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How to Clean Your Condenser Coils and Clear Condensate Drain

7/18/2015

Valerie Johannsen
Valerie Johannsen People & Brand Manager

Your air conditioning unit requires regular maintenance for the system to function correctly. Learn two essential air conditioning maintenance tasks you should be doing to keep your a/c running at peak performance – cleaning your condenser coils and clearing your condensate drain.

Here’s what you need to do to keep your A/C working through the summer:

1. Clean Your A/C Condenser Coils

Outdoor condenser coils can also become very dirty if the outdoor environment is dusty or if there is foliage nearby. You can easily see the air conditioner condenser coil and notice if dirt is collecting on its fins.

How to Clean AC Coils

  • Before starting your condenser coil cleaning project, turn off your air conditioner at its source – the breaker panel or circuit breaker from the access panel or electrical panel. Either flip the breaker switch or pull out the fuse to disconnect power. If you’re not sure, schedule an appointment with our certified electricians to help you locate your electrical panel and learn how to safety turn it on and off.
  • The best way to minimize dirt and debris near the condenser unit is by cleaning the area around the coil, removing any debris and trimming foliage back at least 24 inches provides adequate airflow around the air conditioner/condenser unit.
  • After removing all of the debris, you can use your simple garden hose (with some pressure) to wash off the remaining dirt and debris, such as from lawn mower clippings and dryer vents. When you are done washing your outdoor heat pump down, you can turn the power back on. However, keep the power off if you are going to clear your condensate lines (keep reading!)
  • No need to dry off the unit; it will dry naturally.

By cleaning your AC condenser coils, you won’t have to worry about your unit overheating during these hot summer months.

We also recommend that you consider shading your unit with a strategically placed tree to save even more on your air conditioning bill.

2. Adjust Your Coil Fins

While cleaning your outdoor heat pump, you may have noticed some bent coils in your AC unit. In addition to the dirt and debris around your unit, bent condenser coil fins reduce airflow, making your unit run harder and longer than it has to.

Luckily, there is a useful tool called a “fin comb” that you can use to straighten out the coils. Before you purchase one, measure how many fins there are per inch on your unit.

How to Fix AC Coil Fins

A fin comb, also known as a coil fin tool, is a specialty tool used to straighten the bent fins of a condensing unit for an air conditioning or heat pump system. You will find the aluminum coil fins on central air conditioning system condensing units or window air conditioner condensing units. The aluminum fins are made of delicate thin gauge metal and can get damaged by tree limbs or sticks, hail, high-pressure power washing, and other factors.

  • First, shut off the power to your air conditioner at the electrical panel in your home. Then, you should remove the panel to the indoor unit and the wire grille to the outdoor unit.
  • Next, remove the sheet metal screws, so you can lift off the outdoor unit’s fan and grille. Then, remove the evaporator coil’s front cover plate.
  • Fin tools are sold with interchangeable heads that can comb and straighten evaporator and condenser coils. You’ll need to match the heads with how many fins per inch are found in your system.
  • Start at the bottom of the condenser fins and move carefully upward to straighten them. With the evaporator fins, use the fin comb to straighten the coils after cleaning, as they can sometimes bend by brushing. The fin comb also helps remove hard-to-get-at dirt.

3. Clear Your Clogged AC Drain Line

If your AC drain line is clogged, it can keep your air conditioner from effectively reducing humidity levels and can result in discolored walls and carpets.

If your indoor air handler has standing or overflowing water in its condensate drain pan, learn how to unclog your condensate line with a wet/dry vac or stiff wire/surgical tubing.

How to Unclog Condensate Drain Line

You can prevent a clogged AC drain by performing routine cleaning of your condensate drain line. By pouring a ¼ cup of vinegar into your AC’s drain line, you will kill any mold, algae, mildew, and other forms of bacteria or fungi, preventing it from forming a buildup and causing a clog. Repeat this monthly for the best results.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to clean your drain line with vinegar and keep everything operating at peak performance.

  • Step 1. Turn off your air conditioner. Turn the system off at the thermostat as well as at the circuit breaker or electrical panel.
  • Step 2. Locate your condensate drain line. Your drain line is a PVC pipe located near your outdoor unit and is attached to the wall of your house.
  • Step 3. Identify the access point on the drain line. Most drain lines will have a T-shaped vent tee with a cover or cap. Remove the cap at the top of the drain and inspect for blockage.
  • Step 4. Flush with distilled vinegar. Add ¼ cup of distilled vinegar to the drain line through the opening where the cap was removed. It’s recommended you use regular distilled white vinegar, as the increased acidity boosts its cleaning properties. If you find the smell of vinegar foul or bothersome, you can also use peroxide or hot water and a dash of dish soap.
  • Step 5. Let the solution sit for 30 minutes. Flush the pipe out with water to ensure everything is flowing freely and operating as it should.
  • Step 6. Repeat each month. Kill any harmful bacteria or buildup and make sure your system continues to operate at peak performance by cleaning your drain line every 30 days

For more detailed instructions for clearing your condensate drain, read these instructions by American Home Shield.

HVAC Professionals

When your air conditioner needs more than regular AC maintenance, hire a professional HVAC service technician. It is highly recommended that you schedule professional HVAC maintenance at least once a year. This will ensure that all potential problems are caught early, which will save you a lot on repairs and replacements in the future.

Professional HVAC maintenance also ensures that your manufacturer’s warranty remains in effect. The expert technicians at Service Legends will find and fix problems in your air conditioning system. We go through an extensive air conditioning maintenance checklist.

If your Air Conditioner breaks down ONE FULL YEAR after one of our A/C Tune-Ups… we will not only refund the cost of your tune-up, We WILL fix it for FREE!!!

Now that you have been made aware of these popular myths, you can adjust your home cooling methods to be more cost-effective and energy-efficient.


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Let us help you stay safe and comfortable indoors. From installation and repair to maintenance and more, it’s easy to see why Service Legends is Des Moines’ top residential contractor. It’s safe to say we’ve earned a Ph.D. in keeping you comfy. We’re waiting to hear from you – reach out today!

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