How to clean central air conditioner 

How to clean a central air conditioner? It is a question quite everyone with a central ac unit has!

Whether you think of your central ac unit as a necessity or a luxury, you must ensure it works correctly.

The best way to ensure your system’s efficiency is to clean it regularly either by yourself or with HVAC company.

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Cleaning your air conditioning system improves your unit’s performance & efficiency, prevents it from breaking down prematurely and postpones AC Repair services.

Its really better to be safe than sorry and to avoid emergency ac repairs.

Dirt, dust and debris can clog and hamper your central air conditioner.

S0, if you choose to do the cleaning yourself, this article is for you.

Here we discuss everything regarding cleaning a central AC.

Central air conditioners consist of:

  • Condenser (which contains the compressor, fan and cooling tubes.)
  • Evaporator coil (the internal unit that cools the air.)
  • Tubes that drain the moisture.
  • The fan blows cool air into the house.
  • Ducts.

So the cleaning process is divided into four parts:

  1. Cleaning the condenser.
  2. Inside unit cleaning
  3. Duct cleaning.
  4. Maintaining the unit.

So let’s start with the step-by-step process.

How to clean central air conditioner- Tips for cleaning

Before jumping into the process of AC cleaning, here are some of the tips you should keep in mind:

  • This process is a little time-consuming. So you have to set aside about half a day to do the job right.
  • Some parts of the cleaning process will require accurate movements and skill.
  • You may need specialized tools and kits to complete the cleaning process.

While you can do this ac maintenance, you might find the job a little cumbersome at some point.

The reason is- it requires both patience and fine motor skills; therefore, it is well suited for a professional.

So, if your air conditioning (1) is dirty or shows clear signs of wear and tear, you should take the help of an expert.

How to clean central air conditioner-Tools and materials needed

You might already have tools in your house to help you clean a central air conditioner.

However, you might need a special spray cleaner for the evaporator coil.

So here are some of the tools you’ll need:

  • Dry/wet vac.
  • Screwdrivers.
  • Evaporator coil cleaner.
  • Utility knife.
  • Wrenches.
  • Aluminum foil tape.
  • Garden hose with spray nozzle
  • Stiff metal wire

How to clean central air conditioner step #1: Cleaning the condenser

Here are some steps to keeping the condenser coil or the outdoor ac unit clean:

Shut off the power unit

There might be an outdoor switch point near the condenser unit.

Mostly these switches are placed inside a small box and fitted on the wall of your apartment or house.

Inside the box, look for a switch and slowly switch it off.

If there are no switches, you must manually pull off the main plug, which transfers power to the condenser.

  • Before you start dismantling any parts of the condenser, you must switch off the power supply.
  • If you can’t find the switch box where the compressor unit is plugged, or if you want to be extra cautious, switch off the circuit breaker which powers the AC condenser.

Vacuum the condenser fins

The condenser has five narrow slats made of metal on the sides of the body. These are called fins.

You can clean these fins using the nozzle of the vacuum cleaner over them.

Cleaning these fins will remove dirt and debris and allow the condenser to pull air efficiently without obstruction.

You can use both the dry and wet vacuum to clean the fins.

Please do not use a pressure washer, as the fins are pretty delicate, and the pressure can easily damage them.

The condenser unit pulls the air through these fins.

With time, these fins become dirty as bits of leaves, grass and dust keep sticking.

Therefore, it is super important to clean these fins regularly.

Straighten the condenser fins

Many times, with constant use, the condenser fins start to bend.

However, bent fins might hamper the airflow, so we must straighten them.

The best way to straighten these fins is to buy a fin tool.

These fin kits are inexpensive and have teeth that help you comb a certain number of fins per inch.

If you don’t want to go for the toolkit, you can also use a knife to straighten the fins.

Apply gentle and consistent pressure to bend the fins back to normal.

Please don’t use excessive force, or you might snap or damage them further.

Unscrew and remove the fan

The fan unit is placed on the compressor’s top and covered by metal wiring and a grate.

Using a screwdriver, remove the wiring on the top of the fan.

After that, unscrew and remove the fan.

The fan motor and the compressor are connected with wires, so you may not fully lift the fan off. Now pull up the fan as much as possible.

Wash the fan blades and interior fins

The next step is to use the fan blades and the internal fins.

With the help of a garden hose, clean any dirt or debris from the surface of the fan blade.

Or else you can also wipe off the dirt with a cloth or rag, then use the hose to spray through the compressor’s fin.

Cleaning and rinsing the fins from the inside will ensure that any dirt and obstructions are cleared and the unit can work at its peak efficiency.

Reassemble the compressor unit

Once you’re done cleaning the fan blades and the inside of the compressor, you can assemble everything back together.

Fit the fan back in place and tighten the screws holding the metal frames.

Repeat the same process with the metal wiring on the top of the fan.

After tightening all the screws, you can turn on the power supply.

How to clean central air conditioner step #2: Cleaning the inside unit

Next clean the inner unit of the AC.

Change replaceable filters twice a year

To change the replaceable filter, remove the metal grate which shelters the filter.

Pull out the ac filter and place it in a separate replacement unit.

The air filters are located in the indoor unit, close to the evaporator unit, about 1 foot (0.3 meters) high and two feet (0.6 meters) wide.

The filters need to be replaced twice a year because, with time, dust and dirt clog the filters’ tiny holes, which purify the air.

Using a dirty filter not only obstructs the free flow of air and diminishes efficiency but also degrades your indoor air quality.

Clean reusable filters twice a year

If your central air conditioner has reusable air filters, you can wash them twice a year.

However, you must scrutinize the filters to check if they are reusable or not.

The best way to distinguish between the filters is to inspect the material it is made from.

Disposable filters are made from thick, paper-type material, while reusable ones have rubber frames and metal mesh.

Now, to clean your ac filters, follow these instructions:

  • Vacuum the filter thoroughly in the up and down motion, and you’ll see the dust coming off bit by bit.
  • Fill a large container with normal water and put in some liquid detergent. When the soap lather forms, submerge the filters and let it rest for 15-20 minutes. Then wash it off with clean water.
  • Let the filter air dry till it is entirely out of moisture. Once dry, you can reinstall the filters into the system.

Clean the evaporator coils

Sometimes, dust particles like pollen or skin cells form a layer on your evaporator coil.

So, it would be great if you also cleaned the coils using a soft brush.

The best cleaning solution is to get a no-rinse coil cleaning spray.

This spray works by foaming up and dripping off into your unit’s drain pan, removing all the dirt from the coil.

Spray the foam all over the coil evenly, and make sure to get the spray in the small areas that are difficult to clean by hand.

It is advisable to clean the coil on a hot day so that when you turn your AC on, the condensation rinses off the coils.

Clean the drain

Once the coil cleaner has done its work and the evaporator coil is clean, you can clean the drain pan.

The simple way to clean the drain pan is to clean it with soap and hot water and then bleach it for sanitization.

Mix the bleach and water in 50-50 proportions.

Pour the entire solution into the drain to ensure that it is clear.

If you want a long-term solution to the problem, get a drain pan tablet from the hardware or home improvement store.

How to clean central air conditioner step #3: Cleaning the ducts

The following process is to clean the ducts:

Loosen dust in all accessible ductwork

This step is suitable for homes with walk-in basements where the ducts are placed, and you can easily access them.

However, if your ducts are placed in the crawl spaces and attics, it might not be possible to crawl through those small spaces.

But if you try to loosen the dirt from the ducts, first turn on your AC blower.

Once the fan is on, tap all the ducts to loosen any dust.

Doing this will blow all the dirt closer to the vent registers.

Once the dust is near the registers, you can easily clean it up.

Remove the registers when you clean

Many times, the vent registers are screwed into the surface.

So, if the same is the case with your vents, remove the screws with a screwdriver or drill.

The other times, the registers are fitted into the flooring, and you can remove them with your hands.

Wipe the vent covers

When removing the vents, also make sure that you clean them thoroughly.

You can clean them up by wiping them with a wet rag or vacuuming them.

You might also use hot water and cleaning solutions if the registers are extremely dirty or grimy.

This way, your vents look as clean as you know.

Brush, vacuum, and clean, accessible ductwork

Now comes the serious work, i.e., cleaning the actual ducts.

As we know, air ductwork gets cramped and narrowed and becomes difficult to reach.

Due to this, cleaning up to the place where you can reach is fine.

To clean these areas, use a combination of tools like brushes, paper towels, vacuums and rags.

And begin your cleaning spree!

Replace registers

Once you are done cleaning the ducts as far as you can reach, replace the vents/registers with the help of original fasteners.

How to clean central air conditioner step #4: Maintaining the air conditioner unit 

The final step is to maintain the air conditioner:

Trim plants and foliage around the condenser

The condenser units need open space to function at their best efficiency.

If you have bushes, plants, vines or weeds surrounding your condenser unit, you need to use a pair of garden shears or tools to trim the plants.

Ensure that your condenser unit is surrounded by at least two feet of open space.

This space will maximize your unit’s efficiency and allow the free flow of air.

Wash pollen and dust off the condenser

Rinse the condenser with water with a garden hose.

Spray water from all sides over the condenser unit, then rinse from top to bottom so that the dust is removed and the runoff water doesn’t stain the condenser.

Keep your central AC clean with RLD services.

Cleaning and maintaining your central air conditioner is essential and little lengthy work.

Therefore, it is sometimes better to have a professional do the job.

At RLD, we have experienced technicians who will clean your AC like new!

We provide all air conditioner-related services in Los Angeles and nearby areas.

You can blindly count on our team of professionals to provide top-notch air conditioning services.

Call now to book an appointment.


Here are some of the questions people usually ask:

How to clean central air conditioner FAQ#1: Can I clean my central air unit myself?

The answer to this is a Yes!

You can clean the exterior condenser and the accessible parts of the indoor evaporator.

The whole process is complete in just a matter of hours, and your AC system gets a thorough cleaning and can work like magic the whole summer.

How to clean central air conditioner FAQ#2: Is it OK to spray water on your air conditioner?

Yes, you can undoubtedly spray water on your air conditioning unit if it needs cooling without any worries.

Spraying water on ACs condenser boosts its efficiency.

Your condenser needs regular spraying to maintain its efficiency.

How to clean central air conditioner FAQ#3: Do central air conditioners need to be cleaned?

Cleaning your central air conditioner is considered one of the essential maintenance tasks.

Routinely and regularly cleaning and replacing your air conditioner’s filters affects its efficiency directly.

The reason is- Dirty, clogged filters minimize the amount of airflow and significantly decrease your system’s efficiency.

How to clean central air conditioner FAQ#4: What do you clean the outside AC unit with?

You can use a water hose spray to clean the outside unit of your air conditioning system.

Loose dust and debris like grass and leaves might accumulate near the outside unit.

Spray some coil cleaner on the unit.

Then wait 10-15 minutes until the cleaner foams and works on the dirty coils.

Rinse the coil cleaner with the help of the hose.

call 310-926-6368

Contact 24/7 our scheduling department today

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