Home & Garden

Your air conditioner is full of mold and bugs—here's how to clean it

It can get gross in there.

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What You Need:

• An air conditioner

• Vinegar

• Baking soda

• Two washcloths

• Screwdriver

Time Needed

25-45 minutes




Wherever you find water, you find life. Unfortunately for you, that life can take the form of mildew, mold, bacteria, and insects in your home. You probably know that you need to clean your shower curtain, your washer, and your sponges because they get wet. However, did you know that your air conditioner is a breeding ground for all sorts of nastiness? Your A/C creates a ton of condensation, meaning it can be harboring disease, insects, and mold. Here’s how to keep your window and portable A/C units clean and running more efficiently.

1. Unplug the unit

Unplug the unit
Credit: Reviewed / Jonathan Chan

Always unplug the unit before working on it.

Probably the last thing you want to happen on a hot day is to get burned by electricity.

2. Remove and clean the filter

Wash the filter
Credit: Reviewed / Jonathan Chan

A combination of baking soda and water can help eliminate odors form the filter.

The filter is located at the front of the unit. Most of the time they just slide right out. Gently vacuum the screen to remove dust and large debris with the dusting brush. If you detect any odor, run a mixture of baking soda and water over the screen. Do not put the filter in the dishwasher.

3. Remove the casing

Remove the casing
Credit: Reviewed / Jonathan Chan

To clean the inside, you need to remove the casing.

Most of the mold and mildew grow inside the air conditioning unit, so remove the outer casing to get access. The casing is typically held together by four or five screws. If you’re hunting down that last screw, try removing the front panel.

4. Mop up excess water

Wipe down the evaporator
Credit: Reviewed / Jonathan Chan

The evaporator coils are found near where the cold air comes out. Wipe them down with a mixture of water and vinegar to kill microbes.

A maze of tubes will greet you when you remove the casing. The front of the unit is called the evaporator. This is where the dripping noises come from because water drains into a pan at the base of the unit. Mop up any standing moisture to help prevent mold from developing. Then, wipe down the tubes and pan with a mixture of water and vinegar to help kill microbes.

5. Dust off the fans

Your air conditioner has a fan in the front and the back. If the fans collect too much dust, they start to have issues blowing cold air into your home and the hot air outside. Dust the fans with a microfiber cloth.

6. Wipe down the condenser coils

Wipe down the condensers
Credit: Reviewed / Jonathan Chan

The condensers are typically found at the bottom or back of the unit.

Use the same vinegar mix to clean the series of tubes, or condenser coils, in the back.

7. Put it all back together

Hopefully, you haven’t lost those screws from earlier! After putting everything back together, turn on the unit to dry everything off. The air coming out should smell fresh and clean.

How often should you clean your air conditioner?

At the minimum, we think you should clean your A/C unit at the beginning and end of each season. This is to get rid of any mold or mildew that has grown while the unit is inactive or in storage. You should also clean your filter whenever your unit starts producing a bad smell. If the odor persists, then you should move to clean the interior.

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