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How To Clean Your AC Unit: An NJ Tech Explains

Sep. 02, 2020
If you’ve been told that you need to have your AC system cleaned or have just noticed a bit of dirt buildup on your outdoor unit, you’re probably wondering how to go about cleaning your AC.

We’ll start off by saying that you should not attempt to clean your indoor AC unit yourself. Indoor AC units require careful expertise to properly handle or else fragile parts can become easily damaged.

However, you can clean other parts of your AC system yourself, like your outdoor unit, condensate drain line and your air filter. 
Below, we’ll walk you through:
  • Exactly which parts of your AC are safe for you to clean yourself (and how to clean those)
  • Which parts of your AC are NOT safe for you to clean yourself and why
  • Whether or not it’s worth it to clean your AC yourself 
If you’d rather leave your AC system to be cleaned by a team of pros you can trust, reach out to Air Experts. We’ve been serving NJ homeowners for 26+ years, so we’ve cleaned a few AC systems in our day and we know what we’re doing. Learn more about the AC repair services we offer or schedule service!
 

How to clean your AC unit yourself:

 As we mentioned above, there are a few different parts of your AC system that are safe for you to clean, including:
  • Your air filter
  • Your outdoor unit
  • Your condensate drain line
Let’s look at the details of how to clean each of these.
 

How to clean your air filter

Step 1: Turn your AC off.
Step 2: Locate your air filter and open the grate. Depending on the type of grate you have, you may have to either unclip or unscrew it. 



Step 3: Take a look at your air filter. If it’s dirty, replace it with an air filter of the same size. 


Example of a dirty air filter

Step 4: Reassemble the grate. Your air filter is now clean!
 

How to clean your outdoor unit

Step 1: Turn your AC off at the circuit breaker. This will help protect you from any unexpected energy surges while you’re cleaning your AC.
Step 2: Clear away any obvious debris or obstructions from the top and sides of your outdoor unit, like leaves, sticks and trash. You can also use a shop-vac to clear away any debris that’s hard to reach.


Step 3: Carefully unscrew the top of your outdoor unit (the fan) and set it on the ground. Make sure that the wires connecting the fan to the rest of the unit are not strained, as this could damage your outdoor unit.


Step 4: Clear out any debris that is stuck on the inside of your unit. You can use a shop-vac here as well, but be careful.
Step 5: Carefully clean the fins (they look like the below photo) of your outdoor unit with a fin cleaner or with a hose. If you are going to use a hose, gently spray the hose from the inside of the unit towards the outside, so you don’t get the internal parts of the unit wet. Then very gently towel off the inside of the unit and the fins. 


Step 6
: Re-install the top of your AC unit and turn your AC back on at the breaker. 
 

How to clean your condensate drain line

Step 1: Locate your drain line; it’s usually a white PVC pipe near your outdoor AC unit.


Step 2:
Using a shop vac to create an air-tight connection between the drain line and the vacuum.
Step 3: Turn the vacuum on for 30 seconds to 1 minute. This will usually clear out any debris stuck in your line. 
 

What you’ll need a professional to clean:

You will need a professional to clean any part of your indoor air handler and your ducts. Why?

  1. Your indoor AC system has fragile parts- As we mentioned above, there are several (expensive) parts of your indoor AC unit that are very fragile and can become easily damaged if they are not handled properly. For example, there is a part of your indoor AC unit called an evaporator coil that’s made up of tiny “fins,” and if those fins are damaged or bent, it can affect how efficiently your AC runs (or even prevent your AC from working properly altogether). 
  2. Your indoor AC and ducts are hard to access- Your indoor AC system is usually located in an out-of-the-way spot, like a crawlspace, closet or attic. Not only is it hard to access, but it’s also harder to dismantle. Even if you are able to dismantle it correctly, putting it back together is a whole other story.

Your ducts are also hard to access, and you could hurt your system or yourself by trying to clean the inside of your ducts on your own. 
 

Is cleaning my AC myself worth it? 

Short answer? No. Trust us, we completely understand the desire to save time and money where you can, but cleaning your AC system yourself is probably not worth your time or the potential risk it poses. 

At the end of the day, allowing a professional to clean your AC system is:
  1. Safer- For you AND your system.
  2. Potentially less expensive- You don’t run the risk of harming your system.
  3. Significantly less time- A professional knows what they’re doing and can clean your AC in a fraction of the time.
  4. The better long-term option- With a professional, you can trust that your AC system has been cleaned thoroughly and correctly, which can help your AC run efficiently and reduces the chances of repairs. 
If you need a partner you can trust to clean your AC system, look no further than Air Experts. Hundreds of New Jersey residents trust us to take care of their AC systems every year, so you can rest assured that no matter how dirty your AC system is, we can clean it. 

Schedule service!