How to Clean an Air Conditioner?

Carolina Evans
Carolina Evans
Research Writer
Holds a Master’s degree in Engineering and is keen on her own home’s climate. Sometimes we think that Carolina owns every single product she writes about – that’s ho read more
Reviewed By
Richard Powell
Richard Powell
Expert Consultant
For 8 years, Richard had been working as an HVAC specialist and AC unit installer since his student years. Now, he’s our main consultant on every technical aspect that may read more
Last updated: September 15, 2023 is reader-supported. We may earn a commission through products purchased using links on this page. Learn more about our process here

It’s important that you know how to clean an air conditioner. Not only will this help it work at its maximum efficiency, but it will also ensure that you’re staying healthy, as an AC unit can gather a lot of dust and dirt over time.

Having a clean air conditioner will allow it to perform as it should and keep you cool in those warmer months. As it will be working more efficiently, it will also save you money on those energy bills.

There are a few different steps that you should take, and here, we include expert advice on how to clean an indoor and outdoor unit, as well as some professional tips. This advice should be able to save you time and money on professional cleaning.

Indoor unit cleaning

How to Clean an Air Conditioner?

There are a few things that you are going to need to clean an indoor unit:

  • Screwdriver
  • A specialized comb
  • Thick gloves
  • Vacuum
  • Coil cleaner
  • Motor oil
  • General household cleaner

The first step is simply to get to the AC. It will often have a cover over it that can often be popped or screwed off. It’s then best to remove the AC unit. If you are cleaning the wall AC unit or wondering how to clean a window air conditioner evaporator coils, this will give you better access to it.

When working out how to clean air conditioner fins, you need to start with a fin comb. This can be inserted into the fins and then pressed between them. This will straighten out any bent fins to improve the unit’s performance. It’s worth noting that the edge of the fins are very thin, and therefore, it’s best to do this with thick gloves. These fin combs are fairly standard and easily sourced, and you just have to know how many fins per inch you have.

The next step is to simply remove all the dirt that you can from the unit. It’s best to do this with your vacuum cleaner, and it’s easy if you have some brush attachments that can get into the smaller areas.

With how to clean air conditioner coils, it’s best to use a foam cleaner. This will work to remove any dirt, grease, and oil from the unit.

While the foam is getting to work, it’s a good idea to wipe down the fan, and this can simply be done with household cleaner. It may also need lubricating with a bit of oil.

Once you’ve done that, you can brush off the foam cleaner with a soft brush, and you’ll find that the dirt and grime are lifted straight off.

The last piece of the puzzle is checking the air filter and cleaning it or replacing it if required. For how to clean air conditioner filter, you can do this by just vacuuming or rinsing it in warm, soapy water.

If it still looks dirty and discolored after you’ve tried to clean it, then it may be a better idea to simply replace it. It’s best to check with the manufacturer to see how often this should be done.

Outdoor unit maintenance

For cleaning the outdoor AC unit, you’ll need a few tools:

  • Screwdriver
  • A specialized comb
  • Thick gloves
  • Vacuum
  • Coil cleaner
  • Water hose

The first steps that you want to take on how to clean a central air conditioner unit are all about safety. Make sure the thermostat is turned to the off position. Following this, find the electrical disconnect in the AC unit and flip it to the off position to prevent any chance of accidents. The electrical switch is usually located in a metal box and is easy to find.

As for how to clean the air conditioner condenser, it needs to be done carefully with a soft brush attachment on a vacuum cleaner. The fins can easily bend, and you need to be mindful of this. It’s best to do all of this work with thick gloves to protect yourself.

For cleaning the AC unit from large debris, it’s best to use a water hose as this will easily get rid of the likes of leaves and grass. The water will flow out the gaps at the bottom, and therefore, you can give it a good rinse without worrying about it.

How to Clean an Air Conditioner?

Coil cleaner can be used on the rest of the parts, and as we mentioned before, this will be perfect at being able to lift any dirt and grime off. This can also be easily rinsed off with the hose after around 15 minutes.

As with an indoor AC unit, it’s best to check the fan too. This can be wiped down and oiled if required. Once you’re finished, you can put it together and enjoy a well-maintained AC unit once again. Double-check that everything is back safely in its place before you switch the power back on.

Professional approach

If you can afford it, it’s always a good idea to opt for professional cleaning as they will be able to service the whole machine. If your AC is not blowing cold, then it could be that the refrigerant gas levels aren’t correct.

A professional will also check all the internal components of the AC unit and test the thermostat. While it’s a good idea to take these basic steps regularly, it’s also a good idea to have a professional service once in a while if you can.

If you want to give your AC unit more of a professional clean, there are a few more steps that you can take.

It’s possible that your plastic condensation tube has become clogged or developed an algae build-up. If this is the case, then you can use a bleach solution to flush out the problem. It’s best to use a funnel for this with 1 part of bleach to 16 parts of water.

Another potential problem area can be the drain tube. You’re able to clean this with a thin bristled brush, which you’d be able to push up the pipe. This should be enough to clear out any build-up.

How often should I clean an AC unit?

Your AC unit needs to be cleaned often if you want it to be performing as it should. If you have a program on your air conditioning to dry out your unit, then you should run this after every use. This will prevent the build-up of mold.

If you have any filters, then it’s a good idea to check these around every six months. Clean them if they don’t look too dirty but replace them if they are no longer effective. Along with this, it’s good to wipe down all surfaces with a damp cloth to prevent a build-up of dust.

Around once a year, you should be taking the steps that we have outlined above. What you don’t want to do is wait for the AC unit to develop a problem before you service it. If you clean it annually, then you’re much less likely to have reoccurring issues in the future.


So now you know how to clean the air conditioner. It’s hugely important to do it. If your system is clogged up, then your AC unit will have to work a lot harder. This means that it will wear out more quickly and also will use up a lot more energy.

Whether you choose a professional approach or not, it is up to you. The steps that we have outlined above are fairly easy to follow. If you’re confident in your maintenance, then you’ll only need to call a professional if something breaks down.

If you haven’t got the right tools for the job yet, then they are fairly easy to find and not too expensive. As soon as you get them, you’ll find regular maintenance on your AC unit will be quick and easy.

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