Complete Guide to Cleaning AC Coils: Unlocking the Secrets of Clean Air

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Updated on:

August 14, 2023

Ultimate Guide to Cleaning Air Conditioner Coils: Tips and Techniques

During a hot summer you heavily rely on the air conditioning system. The cleaner the air conditioning coils are, the more efficiently the air conditioners work. This why it is important to clean air conditioner coils. Not cleaning AC coils leads to you and your loved ones breathing dirty air inside of your home. This can lead to you getting sick more often.

Cleaning ac coils doesn't only improve the air you are breathing, but also prolongs the durability and improves the efficiency of the air conditioner. If you take good care of the ac coils, this will save you a lot of money on repair costs.

In this article, you will learn different types and parts of the air conditioning system as well as how to clean air conditioner coils.

Key Takeaways:

  • Clean AC coils regularly for better air quality, efficiency, and longevity.
  • Use commercial coil cleaners or mild detergent and warm water.
  • Tools needed: drill, screwdriver, vacuum, gloves, bucket, spray bottle, etc.
  • Steam cleaning with Fortador Volt Mini or Fortador PRO is effective.

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How often should you clean air conditioner coils to get maximum cooling efficiency

A deep clean of the coils should be done once a year, generally before the cooling season starts. AC coil cleaning takes about an hour to really get all the dirt out. After learning how to clean condenser coils and ac evaporator coils, the subsequent clean ups will go much faster and easier, starting even from first cleaning after installation and construction.

Why it is better to clean coils yourself

Nobody likes to kick off the summer by spending $150 to clean air conditioner system. The process of cleaning ac coils is not as hard as you think, and can be done by a beginner. Many of the supplies that are used in the cleaning process are most likely lying around your house.

All you need to perform an amazing deep clean is time, effort, and a couple of extra supplies to increase indoor air quality

parts of air conditioning system explained

1. Parts of air conditioning system

The central air conditioning has two types of coils in it that perform a different tasks. There are condenser coils that dissipate the heat and evaporator coils that cool the air. There is also a line set that is another important part of the ac unit.

The outdoor system consists of the condenser, condenser coils, and compressor. The indoor unit holds the evaporator, evaporator coils, and the air handler enclosure. Heat transfer process starts when heat is received by evaporator coils and scattered by the condenser coils. The refrigerant varies the state from a liquid to a gas as it flows through the system and depending upon where it is in the cycle. Heat is consumed or released during these changes.

To learn more about each part of the AC system, read below.

1.1 The line set

The line set consists of two copper coils take refrigerant back and forth between the condenser coils and the evaporator coils.

1.2 Air conditioner condenser coils

Condenser coils are located in the outdoor unit and are the power house of the whole system. The absorbed heat from your house passes through outdoor condenser coils that are wrapped around the compressor and the aluminum coils . As the fan in the ac lets the air through the condensing unit, the coils cool.

While that process is happening, the gaseous refrigerant returns to a liquid-like state. Then, the compressor coils increase the refrigerant pressure therefore increasing its boiling point. This process turns the refrigerant into liquid that is pushed in the skinny copper line that returns it to the coils to repeat the same process.

1.3 Air conditioner evaporator coils

Evaporator coils are located in the indoor air handling unit. The liquid refrigerant passes through a metering device that controls the amount of liquid that enters the coil. The limitation of the refrigerant unit and increased volume capacity causes a great decrease in pressure which significantly drops the boiling point and the temperature of the refrigerant. This boils off the liquid refrigerant into a heat absorbing gas.

The heat from hot air from your home then passes through the coils and gets absorbed into the refrigerant and sucked back to the condenser. The condensation of the coils runs down to the drain pan and gets discharged by the pipe attached to it.

1. AC evaporator coil cleaning supplies

There are a bunch of different things you can use to clean ac coils. From commercial cleaners to household items, there are a lot of options to choose from.

1.1 AC coil cleaners

The most popular type of coil cleaner for the AC coils is the foaming coil cleaner. You can find this commercial cleaner on amazon or places like Home Depot.

nu-calgon foam no rinse coil cleaner

Evaporator coils cleaner

One of the best coil cleaners to clean ac evaporator coils is the Nu-Calgon Foam No Rinse Evaporator Coil Cleaner. This cleaner efficiently liquifies dirt, grease, and oil quick and easy. It is safe to use on metal parts since it is self rinsing. It will leave your area deodorized and with a pleasant lemon smell.

If you don't want to buy a commercial cleaner, you can mix a mild detergent and some warm water in a spray bottle and use that as a coil cleaner. Although, with this option, you will have to do a little bit of scrubbing with a soft brush or cloth for it to work more efficiently.

nu calgon condenser coil cleaner

Condenser coils cleaner

The Nu-Calgon Condenser Coil Cleaner that is available on amazon is an amazing option for condenser coils cleaner. This cleaner is non-flammable and non-conductive with a high solvency cleaning power that will not damage any parts of the ac coils. This product doesn't require rinsing and evaporates quickly without leaving any residue.

If the coils are made from copper, avoid using acidic cleaners because they can lead to corrosion.

1.2 Tools

In order to open up get to the condenser coils, you will need a couple of tools. Make sure to get a cordless drill and a screw driver from your tool set before starting the cleaning process.

cleaning tools for ac

1.3 Home supplies

These supplies are most likely lying around your house. If not, you can purchase them at any store near by for just a couple of bucks.

  • Gloves
  • Bucket
  • Nylon scrub brush
  • Vacuum and vacuum extension cord
  • Spray bottle
  • Flashlight
  • Garden hose
  • Coil brush or coil comb
  • Fin comb

1.4 Best Steam cleaners for AC coils cleaning

Another great product to use to clean ac coils is a steamer. No additional chemicals are required if you are using a steam cleaner which will save money. Steam is safe to use on ac coils and will not damage any surrounding parts.

commercial steam cleaner for hvac system

The Fortador Volt Mini is a great portable steamer that can be used not only for coil cleaning but also around your house. This steamer comes with a set of accessories that make any cleaning job easy and efficient. The long hose allows you to go into hard to reach places and perform the best deep clean you have ever done.

Fortador PRO industrial steam cleaner

Fortador PRO is an industrial steam cleaner that creates enough steam for two operators cleaning of coils with pressure of 235PSI (16 bars) and has possibilities of wet steam for rinsing, feature of adding detergent for deep cleaning. Steam hose length is 30ft and strong wheels for moving unit around will make is best solution for HVAC service companies.

puetz golf handheld steam cleaner

Another great steamer is the Puetz Golf Multi-Purpose Pressurized Handheld Natural Steam Cleaner. This portable steamer is a great machine to use to clean ac coils. It is lightweight and has many different attachments that will help to get into little crooks of the air condition system.

cleaning condenser coils

How to clean air conditioner condenser and heater coils

Locate your condenser unit outside of your house in the outdoor unit. Usually, you can find it on the opposite side of the electric service panel.

Step 1: Turn off electric breaker

The electric breaker is a small metal box on the side of the house. It is connected with an electrical cord to the ac condenser unit.

If you have a cartridge-style breaker with a fuse you can just pull it out to disable the electric breaker. Some breakers have a lever that you need to pull down to disconnect the system.

Step 2: Pick up your tools

Using a cordless drill or a screwdriver, unscrew the screws that keep top protective cover in place. Repeat the same step for side covers. Make sure to put the screws in a safe place to you can attach all the removed parts after you are finished cleaning ac coils.

If you are confident in your skills, you can also unscrew the fan assembly unit. This step is not necessary to perform a deep clean.

Step 3: Pick out large debris

Put your gloves on and start removing any dirt and debris that has collected on the bottom of the metal cabinet, like leaves, pebbles, bark, an other dirt.

Step 4: Vacuum

Grab a vacuum and clean up the remaining debris from the AC cabinet.

You can also use compressed air instead of a vacuum for this step.

Step 5: Aluminum fins

The coil fins on the heat exchanger get easily crushed. To fix them, grab a fin comb and straighten out small areas of bent fins. Put the tines of the comb in the fins and move it up and down.

The bent fins won't look brand new after using a fin comb, but they wink look better than before.

Step 6: Protective grille

Remove any large debris that might be stuck between protective grille and the aluminum fins before applying an AC coil cleaner.

Step 7: Spray the cleaner

Grab a spray bottle of your preferred coil cleaner and apply it on the inside of the cabinet. Saturate all four sides of the cabinet, the fins, and the condenser coil with the cleaner. Try not to touch anything and avoid any electrical components inside.

Let the cleaner sit for 5 to 10 minutes on the dirty coils and other dirty parts of the condenser unit.

Step 8: Rinse

Pick up a garden hose and use the sprayer attachment to avoid damaging the fins. Spray down all the parts of the ac unit.

Step 9: Reassemble

Before reassembling, make sure that the condenser unit is completely dry. Using the screws and screw driver, put all the part of the AC back and turn the system back on.

cleaning evaporator coils

How to clean air conditioner evaporator coils

The evaporator coils are located in the indoor unit of the air conditioner behind the removable access panel or inside a fan coil or air handler unit. Cleaning evaporator coil is harder to do because you can not use a a garden hose to water it down since the system will get damaged.

You also need to be careful with how much cleaner you are putting in order to not damage the ductwork system or any other part that is connected to the air conditioning process.

Step 1: Power off

Turn off the power to the AC system at the electric service panel.

Indoor, evaporator coils can be found on the supply side of the AC access panel behind the access door. In order to open that door, you need to remove the screws. You will see the evaporator coil assembly is shaped like an "A." The inner section of the evaporator coils will be the dirtiest.

Step 2: Start cleaning

First, use some compressed air to blow out most of the debris. For more stubborn pieces, bring the air nose closer and apply it at 90 degree angle.

Proceed by using a nylon brush and gently brush the aluminum fins in the long direction of the fins, starting at the top and working your way downward. Occasionally vacuum up the fallen debris making sure to not damage the fins.

While using compressed air, make sure that you are blowing out the debris into the ductwork system.

Step 3: Use the cleaner

After removing most of the debris, spray your preferred cleaner on the evaporator coils. Let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes. If you want, you can take an extra step and saturate the nylon brush with the cleaner, and gently scrub and pick up any gunk still let on the coils.

Step 4: Rinse

Using clean water in a spray bottle, apply it on the coils to rinse. Be careful to not apply too much water since too much moisture can damage the coils.

After you have finished cleaning, make sure to leave the access panel open until the evaporator coils are fully dry.

Step 5: Close up

After you have ensure that everything is fully dry, reattach all the pieces and turn on the system.

steam temperature helps to disinfect ac system

Why cleaning the HVAC system with steam is beneficial

One of the main benefits of cleaning the AC coils with steam is beneficial is because it doesn't harm the environment. It is more sustainable than many other options because it requires very little amount of water. Chemical cleaners have a lot of toxins, but steam cleaning doesn't;ty require any chemicals in order to perform a deep clean.

In addition, cleaning with chemicals only penetrates half-inch into the coil, where dry steam penetrates 8 to 12 inches. This result to 99% of debris removal, as well as instant destroy of potential mold.

If you want to learn more about cleaning air conditioner with steam to indoor air quality, refer to this article.

cleaning air conditioning system is important

Why is it important to clean air conditioning system?

A build up of dirt and debris in the AC coils will make the system work harder, causing an increase in the temperature of the unit and reducing cooling efficiency. Less efficiency leads to higher energy costs, and increased risk of system breaking down due to overworking. This can cause component replacement and, potentially, the need to replace an entire system.

If you want to save money, and keep yourself from trouble of fixing your AC, make sure to clean it at least once a year.

clean and dirty ac filter

Why should you change the air filters?

Air passes more easily through a clean filter, promoting to transfer heat and cool air. If you are noticing that your AC is barely producing any cold air or warm air, the problem might be in your air filter.

A dirty filter specifically damages the purpose of an evaporator coil. If you filter is dirty, it prevent your HVAC system from heat transfer that warms your home. This can also impact the cooling capacity of your AC. Cool air can not pass through dirty ac filters easily, overworking the whole system and damaging the cooling process.

professional cleaning of hvac system

When should you call a professional AC coil cleaning services?

If when you see that your aluminum fins are extensively damaged, unfortunately you can not fix them with a fin brush. It is best to call a professional at this point to help you fix this problem.

In addition, if you are uncomfortable cleaning any set of coils, a technician can do this for you as a part of a regular maintenance schedule.

Cleaning AC coils and changing the air filter is crucial for keeping your air conditioning working efficiently. Taking care of such things around your home can greatly impact your home living and health.

Cleaning the condenser coil and evaporator coil doesn't only benefit your health, but also your wallet. Keeping up with clean coils will save you great amount of money that you can spend on something more pleasant than home maintenance.

This article gave you many great tips and guidance on how to clean the AC components. On our website, you can find many more articles similar to this that will help you with any deep cleaning issues.

About the Authors

Koren Zitser
Vip Air, Panama: 20+ years in global AC excellence. Partners with industry leaders, offers split to large-scale systems, specializing in VRF, Multi V, maintenance, and innovation.
Kristina Tretyakova
Distinguished as a South Florida Top-10 student in 2021. Studying Marketing and Business Administration at FIU. Proficient in daily operations and skilled in cleaning, auto detailing and copywriting.

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