how to clean window ac unit

How to Clean a Window AC Unit – Without Removing It

How to Clean a Window AC unit

Cleaning a window AC unit can be easy or not so easy depending on how long it’s been since you cleaned it.

And if you your AC unit is not cooling like it should or if it’s doing something stupid like spitting water at you, then you know it’s time to give it a good once over.

Some things can be easily cleaned without having to mess with taking it apart or removing it from the window.

Some other things may not be quite as simple. Like I said, it depends primarily on how long it’s been since it’s been cleaned. Unless it’s located in an area that is just predisposed to getting dust all over and inside your window AC.

Cleaning supplies

  A few items that will make the job much easier if you have them on hand is a vacuum with good suction. A handheld would be much easier to work with if you have it and a “can of air” which is usually called electronic duster. A good scrub brush is also going to be handy. For pros, an air compressor with a nozzle is going to speed things way up.

Let’s get cracking.

1.  Unplug it
No use messing around with an electronic device while it’s plugged in.
We’re just trying to clean it, not diagnosing a problem that requires power.

2. How to remove front cover of window air conditioner

The first thing to clean is the filter and to do that you’ll have to remove the front cover of the air conditioner.

There are more than one brand of window air conditioner and there are a multitude of different styles of removing the front cover also.

On most window air conditioners, you will simply have a pull tab located on the top or the side that allows you to pull the front cover down and off.

But there are other window ACs like the GE for example that have a filter that just pulls out from the side and do not provide easy access to the grill.

On window AC that doesn’t have easy access, it will require you to take a couple of screws out and pull the entire plastic casing off of the front.

If you have a manual window AC with knobs to dial in the temperature, you’ll have to take the knobs off first to be able to get the plastic casing off.

Cleaning the filter is a very simple process that usually can be done with the vacuum cleaner or a brush. You can even wash it under the faucet in the sink. Only be careful to let it dry completely so you don’t have any chance of mold growing in the AC by putting a wet filter back into it.

2.  Clean the grime off of the grill and fins.

How to clean air conditioner fins

Once you have the cover off and the grill is exposed, take a soft brush and brush any grime and dirt off of the fins.
A soft brush because you do not want to bend the fins.

  If the finns are already bent, you can purchase what’s called a fin comb that will straighten them back out.

This step can easily be done with a vacuum cleaner or a can of compressed air. If you have a portable compressor, you will be able to blow any grime and debris on the fins off that much easier.

3.  Clean the cover

Before you put the cover back on, use the opportunity to clean the dust and debris out of all the nooks and crannies located on the cover. Believe it or not, even if it doesn’t look like it, dust can keep your air conditioner from blowing at the rate it is meant to. (This is a big deal with fans too. You would probably be surprised how well your tower fan would blow by just doing some simple brushing maintenance on it.)

4.  Clean the rear of the AC.

Can you hose down a window air conditioner?

If the AC is still in your window, you can actually hose down the back side of the window AC with a hose. The only caveat is that you do not use a high pressure attachment that could bend the fins or damage any component inside of the AC.

After all this part of the AC is meant to be in the elements and can take a beating from a rainstorm or snow. Hosing it down is an easy way of getting dirt and debris off of the outside of the air conditioner.

Make sure you keep the water on the outside of the unit and not spray in such a way that it goes inside the house.

If you are not in an area where you can clean your window conditioner with a hose, a vacuum cleaner will do just fine, and or an air compressor will do even that much better.

And remember if your air conditioner is not that dirty, a can of electronic duster that you use on a computer keyboard will do the trick just fine. It’s a lot easier using a can of electronic duster than it is to drag out a water hose for a vacuum and an air compressor if you don’t have to.

5.  Clean the drain hole

If your air conditioner is spitting water at you, there is a good chance that your drain hole is clogged up.

The condensation coming off of your cooling coils when the air conditioner is running is designed to drip out of that little drain hole.

If the drain hole is stopped up then the water will just keep on rising till it starts coming out of the vents and spritzing your house.

If the drain hole is already clean and it is still spitting water at you or not draining, then you should tilt the air conditioner slightly so that the water drains out of the hole instead of building up. You may have to put a shim or something on one side of the air conditioner to keep it tilted slightly for the water to drain off.

The drain hole on a window AC is typically just a small hole around 3/8″ big located either on the side or towards the rear of the AC.

While you have the hose out, spraying out the drain hole should be pretty easy.

If you don’t have a hose, try blowing the drain hole out. If there is something really jammed in the drain hole, try taking a small pointed object like a small screwdriver and poking it through the hole being careful not to poke too hard as to puncture anything on the other side of the hole.

Never add a second drain hole to a window AC using a drill unless you have the whole AC taken apart so that you can see exactly where to drill without puncturing any part of the AC compressor. ( How do I know that? Let’s just say that I’m glad I didn’t spend more than a couple of hundred bucks on that AC.)

How to prevent mold in the window AC?

You can prevent mold in a window AC by ensuring that the drain hole is clear and that the condensation is draining off properly.
If the air conditioner is not draining and water is able to fill up inside of the window AC, then the chances of having mold inside of your AC go up considerably.
The second thing you should do to prevent mold in your window AC is to wipe it down regularly, and vacuum the dirt out.
Mold cannot grow without having the basic ingredients of moisture, food (like dirt) and dark.

Keeping your drain hole cleaned out, the AC tilted so that the water drains out easily, and wiped and vacuumed of dust, will eliminate two of the main ingredients of mold right there.

If you already have mold in your window AC, you should be prepared to take the window air conditioner out of the window and disassemble it so that you can spray the inside thoroughly with either Lysol or vinegar.

It’s not the end of the world or your air conditioner but mold sickness is a real thing and you should take it seriously.

The casing of a window air conditioner is generally held on by some very plain in view screws that can be taken out. The whole cover will come off easily after that. That will give you access to be able to spray a mold deterrent like Lysol or vinegar into any nook and cranny you can locate inside the AC.  

how to clean a window air conditioner without removing itThere’s nothing like having an air conditioner during the hot summer months.
The problem is that they tend to get dirty and need regular maintenance.

Taking the time to spruce up your AC unit is going to help eliminate mold and mildew that builds up inside the unit and stops it working properly.

It’s worth opening up your unit once a year and cleaning it out once a year, even if it’s still running smooth.
The filter should be checked once a month and cleaned whenever it looks dirty as well.

Here are the 12 steps of cleaning a window air conditioning unit.

What you Need

  • 2 soft cloths
  • A hand-held spray bottle
  • Fin comb
  • Bucket
  • Vacuum
  • Rubber gloves
  • Soft-bristle brush
  • Goggles
  • Coil cleaner – which can be found at any hardware store

The 12-Step Process

  1. Start out by disconnecting the AC unit from all power sources
    You need to unplug every single power cord being fed into the unit. If the window unit is wired directly to the home then you want to either turn off the master circuit breaker or disconnect the unit from the fuses. The manufacturer’s instructions will tell you how to discharge the capacitor. This capacitor is a device that holds the extra charge needed to kick-start the motor in your AC. Removing it is an essential step in ensuring there is no charge left in the device before cleaning it.
  1. Clean off the outside cover of the unit. Wipe it down using a wet cloth. Get rid of all the grime and dust that you can to ensure that it doesn’t fall down into the unit when the cover is opened. That just creates more work for you later. It’ll be much harder to get off then too.
  1. Now you can take the front cover off. Some of them are designed to be removed easily using just your hands. For others, you might need to remove some plastic screws or hooks. Place down these screws or clamps in a safe place while working. That way you can avoid losing them. Be warned that some units will also have metal grills that need to be removed. Their edges can be sharp, so take care when removing them!
  1. You need to clean the reusable filter in your unit, assuming that it has one. Take the filter out of the AC unit and put it in a bucket filled halfway with warm and soapy water. If you don’t have one to hand then your sink or bathtub would do fine. Get rid of dirt and other buildup by swishing the filter around. If it’s really dirty then you might need to use a soft brush to clear it all off. Put the filter off to the side so that it can dry out before you put it back into the unit. Having a wet filter in the unit just attracts more mold and dirt, which is not what you want when you’re trying to keep it clean!
  1. Make sure that you change the disposable filter in your unit regularly. Once again, that is assuming that it has one. The US Department of Energy recommend changing filters once a month during the warm season.
  1. Vacuum out the inside of the unit. A vacuum extension can help you reach the bottom of the unit, as well as the sides of the unit, the back of the front cover, and – if you have one – the metal grill. A moist rag can help here if there’s too much dirt for a vacuum to handle by itself.
  1. Put the unit back together. Be sure to let the unit dry out completely before you put it back together. Plug the window unit back into the power source and switch it on. Clean off any debris that might blow up after it has been powered on again.
  1. Be sure to keep your unit stored in a cool, dry place when the time comes to put it away. Cover it up with a sheet of plastic and leave it in a dry place as this will prevent the spread of mildew and mold.
  1. If you want to take your cleaning to the next level, there are some extra steps you can take before putting the unit back together.
    These are optional steps and should be performed delicately.
    These steps are for cleaning the fan blades and coils, which are very delicate and are easy to bend and break by accident. The motor housing can also be very sensitive and should be avoided at all times when cleaning an AC unit.
  1. Now it’s time to clean coils in your AC. Make sure you use rubber gloves and protective goggle for this. Add the coil cleaning solution to the water bottle and spray the coils lightly. Take care to spray only the coils. Leave them for around 15 minutes before pouring some warm water onto the coils. Ensure that the coil cleaner has been completely removed from the coil. Be careful to avoid getting electrical parts near the coils wet. Consider putting a dry rag down on the electrical parts to prevent water damage.
  1. Clean the fan blades of the unit using a soft, clean cloth to remove dirt from the fan blades. Be sure to wipe gently so as to avoid bending and damaging the blades. AC units can be pretty loud as they are, and bent blades only makes them louder!
  1. Finally, you can use the fin comb to repair dents in the fins of the coils. Now you can put the AC unit back together and go back to enjoying cool air whenever you need it.

Published by

Dennis Reed

Dennis Reed Owner and Author @