How To: Clean Your Air Conditioner Condenser Coils to Stay Cool all Summer Long
Lower your monthly AC bill and prolong the life of your AC unit!
Image credit: ElasticComputeFarm via Pixabay
Summer is almost upon us, and when the heat and humidity sets in you will be thankful for your trusty home air conditioner unit! Property owners have several annual maintenance tasks that come due in the Spring, including several related to AC units. These include clearing away plants that have sprouted up around the unit, changing the air filter, and cleaning HVAC ducts. Cleaning your AC unit’s condenser coils takes a bit more skill and preparation, but is still a reasonable DIY project for a person with a few hours of time and a screwdriver.
Condenser coils make up the outer wall of your air conditioner and allow the system to dissipate the heat created during the compression side of the compression-expansion cycle (it’s the expansion of this liquid refrigerant that has a cooling effect). Over time, these coils can accumulate dust and grime which restricts the flow of air. With less air blowing across the hot coil fins, more heat remains in the system and the cooling effect is reduced, causing your AC to run longer and more often and placing unnecessary strain on your unit. This results in higher electricity costs, a warmer house, and a shorter lifespan of your AC system.
Hiring a professional to clean your condenser coils could cost over $300. When we received a cost estimate of $323, we decided to do a bit of research and learned that commercial grade coil cleaning sprays cost as low as $5. Numerous online sources also indicated that one can use common household cleaners like diluted dish soap or “scrubbing bubbles” spray.
Below, we share the best way to clean your air conditioner condenser coils. For visual learners, you can check out the YouTube video below:
Step 1: Disconnect the Power
Image by author
Safety first! Turn off the power supply to your AC unit at your home’s main fuse box. Your AC unit may also have an outdoor service disconnect box somewhere nearby (pictured above). These boxes have pull out fuses, so you can gently pull out the fuse and set it aside. Note the “on” and “off” labels on the fuse’s housing. When you finish cleaning the coils and are ready to reconnect the electricity, be sure to orient the fuse so that the “on” label is visible (see left side of the image).
Step 2: Clear Overgrowth and Debris Around the Unit
Image by author- note the accumulated dirt on the condenser coils
Clear away any plants (usually weeds) from around the condenser which can impede air flow, drop leaves on the unit, or even try to attach to it. Brush off any dirt or debris that has accumulated on the square pad that the condenser sits on. This debris can obstruct drainage from inside the unit.
Step 4: Open Your AC Condenser Unit
Image by author
Each unit will be different, but there are usually a few screws that hold down the top of the unit. Remove these and swing the lid open. The fan blades are usually attached to the lid, and this fan has wiring connected to internal components, so rest the lid against the side gently so that these wires stay connected.
Step 5: Clean Out Debris From Inside the Unit
Image by author
If your condenser unit has never been cleaned, you’re in for a surprise when you open it up! Our unit had accumulated a significant amount of dirt and leaves, all of which was impeding air flow and drainage through the unit. Use a shop-vac if you have one to remove as much of this accumulated debris as you can.
Step 6: Spray Condenser Coils
Image by author
Spray your coil condenser spray (affiliate links here and here) from the inside out, being careful not to spray any wires or internal electrical components. Let the foam work its way through the coils for a few minutes.
Step 7: Rinse Condenser Coils
Image by author
Using a garden hose, thoroughly rinse the condenser coils. A few online resources recommend using a pressure washer, which has the added benefit of an attachment to add a bit of dish soap. A note of caution: the coil fins can be damaged by too much pressure, so use a low pressure setting if you choose this option over a standard garden hose.
Once again, spray from the inside of the machine out. You should see water flowing through the coils and emerging from the outer wall of the unit.
Step 8: Wrap Up
Once you finish a thorough rinse, replace the lid of the AC unit and secure it in place with the screws you removed in step 1. After you allow the unit to dry out for a few hours you can reconnect the electricity. Insert the fuse back in the service disconnect box, orienting it so that the “on” label is visible. Flip the breaker in your home fuse box, and your AC is once again ready to start cooling your home.
Having trouble tracking all the property maintenance tasks on your plate? Join the Citizen Upgrade mailing list and your welcome email will include a link to a google document template home maintenance log. You can also get a paper copy of the log book here (affiliate link). The template and paper log book include an extensive checklist of maintenance tasks to consider, which you can edit down to suit the needs of your property. Staying on top of preventive maintenance will save you time and money in the future!
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