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How to Clean an AC Filter (And Have It Running Perfectly in Time for Summer)

how to clean an ac filter

Did you know you can save on your heating and cooling bills by cleaning your AC filter?

Central and outdoor air conditioning units rely on filters to circulate fresh, clean air throughout your home.

Clogged filters can force your unit to work harder. You may find yourself leaving your unit on for longer stretches of time, too, and at maximum cooling.

This can result in costly, inefficient cooling of your home. By cleaning your air conditioning filters regularly, your wallet and the environment will thank you!

Ready to take your AC filter cleaning into your own hands? Keep reading for your guide on how to clean an AC filter.

When Should You Clean Your AC Filter?

First things first, when should you clean your AC filter?  

This depends on the air conditioning unit itself. Small room air conditioners, for example, require filter cleaning every thirty days for maximum efficiency.

Central air conditioners, directly linked to a home’s heating and cooling system, don’t require as frequent filter cleaning. We recommend that homeowners clean their central AC filters once every 6-12 months.

Outdoor air conditioner filters should be cleaned once a year, preferably in early spring. This is because most outdoor AC units collect a lot of debris over the winter and require proper cleaning before warmer months set in.

You may also want to clean your outdoor air conditioner filters at the end of a cooling season (such as in early fall).

Of course, different AC models may require more strict maintenance. Consult your AC unit’s manual for specifics or contact local professionals

How to Clean an AC Filter

Cleaning your air conditioner filter may seem daunting at first. However, the steps are relatively simple! 

1. Shut Off Power

This is the most important step. Be sure to turn off your air conditioning unit’s power before you proceed with cleaning.

The “off” switch should be located near the condenser unit itself. For most units, this is an obvious switch that can be toggled to OFF. Other units may require a manual unplugging of the condenser itself.

If you are cleaning a room air conditioning unit, simply turn the unit off by pressing the power button, typically located on the unit itself.

If you are cleaning an outdoor air conditioning unit, be sure to also turn off your home’s thermostat. 

2. Locate Your AC Unit Filter

A lot of homeowners struggle to identify where the filter is located on their air conditioning unit, particularly central air conditioning units. If needed, refer to your unit’s manual.

Otherwise, if you have a horizontal air conditioning unit, the filter is often in the unit’s intake slot. This is where the air returns. 

Vertical air conditioning units typically have filters directly beneath them, also in a slot. 

Some air conditioning units require you to remove a metal grating to access the filter. This is often the case for outdoor air conditioning units.

3. Remove Obvious Debris

If you are cleaning an outdoor air conditioning unit, remove any obvious debris. This may be leaves, twigs, dirt, or other detritus. If possible, wear gloves to avoid injury.

Room air conditioners aren’t likely to have debris, but they may still have accumulated some dust.

4. Remove and Assess the Filter

Remove the filter by seizing and firmly lifting up and away from the unit. Set it down on a counter or a tarp and inspect it for clogging and damage.

Most AC unit filters will simply be clogged with dust and dirt. Others, however, may be damaged in some way. If you see any obvious signs of wear, such as ripping, rust, or broken components, you will likely need to replace the filter itself.

5. Cleaning Time

If your AC unit filter is reusable and washable, it’s cleaning time! We strongly recommend referring to your manufacturer’s manual to follow proper cleaning procedures.

Most filters can be cleaned with some warm tap water and dish soap. Use your fingers to work the soap into the wire grating. Rinse and gently scrub until you have removed all dirt and dust.

If you’re having trouble removing any dirt, try sprinkling a bit of baking soda onto the area. 

You may also want to clean your filter in a bathroom tub or with a garden hose. 

Can’t tell if your filter is reusable? Reusable filters generally have rubber edging and wire mesh. Disposable filters tend to be made of paper.

6. Let It Dry

After cleaning your air conditioner filter, let it dry for 8-10 hours. This is essential, as many filters have fine wire meshing. Don’t scrub at filters with a cloth or paper towel, as this can actually clog the filter.

The best way to dry your filter is to place it in natural sunlight.

Of course, this does mean going without your AC unit for a short period of time! You may be tempted to run your unit anyways, but don’t do this. Running a filterless AC unit can be dangerous and ineffective.

7. Clean the Condenser Fins

If your unit has condenser fins, exterior metal grating, be sure to clean these too. This will ensure maximum cooling efficiency. 

You can easily clean these simply by using a vacuum. Make sure to use your vacuum’s attachment, preferably a brush attachment to prevent damage.

Be cautious when vacuuming, as you don’t want to bend or break any of the fins.

After vacuuming, gently hose down the fins to remove additional debris.

Final Thoughts

There you have it: your complete guide to how to clean an AC filter!

Remember that AC units come in all shapes, models, and makes. Always refer to your unit’s manufacturer manual to ensure you are cleaning your unit’s filter appropriately.

Cleaning your AC unit filter regularly can also ensure efficient cooling of your home. This can save you money on home expenses in the long run.

Of course, cleaning a filter can be time-consuming, especially with more complex units. If your unit requires time-intensive cleaning and repair, it’s always a good idea to contact professionals.

At City Home Comfort, we love helping our customers cool their homes safely. Learn more about our AC services here!

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City Home Comfort is a family-owned and operated company that has been serving the Greater Toronto Area since 1981. We offer 24-hour service, 365 days of the year with fully-trained, licensed and insured technicians for all residential and commercial needs and applications.

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