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How To Clean A Window Air Conditioning Unit

Updated on April 18, 2016

Cleaning Window A/C Unit

A window A/C in need of a little cleaning
A window A/C in need of a little cleaning | Source

Cleaning A Window A/C Unit

Have you ever wondered why your window air conditioner emits a musty or moldy odor whenever you turn it on? Does water leak inside your home from your air conditioner? Maybe your window air conditioner has black sludge on the inside, causing odor and blocking condensation from draining from it. Have you used your window air conditioner through several summers? It might be time to take your window air conditioner out for a good cleaning to remove built up dust and debris that contributes to that black sludge accumulating inside it.

Have You Ever Cleaned Your Window A/C Unit?

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Why Clean A Window A/C Unit

If you’re wondering why you should clean your window A/C unit then consider the fact that window A/C units collect moisture from the air inside your home. Of course, this is just how they work and water usually drains out the back of the unit or is thrown into the condenser coils in the rear of the unit to help cool the refrigerant.

Naturally, not all of the water will drain and this can be a problem when this water is left standing when the air conditioner is not in use. This leads to the growth of mold and can cause the air conditioning unit to produce a mildew like odor. Of course, this can also aggravate allergies in persons sensitive to molds.

Another reason to clean the inside of your window air conditioner is to remove debris and buildup that could prevent the drainage of condensation (the moisture collected from indoor air). If buildup is severe, it can cause water to leak through the unit and onto the window ledge or the floor beneath the unit.

In addition to mold and debris buildup, dust is also another good reason to clean the inside of your window air conditioner. Yes, the filter does a decent job at keeping most dust out of your air conditioners internal parts (namely the evaporator or cooling coils). However, finer dust can pass through the filter and collect on the cooling coils inside the unit. If it becomes thick enough (over time) it can lead to decreased cooling efficiency and even lead to the unit freezing up and ceasing to cool.

Air Conditioner Cleaning Foam

Cleaning Window Air Condtioner

Removing screws
Removing screws | Source
air conditioner with front panel and cover removed
air conditioner with front panel and cover removed | Source
Inside of unit after spraying out with garden hose
Inside of unit after spraying out with garden hose | Source
After cleaning with a garden hose and moist rag
After cleaning with a garden hose and moist rag | Source
Evaporator (cooling) coils after spraying.  Excessive dust buildup here can significantly reduce efficiency
Evaporator (cooling) coils after spraying. Excessive dust buildup here can significantly reduce efficiency | Source
Front panel after spraying with garden hose to remove dust buildup
Front panel after spraying with garden hose to remove dust buildup | Source

How Do I Clean My Window Air Conditioner Unit

It’s not an extremely difficult task to clean the inside of a window air conditioner. All you need is muscle power, time, a garden hose with a spray attachment, a light cleaning solution like dish detergent and a four-way screwdriver.

  1. Move Your A/C Outside: Move your air conditioner unit outside on a flat level surface where you can easily work on the unit and have access to a garden hose.
  2. Remove The Air Filter: Begin by removing the air filter first and setting it aside. If it needs cleaning as well, you can do so at this time or soak it in a light detergent solution.
  3. Remove The Front Panel: Next, remove the front panel of the air conditioner. It is usually held in place by two screws, one on each side. Larger A/C units might use more. Place the screws in a tray (an ice cube tray is helpful) that will prevent them from rolling away or getting lost.
  4. Remove The Bar: Now, remove the rail from the top of the unit holding the accordion panels in place. This can be done by pulling the panels away from the unit until the can be removed from the top and bottom rails. (Note, the accordion panels are still attached to the sides of the air conditioner so be gentle with them). The top rail is usually held in place with three screws. Remove them and place them in your parts tray.
  5. Remove Case Cover: Next, remove the screws holding the top case to the rest of the unit. This portion can be held in place by many screws. Start with the screws at the sides of the unit and remove them. Then begin removing the screws from the top of the unit. Place all of the screws in your parts tray. Then gently slide the cover off the unit. The case may be cut to fit around the power cord so you may need to slide the cover back slightly and then lift it up.
  6. Use Your Garden Hose: Now, we’re ready to begin cleaning the inside of the window air conditioner out. If your unit has excessive mold buildup, suds it up with some mild detergent and allow it to soak. Use a spray attachment to rinse dust from the evaporator fins (the coils on the front portion of the unit) and blower fan. Rinse any debris from the external fan and condenser fins (coils at the back of the unit). Now you can begin to hose out any debris and sludge from the bottom of the unit. To do this, it’s easiest to tilt the unit on its side while aiming the sprayer at the bottom and flushing any debris out. Any stubborn mold can be taken care of with a soapy cloth. *Don’t use harsh chemicals like bleach, which can cause damage to aluminum parts used in air conditioners.*
  7. Drying: Allow your air conditioner to dry for some time in an upright position after tilting it to remove any extra water.
  8. Optional Cleaning: While your air conditioner is drying, you may also wish to clean the other parts such as the case cover, front panel and filter. The case cover may have collected pollen and dust as well as bugs and spider webs, especially if it hasn’t been cleaned at all. Hose or wipe out the inside of the cover and wipe the outer surfaces off with a soapy rag. The front panel may also have dust buildup around the air intake grill. Hose it out as well or wipe with a soapy rag. The filter can be sprayed off or soaked in soapy water in your sink or tub.
  9. Put It Back Together: Simply follow steps 1 through 5 in reverse, reattaching the case cover, top rail and accordion panels and the front panel.

Cleaning out a dirty window air conditioner can help improve its performance and efficiency. This is especially helpful for units that have a significant amount of dust buildup on the cooling coils. In addition to cleaning out the inside of an air conditioner, you may also want to straighten any bent fins on the rear of the unit. The fins on the unit are aligned to allow air to blow through them and dissipate heat to the outdoor air. When fins are bent, air cannot flow through them and decreases efficiency. A fin comb can be useful for straightening them out.

Controlling Buildup Between Cleanings

You can help minimize buildup by regularly cleaning the filter for your window air conditioner, and seasonal cleaning of the cooling fins by spraying them with window air conditioner foam spray. One other solution to prevent buildup inside the air conditioner is to use an air conditioner pan cleaner tablet to help prevent black sludge from building up on the inside and avoid bad odors. Avoiding sludge buildup will also minimize the chance that your window A/C unit will get clogged and leak condensation in your home.

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    • jesimpki profile image

      jesimpki 3 years ago from Radford, VA

      Sorry for the delay, do you mean like the electronics were wet? There is the possibility that, unless the unit used simple mechanical relays/thermostats that any control panel (like digital temperature and fan speed controls) could short out. If somethings like that happens, it may or may not work, and I'm leaning towards not, after drying out. Good luck!

    • profile image

      adrian 3 years ago

      if the unit was wet an was working then shuts off will it work when it dries out completely?

    • JosephDickens profile image

      Joseph Chen 3 years ago from Houston, TX

      Thanks. This is a useful information. I never had tried doing stuffs like that since I am not an expert to it. Next time, I won't hire someone just to clean my air condition unit.

    • jesimpki profile image

      jesimpki 3 years ago from Radford, VA

      Dudemanning, I'd vacuum any dust off of them but otherwise, avoid getting any connections/control panels wet directly and be sure to let everything dry for a few hours.

    • profile image

      Dudemanning 3 years ago

      What about the wires and everything else?

    • vibesites profile image

      vibesites 4 years ago from United States

      I admit I haven't bothered to take out my air condition for cleaning since I bought and had it installed, although sometimes. I just don't know where to start! I will have this as a manual. Thanks for sharing! Up and useful. :)

    • Diana Lee profile image

      Diana L Pierce 4 years ago from Potter County, Pa.

      Good tips. Thanks. I'm sharing these.

    • jesimpki profile image

      jesimpki 5 years ago from Radford, VA

      diylearner, both the fan motor and the compressor are sealed units. You don't have to cover them. Just make sure to allow the ac enough time to dry before using it again.

    • profile image

      diylearner 5 years ago

      Amazing details jesimpki.

      This might be an obvious answer but just wondering, do I have to be careful about not putting water on the motor etc ? I remember seeing my neighbor cover a part of the ac with a polybag once. Thanks