.

To clean your fins, you can either buy a fin cleaner or you can simply spray the fins (gently) with a hose. When spraying your fin with a hose, you’ll want to spray from the inside out and try not to get any internal components wet. If you do, simply dry them off as best you can with a towel.

Note: If you do choose to use a cleaner on your fins, make sure you clean it off completely with a hose.

Step 7: Reinstall your fan

Once you’re confident that your AC fins have been properly cleaned, you should reinstall your fan. Ensure that your fan is properly sealed and ready to be turned on again.

Step 8: Turn your AC back on at the breaker

Once you’re confident that your AC has been correctly put back together, you should turn your AC back on at the breaker.

What you’ll need to rely on a professional for

Now that you have a better idea of what steps you can take to clean your AC yourself, let’s look at a few steps you’ll need a professional for.

You’ll need to enlist a pro to:

  1. Clean your ducts (needs to be done rarely, probably once every 5-10 years)
  2. Clean any part of your indoor AC unit (usually only necessary if there is an issue)
  3. Maintain your AC system (this should be done annually and includes some cleaning as well as checking to ensure that all parts are working correctly)

To be honest, the DIY steps above are only a fraction of the steps a professional will take during a maintenance visit, so while you can clean your AC yourself, to keep your AC working efficiently and safely all year long, you need to invest in professional maintenance.

Want a professional’s help? Call Calfo

If the tasks listed above seem too complicated to do yourself, you can call a professional to maintain your AC for you. Even if you do complete some of these cleaning tasks, you’ll still need a pro to handle more complex maintenance tasks to ensure that your system is running smoothly all season long.