How To: Clean a Window Air Conditioning Unit Without Removing it

Need to clean your window air conditioning unit but don’t want to go through the pain of removing it each time? Here’s how to clean it without taking it out.
Written by Abbey Orzech
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Updated on Aug 24, 2022
To clean a window air conditioning unit without removing it, you’ll take off the front grille, remove and clean the filter, remove the case to clean the interior, then allow everything to dry completely before reassembling it. 
Your window AC unit may be the only thing between you and sweltering, oppressive heat, so you’ll want to keep it in good shape. One of the best ways to ensure longevity and efficiency for your window air conditioning unit is a regular cleaning schedule. We get it, though—removing your window unit regularly sounds like a massive pain. 
Good news! You can effectively clean your window air conditioning unit without removing it, and
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How to clean your window air conditioning unit without removing it

It may have never occurred to you to clean your window air conditioning unit before, but it’s an important maintenance task that keeps the appliance working efficiently. The lack of a regular cleaning schedule can cause unnecessary wear and tear on the machine, shortening its lifespan and weakening its power. 
Luckily, cleaning your window air conditioning unit without removing it can be a quick and simple process. First things first, gather your materials:
  • Bucket or nearby sink for the cleaning solution 
  • Vacuum with a brush attachment 
  • Cleaning cloth 
  • Spray bottle with a cleaning solution of water and two drops of dish soap, or 3% hydrogen peroxide. 
  • Screwdriver and secure spot to store screws while you work 
  • Safety gloves 
  • Fin comb or knife (optional) 
Once your tools are assembled, and you’re ready to freshen up your window air conditioning unit, follow these steps. 
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Disconnect the unit from power 

Before anything else, you’ll want to ensure there is no electricity running to your air conditioner so you won’t get electrocuted while cleaning. Unplug the unit from the wall or turn off the circuit breaker it runs from. 

Remove the front grille

You’ll want to check the unit’s user manual for specific instructions here because each model may be a little different. Depending on the model of air conditioning unit, you may need to unscrew the grille cover, pop open the clips holding it in place, or both
If you no longer have the user manual and need removal guidance, go online and look up the name and model of the unit along with “manual.” PDF versions of user manuals are pretty widely available these days. 
After removing the grille, check if the air filter is inside the grille. If it is, remove it before cleaning the grille face. Spray the grille with your cleaning solution and wipe it down, making sure all dust and debris are gone, then leave it to dry completely. 

Remove the filter 

If the filter was not inside the grille, it will likely be just behind it. Consult the user manual if you’re not seeing the filter in either spot. 
Depending on when the last time was that you cracked open the AC unit to clean the filter, you may need to replace the filter altogether. If you think it can be salvaged, you’ll need to clean it! 
Use your vacuum to suck up large dirt and debris deposits before using a wet cleaning cloth to clean the remaining dirt away. You could also use your garden hose to give the filter a good spray-down. Allow the filter to dry completely—it may take a few hours, so set that aside for now. 

Clean the interior of the unit 

You may need to remove a casing to get at the interior of your window air conditioning unit, which includes the drain pan, fan and blower, condenser, and evaporator.  
The drain pan catches excess water and condensation that builds up inside the AC unit and will need to be emptied and cleaned to avoid mold buildup. Let the drain pan soak in hot soapy water or spritz it down with a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution
Then, use your vacuum to vacuum out any dirt, dust, or debris in the unit, including anything that has built up on the metallic, vertical condenser fins. Wear safety gloves before cleaning around the fins, though, as they can be sharp. 
If you notice that the fins are misaligned or bent, you can use a fin comb or knife to carefully and gently realign them. Making sure the fins are straight will keep your unit running at a greater efficiency, which is good news for both the temperature of your space and your electric bill
After everything is dust and debris free, give the entire interior a spray with the cleaning solution and wipe it down with your cleaning cloth. 
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Reassemble the air conditioning unit 

Once each air conditioning component is completely dry, you can begin to reassemble the unit. If you lost track of the order of everything, consult the user manual again for reassembly instructions! 

Why you should clean your window air conditioning unit 

Regular cleaning and maintenance on any appliance are important for their longevity and efficiency, and a window air conditioning unit is no exception. 
Happily, you can clean a window air conditioning unit without removing it, so that takes some of the work out of it. Plus, “regular cleaning” doesn’t have to mean once a day or even once a month! The Department of Energy recommends cleaning your window air conditioning at least once a year
Benefits of a clean window air conditioning unit include: 
  • Cleaner and more free-flowing air
  • Quieter appliance since it won’t have to work as hard 
  • Reduced energy bill
  • Reduced repair needs

How to know when to replace your window air conditioning unit

Of course, sometimes cleaning can only go so far. A good indication that you should replace your window air conditioning unit is its age. Eight to ten years is a typical lifespan for many window AC units. 
However, you may need to replace it sooner if you use it solidly year-round, and yours may last longer if you only use it during a small window of the year. 
Essentially, if you’re having to call your repair person relatively often, it may just be better to replace the unit. You can find window air conditioners from $150 to $1,000 depending on the type you want, so take your repair and maintenance costs and weigh them against the cost of a new unit to decide if a repair is worth it. 

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Just like regular maintenance on your home appliances saves you money on repair costs, regular maintenance on your
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