Every year homeowners across America begin to prepare for summer by firing up their AC unit. While these cooling systems come in many shapes and forms, you need to keep them in excellent condition if you want to stay cool and comfortable throughout the year.
There are several parts of your system you’ll need to keep clean, but among them, the coils are the most critical. In this guide, we’re going to talk about the different types of coil cleaners available and provide you with some expert tips that will make maintenance a breeze.
- AC Coils Explained
- The Importance of Keeping your Coils Clean
- Perform a Visual Inspection
- DIY or Hire a Pro
- Tools of the Trade
- How to Clean A/C Coils
- How to find the Best AC Coil Cleaner
- The Best AC Coil Cleaners
AC Coils Explained
Air conditioning and HVAC systems seem complicated to most homeowners, which can make maintenance challenging. It can also be costly every time you need to call in a professional. Cleaning the AC coils doesn’t have to be difficult; however, once you understand where they are and what they actually do.
Air conditioners use refrigerant to cool your home, and components inside your unit convert refrigerant from gas to liquid form. While the compressor is a key component, it works with the condenser coil, where it converts refrigerant from a gas to liquid. From there, the liquid encounters another type of coil that lives up to its namesake – the evaporator coil.
When the liquid gets to the evaporator coil, it evaporates while cooling down the coil. A fan blows across that cold coil, which cools your home, but the hot evaporated gas heads back towards the compressor. The heat is released outside while the refrigerant goes back to a liquid state, and the process begins again.
While that’s just a simple explanation behind the process, those coils are a vital component, and something you need to keep clean for a wide variety of reasons.
The Importance of Keeping your Coils Clean
Coils inside of an AC unit can become grimy over time or fairly quickly, depending on several factors. You have to worry about dust getting pulled into the system and debris on the outside as well. It’s not uncommon for homeowners to find grass, leaves, or other debris stuck to the outside of their system near the condenser coils. This will bog your system down and, which isn’t ideal when you’re trying to cool off.
Anything that can block or impede the airflow inside your system can cause components to overheat, which in turn can result in failures. That’s just on the outside of your AC unit, however, as the inner coil can cause plenty of problems on its own when not properly maintained.
From frozen coils and leaks to unpleasant odors, the inner and outer coils are components you will not want to overlook. Keeping the coils clean will keep your energy bills down and ensures your system is running in peak condition at all times. That’s where the best AC coil cleaner comes in handy, but first, you’ll want to perform a visual inspection to see how dirty or accessible the coils on your system are.
Perform a Visual Inspection
The first step to checking the coils is to simply walk outside. The condenser coil is easy to find on any type of system as its outside and usually visible through slots and a breeze to access in most cases. It is usually prone to the most damage as well, unfortunately.
If it’s close to ground level, check for any small sticks other debris from yard work or Mother Nature. Pieces of plastic and grass clippings are common and can clog a system up quickly. While debris may be easy to remove on some systems, you will still need to have a few tools on hand along with some condenser coil cleaner. If it’s a window-based system, you might not even need to remove it.
With the evaporator coil, dirt and dust are usually the main problems along with the build-up of grime in if you haven’t kept your unit maintained. Unfortunately, it can be challenging to get to as it all comes down to the type of system it is. You will probably have to remove an access panel to get a look at the coils or climb into an attic or crawl space if you are dealing with a split level system.
While checking the condenser and evaporator coil, you may notice other problems with your system that require attention. If that’s the case or you can’t access your coils, it’s time to consider calling in a pro instead of cleaning the coils yourself.
DIY or Hire a Pro
After a visual inspection or if you don’t want to deal with accessing the inner coils, you may want to consider hiring a professional. That can be a tall task depending on where you reside, the type of system you have in your home, and your budget.
Before considering a pro, it’s important to understand the cost of cleaning coils yourself. Aside from coil cleaner, you will need a few tools, although most are the type you can find in any homeowner’s toolbox. Between cleaner and any tools you may need to acquire, you can expect to spend anywhere between $30 to $100 to clean both coils.
While that may seem like a fair deal, if you can’t get a panel off or run into issues, you will have to call in a professional regardless. The same goes for coils that are too dirty for traditional methods and need a deep cleaning. In those cases, using someone that understands HVAC systems is the best choice, although finding the right person for the job could be tricky.
When you turn to the web or popular handyman services, you’ll quickly find that there is no official job title for coil cleaners. It’s a service that may be offered by some HVAC companies, but you can also hire a trustworthy individual to get the job done if it’s only a light-duty cleaning and nothing else is wrong with your system.
To hire someone that can clean your coils, you’ll want to ask for references and always get more than one estimate. While you may get the most affordable or best person first, more often than not, it pays to have several people give you a quote. On that note, many people that do this type of work may charge for an estimate, but you will also pay for a service call when using an HVAC company.
When hiring a pro or an individual, you can expect to pay between $50 to $150 for a coil cleansing. Again, the pricing will vary by location and the people available in your area that actually clean AC coils. If you would like to get a quote for a professional coil cleaning in your area, check out our quote tool.
Tools of the Trade
There aren’t many tools required to clean coils, but it all starts with a screwdriver. While it’s possible to remove covers by hand, a screwdriver with the proper bit will save you a lot of time. If the bolts or screws have never been removed, you may have a difficult time getting to the evaporator coil without a corded or cordless drill.
There are countless options to choose from if you don’t already own a screwdriver or drill, and any powered model will work if you choose the latter. Finding the right bit can be tough, however, which is why we suggest picking up a screwdriver bit set. There are hundreds of options to choose from there as well, but we’re fans of this 45 piece bit set from DeWalt if you are simply dealing with screws.
Once you have a tool that allows you to access the coils, you’re halfway home. If you think you just need to perform a quick cleaning, skip ahead to our buying guide, but you may want to consider a coil brush and fin comb first. These handy little tools can help you clean or straighten any bent fins on your system – something you are bound to encounter eventually.
The only other tool that could be of use if you plan to clean your coils yourself yearly would be a coil gun sprayer. It’s not suitable for some types of cleaner but will speed things up thanks to its design and a quick connect system. Gloves, a water hose, and cleaner are also required, and you could need a ladder as well, depending on the layout of your system.
How to Clean A/C Coils
Now it’s time to talk about the actual cleaning process for both the condenser and evaporator coil. Keep in mind, these are just the basic steps and may vary to a degree depending on the type of HVAC system installed in your home.
How to Clean Condenser Coils
Before beginning, it’s important to shut off the power to your unit. Whether that involves pulling a box or flipping a breaker or switch – make sure the power is off before you begin cleaning your AC unit.
For the condenser coil, you should be able to visibly see any debris that could potentially affect your unit. This includes weeds or tall grass growing around the pad or exterior. For debris stuck to the system, you can use a coil brush. While tempting, don’t attempt to use a paintbrush or anything that may damage the coils as a quality coil brush is not expensive.
Once the debris has been removed, it’s a good time to inspect the fins for damage. Break out your fin comb and remove any additional debris that may be hiding in those fins on the outside. Once you’re happy with your work, it’s time to grab your bottle of coil cleaner. The steps may vary depending on the solution you buy, so just follow the manufacturer’s directions accordingly.
When the condenser coils are clean, it’s a good idea to inspect them again for damage or bent fins. If everything is on par, your system should be ready to go. Again, depending on the type of system you have, you may have to remove the fan or other parts, so you may still need to bring in a professional. If your cleaning had little to no impact, consider bringing in a pro as well.
How to Clean Evaporator Coils
With the evaporator coil, things can get messy, especially if it’s never been cleaned. You’ll still need to kill the power to your unit before beginning and pick up evaporator coil cleaner, which we’ll touch on in our guide below.
The main thing to remember with evaporator coils is they can be difficult to access, and you need to be careful not to bend or damage the fins if they are extremely gummed up. You’ll want to use eye protection as well and set aside some time as the evaporator coil will take longer to clean, and you’ll need to be cautious of the drain line and drip pan.
While it’s possible to clean the evaporator coil yourself without any problems, because of the location of the coil, it may be easier to bring in an HVAC professional or someone with experience cleaning coils. This video will give you a better idea of what to expect if you plan to clean the evaporator coil yourself.
How to find the Best AC Coil Cleaner
If you’ve decided that you want to clean your own coils, you should have a good idea of what lies ahead from our guide. The only thing we haven’t discussed is the one thing you can’t clean coils without – coil cleaner. This type of cleaner is a specialty product, so there aren’t as many options to choose from in comparison to other products.
That means it mainly comes down to finding a safe product that’s easy to use more often than not. While most coil cleaners share more similarities than differences, there are several things you’ll want to consider before settling on a brand or cleaner.
What type of coils do you have?
Remember what we said about sometimes it’s easier to call in a pro? Well, there are two styles of coils used in today’s HVAC systems, and cleaners geared towards each type. Microchannel coils are sturdier, smaller, and more efficient than standard fin coils.
These unique coils can be found on both the condenser and the evaporator. There are unique cleaning formulas geared for these coils, which will make them easier to clean. You can use standard coil cleaner as well, but knowing what types of coils your system has will help you down the road as well.
Types of Coil Cleaner
AC coil cleaners fall into two main categories with cleaners that come in an aerosol spray cans and cleaner that typically comes in 1-gallon jugs. There are cleaners that foam and ones that don’t require rinsing as well, but all are either sold in a jug or aerosol can.
Where things can get confusing is that you’ll see some products billed for use on evaporator coils while others are designed for a condenser. On half those products, when you read the fine print, you’ll find that it’s suitable for both, and some cleaners can be used on a variety of other products as well. That includes appliances in your kitchen or vehicle.
Whenever you are using cleaning products of any kind, it pays to be cautious, or you could harm yourself or objects around the item you intend to clean. Most coil cleaners manufactured today are considerably safer than the ones produced a decade ago, so it’s not uncommon to find cleaners deemed as biodegradable.
If you need to clean coils in a kitchen or anywhere around an area where food will be prepared, look for products that are USDA certified. While most companies are clear about those certifications, you may have to check the back of the can if it’s not listed in the product’s description. As most companies have a line of coil cleaners, they may have a particular line of products that are USDA certified.
Capacity vs. Cost
Everyone loves a deal. It doesn’t matter if you live in the United States or New Zealand; most homeowners like to save money. With products like cleaners, that is generally tied to capacity, and that’s the case with HVAC coil cleaners.
Buying a gallon of cleaner may seem like a good deal, especially given the shelf life of these types of products. Well, how often are you actually going to clean your coils? If it’s your first attempt, it’s better to purchase a smaller quantity, or it could be a purchase you come to regret rather quickly.
Unless you are sold on a brand beforehand, choosing a smaller capacity allows you to see if you like a product before you commit. That’s ideal when you’re not sure precisely what you are looking for, but will could you more in the long run unless your coils aren’t very dirty, to begin with.
Aerosol cans are generally 16 to 18 ounces in our experience. You can purchase single cans, but may save money for a double-pack. Spray cleaners are available for both the evaporator and condenser, although typically only used on traditional coils and not microchannel coils.
If you prefer gallons to aerosol cans, there are far more options available. Aside from a few companies with 5-gallon pails, most are sold in 1-gallon jugs. You will have to pay more upfront, however, for something that will only be used seasonally in most cases.
The Best AC Coil Cleaners
When looking for the best HVAC coil cleaner, you’ll quickly find that most products have a lot in common. The color and name may be different along with the price point, but what’s inside the bottle is quite similar. With that in mind, here are our picks for the best coil cleaners for condensers or evaporators.
1. Nu-Calgon Evap Foam Evaporator Coil Cleaner
Nu-Calgon is a name you’ll want to familiarize yourself with if you plan on maintaining your HVAC unit without professional help. The company produces a range of consumer-friendly and commercial products, including evaporator and condenser coil cleaner.
Nu-Calgon’s Evap foaming coil cleaner is an evaporator coil cleaner. It’s a no rinse coil cleaner, which cuts down on potential messes, and while you can use it on any coil, it’s designed specifically for the evaporator coil. The foaming coil leaner will liquefy dirt and grease quickly, leaving your coils clean which makes your system more efficient.
This cleaner is biodegradable, and NSF certified as an aerosol, so it’s safe to use around food processing. It’s also lemon-scented, so odor won’t be an issue with this no rinse coil cleaner. The company has added additional corrosion inhibitors to this product as well, so you can use it to clean other metal or certain parts around your home.
Nu-Calgon’s Evap foaming coil cleaner is only available in one size with an 18-ounce aerosol can. You can spray it upside down, which is a bonus. We also like the fact it’s biodegradable and safe, so you can use it to clean coils in kitchens. The only downside is the price, as it’s not overly expensive, but there are more budget-friendly alternatives available.
- No-rinse solution
- Biodegradable and NSF certified
- Sprays upside down
- A little pricey compared to other brands
2. Frost King ACF19 Air Conditioner Coil Foam Cleaner
If you have ever purchased weather stripping or insulation for an outdoor pipe, there’s a strong possibility you’ve heard of Frost King. The company has been in business for close to 100 years, and they make a great all-around coil cleaner with their Frost King ACF19 product.
Billed as a heavy-duty coil cleaner, Frost King’s concoction will cut through grease and dirt like a hot knife through butter. This foam cleaner is water-based and contains no fluorinated or chlorinated solvents or CFCs. It can also be sprayed at any angle thanks to a 360-degree valve, a feature you’ll be thankful for when cleaning evaporator coils.
Frost King’s cleaning solution will work on “most coils,” according to the company. That includes ones found in both HVAC and window-based air conditioning systems along with fan blades, air filters, and automotive radiators. It’s also listed as a self-rinsing solution, so you don’t need water to rinse it from the coils, although you can use it if needed.
You’ll get a bit more cleaner from Frost King’s foaming coil cleaner at 19 ounces, but the biggest difference aside from what’s in the can is the price. You can almost buy three cans for the price of one from Nu-Calgon, which is significant considering both products have similar reviews from homeowners and contractors alike.
- Self-rinsing solution
- 360-degree valve
- Affordable price point
- Nothing significant
3. Nu-Calgon Tri-Pow’r HD Cleaner for Condensers
Our next pick from Nu-Calgon is called Tri-Pow’r HD. It’s designed for condensers compared to their Evap foam but can work on your system in three different ways. It can clean coils, degrease dirty parts, and freshen up the air in your system as well.
This non-acidic cleaner is safe for all types of metals, and ideal for air-cooled condensers along with evaporator coils. It has more cleaning power than their base product, which makes it an excellent option for systems that haven’t been touched in years. In addition to your AC coils, you can also use Tri-Pow’r HD on fan blades, motors, or anything else that needs to be cleaned or degreased.
The positive emulsion technology used in this product removes grime quickly and can be flushed away as its biodegradable. It’s also one of a handful of products that work wonders on microchannel systems, although it’s a solution you’ll need to mix, so it isn’t ready to go right out of a can. That’s a plus if you need to deep clean your AC unit, but not if you’re looking for something quick and easy for light-duty work.
While expensive, Tri-Pow’r HD is well worth the extra money if you have a grimy AC unit and need a product that can safely clean and deodorize your system. There is a 19-ounce aerosol version of the product as well, but you will get more bang for your buck with the concentrated version of this HVAC coil cleaner.
- Excellent cleaning power
- Degreases, deodorizes and cleans
4. ComStar 90-298 Coil Safe Coil Cleaner
Most of the products on our list aren’t overly expensive, but there is a significant price difference between some products. Comstar’s cleaner falls into the budget-friendly class, and it is one of the best AC coil cleaners if you are on a budget.
This is a pH neutral coil cleaner that’s safe to use indoors or out. The company claims it can restore heat transferring qualities back to 100% with a successful cleaning, and you’ll never even need to break out the garden hose. It’s a no rinse coil cleaner, but one you can dilute with between 3 to 10 parts water depending on how dirty your AC coils are.
Like most coil cleaners, ComStar’s product is safe to use. It’s listed as USDA certified for use around food or poultry. It’s safe on aluminum or copper and other metals but is also self-rinsing like all the best AC coil cleaning products. ComStar included inhibitors in their biodegradable cleaner to prevent metal fatigue as well.
ComStar’s Coil Safe cleaner won’t deodorize or leave a pleasant citrus smell behind, but it performs as advertised and certainly won’t break the bank. It’s the most affordable concentrate on our list, and as it’s a neutral pH product, it can also be used on other materials.
- The price tag
- USDA certified
- No-rinse formula
- Not as powerful as other cleaners
5. WEB Condenser Coil Cleaner
If you need to clean the condenser coils on your window-based AC unit or central system, WEB’s cleaner is an excellent option. It’s in the same price range as Frost King’s all-purpose coil cleaner, but made for use on the condenser coil in your AC unit.
This is another safe formula that’s biodegradable and comes in a “no fume” formula to keep the odors low while you are cleaning. It is a foaming coil cleaner, so you’ll get a lot of coverage from a can. You can also spray this AC coil cleaner from any direction because of the nifty 360-degree spray nozzle. While common on the best AC coil cleaners, it makes the job easier.
WEB’s cleaner isn’t designed to deodorized or degrease, but homeowners have been thrilled with its ability to clean up coils. The cans are 19 ounces, which should cover a standard-sized AC unit unless it’s incredibly dirty. The one significant difference between this product and others is the fact it’s a no-rinse formula, although easy to hose off as needed.
This is another affordable AC condenser coil cleaner and one that should be on your shopping list if you’re looking for something biodegradable to use on your unit. The only knock on this one is quality control, as we did notice some consumer complaints in regards to cans that didn’t spray or operate properly.
- Nice price point
- 360-degree nozzle
- Quality control
Q: Can I just use a pressure washer on my coils instead of buying a special cleaner?
A: No, it’s not recommended by most manufacturers and can damage your unit. Pressure washers, even on low pressure, can produce enough force to damage the delicate fins on your AC unit.
Q: Can I use evaporator coil cleaner on condenser coils as well?
A: In most cases, yes, it should not be an issue, but you’ll want to check the back of the bottle or product description beforehand.
Q: How long will it take to clean the coils in my HVAC system?
A: That all depends on the system and if you are cleaning one or both coils. For a full, thorough cleaning, you can expect to spend between 1.5 to 2 hours in most cases.
Q: Will a degreaser work in place of coil cleaner on air conditioning coils?
A: It will work to remove grease and some grime, but has to be safe for use with the metal in your system. It’s also no substitute for coil cleaners, which are specially formulized to safely remove dirt, grease, and dust from AC coils.
Q: How often should I use condenser coil cleaner on my system?
A: It’s recommended to clean the evaporator and condenser coils in your AC unit once a year for optimum efficiency. Depending on where your system is located, and the weather in your area, more frequent cleanings could be required or beneficial.