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How to Clean Your Air Conditioner Coils

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Air conditioning unit with the top removed ready to have air conditioner coils cleaned

Most of us in California rely on an air conditioner to stay cool in the summertime. So you want to make sure your AC unit is pumping out cold air when the weather heats up. One of the ways an air conditioner can underperform is by having dirty coils.

Cleaning your AC coils on your own is a pretty doable task in between professional air conditioner maintenance. We’ll take you through the coil cleaning process and explain how to keep your AC unit humming along. You’ll want to clean your coils at least once a year, usually in the spring or early summer.

What are Air Conditioner Coils?

Air conditioner coils are the metal pipes that run back and forth to disperse heat from the unit. As refrigerant travels around your AC system, in and outside your home, it runs through these pipes to manipulate temperature.

The coils are usually made of copper, as it is a great heat conductor, but steel and aluminum are also common. The coils are surrounded by aluminum fins that further help disperse heat and “fan out” the hot air we want to get rid of. 

Your air conditioner does its job by moving heat from inside your home to the outdoors. The coils are an essential part of this process as they remove heat from the AC system to the outside air. This short video explains air conditioning physics in more detail.

Where to Find AC Coils

The coils you want to clean are located outside of your home, in a window unit or central air conditioner. There are actually coils inside your home as well, that cool the air as it passes over. But it’s the coils outside that get clogged with debris and dirt.

In a central AC unit, common for most houses, the coils act as “sidewalls” for other components. They are the metal tubes that run back and forth stacked on top of each other. You should see metal fins spanning the coils creating a “box” around the compressor and unit fan. These coils get clogged and covered by all sorts of muck from outside‒so let’s clean ’em up!

Man using a garden hose to clean air conditioner coils

Coil Cleaning That Cools Like New

Cleaning your coils is a pretty approachable task with lots of benefits. Budget an hour to get the job done right without rushing. A few things you’ll need for a successful cleaning:

An 8 step guide on how to correctly clean your air conditioning coils

Step 1: Turn Off Power

You must remove power from your AC unit before beginning the coil clean. Air conditioners are usually connected to an outside power source. Remove the electrical fuse or turn it to an off position. If you need help turning off your unit call a professional before continuing.

Step 2: Remove The Top Fan

Not all air conditioners are made equal, but you probably have a fan and grate screwed the top of the AC unit. Unscrew this piece, being careful not to damage anything. Removing the fan gives you valuable access to cleaning the unit from the inside out.

Step 3: Remove Large Debris

Take a look inside the unit and pull out any large debris resting inside. If you have a shop-vac handy give the inside floor a clean without damaging the fins. Don’t worry about cleaning the actual coils at this point.

Step 4: Apply Coil Cleaner

Coil cleaners are affordable and effective for removing dirt and grease from your AC coils. Look for a foaming product for the best results. Spray the cleaner on the inside of the coils and fins, covering the entire surface with foam. Wait about 10 minutes for the cleaner to absorb through the fins. Follow individual product guidelines for the cleaner you use.

Step 5: Spray the Coils

Now use your garden hose to spray the coils from the inside out, rinsing the cleaner. You want to direct spray away from the internal compressor and parallel with the fins (to reduce damage). Use your thumb or a nozzle to create medium to high water pressure

Avoid spraying from an angle as this may bend the delicate fins. Do not use a pressure washer, as it will damage your AC coils. Repeat the process for very dirty coils or if debris still exists.

Step 6: Rinse the Front

Now that most of the crud and dirt have been washed away, use your hose to rinse the front of the coils. Again, spray parallel to the fins to reduce bending or crimping. Spray top down to prevent too much water from impacting the compressor inside.

Step 7: Fin Fixing (optional)

Removing all that built-up dirt will make the biggest difference in your air conditioner’s performance. If you notice any damaged or bent fins you can use a fin comb to gently straighten them. This step can be time-consuming and tricky for the untrained hand, so move on if you aren’t getting any progress. 

Step 8: Reconnect the Fan & Power

If you’re satisfied with the cleaning and convinced all dirt and grime have been removed, it’s time to get your AC unit back up and running. Place the fan back on top of the unit and screw it in. Restore power to the machine. Now get inside and enjoy that clean cool air! 

A Clean, Mean, Cooling Machine

A clean air conditioner is a happy conditioner, and a happy air conditioner keeps your home cool and comfortable. Beyond having just the right temperature inside, annual coil cleanings save you money and time in a few different ways.

Lower Electricity Bills

When your AC coils are full of junk and dirt, heat doesn’t emit as effectively. This means that the air conditioner must work harder to achieve the same temperature inside your home. Working harder requires more energy and all of a sudden your AC unit is racking up that electricity bill!

Just an annual cleaning can keep your air conditioner coils efficient and cost-saving.   

Less Professional Maintenance

Cleaning your AC coils regularly helps keep your unit in better working shape. All parts of your AC unit work less when heat is being conducted effectively. This requires clean, debris-free coils.

You can expect to make fewer calls to an HVAC professional when the coils stay clean. And if there is a problem with your air conditioner, you already know it’s not because of buildup on the fins and coils. An air conditioning expert can focus elsewhere and trim your service costs.

Longer Air Conditioner Life

Less stress on your air conditioner and improved performance is going to increase the life of your unit. Replacing entire air conditioning systems can be costly, but is sometimes necessary when AC units have been neglected. Cleaning coils every spring will keep your unit performing and that cold air blowing for years to come.

Clean Like a Pro, Or Call One

You can usually clean your air conditioner coils with a garden hose and a couple of easy-to-find products, but it’s not for everybody. The important thing to remember is that professional air conditioning experts are always ready for a maintenance call.Whether you do it yourself or call a pro, just make sure your AC unit gets the coils cleaned before every summer. This will save you money in the long run and turn your home into a cool, refreshing paradise to escape the dog days of summer.

Written by Thomas Howard

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