How to Clean Air Conditioner Coils Like a Pro

Jenna Jonaitis
Written by Jenna Jonaitis
Updated November 9, 2022
Young woman lying on the couch reading a book
Photo: Cavan Images / Cavan / Getty Images

A little bit of coil cleaning goes a long way

Get quotes from up to 3 pros!
Enter a zip below and get matched to top-rated pros near you.

There’s nothing as refreshing as stepping into a cool home on a hot summer day—or as frustrating as a broken AC. So before you face any setbacks, learn how to clean air conditioner coils yourself to help maintain your investment.

To keep your AC unit running efficiently, clean your air conditioning coils at least once a year. 

Why Do I Have to Clean My AC Coils?

You should learn how to clean air conditioner coils to maintain your system’s efficiency, keep energy bills low, and increase the lifespan of your unit.

If there’s dirt or debris blocking the system, heat won’t transfer efficiently, leading to higher energy usage, higher energy bills, potential ice buildup, and overworking your AC system. If the coils get corroded, refrigerant can leak, causing more damage, expenses, and possible mold growth.

If you notice your home resembles a sauna, but you have your AC on full blast, take a look at your condenser coils. They could be the issue.

How Much Does It Cost to Clean My AC Coils? 

It costs less than $10 to clean AC coils yourself if you have the tools or anywhere from $100 to $400 as a standalone HVAC service. Contact a local HVAC repair technician if you’re not comfortable or confident cleaning your unit.

A trained tech can clean your AC coils without damage or personal injury. They can also inspect your AC unit and fix any issues before they become more extensive.

How to Prep for Cleaning Air Conditioner Coils

Woman using remote control to turn on ac unit
Photo: bymuratdeniz / E+ / Getty Images

You can clean evaporator and condenser coils with a few tools and supplies. Most importantly, take the right safety precautions before you start to ensure you know how to clean air conditioner coils properly. 

Evaporator Coils vs. Condenser Coils 

There are two sets of coils in your AC system: evaporator coils and condenser coils. Both are sets of metal tubes that run through aluminum fins—and both need to be cleaned.

Evaporator coils are located inside near the air handler on your AC unit or furnace, while condenser coils are located outdoors in the condenser unit.

Evaporator coils and condenser coils compared, with evaporator coils being prone to dust, hair, and animal fur

Gather Tools and Supplies

You’ll need a few tools to clean your AC coils:

  • Air compressor or shop-style vacuum

  • Soft brush

  • Spray bottle

  • Garden hose with sprayer attachment

  • Cleaning cloth

  • Chemical-resistant gloves

  • Safety glasses

  • Respirator face mask

  • Work gloves

  • Screwdriver (to remove access panel)

You’ll also need a commercial coil cleaner or a mixture of household detergent and water (50:50 ratio) in a spray bottle to clean air conditioning coils. If using a commercial cleaner, wear safety gear, including protective goggles and a respirator, to protect your eyes and lungs.

Turn Off the Power

Shut off your AC unit and turn off the power at the electrical breaker before removing any panels or cleaning your coils. Working with the power still on can be extremely dangerous and lead to serious injuries. 

Open Up Access to Evaporator and Condenser Coils

Before cleaning each set of coils, remove the cover panels and protective grilles with a screwdriver. Set the screws aside in a safe place, so you can put the panels back on once you’re done.

How to Clean Air Conditioner Evaporator Coils (Inside)

Removing ac panel with a screwdriver
Photo: Kseniia Zatevakhina / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Cleaning your evaporator coils takes about 30 minutes, depending on your experience and the condition of the unit. The process involves brushing out debris, cleaning with a wet solution, and letting the unit dry. Remember to turn your AC unit off and shut down power at the breaker before starting.

Here’s how to clean air conditioner coils indoors: 

1. Brush Away Debris

Sweep the evaporator coils with a soft brush to clear away any dirt and debris. Apply more pressure if there are dirtier areas but don’t use a brush with hard bristles—it can damage your coils. 

2. Spray With a Cleaning Solution

Once the main debris is clear, apply a thick coat of cleaner across the coils and fins. Follow any instructions listed on your cleaning solution.

Let the solution sit for five to 10 minutes to allow the heavier buildup to break down. Wipe down the coils with a soft brush or cloth. If necessary, reapply the solution on tougher areas, then wipe away the dirt.

3. Mist With Water

Spray clean water on your evaporator coils with a spray bottle. Avoid soaking the coils, as excess water can damage your indoor unit. You may need to mist the coils a couple of times to rinse them thoroughly.

4. Reassemble the Unit

Let the coils and units dry completely, then reassemble your indoor unit, putting the cover back on. Turn back on your power and AC system once the unit and coils are fully dry.

How to Clean Air Conditioner Condenser Coils (Outside)

Air conditioner condenser pump unit in the backyard
Photo: Ozgur Coskun / Adobe Stock

Before you can get back to enjoying the cool breeze of your air conditioning unit, you’ll need to clean your condenser coils, which are located outdoors.

Like with evaporator coils, it’s crucial to turn off your AC and disable power at the electrical breaker before starting this project to avoid injury and costly damage. Call an HVAC company in your area if you need help.

Here’s how to clean air conditioner coils outdoors: 

1. Remove Large and Small Debris

With work gloves, remove any larger debris, such as sticks, leaves, pebbles, and grass clippings. Debris can get stuck between the protective grille and fins.

Then, blow an air compressor into the coils opposite of the normal airflow to get smaller debris out, or vacuum the coils with a shop-style vacuum. Wear protective eyewear to avoid particles getting into your eyes and causing injuries.

2. Spray a Cleaner for Tough Buildup

Apply a thick coat of cleaner across the coils and fins. Follow the instructions listed on your cleaning solution.

Allow the solution to sit for five to 10 minutes to break down grime and dirt buildup. Wipe down the coils with a cloth or soft brush. Reapply the solution if needed, then wipe away the dirt.

3. Spray With Water

Clean your coils with water to remove the final dirt and remaining cleaning solution. Spray each side from top to bottom with a hose sprayer. Use a wide spray to avoid damaging the fins.

After you rinse the condenser coils, spray the outside of your unit with water from top to bottom, including the grille and cabinet. Avoid directing the water inward to prevent damaging the fins and coils.

4. Reassemble the Condenser Unit

Let the coils dry, then reassemble the outdoor unit, putting the cover panels and grilles back on. Turn on your power and AC system once it’s fully dry.

Tips for Cleaning Air Conditioning Coils

To ensure things go smoothly when cleaning air conditioner coils—and you stay safe—follow these pro tips.

  • Turn the electricity off completely before working on your AC unit.

  • Use safety glasses, a respirator, and chemical-resistant gloves when using commercial coil cleaners.

  • Ensure you have enough ventilation by opening windows indoors when cleaning evaporator coils.

  • Don’t remove any coils or fins—leave that to a professional AC repair technician in your area, as it could damage your unit if not done properly.

  • Prune trees and plants around and above your outdoor unit to limit debris and foliage from falling inside. Contact a local lawn care company for a quote if you need help.

  • Consider placing a mesh leaf guard on top of your outdoor AC unit to limit debris from entering the condenser.

DIY vs. Hire a Pro

It’s fairly straightforward to clean AC coils yourself—especially if you’re an intermediate DIYer—and it’s important to handle this task once a year. But if you damage the coils or fins, you could be up against a hefty repair bill.

Hiring an HVAC company near you ensures a trained pro handles the job and can spot other issues or repairs before they can become a problem.

Frequently Asked Questions

A dirty air conditioning coil can cause your unit to work overtime, leading to reduced efficiency, higher energy use, more wear and tear, and possible ice buildup. If the coils corrode, refrigerant can leak, causing damage, possible mold growth, and an expensive repair bill. By cleaning your AC coils once a year, you’ll have a more efficient unit that’s likely to last longer.

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.