How to Clean Condenser Coils to Maintain Your AC

Updated February 9, 2022
Clean your condenser once or twice a year

Have you noticed an increase in your energy bill? Is your house not getting as cool? If you are having these issues, it might be time to clean your condenser coils. Through step-by-step instructions, you'll learn how to clean condenser coils with ease. You'll also find out how often you should be cleaning condensor coils and ways to keep them running smoothly.

How Clean Condenser Coils Easily (Step-by-Step)

Before you crank on the AC this summer, you want to make sure it's going to run at peak performance. So, you should probably take a look at your coils to see if they need a good cleaning. Thankfully, cleaning the coils is pretty easy, if you have the right tools.

  • Coil whisk brush
  • Fin comb
  • Dawn dish soap
  • White vinegar
  • Coil cleaner
  • Hose
  • Screwdriver
  • Spray bottle
  • Sponge
  • Shop vacuum with brush attachment (optional)

Step 1: Shut Off the Unit

You don't want to mess with electricity, literally. So, before you start messing around with your air conditioner, you'll want to shut it off. You should be able to find a shut-off switch somewhere on the unit. If you can't find a shut-off switch, then shut off your main breaker while cleaning the unit.

Step 2: Remove the Fan and Cover

Once the electricity isn't a worry, you want to remove your fan and grill or cover if your air conditioner has one. The fan will need to be unscrewed and pulled carefully out of the way. The grill will either slide off or you need to use the screwdriver to unscrew it before pulling it off. Set the cover and screws to the side so you can easily access them when complete.

Air Conditioner compressor condenser coil with fan and tools for maintenance

Step 3: Inspect Your Coils

With a good view of the coils, check to make sure there aren't any cracks or fluids leaking out. If you notice any of these, you need to put your tools away and call an HVAC professional. You don't want to mess with any of that.

Step 4: Remove Debris

You can find a lot of different debris within your air conditioner coils like leaves, grass clippings, and dirt. Before you clean them out, you need to get this all out of the way.

  1. Use gloved hands to get large debris out of the way.
  2. Grab the coil brush or the shop-vac with the soft brush attachment.
  3. Clean out the coils carefully.
  4. Make sure not to bend the fins.

Step 5: Wet the Coils

Prior to applying any cleaner, you want to wet down the coils with your hose. This is going to give them a little prewash. Make sure to angle your hose to make sure you don't bend the fins with the water pressure. Remember fins are fragile, be cautious.

Step 6: Apply Cleaner

You can choose to buy a commercial foam coil cleaner or you can use a homemade AC coil cleaner. A homemade AC cleaner works well for units that are slightly dirty. However, if you have dirt caked in your fins, you are going to want to get a heavy-duty coil cleaner to get it all out.

Woman cleaning air conditioner by foam cleaning agent
  1. To create the homemade cleaner, add ½ cup of white vinegar, a few drops of Dawn, and fill a spray bottle with water.
  2. Spray down the coils with the homemade or commercial cleaner.
  3. Let the cleaner sit for 5-10 minutes.
  4. For excessively dirty coils, run a sponge down the coils. (Be gentle to not bend fins.)
  5. Carefully rinse with the hose.

Step 5: Straighten Out Bent Fins

As you are cleaning, you might notice some bent fins, or they might have gotten bent during cleaning. Beyond just cleaning, the fins get bent for various reasons like hail or an overly zealous toy race car. Get them back to their original condition with a few simple instructions.

  1. Put the fin comb at the top of the fin.
  2. Pull it down to straighten them out.
  3. Move on to the next broken fin.

Step 8: Reassemble the Air Conditioner

Allow your coils to sit for a bit to dry then you can add your grill and fan back onto the air conditioner. Secure them with the screws you put away and make sure nothing is loose. Turn on the power and you are ready to go!

How Often to Clean Air Conditioning Condenser Coils

Cleaning your condenser coils is quite a chore. Thankfully, you only need to do it about once a year. If you use the unit year-round, then you might want to consider cleaning it twice a year. It's one of those jobs that's easy to add to your spring cleaning checklist.

Tips for Keeping Condenser Coils Clean

Now that you've got your condenser coils clean, you want to make sure they stay clean so you don't have to clean them out more than once a year. Try out a few of these tips to make sure your unit is running smoothly.

  • Cover the condenser unit during the winter months when you don't need it. This will keep snow, ice melt and salt, and other potentially harmful particles out.
  • Clean your air conditioner before the off-season.
  • Change your furnace air filter regularly.
  • Clean grass clippings, leaves, and sticks from your air conditioner regularly.

When to Contact an HVAC Professional

Cleaning your condenser is not guaranteed to increase the efficiency of your unit. Sometimes the inefficiency is caused by a different problem, such as a Freon leak. If you're having trouble with your unit even after you clean it, contact a licensed repair facility and ask to have someone come out and take a look at it.

Cleaning Condenser Coils With Ease

Cleaning out your condenser coils takes a bit of work. But, when you look at how much better your air conditioner runs, it's worth it. Just check out that savings on your energy bill!

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How to Clean Condenser Coils to Maintain Your AC