A Guide to Cleaning Your AC Coils: Methods, Benefits, and More

Conroy Baltimore
Written by Conroy Baltimore
Updated February 9, 2022
Young woman lying on the couch reading a book
Photo: Cavan Images / Cavan / Getty Images

Highlights

  • Helps your home stay cool.

  • Lack of coil cleaning can increase energy consumption.

  • Clear away debris with compressed air, soft brush, or cleaning solutions.

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Do you remember when you were a kid, and you’d run inside after playing on a hot summer’s day? Your only focus was cooling down by sitting in front of the AC and enjoying a blast of cold air.

Now that you’re older, you can still enjoy your AC, but you’ll have to maintain its efficiency by keeping the coils clean. It’s not something many people think about until there’s a problem with their HVAC unit. So before you face any setbacks, we’ll show you how to clean ac coils.

Why Is It Important to Clean AC Coils?

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

Your AC unit has two sets of coils—evaporator and condenser, each with a different function. Evaporator coils are usually located on your indoor unit and are responsible for capturing the heat from your home’s indoor air. Condenser coils take the trapped hot air and release it outside. 

However, condenser coils are also responsible for your HVAC system’s dehumidification process. As they get cooler, water condenses onto them, which helps remove humidity from the air. But because of this dampness, they’re also prone to attracting dust, pollen, and other contaminants as air passes by.

Also, if you have a dirty air filter and don’t clean it regularly—which is one of the more common HVAC mistakes—it could lead to more debris building up on your coils. 

As a result, your HVAC system will face issues such as:

Insufficient Cooling

The dirt buildup on your condenser coils will lead to a blockage between the refrigerant and the air used to keep the coils cool. This leads to a lack of efficiency when your AC needs to transfer heat from your home.

So if you notice that your home is slowly resembling a sauna although you have the AC on full blast, take a look at your condenser coils. They could be the issue.

Higher Energy Consumption

If our coils hold a lot of debris, not only will it affect your home’s cooling, but it can also increase your energy consumption. Typically, once your home reaches a specific temperature, your system turns off to conserve energy and keep your AC from overheating.

However, this process can take longer than usual with dirty coils, resulting in higher energy usage. At the end of the month, you may be left with a not-so-wallet-friendly bill.

System Repairment

Unfortunately, if too much dust and debris accumulate on your coils, it could cause your AC to break down. You may not need a complete system repair if the damage isn’t too bad. 

But the cost to replace an evaporator coil is about $1,300. That’s why coils should be checked and cleaned, so you don’t have to spend your hard-earned money to get them fixed.

Equipment Needed for Cleaning AC Coils

Now that you’re fully aware of what can happen when your AC coils aren’t cleaned regularly, you’ll need to get equipment to clean them. 

Some tools and materials you may need include:

  • Soft brush

  • Commercial cleaners

  • Air compressor

  • Screwdriver (to remove access panel)

  • Goggles

  • Spray bottle

  • Cloth

  • Gloves

  • Mask

How to Clean Your AC Coils

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

If your equipment is ready to go, it’s time to start cleaning your coils. But of course, you’ll need to get access to them first before you do so. Usually, your evaporator coils are located behind a removable access panel of your indoor unit. 

Turn your unit off before removing the panel to be safe. Set the screws aside in a safe place, so you can screw the panel back on once you’re done. Afterward, it’s time to start cleaning your coils.

But what cleaning method should you use? You’ll need to inspect your coils and see how much dirt has been accumulated. 

Then, you can use one of these methods to clean them:

Compressed Air

Compressed air helps clean coils with a lighter amount of dirt. It’s more beneficial for outdoor coils than indoor ones because the air will blow dirt everywhere, creating another mess you’ll have to clean. However, it is a quick and effective method for helping your coils maintain their efficiency.

Take the compressed air and blow it opposite to the normal airflow that the coils usually follow. This helps remove dirt and debris, giving your coils the care they need after all their hard work. Also, as you’re working, make sure you’re wearing protective eyewear to avoid particles getting into your eyes.

Cleaning With a Soft Brush

A soft brush is excellent for cleaning away lighter amounts of dirt like compressed air. Since there’s no button to press to initiate the cleaning, you have complete control over the amount of pressure you use. 

Sweep the brush along the coils to clean away any dirt. You can apply a bit more pressure if there are more challenging areas. But make sure that you don’t use a brush with hard bristles; they can damage your coils.

Commercial Cleaners

When there’s heavier buildup on your evaporator coils, it’s time to bring out the other tools in your cleaning arsenal. Commercial cleaners are usually available for sale from your system’s carrier dealer or home improvement stores.

These solutions come in various forms such as:

  • Foam cleaners

  • Self-rinsing oil spray

Follow the instructions listed on the solutions to get the best clean possible. If necessary, reapply the solution to tougher areas, so you’ll be able to sweep away the debris easily.

Household Detergent + Water

If commercial cleaners aren’t your thing, household detergent, and water work well when used to clean AC coils. Mix one part of detergent and water in a spray bottle, and apply to your coils.

Let the solution sit for a few minutes so the debris can soak. Once it’s loosened, wipe it with a cloth or soft brush. 

Heavy-Duty Cleaners

Sometimes the dirt buildup surrounding your coils may be too heavy to clear away by normal means. It may also mean removing the coils and other parts of your AC, such as refrigerant lines. It would be best to use a steam cleaner or pressure washer in these cases. 

But before taking matters into your own hands, you should consult with a HVAC maintenance and cleaning company. Have them assess your unit to figure out the method that should be used.

They’ll have the right tools, equipment, and training needed to clean heavily soiled AC coils and restore your system to its proper functioning capacity. It’s also a cost-effective option that can save you hundreds on repairs if you make an error while using a heavy-duty cleaner.

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