Clean your Air Conditioner Condenser to Save Money

One easy way to save money on your summer electric bills is to make sure that your air conditioner’s condenser is free of debris. Most people don’t pay any attention to the yearly buildup of yard waste on the their condenser’s coil fins.

All that built-up gunk inhibits the air flow through the coils, which is needed to cool the warmed refrigerant from within your house. When the coils are obstructed the condenser works harder, which increases your electric bill!

Having recently purchased our home, we had no idea about the maintenance history of our air conditioner condenser. That said, it only took a glance to see all the accumulated dirt on the coil fins.

Here are the steps I took to clean our condenser for improved energy efficiency.

First, Know your Make and Model Permalink

Before embarking on this task, find the make and model of your air conditioner. Then do a quick search on the internet to (hopefully) find a blog post or YouTube video that’s specifically about the unit you own, which should be preferable to my post (even though my post is pretty good!).

If you’re looking at my photos and thinking, “Gee, my air conditioner condenser looks awfully similar,” you may have a Goodman CKL30-1L, which is what I have.

The Tools I Used Permalink

I used the following supplies and tools to complete this task:

  • Cable ties to secure the wires from the fan to the dual run capacitor and relay
  • Sheet metal screws to replace the very rusted ones
  • Putty knife to straighten bent coil fins
  • Socket wrench to unscrew the screws
  • Screw driver to likewise unscrew the screws
  • Needle-nose pliers to remove old cable tie
  • Condenser fin comb to straighten the bent fins
  • Knee saver foam mat because I spent a lot of time either sitting or kneeling
  • Shop-Vac to vacuum all the accumulated debris from the unit
  • Ear muffs because hearing loss is cumulative
  • Hose with nozzle attachment to wash the condenser coils from the inside-out.

Don’t Electrocute Yourself Permalink

Before starting be sure to cut the power to your condenser. You can do that at the circuit breaker or the service disconnect, which is near your unit in a water-resistant metal box.

If you chose the service disconnect you’ll need to pull the disconnect block out by the handle and set it aside.

Remove the Condenser Lid Permalink

The condenser lid is above the cover, so I had to remove it first. I initially used my ratcheting screwdriver, but later switched to a socket wrench after wrangling with one too many rusted and stripped sheet metal screws.

There are eight screws that need removal.

Disconnect Wires to Fan Permalink

One impediment to accessing the coil fins is the fan, which hangs from the underside of the lid. It’s connected to the dual run capacitor and relay via wires brown, purple, and black.

To remove the condenser lid you need to disconnect the wires. And to access the wires you’ll need to remove the side panel to the unit. There are five screws to remove.

Take Photos of Wires Before Disconnecting Permalink

I am no HVAC specialist, so I took photos of the wires and their connections before I disconnected them.

Feed Disconnected Wires into Condenser Permalink

Once you gently jiggle free the wires you should feed them into the unit so that you can remove the lid.

Take Off Fan and Set Aside Permalink

The lid and fan are off the unit and set aside for cleaning.

Remove Yard Debris from Inside Unit Permalink

I discovered several inches of leaves, grass clippings, and dirt, which I scooped out with my gloved hands. May you have a cleaner interior to your condenser unit!

Unscrew Bottom Screws Permalink

The next step was to remove all the bottom screws. My socket wrench made quick work of them.

I pulled off the flexible cover and placed it on the patio bricks for cleaning.

Years of Accumulated Debris Permalink

As you can see I had a lot of gunk on my coil fins. I am unsure the last time anyone cleaned the condenser unit.

Oh Shop-Vac How I Love Thee Permalink

My first pass with the Shop-Vac was without an attachment. I went gently side-to-side to not further bend the coil fins. Only on my second pass did I use the brush attachment. My goal was to remove as much dust and dirt as possible before hosing down the coils with water.

Post-Vacuum Photos of Condenser Permalink

Hose Out Condenser and Cover Permalink

I neglected to take any photos when I washed the condenser unit with water. You’ll want to take a hose with nozzle attachment and direct your spray from the inside of the unit to the outside. Take care not to get any of the electric parts wet.

Straighten the Bent Condenser Fins Permalink

Condensers run more efficiently when their metal fins are straight because it allows for more air to cool the coils. Mine weren’t in too bad shape, but there were still areas that could use some straightening. I used a fin comb tool that came with twelve different settings. In my case I needed the 18 FPI (fins per inch) setting.

I found that using the handle felt awkward and eventually I switched to just using the comb with a gloved hand, so that I didn’t inadvertently cut myself. I also found that some areas were beyond repair and my attempts to straighten them actually made them worse. You might want to slowly ease into the more bent areas lest you further damage them as I did.

Reconnect the Wires Permalink

Once the unit is dry and you’ve straightened out any bent coil fins (I used my putty knife), then you’ll want to put everything back together again, including the wires.

I replaced all the rusted sheet metal screws with new ones and put a new zip tie around the wires.

A Reassembled and Clean Condenser Permalink

Leave a Reply