How To Clean The Condenser Coil On Your Central Air Conditioning System

Your central air conditioning system will operate more efficiently and will last longer if you keep the condenser coil clean. Fortunately, maintaining a condenser coil is a task that homeowners can easily complete within an hour, and this will both lower your ongoing costs as well as allow your unit to continue functioning failure-free for a longer period of time. Below is more information about the role of condenser coils and how you can perform a thorough cleaning:

Condenser coils - what they do

The condenser coil is located in the outside unit of your central air conditioning system, which also houses the refrigerant compressor. The purpose of the coil is simple, but vital: transfer heat into the atmosphere from the refrigerant. Anything that impedes that function, such as dirt on the coil, will cause heat transfer to be less efficient, thus, your compressor will be forced to work harder to compensate, and your home will be less comfortable. This adds up to lost dollars in the form of shorter system life and air conditioning repair expenses.

For condenser coils to do their job, they must be exposed to the outside air; unfortunately, this means they are also exposed to dirt, mold, algae, pollen and many other particles that block the coils. Depending on where you live and where the outside unit is located, your condenser coil may be only slightly dirty or completely covered; either way, it is important for you to clean the coil on an annual basis. Here is how to go about this important job:

Tools and materials needed

  • Tank sprayer with garden hose attachment - this device is often sold in garden centers of retail stores, and it is designed to evenly distribute a concentrate within water flow from a garden hose. Purchase one that has an adjustable rate-of-distribution, so you can control how much cleaning agent you wish to use.

  • Liquid dish soap

  • Laundry bleach

  • Screwdriver and socket set

  • Work gloves

  • Plastic garbage bag

Step-by-step procedure

1. Turn off the power to your air conditioning unit and system - in order to work safely, you must disconnect the power source for your system. First, turn off the indoor thermostat and tape a note over the display warning others that you are performing work. Next, locate the outdoor master power disconnect; it will be located close to the unit in an electrical box. The disconnect consists of a removable handle that is simply pulled out of the box in order to cut the power. Pull the handle and set it in a safe location.

2. Remove the outdoor unit housing - the outdoor unit has a sheet metal housing that protects the coil and compressor. With a screwdriver or socket, remove the screws attaching the housing to the unit. Put on your work gloves to protect your hands from sharp edges and carefully lift the housing over the top of the unit and set it aside.

3. Remove dirt and physical debris from the coil - fill the tank sprayer reservoir with liquid dish soap, then adjust the distribution setting to 1 teaspoon per gallon. Turn on the water supply to the hose, and begin spraying the top, inside portion of the coil while slowly sweeping side-to-side. Continue spraying side-to-side, but move the spray pattern down as you complete the highest levels first. This action will prevent you from re-contaminating an area that you just cleaned. Be careful not to aim the water flow directly at the compressor, and cover any exposed electrical components with a plastic garbage bag.

After cleaning the inside, repeat the same cleaning pattern on the outside of the coil. Rinse both the inside and outside of the coil with clean water from the garden hose, but do not use a power spray pattern; the fins on the coil are delicate and can be bent by excessive force.

4. Remove mold and biological debris from the coil - after eliminating the physical debris, the next step is to remove any form of mold, mildew, algae or bacterial growth. Remove the liquid dish soap from the tank sprayer, and fill the reservoir with laundry bleach. Keep the setting at 1 teaspoon per gallon, and spray the coil using the exact same top-down/side-to-side pattern you used in step 3. Rinse with clean water after finishing.

5. Replace the housing - once the coil is cleaned, reinstall the housing on the outside unit. Restore power by pushing the disconnect handle back into its socket, and turn on the inside thermostat control.

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