How to Clean a Window AC Without Removing it

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Installing a window AC is a quick and easy solution to keep a space in your home cool. But just like any other piece of equipment, window ACs need some cleaning to keep them running efficiently.

A window AC can get dirty pretty quickly—especially if you’re running it all day. So when it comes time to clean your window AC, removing that big bulky thing from your window is the last thing you want to do!

In this article, I’ll go over the steps and tools required to clean your window AC without removing it from your window. I’ll also go over the reasons why you should clean your window AC, and some tips and tricks to keep your window AC running in top shape.

Tools and supplies needed to clean your window AC

  • Philips-head screwdriver – Used for removing the grill and plastic frame from the window AC
  • Toothbrush – Used to scrub the AC grill, frame, coils, and filter
  • Spray bottle – Used to spray the cleaning solution on the window AC
  • Wet/dry vacuum (optional) – Used for sucking dust off of the coils, and for sucking dirty water out of the AC after you clean it
  • Coil cleaning solution (optional) – Used to clean excessively dirty coils

Steps to clean your window AC without removing it

1. Unplug window AC from the power outlet

First, turn off the window AC and unplug it from its power outlet. You don’t want to open up and work on the window AC while it’s still connected to power.

2. Remove and clean the grill from the front of the AC

The grill on the front of the window AC is built into a plastic frame. This frame extends around the front of the AC and encloses the air filter and control panel.

Start by removing the air filter from the grille. Put the air filter aside for now, since you’ll be cleaning it in the next step.

Remove the plastic frame from the window AC—most models use a few screws to hold the frame in place. After removing the screws, the grill and frame should pop out of the window AC.

After getting the grill off of the AC, remove the electronic control panel from the frame. The control panel is usually held in by a few screws, so remove those screws and the panel should pop out.

Next, inspect the grill for any grime and mold build-up. Take a look inside its nooks and crannies to find all the spots that you need to clean.

To clean the window AC’s grill, spray it down with a soapy water solution. Let the soap soak for 5-10 minutes and then begin scrubbing the grill.

I’ve found that a toothbrush works best for scrubbing the grill and front frame of a window AC. Be sure that you scrub off all the grime and mold from the grill so that none of it is left.

It’s also a good idea to spray the grill with a mild bleach and water solution after you’re done cleaning it. I recommend using a solution of 1 part bleach to 3 parts water. Let the bleach solution sit for 5-10 minutes to disinfect the grill.

Spraying a bleach solution on your grill kills the mold spores so they don’t grow back so quickly. After spraying the bleach solution on the grill, rinse it off with water.

3. Remove and clean the air filter

The air filter is the next step in cleaning your window AC.

To clean your window AC’s air filter, spray it down with water from the backside of the filter. The idea is to spray water through the clean side of the filter to dislodge the dust and debris from the dirty side.

If your air filter is severely dirty, then spray it with a soapy water solution and scrub it with a soft-tipped nylon brush (such as a toothbrush).

Rinse out the air filter with water after cleaning it with soap. After you’re done cleaning the air filter, allow it to completely dry before reinstalling it.

Clean the window AC air filter once per month

4. Clean the evaporator coils

The evaporator coils are the part of the window AC that gets cold. The evaporator coils are located directly behind the air filter. 

Unfortunately, the AC’s air filter is not perfect and lets some dust and particles pass by. These particles get stuck in the evaporator coils.

There are a few different methods that you can use to clean the evaporator coils:

  • Use a vacuum to suck the dust off of the coils
  • Use a coil cleaning spray to clean the dust off of the coils
  • Use a brush to scrub the dust off of the coils

I recommend using a combination of the above methods to get your window AC coils as clean as possible:

  1. First, use a vacuum to suck the first layer of dust off of the coils. Use hose-reducing attachments on your vacuum if you have them—you’ll get more suction from the vacuum hose.

  2. Next, use a coil cleaning spray on the coils to clean out the dust from the interior. After spraying down the coils, let the cleaning solution sit there for 15-20 minutes to let the foaming action do its job.

  3. Rinse the coils down by spraying them with water to get the coil cleaning solution off. Some coil cleaners say that they don’t need rinsing, but I like to rinse them off with water anyway, just to get the excess sludge off. Put a bucket or pan underneath your window AC to catch any runoff so it doesn’t get on your floor.

  4. After rinsing off your coils, inspect them to see if there are any parts that are still dirty. Use a toothbrush and more cleaning solution to clean off any troublesome areas. Remember to rinse with water after done.

One thing to note: While I recommend using a bleach and water solution to clean the plastic parts of the AC, do not use a bleach solution on any metal parts! Bleach will corrode metal, so keep it away from the evaporator coils.

My Pick
Nu-Calgon Evap Foam No Rinse Evaporator Coil Cleaner
This spray-on coil cleaner helps remove grime build-up from your AC's coils. Better yet, it doesn't require a rinse after you use it (but I still recommend rinsing anyway).
Check Price
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5. Clean the condenser coils

The condenser coils are the part of the window AC that gets hot. They are located outside of your home, and they are responsible for rejecting heat to the outside.

Condenser coils usually don’t get too dusty. But they are usually layered with dirt since they are outside.

Cleaning the condenser coils is a simple task. To clean your window AC’s condenser coils, spray it down with a water hose. Don’t worry about getting your window AC wet on the outside. A window AC is designed to get wet on the outside, so it’s perfectly safe to spray it with water.

If your condenser coils are excessively dirty, spray them down with a coil cleaning solution. Let the cleaning solution sit for 15-20 minutes before rinsing it off with water.

If you have bent fins on your condenser coils, now is a great time to straighten them out with a fin comb. Depending on the fin spacing, you’ll need a certain size of fin comb. I recommend using a Robinair Fin Straightener since it has many sizes included.

My Pick
Robinair Fin Straightener
This fin straightener has a rock-solid grip that makes it comfortable to repair your entire evaporator. It also has 6 different sizes, so you'll be ready to bend fins back no matter what their spacing is.
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Repair the damaged AC coil fins with a fin comb

One thing to note: Like the evaporator coils, the condenser coils are made of metal. So don’t use a bleach solution on the condenser coils.

6. Clean the condensate drain and drain pan

Cleaning a window AC’s condensate drain and drain pan is a tricky task if you can’t remove the window AC.

To clean a window AC’s condensate drain without removing it, begin by scrubbing out the drain. You need to remove any clogs from the condensate drain so it drains water freely. A screwdriver may be needed to dislodge any clogged debris from the condensate drain.

If your window AC has a drain hose, clean the drain hose out so it doesn’t have any clogs or grime build-up.

Next, use a water hose to spray out the condensate drain pan. If your window AC doesn’t have a condensate drain pan, then spray out the bottom of the window AC.

After spraying down the drain pan, make sure that all the excess water drains out. In newer models of window ACs, the drain pan may not fully drain since that water is used to splash on the condenser coil.

Why you should clean your window air conditioner

A clean window AC is more efficient

If you keep your window AC clean, it will save you money on your electricity bill. A clean window AC will have better airflow and more heat transfer—so your window AC won’t need to run as long to keep your room cool.

Cleaning your window AC helps you spot mold issues before they start

When you clean your window AC, you’re also taking a look inside of it. While you’re taking apart your window AC, you’ll be able to spot any mold issues. This gives you a chance to clean spots of mold before they get out of control.

Cleaning your window AC helps keep everything running smoothly so it won’t break down

If you keep your window AC clean, it won’t need to work as hard to cool your room. Keeping your AC clean helps prevent unexpected breakdowns.

Think of it this way—if you let your dirty AC strain itself every time it runs, it will eventually break down when you need it most! You can’t afford NOT to clean your AC!

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