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How to Clean a Window Air Conditioner

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A s with almost any product out there, you have to do some work on the AC to keep it up and running at a constant level. If after you installed the window AC you start to notice a gradual drop in performance over time, not being able to reach the temperature you need to keep cool during the summer heatwaves, don’t go straight to thinking that it wasn’t sized well or that it isn’t a qualitative product. The most likely scenario is that it simply requires cleaning. With air conditioners, this is a task you have to perform quite often too, so make sure to follow the indications provided in the following to steer clear of repercussions associated with improper maintenance.

Do Window AC Units Need to Be Cleaned?

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Yes, just like all major appliances, air conditioners need cleaning to prevent an early efficiency drop or even degradation, and to keep you safe. As the AC collects moisture from the air that it pulls inside, with systems that collect it rather than expelling it outside, there is the issue of mold growth. A putrid odor will come from the unit as well, impacting comfort indoors aside from proving dangerous for your health.

Routine cleaning can prevent clogging caused by debris, which would otherwise cause leaks on the ledge of the window and the floor beneath, leading to the actual damage of your property if not taken care of on time. Moreover, as dust and dirt accumulate in the system’s filter, its cooling capabilities will drop, and it might even stop functioning altogether if the situation becomes severe.

Let’s put it this way, if the AC is clean, you benefit from the following:

  • Cleaner air indoors: The filter will perform on par, so there will be lesser allergy and asthma-triggering irritants in the air. The reduced presence of irritants benefits people with any sort of respiratory issue, for that matter.
  • Fresh smelling air: When mold develops in the AC, a musty odor spreads in the air. This directly affects living conditions.
  • Increased AC lifespan: As the unit is taken care of and doesn’t need to overwork to bypass all the dirt gathered, it will last for a much longer time as well. Look at cleaning as a surefire way to protect your investment, for short.
  • Quiet performance: A dirty AC works harder to cool the room, and an immediate repercussion for this is that it becomes considerably noisier as well because of the added strain.
  • Less power draw: Evidently, as the system is clean and doesn’t overwork to provide cooling, it won’t consume as much energy either, so your bills won’t skyrocket.

Does Mold Grow in Window Air Conditioners?

The AC is susceptible to mold growth inside it, especially when it is not used routinely. Usually, mold can develop in it over winter, and you likely won’t even notice it until summer comes and you turn on the AC, instantly noticing a drop in air quality and an unpleasant smell coming from the system.

In case the AC features a collection basin or water stagnates in it rather than being immediately expelled, there is the chance for mold growth even during normal use, not only when the unit hasn’t been turned on for multiple months.

Inhaling mold spores is problematic for people who suffer from respiratory system issues, but it can be just as dangerous for healthy individuals as it leads to symptoms like headaches, heavy breathing, and sore throat, to name a few. There is a risk for you to develop a respiratory disorder as a result, so don’t treat this matter lightly.

Tip: If you notice a musty odor when it runs, turn it off and perform a deep cleaning to get rid of any mold growth inside it. This way, you avoid polluting the air with mold spores.

Check out the best air purifiers for mold removal to clear the air of the allergy- and asthma-triggering spores in case you ever overlook routine cleaning and mold grows in the AC.

How Often Should You Clean Your Air Conditioner?

To ensure top-notch performance, there are various types of cleaning procedures that you must follow through with, as we will instruct in the next section of the article. When it comes to how often you should clean the window AC, there are separate procedures to go through, each with its frequency rate, as follows:

  • Daily cleaning: This is more of a superficial procedure as opposed to the rest and it should be done daily when you use the system.
  • Monthly cleaning: The monthly procedure covers cleaning the filter of the air conditioner. Never skip on it as the filter gathers dust and dirt from the air, trapping it so that the air released back into the room is cleaner. If you don’t clean the filter monthly, it won’t be able to collect impurities as efficiently, which means that you will be predisposed to allergic reactions to impurities in the air.
  • Seasonal cleaning: This is when you deep clean the AC. Over winter, it is recommended to disassemble and store the system as it won’t be in use, and exposure to the low temperatures can damage it. When the weather gets hot, the first thing you must do before you install it is to give it a deep cleaning. This way, you get rid of any gunk that has accumulated so that it will perform on par.
  • Occasional deep cleaning: About 1-2 times per year, depending on how obedient you are when it comes to the rest of the cleaning routines, you should still give the AC a deep cleaning where you disassemble it, clean all the parts that need it, and put it back together in the same shape it was when you first bought it.

Window Air Conditioner Cleaning Instructions

As aforementioned, there are four types of AC cleaning procedures that you must follow through with if you want to properly upkeep it. These include basic daily cleaning, monthly cleaning, seasonal cleaning, and occasional deep cleaning. Let’s look into how you must proceed with each of these maintenance tasks.

Basic AC Cleaning

To prevent mold growth in the air conditioner, you need to follow through with this daily cleaning procedure that is basic and doesn’t take long. What you must do is spray a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution on the intake and outflow areas. Let the solution dry before you turn on the AC. Ideally, you should do this task at night, before you go to bed so that the AC is ready for use in the morning.

Beware: In case there is a musty odor coming from it even though you cleaned the AC every day, then it means that you have to do a deeper cleaning which involves removing the filter and cleaning the interior of the unit.

Recommendation: Avoid turning it on and off too often as this is what leads to proper growing grounds for microbes. Leave it on as much as possible during the hot seasons to wash out the old water outside through the continuous airflow employed, avoiding microbes this way.

How to Clean the Filter

Every month, you have to clean the filter to make sure it continues to trap dust and impurities from the air, enjoying safer living conditions as a result. The procedure isn’t time-consuming or that difficult either. With this monthly cleaning task, you must proceed as follows:

  • Turn the AC off, disconnect it from the power source, and remove the front panel so that you may locate the filter. Once you spot it, simply pull it or slide it out of the slot, depending on the system’s configuration.
  • Rinse the filter using warm water. If too much dirt has accumulated between cleanings, you can vacuum it first.
  • Before you insert it back into the unit and assemble the system, let the filter air dry. To quicken the process, you can dry it using a towel before leaving it to fully dry.
  • Don’t forget that filter replacement is due once every 3 months (check the exact period in the user manual, it might differ with certain models). If you notice that it is worn or there are signs of tearing, replace it then and there as it won’t perform on par anymore even if you clean it thoroughly.

Recommendation: If the environment tends to be dusty and you don’t have an air purifier that reduces dust in the air, or if you have pets that inevitably release dander into the air and there are no means other means to filter the particles, clean the AC filter once every two weeks tops instead of every month.

Seasonal Cleaning Explained

Tip: If you can remove the AC from the window, store it away during the cold months of the year when it is not in use to protect it from damaging weather elements. While in storage, cover it with a tarp or sheet to prevent dust and debris in the basement or attic from accumulating in it. However, if you can’t remove the system, cover the exterior part with a special cover that withstands rain and snow, protecting the unit from damage.

Now let’s return to the subject at hand – the seasonal deep cleaning of the air conditioner. Before you start using the unit once again as the hot weather arrived, you must first give it a thorough cleaning to ensure it won’t underperform or release impurities into the air. To follow through with the procedure, do as instructed here:

  • Before you start, you must turn it off, unplug it, and take it out of the casing as instructed in the manual.
  • Use a soft bristle brush to comb debris accumulated on the aluminum fins.
  • Use a canister of condensed air to blow away dust around the fan and motor. Spray the fins and around the coils as well. If dirt is on the coils, use a small brush to wipe it off.
  • Vacuum the base of the AC’s interior. Next, use a household cleaner to scrub it down and remove all the dirt. Finally, wipe it with a cloth, and you can reassemble the whole system and use it normally.

How to Deep Clean the AC

Have your allergies started to act up, or your asthma attacks became more frequent? Do you feel a musty odor in the air whenever you turn on the AC? Does the unit simply look dirty? Then it means that the time has come to give it a deep cleaning.

What you should do is uninstall the AC from the window, take it outside (try to deep clean it when it’s warm and sunny), and remove the case. Use a homemade cleaning solution comprised of warm water and dish detergent or a special AC coil cleaner, spray the front panel, case, fins, fan, interior base, interior coils, and aluminum fins, and let them soak for about 10 minutes. In case there still is grime on the fan blades or other parts, spray them once more and let them soak for a few minutes before scrubbing them clean using a soft-bristled brush.

Use the low-pressure setting of the hose to rinse the exterior panel, case, window fins, coils, fan, interior base, and aluminum fins. Make sure that you don’t wet the control panel during the procedure, or you will damage it. Let everything dry for as many hours as needed. If you are in a hurry, you can speed up the process by drying excess water with a towel. When everything is finally dry, reassemble the AC and install it in the window so that you can use it again under the safest conditions.

How to Get the Most Out of Your AC

  • Choose a shaded spot: If possible, install the AC in a window that isn’t in direct sunlight as this might damage the system over time.
  • Keep it on as much as possible: The more you use it, the less likely it is for mold to grow inside it. Whenever there is a damp day, make sure to run it so that moist conditions don’t create in the AC.
  • Pay attention to the fins: After you do a deep cleaning, make sure that the cooling fins are straight so that the air flows smoothly up and down for optimal cooling.
  • Keep the filter in perfect shape: As aforementioned, even though it is advised to clean it every month, if you live with pets or your home has a lot of dust, then you can clean it as often as needed. Just make sure the filter isn’t dirty so that it can continue to clean the air pulled in.
  • Store it in winter: During the colder months of the year, particularly during winter, store it in a dry space if possible. In case you cannot take it out of the window, at least cover it to make sure the weather does not damage it.
  • Call a professional: If you cleaned and maintained the AC as instructed yet it seems to underperform and you can’t figure out why, call in a technician to handle the situation as the system might need an expert repair.

Bottom Line

Maintenance and routine cleaning might be a drag at times, but with a window AC, repercussions are dire on your health and the system’s lifespan and performance if you don’t follow through with your chores as instructed. Moreover, if you perform the cleaning we recommended, you will enjoy on par cooling for years on end.

Repairs won’t be needed as often either as the system will be taken care of, and your general state of health will not be affected as impurities won’t be released when the AC runs. Best of all, the air in your home will smell fresh, and you won’t have to sweat when you’re at home regardless of how hot the weather gets, all by simply taking care of the AC as you should.

Tobey Hunter
Tobey Hunter
Tobey is the editor-in-chief at Optima Institute, his prior experience as a niche product reviewer in air quality improvement systems helping shape his path to conduct thorough research toward selecting and analyzing products so that customers are satisfied with the provided recommendations. During his carrier, Tobey also gathered technical input that makes him well versed in understanding advancements in modern systems, helping readers in turn to better understand how modern devices help improve life quality.