How to Clean Your AC Coils? – A DIY Guide to AC Coil Cleaning
Summer and air conditioning go hand in hand, and to beat the heat, you would want your HVAC unit to cool your home smoothly throughout the warm weather. To work efficiently, your system has just one demand – routine maintenance.
When your air conditioning is working hard during the summer season to give you a comfortable environment, it needs extra cleaning in addition to the annual tune-ups.
AC coils are one of those components of your air conditioner that need to be cleaned periodically depending on your usage.
Why Are AC Coils Important?
AC coils capture and release heat, making them a vital component in the cooling process. These coils are made of copper covered in multiple aluminum fins that help improve heat transfer. In addition to cooling, air conditioner coils play a significant role in the dehumidification process provided by your HVAC unit. As the coils become cooler, the water condenses onto the coils, which is then removed from indoor air.
The effectiveness of these processes is reduced when the coils get dirty. Since the coils are wet due to the dehumidification, the dust particles that circulate with the air stick to the coils. When you ignore their maintenance, you put your unit in line for costly repairs and reduced lifespan.
The best part about AC coil cleaning is that you don’t have to rely on HVAC technicians to keep them debris-free. You can complete this cleaning project in less than an hour with few supplies. To help you in your DIY AC coil cleaning project, we have prepared this step-by-step guide detailing various techniques that you can use to clean the coils.
Types of Air Conditioner Coils
Your air conditioner has two types of coils: evaporator and condenser coils. Any issue with either one could cause your system to break down and stop cooling.
1. Evaporator Coils
The evaporator coils, also known as the cooling coils, are located in the indoor unit. They are U-shaped and are placed behind thin metal strips called coil fins. The role of these coils is to capture the heat from your home, which is then absorbed by the refrigerant. The hot air is replaced by the cool air, which is then reintroduced in your home.
2. Condenser Coils
The condenser coils are located inside your AC’s outdoor unit. Here, the compressor pressurizes the gaseous refrigerant and sends it to the condenser coils. When the gaseous refrigerant flows through the coils, it loses its heat and turns into liquid. The condenser coils then release the hot air outside.
How Do AC Coils Get Dirty
The moisture from the cool air, dust, and other pollutants accumulate over time on the surface of your coils. If you have placed plants or shrubs to conceal your outdoor unit, grass and leaves can fall inside your condenser coils and clog them.
If you forget to clean and change your air filters, it can also impact your coils. The dirt from the unclean filters can build up on your AC coils and pose severe damage. Your AC would consume more energy leading to increase in bills. Changing your air filters can help you improve the energy efficiency by 5% to 15%.
Problems Caused by Dirty AC Coils
Dirty AC coils can cause several issues that can seriously affect the working of your air conditioner. Following are the major causes of concern attached with unclean aircon coils:
1. Decreased Cooling Capacity
Your outdoor unit is responsible for transferring the heat outside. When your AC coils are filled with debris, they hamper the process of heat transfer. When this happens, you will start noticing a decrease in your AC’s cooling capacity.
2. High Energy Consumption
The coils laden with debris make it quite difficult for your unit to work efficiently. Your air conditioner will have to put in more effort and work for a longer duration to achieve your desired temperature settings. This leads to an increase in your energy bills as your system consumes more energy than it usually does.
3. Ice Buildup on Coils
As more and more dirt accumulates on the coils, they stop functioning properly. The debris restricts the airflow, and warm air does not reach the refrigerant. This causes the refrigerant to become too cold. When this happens, any condensation on the coils freezes and leads to ice buildup.
To prevent this situation, regular AC maintenance is strongly advocated.
4. Increased Wear & Tear
Forgetting to clean your AC coils can also block the coils completely. This then causes the compressor to operate at a high temperature, putting the entire system in a state of stress. Compressor replacement is a costly expense that can be avoided with regular cleaning and following annual maintenance schedules.
How Often Should You Clean Your AC Coils?
You should clean your AC coils when they get dirty, depending on your usage and home location. During the summers, when your use is particularly high, you should increase the cleaning frequency. If you live in an area where outdoor pollution levels are high, you will need to clean your coils more often.
As a general rule, you should clean the dust and debris on your AC coils every two months. This routine should be followed in addition to your annual maintenance.
Smart HVAC devices such as smart thermostats for central and smart AC controllers that work with mini-split, window, and portable ACs, can be quite beneficial in keeping your unit up to date with its maintenance. As dirty filters can lead to grime buildup on the coils, you can use smart controllers like Cielo Breez Plus to keep track of air filter cleanliness.
How to Clean AC Coils
For cleaning your AC coils, you should gather all the tools required beforehand. Before opening your unit to find the coils, make sure it is turned off. To be on the safe side, you should also turn off the circuit breaker.
When cleaning AC coils, be careful and do not touch the fins forcefully as they are extremely delicate and can bend even with very little pressure.
Equipment for Cleaning AC Coils
You will find many of these tools in your home. However, you might have to purchase a fin comb, coil comb, and a commercial coil cleaning detergent. Make sure to get your hands on the following equipment before getting started:
- Coil comb
- Fin comb
- Commercial cleaner or detergent
- Cleaning brush
- A piece of cloth
- Protective eyewear
Gaining Access to Evaporator Coils
- To reach the coils in your indoor unit, you have to remove the access panel.
- Check your AC’s manual to find out where the access panel is located.
- Remove the tape that seals the panel.
- Then remove any screws or fasteners attached to the access panel.
- Remove the panel cover to gain entry to the coils.
Gaining Access to Condenser Coils
- Turn off your unit and remove the condenser cover
- Inside the unit, you will see a cage.
- Remove the screws at the bottom of the cage
- After removing the cage, you will see the fins along with the AC coils.
You now have access to the AC coils, so let’s get cleaning!
AC Coil Cleaning With a Brush
Using a brush is an easy technique when you are just dealing with dust accumulated due to the everyday use of an air conditioner. Using a brush gives you control over the areas that need in-depth cleaning.
- Examine the external surface of the coils for any traces of dust or debris.
- Lightly apply the brush to the coils and sweep the dust away.
- Continue doing that until all traces are removed.
- Use a coil comb to clean the area between the coil fins. Do not force the comb where it does not pass through easily; you can easily tear the thin fins.
- If you notice any bent fins, gently straighten them using a fin comb.
- Once you are done, thoroughly clean the area around the unit.
Note: Avoid using brushes with hard bristles; your AC coils have delicate fins that can get damaged.
AC Coil Cleaning Using Compressed Air
For light accumulation of dust, you can also use the compressed air technique. This method should preferably be used for the outdoor condenser coils. Using it on evaporator coils can lead to dust blowing inside your house.
- Direct compressed air in the direction opposite to the airflow.
- If one side needs more cleaning, place the nozzle close to that side and direct the air.
- Maintain a constant flow; it will help remove the dust smoothly and prevent any damage to the coils.
- If high pressure is required, use a 90-degree angle or blow straight to the fins so that they don’t bend.
- Avoid blowing the air into your ductwork as it can clog your ducts and cause further problems.
- After you are finished, place the cover back securely and clean the area around your outdoor unit.
- You can install a piece of plywood on top of your unit to avoid dust or leaves falling inside it.
Note: Be sure to wear protective eyewear to avoid dust getting into your eyes.
Cleaning AC Coils Using Commercial Cleaners
You will find plenty of cleaners in the market specially designed for DIY AC coil cleaning. Foaming cleansers are widely available as they can easily loosen the dirt and debris on the coils.
- Before using the detergent, read all the instructions provided.
- Spray the AC coil cleaner as needed and wait for it to foam and break apart the accumulated dust.
- Reapply if needed, and then wipe all the grime with a piece of cloth.
Cleaning With Homemade AC Coil Cleaner
If you don’t want to use commercial cleaners, you can opt for mild detergents and make your own AC coil cleaner.
- Mix the detergent with warm water and put it in a spray bottle.
- Spray evenly on the coils and let it sit for a few minutes
- Then using a brush or a piece of cloth, wipe the coils clean.
Heavy-Duty AC Coil Cleaning
If your AC coils are covered with grime that cannot be removed using other methods, consider heavy-duty cleaning methods such as pressure wash or steam cleaning. However, if you have never used these techniques before or are not confident to do it yourself, call an HVAC professional. High pressure from these methods can bend the coil fins and cause serious damage.
Learning how to clean your coils is a beneficial skill that can help extend your unit’s life and maintain its efficiency. After reading this article, we hope you’ll spare some time to take up your AC coil cleaning project.