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Does it feel like your air conditioner is just not keeping up?

It may just need to be cleaned.  Here are the steps to cleaning your outside unit:

Picture a year’s accumulation of dirt, grime, dead grass and dead leaves. Then top off this scene with those pesky little whiffs of cotton that drift from dandelions and cottonwood trees.

It’s not a pretty picture, but it’s probably what awaits you when you clean your outdoor air conditioning unit, otherwise known as the condenser. All of this debris inhibits air flow and impugns the efficiency of your air conditioner, which is why you shouldn’t delay this do-it-yourself job any longer than necessary.

And if you need more motivation? Take it from us: This is one simple, straightforward DIY job you can handle yourself, even if you’ve never tackled it before. Yes, it might help to unearth the owner’s manual for your air conditioner. Familiarizing yourself with the components is a real confidence builder, especially if it’s been a while since you’ve come face to face with them.

Perhaps the best part? This clean-up job shouldn’t take more than an hour, even if you tend to work at a slow, methodical pace. And if you break out in a sweat during the process? It will be worth every drop because your efforts will help your air conditioner run more efficiently and helpkeep your energy bills in check this summer. Let Experts In Your Home lead you through the procedure step by step:

Work from the outside in

  • Turn off the electrical power at the outdoor shutoff or, if you can’t find it, the circuit breaker panel. Don’t just turn off the thermostat; someone could accidentally turn it back on while you’re working and unwittingly cause a mishap while you’re cleaning the condenser.
  • Remove leaves, branches, nests and any other debris that may be wedged up against the air conditioner. Create a 2-foot “clearance zone” on all sides of the unit and a 4-foot zone above it by cutting back any encroaching plantings or hanging leaves or branches. (For ideas on how to artfully camouflage the condenser without stifling it, see a previous Experts In Your Home article: How to Safely Camouflage Your Outdoor Air Conditioning System).
  • With a high-powered vacuum and soft brush attachment, vacuum the exterior fins. Exert a gentle touch; the fins can be bent easily and even crushed. To access them fully, you might have to unscrew and lift off a metal box. This is where your owner’s manual will guide your best efforts and show you how to lift off the box without bumping (and damaging) the fins.
  • Check the fins, and, if they appear slightly bent, don’t panic. This is a  normal finding. Simply straighten the fins with a “fin comb” from your local home improvement store or even a sturdy, wide dinner knife from your kitchen. Just be sure not to insert the knife more than ½ inch into the unit. Realigning the fins will help improve air flow. If large sections of the fins are bent or crushed, call us and we’ll remedy the problem.

See the dirt come into focus

  • Unscrew the top grille, lift up the fan and set it aside without putting stress on the attached electrical wires. (Here’s where a helper might come in handy, especially if the wires afford you little wiggle room).
  • Remove any leaves, clumps of dirt, nests and other debris — including those pesky little balls of cotton — as you look down into the unit. Wipe the interior clean with a damp cloth.
  • Use a hose – never a power washer – to spray the fins with low to moderate water pressure. Direct the spray from the inside out. Then reinstall the fan.
  • Check the fan motor (and your owner’s manual) for lubrication ports. If your unit has them, add five drops of electric motor oil (not penetrating oil or all-purpose oil, which are not meant for long-term lubrication). Keep in mind that most newer air conditioners have sealed bearings and so do not need lubrication.
  • Restore power to the condenser.

In a lot of ways, cleaning your outdoor air conditioning unit is like cleaning your car – even though a few more steps might be involved. If you see a foreign or dirty substance, simply remove it. And err on the side of caution with your air conditioner components, just as you would with the antenna on your car.

Cleaning your outdoor air conditioner is one more step, beyond your annual air conditioner tune-up, that you can take to help ensure that it runs as efficiently as possible all summer long.

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