How To Clean Air Conditioner Unit

In order to keep your air condition running smoothly, keep your condenser unit clean.  By vacuuming away leaves and debris from the condenser unit, it will cool better.  You should also, wash dirt from the fins and grills of your air conditioner condenser.
If you for some reason or another forgot to do your spring checkup and maintenance on your air conditioner, you’ve noticed that isn’t cooling your home as well as it could.  It only takes about half a day’s work to clean away a year’s worth of dirt and debris.  What a lot of people don’t realize is that this dirt and debris is clogging the cooling fins, in addition having a low coolant level, a dirty blower fan filter, or any number of other simple problems can and will significantly reduce the efficiency of your air conditioner and wear it out faster.  This increases your energy bills and reduces the life of your air conditioner.  If you have your heating and air condition service technician perform your yearly maintenance, it could coast approximately $200.00 to upwards of $400.00.  However, by doing most of the most of the routine cleaning maintenance you could save the approximately $120 or more on the cost.  You must have a certified technician check the coolant level, this will run you approximately $150.00.
In this article, we’ll explain how to clean the outdoor unit (the condenser) and the accessible parts of the indoor unit (the evaporator).  To complete, all steps will take a few hours, especially if this is your first time performing these steps.  However, you do not need to have any special skills, tools, or experience. 
**TIP: If you schedule your yearly service, call and make your appointment before the first heat wave, preferably in early spring when the heating and air technicians are not overwhelmed with service and repair calls.  During this time, you can usually schedule appointments around your time and prices are usually lower as well.
Step 1:  Locate your owner’s manual.  If you have misplaced your owner’s manual, contact the distributor and request one.
Cleaning the Condenser:
You want to clean your outdoor unit on a day when the temperature is at least 60 degrees F.  This is because 60oF is approximately the minimum temperature that you can test your air conditioner to ensure that it’s working properly.  When looking at the condenser, you should see two copper tubes running to it, one should be bare and the other encased in a foam sleeve.  If you have a heat pump, then both copper tubes will be encased in foam sleeves.
The most important job here is to clean the condenser fins.  These are the fine blades surround the unit.  Dirt and debris gets sucked into them by the central, this dirt and debris reduces the systems cooling ability by blocking the airflow.
Before you start any maintenance on your air conditioner, always begin by shutting off the electrical power to the system.  Usually the power switch is located nearby the system.  If you cannot locate the power switch or are uncertain, turn off the power to the AC at the main electrical panel.  Do not attempt to work on the system while it is still powered.
To clean the fins, you want to vacuum grass clippings, leaves and other debris from the exterior fins with a soft brush attachment.  You also want to clear away all bushes, weeds, and grass within 2 ft. of the condenser.
When vacuuming the fins, be careful as they are easily bent or crushed.  Because the fins are so fragile, many manufacturers have them enclosed in a metal box that must be unscrewed and lift off in order for you to clean them.  Check your owner’s manual for directions on how to remove and lift off the box.  Make sure that you do not bump the fins when removing the metal box.  It is normal to find a few fins that have been bent, because of this, there are special sets of fin combs costing approximately $14 at most appliance parts stores that you can purchase to straighten any bent fins.  If the fins are bent slightly, you can also us a blunt dinner knife to straighten them.  Don’t insert the knife more than 1/2 in.  However, if you have a large number of bent fins or fins that have been crushed, we strongly suggest that you have a professional air conditioning technician to straighten them.
Your next step is to unscrew the top grille.  Carefully lift out the fan and set it aside in order to gain access to the interior of the condenser.  Do not attempt of completely remove the fan as it is connected to the unit by its wiring.  When lifting out or moving the fan aside, be careful as mice, and other creatures have a tendency to make this area their winter home.  Many times, you will not have much play with the wires, so you will probably need an assistant to hold the fan while you vacuum out debris from the inside.  Pull out any leaves and wipe the interior surfaces clean with a damp cloth.
Hose off the fins using moderate water pressure from a hose nozzle.  Direct the spray from the inside out. 
It is important to understand that many newer motors have sealed bearings that can’t be lubricated.  Make sure, if your system needs to be oiled ready your owner’s manual.  If your system does need to be lubricated, locate the ports, and then add approximately five drops of electric motor oil.  You can purchase this at your local hardware stores or appliance parts stores.  It is vital that you use the correct oil as penetrating oil or all-purpose oil are nor designed for long-term lubrication and can damage he bearings.  Your owner’s manual may even suggest or recommend a brand of electric motor oil to use.
If your system is older and has a belt driven compressor located in the bottom of the unit, then check to see if there are lubrication ports on this as well.  The compressors on newer systems are completely enclosed and do not need lubrication.
After you have finished cleaning the condenser, it is time to restart it.  In many instances, all you will need to do is simply turn the power back on to the outside unit and then move indoors to complete the maintenance.  After 10 minutes, feel the insulated tube.  It should feel cool, whereas the tube that is not insulated should feel warm.
However, some compressors require special start-up procedures, whereas other systems have built in controls, which automatically manage your systems start-up procedure.  To know the precise procedure for your systems, check your owner’s manual. 
The following are generic instructions and should only be used as an outline:
A.     If you have had the power to your system shut off for more than four hours:
1.      On your thermostat, switch the control from “cool” to “off.”
2.      Turn the power back on, but allow your system to sit for 24 hours.  This allows the heating elements inside the compressor to warm the internal lubricant.  Then after 24 hours, switch your thermostat back to the “cool” position.
B.     If you turned your systems, off while the compressor was running, you need to wait a minimal of ten minutes before you turn your compressor back on.  This is because the compressor has to decompress before restarting.
Once your compress is back on, periodically check for dark drip marks located on the bottom of the case and underneath the tube joints.  If you notice these marks, contact your service repair center because this could indicates an oil leak as well as a potential coolant leak.  Do not attempt to tighten the joints, or try to stop a leak yourself as you could worsen the problem and damage your system. 
Clean the Evaporator:
Usually the evaporator is located in an inaccessible spot inside a metal duct below away from the blower.  If you can reach it, carefully vacuum its fins on the blower side with a soft brush, just as you did with the condenser.  This task will be simpler if you kept the blower clean by vacuuming out the blower compartment once a year and changing the filter routinely, usually every 3 to 4 months.
Before doing any work on your furnace or blower, always turn off the power to it first.  As with the compressor, the furnace or blower will usually have a simple toggle switch nearby located in a metal box, if you cannot find the power switch, or are uncertain that you have shutoff the power, you can turn the power off at the main panel. 
Save time and reduce the chance of getting frustrated by always check your owner’s manual for help in opening the blower unit and locating the filter.  Your owner’s manual will tell you what type of replacement filter you will need.  If this is your first time replacing the filter, it is always a good idea to take the old filter with you to purchase a new one.  This will ensure that you purchase the correct size of filter.  Even if you are only changing out your filter, make sure that the power to the blower/furnace is off otherwise, dust will be blown into the evaporator fins.
Once you have turned off the power to the blower or furnace, you want to open the blower compartment and vacuum up the dust.  While you have the blower compartment open, check your manual, as it will tell you if the motor requires oiling and if it does where to locate the lubrication ports.  If your motor requires oiling, squeeze approximately five drops of electric motor oil into each port.  If the blower compartments are so tight that they require removing in order to lubricate the blower, hire a professional to do it during a routine maintenance checkup.
The evaporator fins dehumidify the air as they cool so it will have a tube to drain the condensation.  This plastic condensation drain tube has a tendency to grow algae.  Therefore, you need to check for any algae growth.  If there is algae in the drain tube, then you can clean it by flushing the line with a 1:6 ratio bleach/ water solution.  However, we suggest that you simply replace the tubing.  Most tubes are flexible plastic and are easy to pull off and clean or simply replace.  If the tubing is made from hard plastic, then follow the instructions in your owner’s manual for instructions on how to replace the tubing.  Once you have either replaced or reinstall the drain tube, then turn on the power.
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