Keeping Your Cool: 4 DIY Air Conditioning Maintenance Steps

by James Florence


Annual maintenance will help maximize your air conditioner’s performance. Photo: Kelly Plumbing & Heating, Inc.

Your air conditioner is designed to keep your home cool during the summer, but like any system, it requires ongoing maintenance to sustain peak operating efficiency. While some maintenance steps are best left to an HVAC professional (such as handling refrigerant), there are others you can perform yourself. Here are four DIY air conditioning maintenance steps:

1. Change the air filter. Before turning on your air conditioner for the season, inspect the air filter and replace it as needed. A new air filter will provide cleaner, fresher indoor air in addition to optimizing airflow and general system performance.

2. Clean the condenser. Since it’s located outside, an air conditioner’s condenser can accumulate dirt and debris over time, which can inhibit efficient performance. For this reason, it’s good to do some basic cleaning before turning it on for the summer. After shutting off power to the unit, remove the fan cage and use a broom or compressed air source to clean out any leaves, cobwebs, and other debris. This is also a good time to trim or remove any encroaching shrubs or weeds, which will ensure the condenser is able to “breathe.”

Next, clean the condenser coils, which comprise the unit’s grill-like outer walls. After using a brush to remove loose dirt buildup, spray the coils with a commercial coil cleaner. Allow the cleaner to remain on the coils for five to 10 minutes before rinsing them off with a hose. If any of the coil fins appear bent, you can straighten them using a coil fin brush.

3. Clean the evaporator coil. As the part of your air conditioning system where refrigerant absorbs heat to produce cold air, your evaporator coil should be cleaned periodically to facilitate this critical function. To access the evaporator coil, open the door to the blower unit (you may need to remove a few screws and/or some duct tape). After dusting off the coil with a soft-bristled brush, spray it with your commercial coil cleaner. Unlike the previous application, there’s no need to rinse the cleaner off the coil—after initially foaming up, it will simply drain into the condensate drip pan.

4. Clean the condensate drain. As an air conditioner runs, condensed moisture and water vapor are channeled through the condensate drain to a termination point outside the home. Over time, this drain can become clogged with algae and sludge buildup, so it’s good to periodically clear the line. Locate the drain termination point (look for a PVC pipe protruding from your home’s foundation) and use a wet/dry vacuum to clean out any latent buildup. Other techniques include running a long wire through the line or flushing it with a bleach and water solution.

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