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How To Clean A Window Air Conditioner Without Removing It

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When you have an air conditioner that is attached to your window, the most thorough way to clean it is to remove it. However, in some situations the AC unit is too heavy, the location is too high to use outside support, or you just want to do the best you can without too much effort. 

We will show you how to clean a window air conditioner without removing it, but be sure to pay attention to the details.

Why Clean Air Conditioners are Important

We all appreciate that magical box in our window that can cool a room (or small studio) with just the turn of a knob or press of a button. It is important to keep an air conditioner clean for many different reasons, and these are just a few.

Health Benefits

After time, the filters and interior of an air conditioner can clog up with dirt, lint, and grime. In addition, the moist interior of an air conditioner can help bacteria, fungus, and mold breed. Once these particulates are in your unit, they can be spread to the rest of the room, possibly causing health conditions.

For asthma sufferers or anyone with persistent lung issues, regular cleaning and maintenance of their air conditioner should be a number one priority.

Better Operation

When the filters get dirty and clogged in an air conditioner, the efficiency of the unit goes down up to 15% as it deals with trying to push additional pressure. Airflow is at least partially blocked so the room will not cool down as quickly.

Exterior of an apartment building with window air conditioners

Cleaning air conditioner filters and as much of the interior as possible will help cool off your house more efficiently.

Less Mechanical Noise

Air conditioner units can be quite loud, which is very hard to avoid considering they are based on active compressors. Additional dirt and debris within the system can cause noise by itself on the moving parts. Blocked filters can make the unit work harder, increasing the sound of the compressor.

Less Energy Used

An efficiently operating air conditioner will use less energy to cool a room than one that is dirty and clogged. As mentioned above, simply cleaning the AC filters can increase the unit’s efficiency up to 15%. In the summer months when a window air conditioning unit might be in constant use, that effect on your electricity bill can add up.

Tools Required to Clean a Window Air Conditioner Without Removing It

You will typically need some, but not always all, of the following tools:

  • Clean rags or towels
  • Cleaning solution
  • Phillips head screwdriver
  • Flat head screwdriver
  • A hose if available
  • Spray bottle
  • Nylon brush with soft bristles
  • Vacuum with soft brush attachment
  • Small bowl or can for screws
  • Filter replacement (if the filter is disposable)
  • Fin spacer

If you are able to find the manufacturer’s handbook or manual that came with the air conditioner, that will help a lot, but as mentioned before many window units have the same basic construction.

What Cleaning Solution is Used to Clean a Window Air Conditioner

A spray bottle filled with warm water and a few drops of dishwashing soap is our go-to cleaning solution around here. We would not recommend anything much more powerful than that for cleaning the inside of the air conditioner, especially the filter. Window AC filters are sometimes very delicate and easily warped.

The exterior should be able to handle all-purpose cleaners, but take care around any coated buttons. All-purpose cleaners have a tendency to break down the thin membranes.

Cleaning tools

Cleaning a Window Air Conditioner Without Removing It

While every manufacturer will have different instructions on how to disassemble a window AC unit without removing it, there are some standard procedures that most of them have in common.

The parts of the air conditioner that need the most attention are the filter and the fins. Both of these parts of the unit can be fragile, so use caution when cleaning them.

Disassemble the Front of the Air Conditioner

  1. Turn off the unit.
  2. Unplug the unit from the outlet. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!
  3. Locate the filter access, this is normally on the side of the unit.
  4. Remove the filter.
  5. If the filter is disposable, or has a disposable screen, throw it away.
  6. Spray the filter with a cleaning solution and let soak.
  7. Remove any knobs that may be on the front of the AC unit. These can normally be pulled out.
  8. Spray the knobs with a cleaning solution and let soak.
  9. Remove screws from the front grille. There are typically one or two screws on the sides of the grille assembly, check toward the bottom.
  10. Place screws in a safe place, such as a small bowl or a piece of masking tape.
  11. Remove the front grille assembly by lifting it away from the screw mounts. Many times there are plastic tabs holding the assembly in place. Gently use a flat head screwdriver to push those tabs back if needed.
  12. Spray the front grille down with a hose if there is a lot of buildup.
  13. Spray the front grille with a cleaning solution and let soak.

Clean the Interior of the Air Conditioner – Part 1

  1. Using the vacuum, suck out as much of the loose dirt and debris as you can reach from the opened air conditioner.
  2. Using the cleaning solution, spray the surface areas of the interior of the AC unit that you will be able to reach by hand. You can use a lot of spray if you wish, but cleaning up and drying the excess may take longer. Do not worry about electronic parts, they are all shielded from moisture.
  3. Let the interior of the air conditioner soak in the cleaning solution.

Clean the Parts of the Air Conditioner

  1. Wipe down the filter with a damp cloth or rag, taking care not to warp or pop out any thin screens.
  2. Note: do not use hot water to clean or rinse the filter. This can warp the thin mesh that many inexpensive window units have installed.
  3. Rinse the filter and put aside to dry.
  4. Wipe down the knobs, rinse, and put aside to dry.
  5. Clean the grille assembly with a damp rag or towel. Some interior edges and corners may need a little more elbow grease, so use the nylon brush. Spray more cleaning solution if needed.
  6. Rinse the front grille and set aside to dry.

Clean the Interior of the Air Conditioner – Part 2

Man trying to figure out how to clean a window air conditioner without removing it
  1. Lightly scrub the interior fins with the soft nylon brush. These fins can be easily damaged, so be careful not to bend them.
  2. Check the fins for any bends. Use a fin spacer to even them out if necessary.
  3. Wipe down any surfaces you can reach on the interior of the air conditioner with a damp cloth. Be careful of the fins! Not only are the easy to bend, but the edges can be sharp.
  4. Dry the interior of the AC unit the best you can with a rag or other dry cloth.
  5. Let everything dry as much as possible, it may take a few hours.

Reassemble the Air Conditioner

  1. Put the front grille back into place.
  2. Reattach the front grille screws.
  3. Put any knobs back on the front of the unit that you may have removed.
  4. Spray and clean the exterior of the AC unit, being careful not to use too much spray.
  5. Slide the filter back in.
  6. Plug the AC plug back into the outlet.
  7. Test!

Maintenance

Be sure to clean your window AC unit on a regular basis. Cleaning the filter should be done every week during the hot season, with a deep cleaning breakdown every few months or so. If you are able to remove your air conditioner from the window, we would recommend doing that and cleaning the entire interior with the same process as above.

Window air conditioners do not like sitting around and not being used during the colder months. It is possible for them to get extra dirt, leaves, and other debris stuck in them when they sit in the rain. This can cause clogging of the rear draining areas, possibly causing rainwater to overfill out the front of the unit into the house.

If possible, we recommend removing any window AC units after the hot season is completely over, and storing it in a covered area such as a shed, garage, or attic. The weight of some air conditioners can be quite heavy, so if you do choose to remove yours, get someone to help.

Air Conditioning Tips

  • Only use your air conditioning unit when really needed. In addition to saving money on electricity costs, you will extend the lifespan of your AC.
  • Set your thermostat lower than you normally would (about 5 degrees or so) early in the day to pre-cool the house. Turn it higher, or even off, during the hottest part of the day. This lessens the load on the power grid, and you may get some flex time savings from your energy provider as well.

Conclusion

At this point, you should have a window air conditioner that works much more efficiently and quietly than it did before you started. There are a lot of steps involved, but when done properly you should have a cooler and more energy-efficient room, with less of a possibility of any particulates being flung through the house.

Allen Michael is the Founder and Editor of Home Viable, a website that he started to provide readers with tips on home efficiency and automation. He draws on his engineering background combined with his family-of-four experiences for his articles.