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Step-By-Step Guide: How to Clean a Central Air Conditioner

Step-By-Step Guide: How to Clean a Central Air Conditioner

A working air conditioning system is a clean one. In fact, most AC problems stem from the buildup of dirt and debris within your unit’s system. Dirt can restrict airflow, causing your air conditioner to overwork itself in order to cool your home. That’s why it’s important for homeowners to maintain their HVAC system. To enhance the life cycle and efficiency of your system, we have developed a step-by-step guide on how to clean your air conditioner.

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Cleaning the Indoor Portion of an Air Conditioner System

Step-By-Step Guide: How to Clean a Central Air Conditioner1.) Deactivate the Air Conditioner & Disassemble Blower Unit

Before you begin anything, please make sure that you’ve turned the AC completely off. This ensures the safety of yourself as well as your air conditioner. To power off your system, there should be an “Off” button located in your breaker box.

Once you’ve turned the power off to your AC unit, remove the panel on your blower unit to reveal the evaporator coils. You may even have to remove foil duct tape depending on your unit type. This requires unscrewing a few bolts or screws that are holding the door in place.

2.) Sanitize Evaporator Coils & Drain Pan

To clean the evaporator coils of your air conditioner, you will need a soft brush to remove dust, debris, pollen, and contaminates. You can use a no-rinse coil cleaner from your local hardware store. No-rinse coil cleaners foam and drip into the unit’s drain pan, rinsing any dirt and debris along with it.

Spray an even layer of foam, particularly within the small areas that are hard to reach. Once the coil cleaner has removed excess dirt and debris, clean out the drain pan in your air conditioner with a mixture of soap and hot water (bleach is also an option). With this solution, you will pour it down the drain to clear contaminants that may cause a blockage. While cleaning, we recommend wearing a mask to avoid an allergic reaction.

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Before you begin anything, please make sure that you’ve turned the AC completely off. This ensures the safety of yourself as well as your air conditioner. To power off your system, there should be an “Off” button located in your breaker box.3.) Eliminate Blockages in Air Conditioner Drain

If your cleaning solutions wash down the drain easily, you won’t have to worry about this step. However, if the solution is slow to move down the drain, this issue may be caused by a blockage. Mold and algae can gather in your drain without regular maintenance.

To ensure you clear your drain of any blockage, follow the drain to where it ends and bring a wet or dry vacuum with you. You can purchase wet or dry vacuums from the hardware store. Attach the vacuum hose to the end of the drain tub. Hold a towel around the gap to avoid air leakage. For an even tighter seal, duct tape the hose and drain together. Next, switch the vacuum on and let it run for about two or three minutes to remove excess contaminants.

4.) Close the Access Panel

Once you have eliminated blockages in the drain, the next step to cleaning an air conditioner will consist of attaching the door to the system. Use the same screws you took out at the beginning of the procedure. If you have HVAC metal foil tape, use it to seal the top and bottom of the access panel. Don’t cover up the manufacturer’s label, as a technician may need it for future repairs or maintenance.

Cleaning the Outdoor Portion of an Air Conditioning System

1.) Remove Grille & Debris in AC

To clean the outside of the air conditioner, you will still need to turn the power off. To deactivate your system, find the “Off” button located in your breaker box near the air conditioning unit. Then remove the grille by unscrewing the bolts located on top of the unit.

Remove the grille and gently lift the fan from the unit as much as you can. Your fan will have wires and connections to it, so it can’t be completely detached, but can be placed against a wall without disconnecting anything.

Once you remove the grille, take a look at the bottom of your air conditioning system. Some models may not have any guards or shields in place to stop debris from falling through the top of the fan unit. This means that you will need to remove any twigs, leaves, and debris that might gather in the bottom of the pan. Typically you can do this by hand. You can also, however, use a wet or dry vacuum to clean your air conditioner.

Step-By-Step Guide: How to Clean a Central Air Conditioner2.) Sanitize Coils & Adjust the Fins

To clean the outside coils, use a coil cleaning solution. Coil cleaning solutions are typically found at your local hardware store. Please use this solution with caution: coil cleaners contain dangerous fumes that can cause burns, which is why you should never use this on indoor coils. Dilute your cleaning solution according to its directions and add it to a pump sprayer. Next, spray the cleaner onto the coils to remove dirt and clean your air conditioner. The cleaning agent will take a few minutes to foam. Once it foams, rinse it off with your hose. We recommend not using a pressure washer for cleaning the fins since they can easily damage.

Next, you will readjust any bent fins. Bent fins can hinder the airflow of your HVAC system. Use a fin tool to cautiously comb the fins back in place.

3.) Sanitize Around & Adjust the Air Conditioner Unit

Once you’re done cleaning your air conditioner, position the fan cage back into the unit and re-screw the bolts back in place. Clear the area around your unit approximately 2 feet in every direction, making sure that nothing hinders airflow. Check to see if your unit is leveled—dirt and debris may get underneath your system causing it to be uneven. If your unit is out of level for too long, this may result in future costly repairs.

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5 Signs Your Air Conditioner Needs to be Repaired

Sometimes cleaning your air conditioner unit isn’t enough to get it up and running. To help you determine whether or not your air conditioner needs maintenance, we’ve compiled a list of signs that may indicate a malfunctioning system.

Air Conditioner Noises

Your air conditioning unit should operate fairly quietly. If you notice any unusual sounds, particularly grinding, grating, squealing or screeching, contact an HVAC professional right away. Loud noises could be the result of broken motor bearings, or a slipped belt.

Step-By-Step Guide: How to Clean a Central Air ConditionerWarm Air

Warm air blowing through the air conditioner could be the result of a bad capacitor, a blown fuse, refrigerant leak, or failed compressor. Contact your HVAC professional to determine the error.


From bacteria growth to burned-out wire insulation, bad or musty unit odors could be an indication that it’s time to hire a certified technician to clean your central air conditioner. If you notice an odd smell, contact an HVAC professional.

Poor Air Flow

Weak airflow could be a result of a lot of air conditioning issues from contaminated air filters, ductwork issues, or a malfunctioning blower motor.

Excess Water or Moisture

If you spot water coming from or around your air conditioning unit, you may either have a broken drain tube or a refrigerant leak, which could be costly. Whatever the case may be, contact a certified technician to clean and perform maintenance on your air conditioner.

Air Conditioning Contractors in Jacksonville, FLAir Conditioning Repair & Install Services

If you need assistance cleaning your air conditioner or diagnosing a problem, give our team a call by phone at (904) 217-5694. We’re happy to help you keep your air conditioner in the best condition possible! Our team of certified professionals offer air conditioning repair, replacement, installation, and tune-up services to homes in Jacksonville and other areas of Florida. The staff at Fenwick Home Services also offers plumbing repair and installation services. Schedule an appointment with our staff.

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