How to Clean a Window Air Conditioner

April 5, 2019

For a number of reasons beyond keeping a home comfortable, homeowners and residents need to periodically clean their window air conditioner unit. A health-related reason to regularly clean the unit is that a window AC unit is a prime place for mold to grow.  It is also easy access for allergens from the outdoors to enter a bedroom or home.

Most people know that mold exposure causes serious long-term health issues. Since air is constantly circulating in and out of a home, mold spores can be swept in by the AC unit. Subsequently, they can spread around the home. Signs of mold growth could include the smell of must. There would also be visible growth on the outside of the unit.

In the same vein, a small AC unit can also drag in allergens such as pollen or dandelion roots. People who are prone to allergies or notice symptoms such as dry eyes or running nose might want to check the cleanliness of their small AC unit. In many cases, this could be the culprit. Keeping the unit as clean as possible and using a high-quality filter will largely solve this problem.

Landlords will want to ensure that HVAC units are always running smoothly, to both attract and retain renters. But in any event, residents will want to regularly clean their AC unit, just as they would clean any other part of their home or apartment. This article will provide an overview of how to clean a window air conditioner. It will help homeowners and residents get the most from their AC units as well as help them stay cooler during hot summer months.


How to safely remove buildup and mold from a window AC unit

Mold will be the immediate concern, as signs of mold are fairly obvious. Homeowners and residents are much more likely to see mold growth on the unit’s exterior. And, as stated above, smells of mildew or musk within a home are pretty clear signs that the unit could be dragging in a mold.

woman cleaning air conditioning unit

Before beginning, people should take some safety precautions. A mask and a good pair of cleaning gloves are highly recommended. People especially sensitive to contaminants should also pick up some protective eyewear. This is how to clean a window air conditioner safely. Especially if homeowners or residents have determined that mold has grown on the unit.

People cleaning the unit will also want to gather the following materials:

  • Bleach
  • A cleaning cloth
  • Dish soap
  • Laundry detergent
  • A good scrub brush or cleaning brush
  • A medium or large bucket partially filled with water
  • Flathead and a Phillips head screwdriver
  • If possible, a vacuum cleaner with multiple attachments

To begin, a person should put on the recommended protective equipment and disconnect the AC unit from its power source. Now would be a good time to mix the suggested cleaning solution. This consists of  ½ cup bleach and one tablespoon of non-abrasive dish soap for every three gallons of hot water. One batch should cover most window AC units.

Next, depending on the style of the unit, people may be able to access the unit’s filter by removing the front grille. If possible, remove the front grille with the appropriate screwdriver and replace the air filter. People who have not already purchased or received a new air filter can set the dirty filter aside for the moment. The old filter can be cleaned until a new filter is available.

Once the filter is removed, the person cleaning the unit can vacuum out large clusters of debris or buildup with the appropriate vacuum attachment. After the big chunks are gone, the cleaner should then thoroughly scrub and wipe down the unit, scouring for any obvious signs of mold.

For greater mold buildup, allow the cleaning solution to soak on the mold for 10 minutes or more. In some cases, cleaners might need a handled brush or two in addition to their cleaning cloth. This entire process is a bit of a chore. Residents don’t want to have to do it twice because they failed to fully clean the AC unit.

Lastly, for those who do not have a replacement air filter on hand, the pre-existing filter can be soaked in a bathtub or sink in hot water with a half cup or one cup of laundry detergent. The filter should be soaked for at least 15 minutes before being hung to dry. Once dry, the filter can be replaced into the now-clean AC unit, and the front grille can be reattached with a screwdriver.

If possible, residents and homeowners will also want to clean the back of the unit. Cleaning out the inside of the unit and cleaning or replacing the air filter will help considerably. But people may be forced to clean the unit again in a few weeks or months if mold is accumulating on the back of the unit and working its way in.

Renters will always want to check with landlords before performing anything more than routine cleaning and maintenance. Air conditioner repair is usually a home repair that landlords don’t want tenants handling.


Other safety considerations

A potentially risky consideration is if a person is renting an apartment above the first floor, and their bedroom window AC unit requires cleaning. Window AC units are cumbersome and fairly heavy. It would be dangerous for a lone person to clean the outside of the unit thoroughly while balancing it on the window. In addition to rolling the unit onto themselves, the unit itself could also tumble out of the window. This is not only potentially costly but also extremely dangerous for anyone who may be down below.

living room of a furnished apartment from Blueground

Residents living above the ground floor should remove the unit from the windowsill. Then clean it inside their home before reinstalling it. While this is common sense, there are some people who would attempt to remove the unit without help. Some would also attempt to clean the unit while it’s resting within the window. Neither of these ideas is wise.

People who want to know how to clean a window air conditioner properly should remove and clean the filter about once a month during the spring, summer, and fall. The filter itself should be replaced every 1-2 years. If there’s any type of refrigerant or coolant odor, then the unit should likely be replaced. For many window AC units, the cost to repair the unit will supersede the cost of complete replacement.

Renters who don’t want to deal with hassles such as outdated window AC units and instead want to live in contemporary luxury should consider Blueground as an alternative. Blueground offers furnished apartments in major metropolitan cities across the world with a host of amenities, including up-to-date central air and heating systems.

We also provide HVAC systems, offering outstanding month-to-month, yearly, or long-term living solution for city residents. Landlords should also consider partnering with Blueground, as we serve as an ideal form of property management.

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