Updated On

May 30, 2024

Why You Can Trust Us

Today’s Homeowner exists to help you maintain or improve your home safely and effectively. We uphold strict editorial standards and carefully vet the advice and resources referenced in our articles. Click below to learn more about our review process and how we earn money.

Learn More

    Keeping your air conditioner clean is vital because the system distributes air throughout your home. Once allergens, bacteria, or viruses get into your system, it can be challenging to remove them. To disinfect it, you’ll need supplies such as a coil cleaner, disinfectant, and protective gear. Then, you’ll need to remove the filter, vacuum it, rinse the coils, and disinfect the major components — we provide detailed step-by-step instructions below.

    Due to central air conditioning systems’ complex nature, cleaning each component requires more effort than many homeowners are willing to give. However, taking the time is well worth it because you will breathe easier and have peace of mind that your home is not making your family sick. 

    Now, it is more important than ever for you to keep your home clean, and that includes your air conditioner. If you’re looking for a local HVAC professional, feel free to fill out the following form:

    Get HVAC Estimates In Just 30 Seconds
    Then connect with local experts to get the help you need.

    If you are interested in learning how much more efficient your window unit is after a deep cleaning, take a look at this video: 

    Should You Disinfect Your Central AC Unit Yourself?

    While keeping your air conditioner clean is vital to your family’s overall health, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has concerns about applying general disinfectants on heating and cooling system units and ductwork. 

    Cleaners marketed for use on AC parts and in air ducts must include information regarding the product’s effectiveness at destroying viruses, bacteria, mold, and other germs. These cleaners must also include specific instructions, including how much of the product to apply, the application method, and the amount of time you must leave the product for it to work.

    There are products on the market for cleaning your HVAC system, but truly disinfecting your central AC without specialized equipment and training is nearly impossible. So, if you have central heating and air conditioning in your home, you would be better off hiring a professional air conditioner service company. 

    You can, however, perform regular maintenance, like:

    • Changing your air filters every 60 to 90 days
    • Hose the outside of your condenser coils to remove debris
    • Keeping your air conditioner condensate drain clean
    • Keeping dust and debris out of the blower and air handler
    • Having your HVAC system serviced semi-annually

    What Supplies Do You Need To Clean Your Air Conditioning Unit?

    Before you clean your air conditioner, you’ll need to gather some tools and supplies. Obviously, the tools you need to remove the exterior cover on your specific machine might differ, but most manufacturers use Philips head screws. 

    • Bleach
    • A Philips Head Screwdriver
    • New Air Conditioner Filters
    • Coil Cleaner
    • Gloves
    • Face Mask
    • A Fin Comb
    • Wet/Dry Vacuum
    • Device Instruction Manual
    • Pipe Cleaners 
    • Electronic Air Duster Spray
    • A Hose
    • Spray Bottle
    • Soft Cloth
    • Mold Test Kit (Optional)
    • Infrared Temperature Reader (Optional)

    These supplies are necessary whether you want to clean a window air conditioner or the condenser and evaporator coils of your central air conditioner. 

    How Often Should You Sanitize Your Air Conditioner?

    Keeping your device clean helps it last longer and run more efficiently. Keeping your air conditioner filters fresh and clear will help to keep your AC cleaner. 

    A clean filter catches much of the dust and grime that would otherwise end up on the coils, electrical components, or fan blades. 

    However, it is necessary to do a deep cleaning and disinfect your air conditioner annually. If you notice your unit is not functioning as well as it once did, you might need to clean it sooner. 

    The cleaner your air conditioner is, the better the air quality in your home. Built-up grime, dust, dirt, pollen, dander, dead skin cells, and hair can prevent your AC unit from properly cooling your home. 

    Can You Disinfect A Window Unit Or Portable AC?

    Window units and portable AC units are self-contained for the most part. So, disinfecting them is more straightforward. 

    Due to the compact design, though, the interior components can collect dust quickly. When both the evaporator and condenser coils are dirty, it is difficult for your window AC unit to cool the air efficiently. 

    Get HVAC Estimates In Just 30 Seconds
    Then connect with local experts to get the help you need.

    What Are The Steps For Disinfecting Your Air Conditioner?

    The steps for cleaning a window unit, portable air conditioner, or central AC are similar. However, it is best to let a licensed HVAC technician handle detailed cleaning jobs that would require you to disassemble and reassemble any parts. 

    If you have a portable type, performing a detailed cleaning yourself should be a fairly straightforward task using the steps below. 

    Before you perform any AC maintenance, you need to turn your air conditioner off. To turn the indoor unit off, switch the thermostat to off. 

    Then, outside, next to the condenser unit, you will find a breaker box. You need to flip that breaker to shut off power to the outside unit. 

    For window and portable options, power it off. Then, unplug it. 

    There is a vent hose on a portable air conditioner that has to be kept in a window. Before working on the unit, you should remove the hose from the back of the unit. 

    Please remove all of the filters and clean them, removing all of the lint and dust. Then, use a household cleaner or bleach to disinfect the filters. 

    Leave the cleaner on for around 20 to 30 minutes. Then, rinse the filters and allow them to dry completely before reinstalling them. 

    If you are cleaning a central AC unit, you will need to replace the filter with a new one. When you remove the filter, you should use a vacuum cleaner with a brush attachment to clean the evaporator coils.

    Carefully remove the housing unit and use suction to remove dust, dirt, and lint or an air duster to blow it out. Pay careful attention not to damage any of the fins on the evaporator or condenser coils. 

    Spray coil bleach solution on the evaporator and condenser (let soak for at least 20 minutes). Then, rinse the coils with a hose to remove any residue and grime. 

    After you clean the coils, you can use a fin comb to straighten any bent fins. Then, let the coils dry completely in the sun. 

    After you complete the cleaning process and your air conditioner is completely dry, you need to replace the housing, filters, and hoses. Once your unit is put together, you are ready to power it on. 

    How Do You Clean Mold Out Of A Portable AC?

    One of the worst things to have in your portable AC is mold because the conditioned air blows directly out of the device and into your home. Furthermore, smaller room ACs tend to work harder to cool a space.

    If the unit is unable to reduce the indoor air temperature, it will run continuously. The result is excess condensation, which fills the condensate tray quickly. 

    Unlike whole-home air conditioning, your portable unit does not drain. Instead, you have to empty the small drip pan manually. 

    Did You Know

    The small trays frequently overflow, especially if you run your AC continuously. When it does, water spills inside the unit and onto the floor. The resulting moisture in your device creates a perfect place for mold to grow.

    If you use window units or portable units instead of central AC, your home’s humidity level is likely higher, which only aids the growth and spread of mold spores. So, it is crucial to eliminate any mold growing in your air conditioner as early as possible. 

    You can’t easily see inside these machines, though, which makes it nearly impossible to identify a mildew or mold problem early. So, it is best to disinfect your portable AC or window unit at least once a year. 

    The steps for cleaning your AC are nearly the same as those for window units without mold. However, you will want to wear a mask and gloves, and you need to use bleach to kill the mold spores. 

    Are There Any Other Ways To Make Your HVAC System Cleaner?

    If you have central cooling and heating in your home, you know how challenging it can be to maintain expensive home systems, especially if you are on a fixed income, or your equipment does not have special modifications like UV HVAC lighting for extra protection. There are some things you can do to reduce contaminants in your HVAC system.  

    Your air ducts are not visible, so most homeowners have no idea how much dirt and debris build up in them. Professional duct cleaning services find all kinds of things, and that is only what is visible. 

    Bacteria and mold can grow in air ducts, and over time, dust collects in them. So, it is good to have a professional business clean and disinfect them every few years. 

    Changing or cleaning your air filters routinely is essential. The AC filters keep dust and harmful particles out of your air conditioning system. 

    When the filters get clogged, it makes your unit less efficient and blocks airflow, causing more debris to accumulate in your indoor unit. It is also a good idea to disinfect your air filters if your unit came with reusable filters. 

    If you have a central HVAC, experts suggest that it is better to buy cheap filters and replace them more often. 

    The evaporator and condenser coils in your air conditioner can get bent over time. When the fins are bent, it is easier for the build-up to accumulate, and your air conditioner might not run as well. 

    So, if you notice any bent fins, you should use a fin comb to straighten them carefully. You can buy one on Amazon or your local Walmart or hardware store. 

    Final Thoughts On Disinfecting Your Air Conditioner

    You and your family depend on the cool, clean air your AC unit produces. So, it is essential to maintain your unit properly. 

    System maintenance includes keeping your air conditioner clean, changing the filters, addressing minor repairs, and having semi-annual tune-ups done by a reputable air conditioning service company. 

    Get HVAC Estimates In Just 30 Seconds
    Then connect with local experts to get the help you need.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What is the best disinfectant to use on an air conditioner?

    EPA-registered disinfectants specifically designed for use on HVAC systems are the most effective on AC coils. Avoid using general household cleaners, as they could damage AC components.

    How often should I disinfect my air conditioner?

    HVAC technicians recommend deep cleaning and disinfecting your air conditioner at least once a year, preferably before the cooling season begins.

    Can I prevent the need for frequent AC disinfection?

    Regular maintenance, such as changing filters, cleaning coils, and ensuring proper drainage from the drain pan, can help reduce the need for frequent disinfection. Installing UV lights or air purification systems can also help keep your AC clean and healthy, too.

    Article Update Log
    Reviewed for accuracy, cost data, industry best practices, and expert advice by Jonathon Jachura.
    Editorial Contributors
    avatar for Alexis Bennett

    Alexis Bennett


    Alexis is a freelance writer with nearly a decade of experience covering the home services industry. She’s built considerable expertise in roofing, plumbing, and HVAC, as well as general construction and real estate matters. In her free time, Alexis enjoys coaching women’s golf. She lives in the Triad area of North Carolina.

    Learn More

    photo of Jonathon Jachura

    Jonathon Jachura


    Jonathon Jachura is a two-time homeowner with hands-on experience with HVAC, gutters, plumbing, lawn care, pest control, and other aspects of owning a home. He is passionate about home maintenance and finding the best services. His main goal is to educate others with crisp, concise descriptions that any homeowner can use. Jon uses his strong technical background to create engaging, easy-to-read, and informative guides. He does most of his home and lawn projects himself but hires professional companies for the “big things.” He knows what goes into finding the best service providers and contractors. Jon studied mechanical engineering at Purdue University in Indiana and worked in the HVAC industry for 12 years. Between his various home improvement projects, he enjoys the outdoors, a good cup of coffee, and spending time with his family.

    Learn More