Having spent some years living in Asia, I now have a renewed appreciation for the wonders of a good air conditioner!
For those living in similarly hot climates and those that live in places with poor air quality, a good air conditioning unit can literally be the difference between life and death.
Like with any technology, air conditioners require some degree of care and maintenance to ensure that they continue to operate at the optimum level.
This article will examine how to clean and replace the air filter in your air conditioner unit.
Why Should You Clean Your Ac Filter?
Air conditioners don't just cool us down; they keep our homes clean by filtering out dust, dirt, and debris from the air we breathe inside.
As they clean your air, they also get blocked up with the various pollutants that they filter, which reduces their ability to effectively clean the air in the present.
Dirty air filters force air conditioners to work harder, using more energy to push air through their clogged fibers, which creates dirty air and can severely shorten the lifespan of your ac unit.
Most air conditioners will come with either a disposable or washable air filter.
As the names imply, disposable filters simply need replacing as per the manufacturer’s instructions, whereas washable filters can be cleaned and then reused.
Clean a washable filter regularly. Once a month should be more than sufficient to ensure smooth operation and clean air.
For summer months or in times of particularly polluted air, it's important to monitor the filter more regularly.
We will look at the different types of air filters found in air conditioning units, examining their advantages and disadvantages.
Then, we follow up with a convenient 4-step guide to help you keep your filter, and thus, the air, clean as can be.
Washable Filters Vs Disposable Filters
Washable air conditioner filters require a little more care and attention than disposable filters, as they will need to be cleaned each time you plan on using the AC unit.
Thankfully, the process is not too laborious or complicated, as we outline in our 4-step guide below.
Cleaning your own filter will save money and is better for the environment than regularly throwing out old dirty disposable filters.
Disposable filters are commonplace across manufacturers, as many people prioritize convenience in their lives.
As such, replacing a filter instead of cleaning it is an easier and time-saving option. This will of course mean that there is more money spent on the replacements each time they are required.
Most disposable filters are designed to last for between three and six months, though this depends on a number of factors including the hours of use, condition of the air, and the season.
Always ensure that you follow the manufacturer's guidelines and replace the filter as often as advised.
These units are designed to be easy to remove and replace, though if you have any difficulty, again, consult the manual or contact the manufacturer directly.
4-Step Cleaning Guide
Step 1 - Power Off
It may seem an obvious first step, but always ensure that your air-conditioning system is turned off. It is best to allow some time between turning it off and starting to clean, as it will let any polluted or dirty air out of the system.
Most modern air conditioning units will have a release handle, allowing quick and easy opening of the unit for closer inspection.
However, some units may require some unscrewing, so ensure you have the correct type of screwdriver if this applies to you.
After opening up the unit, take a look and examine the location of the filter and the current state of its cleanliness.
It should be noted that these filters can often be coated in a thick layer of dirt, so always handle them with care.
If possible, you want to avoid knocking any dust up into the air you're breathing in, or wiping the filth onto your clothing or furniture.
For self-contained units, the filters are easy to slide out of the unit, as each one will have one or two filters depending on the size.
For larger multiroom or commercial air conditioning units, there may be numerous filters that need removing.
If it's not straightforward to locate the filters upon your first look, refer to the manual, search online, or contact the manufacturers directly.
Step 2 - Cleaning The Filter
When you look over the condition of the filter, it will be extremely obvious if it requires some cleaning.
Look for discoloration and layers of built-up dust and dirt. If it is particularly filthy, then the filter might look like it has been painted black.
The easiest way to remove the built-up dirt and dust is with a vacuum cleaner, though for a deeper clean, water is required.
It would be sensible to do this over a sink under the tap, in the bath using the tap or shower head, or outside in the yard with your garden hose.
You can run the water through the filter to clear out blockages and remove any grime that has built up around the frame of the filter.
For particularly dirty filters, soak the filter in a solution of one part white vinegar and one part warm water for up to an hour before rinsing away the dirt.
Step 3 - Drying The Filter
It is imperative that you let any air filter dry fully before placing it back into the air-conditioning unit.
A wet filter will clog easily and spray out tiny droplets of dirty water that could cause discomfort in the lungs of anyone who breathes them in.
Letting the filters stand to drip-dry should only take a few hours, or even less if you're fortunate enough to live in warmer climates.
If time is of the essence or the air is too damp for easy drying, then it's ok to use a hairdryer as long as you use its cooler settings.
Too much heat could damage the structural integrity of the filter and its frame, making it warp out of shape and no longer fit into the unit.
Step 4 - Re-install The Filter
Now you have a clean filter, your air-conditioning unit should provide effective filtration and smooth, untroubled airflow.
Carefully install it back into the unit as you found it, ensuring that it sits firmly in place. Make certain that nothing is catching or sticking out, and then close the lid as required.
After re-installation, allow the air conditioner to run for a little while and quickly see the improvement in performance.
Frequently asked questions
Dirty filters restrict the flow of cold air which can cause it to build up inside the air conditioner.
The final result could be the formation of ice on the coils. Dirty filters can cause extra stress on the machine, making the unit work harder and not as efficiently.
Clean or replace your air conditioning system's filter or filters every month or two during the cooling season.
Filters may need more frequent attention if the air conditioner is in constant use, is subjected to dusty conditions, or you have fur-bearing pets in the house.
Living or working near an old and moldy air conditioner can increase your chances of respiratory infection.
Mold also causes symptoms like throat irritation, wheezing, and congestion.
By installing your filter backwards, air will have a harder time flowing through the filter and your air handler will have to work harder to make up for the loss of airflow.
This could lead to higher utility bills and possibly damage your furnace or air
The contaminant particles can get buried deep in the filter's fibers, so a vacuum cleaner won't extract all of them.
The particles will create a barrier in the air filter and prevent air from passing through, which could damage your HVAC system or make it less efficient.
Disposable air filters are made from soft mesh and other flexible materials that simply can’t stand up to the wear and tear of a good washing.
It won’t dry efficiently after washing either, creating a damp breeding ground for mold and mildew.