With summer approaching soon comes the time to turn on the AC to keep the house cold. You might notice that your electric bill spikes up more than expected or that your house is just having trouble staying cold. If it's been more than a few years sense your last AC unit cleaning (or you cant remember ever having them cleaned) then its probably time for a clean. It's a fairly easy process so save some money by doing it yourself!
Step 1: Safety First
Whenever doing ANY work with electronics its important to turn the electricity off and check voltage on the unit with a multimeter. Again, DO NOT WORK ON LIVE ELECTRONICS. For this particular project the risk isn't as much to do with shock (though this still exists and adding water to the mix is even more reason to be cautious) but more to do with fear of the unit turning on and spinning fan blades. Most units should have an electronics box near the unit on the outside of the building. Open it up and flip the switch to the OFF position.
Step 2: Tools and Equipment
The tool list for this project isn't a long one. A ratchet set, flat head screwdriver, a multimeter, and maybe a mallet are all you will need. I prefer using a ratchet set over the flat head simply because I find flat heads tedious to use.
Step 3: Disasemble
The metal shielding surrounding the unit needs to be removed. Go around the unit removing the screws holding the shield on and once they are all removed it should come off with little trouble.
Step 4: Clean the Unit
Using a garden hose with low/no pressure spray the outside to remove buildup of dust, dirt, leaves, and whatever else is stuck on the side. The units pictured are extreme examples of buildup. Much less buildup can still cause issues in cooling. Start by spraying off the outside at an angle and the buildup will come off in a 'Peeling' fashion. Then finish up by spraying from the inside out to clean out debris stuck within the fins. (When the buildup is high the fins wont allow enough water to get through to effectively clean the outside without first spraying the outside) While the unit is open I clean out any debris that has built up at the bottom of the unit. Continue spraying around until the unit appears clean. Use very low pressure to avoid bending fins, just an open hose end should do.
Step 5: Reassemble and Cleanup
All that's left is putting the unit back together, cleaning up, and turning the electricity back on. You should notice an improvement in cooling in your house and you didn't have to spend $100+ to get it.
Step 6: Notes
Final notes: Not all units are the same. This second unit pictured is different in that the side shielding is "capped" by the top piece instead of screwing into the side. Your unit will more than likely differ slightly from the two pictured but the concept is the same regardless of the unit.
Also, this is a very basic cleaning of the units. It will improve efficiency greatly in the unit. However, a good professional service will be much more thorough.
Read comments below for additional ideas anddiscussion