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Your air conditioner is totally disgusting—here’s how to clean it


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Sorry, Drake, but by the time June 1 rolls around there’s one thing in the world that I do love more than my bed and my mama: My air conditioner.

When summer temps spike, all I want to do is park it in front of my window unit—at least in the hours when I’m not lying on the beach or sipping a cocktail on a rooftop. There’s one problem, though: Most of us (#me) are guilty of forgetting to treat our ACBFFs—that’s “air conditioning best friends” for the uninitiated—with as much love as they treat us with.

As in, we never, ever clean them—or at least, we don’t clean them often enough. Here’s why this is important: According to experts, mold, mildew, and dust particles can park it in your AC in the months when you’re not using them and once you turn it on, you could be dispersing those nasties into the air you’re breathing in. What’s more: When your filter becomes too clogged, you might actually be blocking cool air from entering your home. Yowza!

In an SOS moment, I called up the team at Angie’s List about the best practices for cleaning your AC. Thankfully, keeping ’em clean actually isn’t as hard, scary, or overwhelming as it sounds. Here’s your game plan.

Keep reading for how to clean your AC.

Living room
Photo: GettyImages/Jodie Johnson

For a central air unit

  1. First things first: Make sure the power is shut off.
  2. Then, start by cleaning the air conditioner condenser (the outside component of your central AC system) with a vacuum hose and the soft bristle attachment. The fans are what are in charge of actually bringing air into the unit, so make sure you clear away any dirt, debris, or leaves, which can mess with the airflow.
  3. Once your condenser is nice and clean, you can move on to the interior of your AC unit. Unscrew the fan and move it aside to access the interior. Use that same vacuum hose to remove any larger debris that might be blocking this.
  4. Remove the air filter, then carefully use a narrow vacuum attachment to clean it out.
  5. Finally, replace the air filter with a new, good quality one. Finish by replacing all the parts securely and flicking your AC back on.

For a window unit

  1. Just like a central AC system, you want to make sure you turn off the power (or just unplug it) before cleaning.
  2. Remove the front plate, then vacuum the coils using a soft brush attachment. Dirty or damaged coils can reduce your AC unit’s efficiency, which means less cool air for you.
  3. Window AC units collect water in a drain pan at their base. Check this drain pan for rust or algae and check the drain pipe for any blockages and clean them out or replace them if needed.
  4. Finally, make sure that the unit’s filter is in good shape. If it appears damaged or considerably dirty, replace it with a filter specifically meant for your window unit.

Et voilà! Cool, clean air for all.

By the way, if you’re in a cleaning frenzy, lemons are a great tool at your disposal and this is the busy woman’s guide to getting it done quick.

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