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How to Clean Air Conditioning Filters

Maintaining any air conditioning system effectively requires a basic understanding of how it works. Because fresh air must be circulated through the condenser and evaporator coils, it is important that such air does not come mixed with dust or particulates. Most air conditioning filters are placed on the outside of the unit or along the return duct, scrubbing the source clean of any unwanted matter and offering your last line of defense against unwanted pollution. If they are allowed to fall into disrepair or become clogged, it’s not unusual to see demonstrable effects within a matter of days.

The most common window units require the least amount of maintenance. Most contain screens made either of foam or an electrostatic mesh such as polypropylene that maintains a static charge to keeps ions from entering the system. Foam is generally considered inferior, as it is essentially an inert substance with few microbial safeguards built in. If you have the means and a few minutes, you can create an effective mesh filter yourself simply by cutting polypropylene to size. (It’s available for less than $10 at most hardware stores.)

If you already own a mesh filter such as this, cleaning is essentially a mechanical action. Most such filters simply slide out, giving you easy access to the overlapping layers of material that traps particulates and dust. Scrub this clean using a cloth or rag, then wash it thoroughly in soapy water. Avoid using anything that releases lint, of course, as the idea is to create a dust-free barrier. And be sure and allow the filter to dry before replacing it – you don’t want your A/C’s intake to get wet.

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Most larger A/C units take a bit more work, but the benefits are proportional. Freestanding A/C units, such as those that sit outside the home, tend to have more than one filter to cover a wide area. Filters of this size often attract bigger obstructions than their window-bound counterparts, including animal fur, leaves and other debris from the elements. Without regular cleaning, such units can pull plumes of bacteria into your home’s air supply throughout the day.

Although a number of hardware stores sell solutions that purport to clean major filtration systems such as these, it is generally recommended to simply replace the filters every couple of months. They are, after all, inexpensive and easy to swap out, and the change may result in a dramatic improvement for your home’s power bill. If you’d rather do the grunt work yourself, such filters can essentially be cleaned the way you do your home’s gutters – lost of sweeping, brushing and high-pressure water. Brush the fins and blast everything from the inside to ensure nothing is left trapped inside your metal grills. Be sure to cut off power to the A/C unit and wrap the motor in plastic before you apply any liquids, however, or you could be risking fire.

Maintaining a clean HVAC system will protect your financial and physical health. If dust and debris make their way to expensive components such as the coils or CPU, it may be necessary to replace the system altogether which is an astonishingly pricey proposition. The unit also has to work harder when blockages occur, leading to power bills that dwarf what you should be paying. Clean the filters and you may discover dramatic gains right away.

Cleaning your air conditioning filters is a must if you want to protect the airways of the people who trust you. Dirty and obstructed filters can release dust, debris, spores and bacteria into your home’s atmosphere, leading to a host of problems such as asthma, bronchitis and Legionnaires' disease. A few preventive measures may offer real benefit to your health, so do yourself a favor and stay ahead of that maintenance schedule during the summer months.


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