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How To Clean Your Air Conditioning Compressor Fins

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If you have a central air conditioning unit, then it is wise to maintain the appliance properly so you can get the most out of the device in the summer.  Maintenance includes regular checks with a professional, and it also includes proper cleaning at least once a year.  Air filter changes and general scrubbing of the outside cover can help to keep your air conditioner clean, but you also need to clear out the interior.  Specifically, the condenser fins need to be cleared of debris.  This fins collect dirt, leaves, dust, and pollen as air is pulled into the unit.  This debris can cause clogs and it can also force the motor and fans to work harder.  To clean the fins properly, follow the tips below.

Prepare for Cleaning

Before you can clean the interior fins of the air conditioning compressor, you need to make sure that electricity no longer runs to the unit.  Many outdoor air conditioning units are considered self-starting, and this means they are plugged in permanently to an outdoor outlet.  A weather resistant power block is often used for this purpose or an on/off switch will be located underneath the outlet cover.  Flip the switch or remove the power block.  

If you do not know where the air conditioner is plugged in, then flip the breaker that controls the electricity flowing to the device.  Central air conditioning units use between about 3,000 and 5,000 watts of electricity every hour.  This amount of electrical usage often means that it is wired to its own breaker, and the breaker should be labeled in your breaker box so you can turn it off.

After you turn off the electricity, make sure that it is about 55 or 60 degrees Fahrenheit out before you start working on the air conditioner.  You should turn the unit on after the cleaning is complete to make sure it works properly.  You should not turn your air conditioner on if it is too cold outside though.  The coolant in the unit must drop about 20 degrees lower than the desired temperature in your home.  If this temperature is too low, then the fluids can freeze and damage the unit.

Start the Cleaning Process

Once you have prepared to start cleaning, find the attachments that keep the outside cover secured over the compressor.  Either screws or bolts are used to keep the cover attached.  A Philips-head screwdriver or a socket wrench can be used to remove them.  Once the cover is removed, look for signs of rust or debris across the inside of it.  Wipe away dirt with a cloth and clean rust with vinegar.  The acetic acid in the vinegar dissolves the oxidation and forces it from the metal.  Once the rust loosens, use a damp cloth to whisk it away.

After the cover is cleaned, plug in your home vacuum cleaner or your wet and dry vacuum.  Attach the soft-bristled dusting attachment to the end of the hose and gently suck up the debris from the exposed metal compressor fins.  Do not use much pressure, because the aluminum fins can bend easily.  If any sticks or other types of debris appear stuck between the fins, then remove them with the help of a pair of needle-nose pliers.

If you do manage to bend the air conditioner compressor fins, then use a butter knife to gently push them back into position.  If large sections of the fins are bent, then speak with your local HVAC contractor to see if you can purchase a fin comb.  This comb features multiple prongs that are evenly spaced across the edge so that several compressor fins can be readjusted at one time.

If you have a central air conditioner, then maintenance is important to keep the appliance running smoothly.  Some simple air conditioning repair maintenance tasks you can complete on your own, and cleaning the compressor fins is one of them.