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There’s a good chance some readers here will remember the days before remote controls—when you actually needed to walk to whatever appliance you needed to turn on, off, or adjust.
To a large extent, those days are a distant memory, except of course if something like your air conditioner remote isn’t working. I think on a hot summer day, that would be worse than the TV remote not working—because what if the air conditioner is the next to go!
Regardless of what kind of AC you have, most remotes work on simple—limited—infrared technology (IR) technology. There are several reasons for an air conditioner remote not working: the signal between the remote and the unit is blocked by another object, by other electronics, dead batteries, etc.
Keep reading and I’ll over everything you can try to get your remote working again.
What You’ll Need
Actually, this is a list of what you’ll potentially need. Based on your issue, you may or may not need the items below.
- Battery tester
- Compressed air
- Infrared Sensor Card
- Soft cloth
- Blow dryer
- Dry rice
- Paper bag or container
What to do When Your Air Conditioner Remote Isn’t Working…
When you think of a remote control, you probably think of a wireless remote, but there are wired remotes as well.
First up, battery-operated remotes.
1- Check & Replace Your Batteries
Okay, I like to start with the most obvious problem—and the easiest fix.
You may think those batteries in your remote are just fine—maybe you just replaced them—but unless you’ve used a battery tester, you can’t be sure. Alternatively, if you haven’t replaced them in more than a year, you should just replace them anyway.
Here’s a hint. If the display on the remote is faded or flicking, or there seems to be a lag when the remote and the air conditioner are communicating, the problem is likely your batteries.
Before changing your batteries—and assuming the remote problems started after you changed them last—check the polarity. Meaning, are the batteries installed positive to positive and negative to negative? If not, switch them around.
Buy a new batch of batteries and replace the ones in the remote or test the batteries in the remote.
Proceed based on your findings in step 2.
But what if you have a wired remote?
2- Have a Wired Remote? Call a Pro
Unfortunately, if your wired remote isn’t working properly, there isn’t a simple fix.
This type of remote is installed by a technician and can be dangerous if handled improperly, leading to electric shocks or fire. Check your owner’s manual or online for a dealer who handles your make and model.
3- Check the Remote’s IR Transmitter
Remember, your remote works on infrared (IR) technology. The remote is a transmitter and there’s a receiver somewhere on your air conditioner. If the transmitter isn’t working, no message is received. The problem is that IR isn’t visible to the eye, so it’s hard to know if the signal is working.
There are a few ways to test your IR transmitter, but one isn’t cheap and there’s a good chance the other won’t work. Still want to try?
Buy something called an Infrared Sensor Card. This is a card with a reflective surface that will show up the infrared light—if your remote is sending the signal.
Some smartphone cameras will illuminate the IR signal. If there are different makes and models of phones in your home, grab a selection and try this test. The test will work on some phones but not all.
You can also watch a demonstration in the video above. It’s for testing a TV remote, but that’s irrelevant. The premise is the same.
Turn the camera on on your phone and dim the lights in the room.
Point your remote at the camera lens and press any button on the remote. If the IR is transmitting, you’ll see it lighting up on your phone. If not, try another phone. If none of them work, you likely have another problem.
4- Try Using the Remote from a Different Position
Remember that IR is a light signal. So there needs to be a direct path between the transmitter and the receiver, and they need to be within a certain distance. At the very most, your remote will have a distance of about 30 feet to work but it could be less in some cases.
Move closer to your air conditioner unit and try the remote. If it works, problem sovled. You know you need to use it within that distance.
Try using the remote from the same distance, but from another location—one that has no obstructions between you and the receiver.
If there isn’t a direct line of sight between that little beam of light that you can’t even see and the air conditioner, the signal is interrupted and the remote cannot work.
5- Clean the Remote Control’s IR Sensor
Chances are you’ve had your sweaty hands on the remote a time or a thousand, right? Well, over time, dirt, sweat, food, whatever you have on your hands can and will transfer to the remote. If any of that is contaminating the sensor, the beam may not be able to get past it.
Use a soft cloth like something you would clean eyeglasses with to wipe the sensor down. It’s important not to use anything that will scratch the surface, as that could just make things worse.
6- Check the Main Control Board
It might be that the problem isn’t caused by the remote—the transmitter. The problem could be with the receiver, which will be on your air conditioner’s main control board.
The control board receives input from a variety of sensors, including a thermostat, and if something isn’t functioning properly on it, it could impact how some components work—or don’t.
A grimy control board could be the cause of numerous issues, so checking it when you’re following your regular AC maintenance steps is a good idea.
Sometimes, something as simple as a reset will get things back to normal—just like you sometimes need to reboot your computer or phone when it starts acting up.
Power off your air conditioner by unplugging it and waiting about 30 seconds before plugging it back in. Check to see if your remote is working again. If not, carry on with the following.
With your air conditioner unplugged, use the video above to identify and locate your control board—the board itself will look the same whether you have a window air conditioner or a portable unit.
If everything but your remote is working, be very careful with the control board. Don’t touch anything but use a can of compressed air to clean off the surface.
7- Deal with any Water Damage
Water—or any level of moisture—and electronics don’t play well together. If you or your kids have spilled a drink or managed to dunk your remote in the fish tank, there’s a good chance it’s dead. But try these steps first to see if you can revive it.
Remove the remote from the moisture source as soon as possible.
Open it up and remove the batteries.
Wipe off as much moisture as possible.
Use a blow dryer on a cool or warm—never hot!—setting to air dry as much as possible.
Fill a paper bag or container with dry rice—enough to immerse the remote—and let it sit in a cool dry place for a few days.
Put the remote back together and test.
8- Ensure You’re Using the Correct Settings
How difficult can a remote control be, right? Well, if you haven’t read the directions, maybe more than you thought.
Sometimes the remote simply isn’t working correctly thanks to user error.
Read the directions and make sure you’re using the correct settings.
Generally speaking, when you follow a course of best practices, your air conditioner and all its components should work properly. But sometimes they don’t.
If your remote has stopped working, you can check the following—for the most part, there’s a fix. Of course, there’s also a chance your remote is dead, and it’s time to buy a new one.
- Check and replace your batteries
- Check the remote’s IR transmitter
- Try using the remote from a different position
- Clean the remote control’s IR sensor
- Check the main control board
- Deal with any water damage
- Ensure you are using the correct settings
Hopefully, one of the above has your remote operating properly once again.
Thanks for reading! Why you’re here, why not check out some of our related posts below? Perhaps we can help you with something else.