Step 1:

Due to the dangers of working around electricity and the air-conditioner’s moving parts, it’s essential to completely turn off power to the unit. On the exterior condenser/compressor, look for an exterior shut-off box near the unit. Indoors, also turn the power off at the breaker box.

Step 2:

On the exterior condenser/compressor, remove the fan cage. Using a screwdriver or wrench, remove the fasteners and lift the cage or fan grill away from the top of the unit. By hand, or with a wet/dry vacuum, clean leaves and other debris from the interior.

Step 3:

Remove the outer covers and use the brush attachment on a powerful shop vacuum to remove all outside dirt. Then, using a gentle stream from a garden hose, spray through the fins from the inside out to remove any built up dirt or debris from between them. Never use a pressure washer, since the pressure can damage the fins. If the fins are particularly dirty, use a commercially available fin cleaning spray (available at home improvement centers; read and follow manufacturer directions).

Step 4:

Since any reduction in air-flow through the fins can reduce efficiency, carefully straighten bent fins using a butter knife or commercially available fin-straightening tool. Be gentle so that the tubing embedded within the fins is not damaged.

Step 5:

Once finished with the cleaning, replace the fan cage. Rake back leaves and debris outside the condenser and cut back branches and vegetation at least 2 feet in all directions to ensure proper airflow around the unit. During winter months when the condenser is not in use, it’s good to cover the top of the unit with a piece of plywood or plastic to keep debris from falling in. However, don’t completely cover the unit’s sides, since moisture can build up inside and cause corrosion. Also, a completely covered unit encourages vermin to build nests inside. Remove any cover when the unit is operating.

Step 6:

Over time, the pad upon which the condenser unit sits can begin to tip as the soil settles beneath it. An out-of-level condenser unit can cause the compressor within to fail early. Check the condenser for level and use rot-resistant shims to bring it back to level. Service Experts’ Moody adds this exception: “If you have a heat pump system, its okay for the pad to be slightly sloped away from the home’s foundation to allow for defrost run-off during the winter.”

Step 7:

Now it’s time to move inside. On the inside blower/furnace unit, find the evaporator coil door. You may need to remove some foil duct tape and take out a few screws or bolts. Inside, use a soft brush to dust off the coil, then spray the coil with commercially available no-rinse coil cleaner (available at home improvement stores). The spray will foam up and then drip into the drain pan. Clean out the drain pan with soap, hot water, and a little bleach. Then, pour a cup of 50% bleach/50% water down the drain. To keep the drain clear longer-term, place a commercially available drain pan tablet in the pan. This will inhibit future algae growth.

Step 8:

On the interior, warm, humid air from your home’s interior is blown through the evaporator coil. The cold coil absorbs heat from the air, cooling it, before the air is circulated back into your home. The humidity in the air condenses on the cool surface of the evaporator coil as liquid water, dripping into a pan below. From the pan, the water flows into a drain tube which is typically routed into a basement floor drain, utility sink, or outdoors.

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