How to Clean an Outdoor AC Unit

In the warmer months, the air conditioner is a homeowner’s most valuable appliance. That’s why proper cleaning and care of your air conditioner is important to keep it in tip-top shape. Outdoor AC units can accumulate dust, dirt, and other debris, which can affect their effectiveness in cooling your home. 

Give your AC unit some extra attention to prolong its life by giving it a regular deep clean.

How Often to Clean an Outdoor AC Unit

Your air conditioner deserves a deep clean once a year to keep it running in good shape. The best time to clean your air conditioner is the spring before the summer heat arrives. In between deep cleans, homeowners should periodically clear away any debris near the unit to prevent a large buildup of foliage, especially during the fall season. 

What You’ll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Screwdriver
  • Gloves
  • Shop vacuum
  • Soft bristle brush or vacuum brush attachment
  • Hose


  • Foaming AC condenser coil cleaner


How to Clean an Outdoor AC Unit

  1. Turn off the AC Unit
    Turn off the air conditioner at the thermostat and shut off the power to the outdoor condenser by unplugging the unit or turning the power off at the breaker.
  2. Clear Away Debris Around the Unit
    Remove any leaves or landscaping near the unit. If there are bushes or plants growing near the unit, cut back the branches to give the air conditioner space.
  3. Remove the Top of the Condenser Unit
    Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and unscrew the top of the air conditioner to access the coils inside.
  4. Remove Debris Inside the Unit
    Put on gloves and clear away any large leaves or grass clumps inside the unit by hand. Then, use a shop vacuum cleaner to remove the remaining dirt and dust inside the unit.
  5. Brush Away Remaining Dust and Dirt
    The coils inside the air conditioner can accumulate dust, pollen, and dirt. Use a soft bristle brush to brush away the grime accumulated on the coils.
  6. Spray Coils With an AC Coil Cleaner
    Spray a foaming coil cleaner right onto the coils until the coils are completely covered with the cleaning solution. Let the cleaner sit on the coils for the product’s recommended time, usually 5-10 minutes
  7. Spray Unit With a Hose
    Spray the air conditioner with water from a garden hose to wash the coil cleaner off. Avoid spraying the electrical components with water.


Do not use a power washer on your AC unit, only a hose at moderate power. A power washer’s force could damage your appliance.

8. Replace AC Unit Top
After the AC unit has been rinsed off, reassemble the top of the unit back on its base. Let the air conditioner air dry. Don’t forget to turn the unit back on—both on the thermostat and by plugging in the unit.

Tips to Keep Your Outdoor AC Unit Clean Longer

  • Remove debris regularly from the unit, especially in the spring and summer when loose foliage is more common.
  • Hose down the unit frequently.
  • Change your air filters every two to three months.
  • Keep landscaping a good distance from the AC unit so overgrown branches and leaves don’t crowd it.
  • Cover your air conditioner when it’s not in use in the late fall and winter months. Covers should only shield the top of the unit and should be breathable to not lock in moisture and damage the electrical components. 
  • Have a professional inspect the system once a year to check for leaks and other potential damages.

When to Call a Professional

Air conditioners are complicated machines, and many HVAC professionals recommend that a technician inspect the AC unit once a year. 

If you’re uncomfortable opening the unit and handling the electric components to clean yourself, call a professional to clean your AC unit. There are also warning signs that mean your air conditioner likely needs a professional’s attention. If you notice frost on your AC unit while it’s running or think the unit is running longer or less efficiently than usual, call an HVAC technician to inspect your unit.

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