How to Clean a Window Air Conditioner

Window air conditioner in top window

imagedepotpro / Getty Images

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 1 - 2 hrs
  • Total Time: 2 - 3 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $5 - $30

Cleaning your window air conditioner offers a surprising slew of advantages. Maintaining a window unit by keeping it clean helps keep it working well by:

  • prolonging its longevity
  • reducing the need for repairs
  • reducing your energy bill
  • preventing mold formation
  • producing cleaner air for your room

Unfortunately, this essential maintenance task is often neglected, leaving your unit vulnerable to premature failure or malfunctioning components. The good news? Cleaning your window air conditioner is quick and easy to do, and it requires a minimal amount of tools and materials. Read on to learn how it's done, and how often you should do it.

Before You Begin

The moist environment of your air conditioner is an ideal breeding ground for mold growth, which can pose a variety of health risks to you and your household. Hydrogen peroxide has potent anti-fungal properties, making it ideal for eliminating the lingering mold spores air conditioners tend to harbor. Other common anti-fungal cleaners (like bleach) are corrosive to metals, and should be avoided to prevent damaging your air conditioner's internal components. Before you clean your unit, fill a spray bottle with a 3 percent hydrogen peroxide solution to use while cleaning.

Next, ensure that the unit is disconnected from electricity by unplugging it from the wall or by shutting off the circuit breaker on your home's electrical panel. This will prevent any risk of electrocution.

How Often to Clean a Window Air Conditioner

It's recommended to perform a thorough cleaning of your window air conditioner at least once a year, preferably before its first use of the season. In additional to an annual cleaning, the filter should be cleaned once a month and replaced with a new one every three months.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Shop vacuum with brush attachment
  • Knife with thin blade or fin comb
  • Cleaning cloth
  • Spray bottle
  • Can of compressed air (optional)
  • Pair of protective gloves
  • Screwdriver

Materials

  • 1 bottle of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide
  • AC coil cleaner (optional)

Instructions

  1. Remove and Clean the Face Panel

    The face panel (or grille cover) is a plastic or metal grate secured to the very front of your air conditioner. It will either be secured onto your unit with screws, clips or tabs, or both. Consult your user manual for specific instructions on how to remove it. The filter may be housed inside the face panel on some models. If so, use the manufacture's instructions for removing the filter before cleaning the face panel.

    Once the face panel—and possibly the filter—has been removed, spray the panel down with your cleaning solution and clean it off with a cloth. Alternatively, take it outside and spray it down with a garden hose. Set the face panel aside to dry while you clean the rest of the components.

  2. Remove and Clean the Filter

    Consult your air conditioner's user manual for specific instructions on how to remove the filter. Some units will have the filter housed inside the face panel, while others will have the filter situated directly behind the face panel. Once removed, remove heavy sediment deposits with a vacuum, and wipe it down with a wet cloth to clean residual dust and debris.

    For a deeper clean, take it outside and spray it down with a garden hose. Set the filter aside and allow it to dry before reinstalling it, which should take 30 minutes to a couple hours.

  3. Vacuum out the Interior

    Vacuum out the entire interior (or cabinet) of your air conditioner. This includes the drain pan on the bottom of the unit, the fan and blower in the middle, the evaporator in the front, and the condenser in the back. 

    Place special emphasis on cleaning the thin, aluminum fins on the evaporator and condenser. If possible, use a soft brush attachment on your vacuum hose and vacuum in the same direction as the fins (vertically, or up-and-down) to avoid bending or damaging the fins.

    Tip

    The aluminum fins on the compressor and evaporator can be sharp, so it's wise to wear protective gloves when handling these parts.

  4. Spray it Down

    Spray down the interior cabinet and exterior housing with hydrogen peroxide, and use a cloth or rag to wipe down everything that you can reach.

    You can use the same spray cleaning solution on the evaporator and condenser coils, or you can use an AC coil cleaner spray cleaner. In either case, you can allow the cleaner to air dry or rinse it off with water. If you decide to rinse it off, allow the cleaner to soak for 10 to 20 minutes to let it loosen up any caked-on material.

    Tip

    Before spraying down the condenser and evaporator coils, consider spraying down the fins with a can of compressed air. This will remove any sediment the vacuum may have missed, and provide a deeper clean.

  5. Straighten the Fins

    Bent fins on your evaporator or condenser can reduce your air conditioner's performance or lead to premature failure. Wearing gloves, insert a knife or fin comb in the space between the fins, just above or below the portions that are bent. Gently run the knife or comb in the same direction (parallel with) the surrounding, unaffected fins until the bent ones are straight.