Freon is a trade name for a class of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) and hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) refrigerants commonly used in air conditioning and refrigeration systems. Although the term Freon is commonly used interchangeably with refrigerant, Freon is actually a brand name (registered trademark) of The Chemours Company that encompasses several different refrigerants.

Refrigerants have been in the process of being phased out since the 1980s due to their ozone depletion potential. With another U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandated transition on the horizon for 2025, new HVAC systems in the U.S. won’t be operating with Freon for long. However, homeowners are unlikely to replace their entire HVAC unit within the next two years, so I’ve outlined what you need to know about this chemical below.

A Brief History of Freon

Freon played a major part in the history of air conditioners. DuPont developed Freon refrigerants in the early 1930s as a safer alternative to other chemicals, like ammonia, sulfur dioxide, and methyl chloride, that were used in early mechanical cooling systems. These early air conditioner refrigerants were toxic and hazardous if leaked.

Thomas Midgley Jr. — an industrial chemist at DuPont — led the effort to develop chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) compounds. He aimed to create chemicals that were non-flammable, non-toxic, and chemically stable. R-12, marketed under Freon, was the first CFC refrigerant commercialized by DuPont in 1931. It was widely adopted for residential and commercial refrigeration and air conditioning systems over subsequent decades.

To compete with Freon, other companies began manufacturing CFC/HCFC refrigerants under brand names like Genetron and Arcton. These chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants were ideal at the time because of their superior thermodynamic properties and chemical stability.

In 2015, The Chemours Company was founded as a spin-off of DuPont, and they currently own Freon.

Refrigerant Numbering System

The refrigerants are identified by an R-number designation from ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers). The R-number indicates the molecular composition of the refrigerant. Some common examples are R-12 = dichlorodifluoromethane (CFC), R-22 = monochlorodifluoromethane (HCFC), and R-134a = tetrafluoroethane (HFC).

Cylinders and labels use assigned colors for easy refrigerant identification. R-12 is white, R-22 is light green, and R-134a is light blue.

How Freon Works in The Home

Freon and other types of refrigerants run through the air conditioner system using refrigerant lines. The AC compressor heats the Freon gas, which then travels through the coils. The coils cool the gas and the Freon turns into a liquid state. After this, the liquid is converted into a low-pressure gas in the evaporators, which helps to cool the home.

How Do You Replace Freon in Your HVAC?

The process of heating, cooling, and converting the Freon or other refrigerant can take a toll on the HVAC unit. Over time, Freon naturally depletes, or a leak could form. If you’ve found your HVAC takes longer to cool the home than usual, it’s only blowing out warm air, utility bills are higher, or ice has built up on the refrigerant line, you could have an issue with low Freon.

If your AC is low on Freon, you’ll need to add refrigerant to your unit. Usually, this is a job for professionals. We don’t recommend it as a DIY project. Refrigerants are dangerous and, if inhaled, can have medical consequences. You’ll also have to navigate a pressurized tank and intricate equipment. Mistakes can result in damage to your HVAC unit.

The Phaseout of CFC and HCFC Refrigerants

The ozone layer helps filter out harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Its depletion was a major environmental concern in the 1980s.

While CFCs and HCFCs like R-12 and R-22 were once the dominant refrigerants, they’ve been phased out globally under the Montreal Protocol due to their ozone depletion potential. The Montreal Protocol, established in 1987, mandated the phaseout of ozone-depleting substances. Developed countries stopped producing CFCs by 1996. HCFCs are also being phased out on a scheduled timeline, with most uses prohibited in developed countries by 2020.

As a result, CFC refrigerants like R-12 are no longer manufactured or imported into the U.S. — and existing supplies have dwindled. While some HCFCs are still available, their production is also being phased out. R-22 Freon’s cost per pound is extremely high — if you can even find it for sale since the U.S. supply is currently limited to recycled R-22 Freon.

Replacements for Freon Refrigerants

There are replacement refrigerants (sometimes called drop-ins) available for home AC systems that operate using R-22 Freon and R-410a Freon. However, sometimes, it’s more cost-effective to replace the entire HVAC system.

R-407c, R-438a (MO-99), and R-453a (RS-44b) are some R-22 Freon replacement options. One replacement option for R-410a includes R-470a (RS-53), but keep an eye out for additional options as the R-410a phase-out progresses. Some replacement refrigerants are true drop-in replacements, while others may require oil replacement and additional retrofit procedures. Your HVAC professional can advise the best alternative for your system type and location.

Benefits of Newer Refrigerants

While replacement refrigerants may require some system modifications, they offer environmental benefits like zero ozone depletion potential and lower global warming potential. They also tend to have similar cooling capacities as older refrigerants as well as non-toxic and non-flammable traits for most blends. You should consult an HVAC technician to help you determine the optimal refrigerant option for your air conditioner or heat pump based on efficiency, cost, availability, and legal requirements.

With the phaseout of certain Freon types now complete in developed countries, the industry continues innovating new, more climate-friendly replacement refrigerants. While drop-in refrigerants are available for some Freon types, new systems must now use ozone-friendly refrigerant options.

Refrigerant Management and Regulations

With the rise of environmental concerns, the management of refrigerants is now highly regulated. Rules include:

  • Disposal regulations: Proper refrigerant cylinder disposal and recycling of refrigerant are mandatory.
  • Fines: Illegally releasing refrigerants can incur significant fines.
  • Labeling: Refrigeration equipment must be properly labeled with the type of refrigerant used.
  • Leak detection and repair: You’ll want to ensure leaks are repaired promptly in larger AC and refrigeration systems. Freon leaks in your home could be dangerous and hazardous to your health. 
  • Purchase regulations: Purchasing some HCFC refrigerants now requires EPA technician certification.
  • Record-keeping: Usage records aid compliance with phaseout.

These regulations help professional HVAC companies responsibly maintain, use, handle, recycle, and dispose of refrigerants. System owners and technicians must follow the latest rules.

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So, Is Freon Still Around?

R-12 Freon has been completely phased out, and R-22 Freon is now limited to what we recycle yearly. R-410a Freon is still currently used in residential home comfort systems but is scheduled for phase-out over the next few years.

While Freon and other CFC refrigerants like R-12 can no longer legally be manufactured or imported in developed countries, existing supplies may still be in circulation. However, CFC refrigerant use is banned, and systems must be retired or converted to approved replacement refrigerants like R-134a.

The era of ozone-harming refrigerants has ended. But it’s essential to responsibly maintain, repair, recover, and recycle any remaining supplies until all CFCs and HCFCs are out of service. Following regulations helps you responsibly manage the transition as these legacy refrigerants are phased out.

FAQs About Freon

What industries used Freon?

Freon and other CFC/HCFC refrigerants were widely used in residential and commercial air conditioning, refrigeration, chillers, and transport cooling before the phaseout.

Can you get Freon recharged?

Recharging home AC systems with Freon types that have been phased out, such as R-12 Freon, is prohibited. R-22 Freon is no longer being produced or imported but is available sparingly across the country, while R-410a Freon is still widely used (but is scheduled for phase-out soon). Systems that operate with phased-out Freon types must be retrofitted to work with an alternative refrigerant.

What was R-12 Freon used for?

R-12 refrigerant was commonly used in older home air conditioning window units, vehicle AC systems, refrigerators, freezers, water coolers, and dehumidifiers before the phaseout.

What replaced R-22 freon?

R-410a, which is an HFC blend, replaced R-22 Freon in residential home comfort systems.

Can freon be recycled?

Yes, it’s mandatory to properly recover and recycle existing supplies of CFC and HCFC refrigerants to prevent their release into the atmosphere. It’s better to Reclaim used refrigerant.

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Elisabeth Beauchamp

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Elisabeth Beauchamp is a content producer for Today’s Homeowner’s Lawn and Windows categories. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with degrees in Journalism and Linguistics. When Elisabeth isn’t writing about flowers, foliage, and fertilizer, she’s researching landscaping trends and current events in the agricultural space. Elisabeth aims to educate and equip readers with the tools they need to create a home they love.

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Hilary Cairns

Hilary Cairns is a writer with 12 years of professional writing experience. She has covered a diverse set of topics such as custom home building, plumbing, HVAC, energy efficiency, and others. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz with a bachelor's degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing, she discovered her passion for helping businesses and organizations deliver impactful content that changed lives. Originally from New York, Hilary now calls Florida home (along with 2 cats). When not immersed in her writing work, she enjoys playing video games, reading Stephen King, and researching her (and her friends') genealogy.

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