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How to clean a portable air conditioner

Follow these simple steps to make your portable AC unit like new.

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If you don't have a central air conditioning system at home, investing in a portable AC unit can make a notable difference in your comfort level this summer. What you might not realize, however, is that these convenient air conditioners actually require a decent amount of upkeep to keep working correctly.

It's likely not the most pressing thing on your to-do list, but there are several important reasons to take care of your AC unit. Not only does cleaning help your portable air conditioner work more efficiently, but a clean appliance also keeps your family safer and uses less electricity.

The good news is that cleaning your portable air conditioner isn't hard work -- you just need to remember to do it regularly. Below, you'll find step-by-step instructions for maintaining your portable air conditioner to keep cool all summer long.

Prepare your portable air conditioner for cleaning

You'll have to do a little bit of prep work before the cleaning can begin. Here's how to get ready.

  • Unplug your portable AC unit and place it on a solid surface. There's a chance that water could leak, so don't clean your appliance on expensive flooring.
  • Gather your tools. You'll need a screwdriver, a damp cleaning cloth, a bucket or shallow pan, and a clean air filter (if you're due for a filter change).
  • Disassemble your air conditioner. Each model is different, but you'll likely need to unscrew a few panels at the back to get inside.

1. Drain the water

Portable air conditioners are designed to remove water from the air. Much of that condensation then collects into a container inside the unit, which should be emptied regularly. Some units have an indicator light to let you know when the water tank is full, but others don't.

To drain the water, find the drain on the back of your unit. Place your bucket or shallow tray underneath the drain and allow the water to drain. Alternatively, some portable air conditioners let you connect a hose to the drain, so the water will exit on its own, and you won't need to empty it.

2. Clean and replace the air filters

Keeping your air filters debris-free is essential to ensuring that your unit works effectively. If your filters are blocked or dirty, it's harder for your air conditioner to cool and circulate air. Check them at least twice per month (and more often during the height of summer) to remove dirt or anything else that's blocking them.

The cleaning method for air filters depends on your particular AC unit since some filters are washable, while others are disposable and need to be replaced each time. If you have a removable filter, you can clean it by first using a vacuum and then immersing it in warm, soapy water. Let it dry completely, and then put it back inside your unit.

3. Check the coils

The coils are another critical (and expensive) component of your portable AC unit and should also be checked for dirt and debris. Be careful while cleaning them; otherwise, you might damage them and end up with an expensive repair bill.

To clean your portable air conditioner coils, take a damp cloth or soft-bristled brush and gently sweep away anything that's built up. If you'd like, you can buy special coil cleaning solutions at your local hardware store to keep them extra clean.

4. Tidy up the exterior

While the panels are still off, take a soft, damp cloth and wipe them down. Be sure to get inside the vents and other small spaces where dust may have collected and let everything dry completely before reattaching the panels. 

You should routinely wipe down the exterior of your portable air conditioner -- even when you aren't doing a deep clean. Check the unit each week to get rid of dirt, pet hair or anything else that might be blocking it from the outside.

5. Store your portable AC unit properly

When it's time to put away your air conditioner for the year, don't forget to drain the tank and clean the filter. After that, you should also run the unit in fan mode for 30 minutes to an hour to eliminate any excess moisture. Let everything dry before packing it away.

If possible, store the air conditioner in its original packaging. Make sure that it's in a clean and dry place, so you avoid mold growth while it's packed away for winter.

That's it! With these simple steps, you can enjoy cleaner and cooler air and extend the life of your portable AC unit.

Final thoughts

With summer quickly approaching, it's a good idea to pull out your AC unit now, so you can fix any potential issues before the weather gets too warm. If you're in the market for a new portable air conditioner, check out CNET's tips for finding the right one.

On the other hand, if a portable unit is too expensive, you might want to look into getting a window air conditioner. They're typically cheaper than the larger portable appliances, but they're still a convenient way to cool yourself down.

For more information on how to stay comfortable this summer (without central AC), check out more of our coverage on the topic:

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