Cleaning A Window Air Conditioner… Without Removing It

Researched & Written by Craig

Let’s be honest.

Window Air Conditioners aren’t fun to set up.

They’re big, bulky, and need to be sat on a pretty thin window frame. Removing them isn’t exactly an attractive proposition.

All of that said – they do need cleaned! A dirty air conditioner is only going to cause you problems. Dust problems, air quality problems, energy bill problems… you’ll have 99 problems and that window ac will be most of them.

So can we clean a window air conditioner without the hassle of removing them? You bet. In short:

How To Clean A Mounted Window Air Conditioner:

  1. Turn it off. Disconnect entirely from the wall.
  2. Remove the filter. Soak in warm soapy water.
  3. Remove the case. Wipe down with warm soapy water. This includes any detachable framing.
  4. Vacuum and wipe down. Any major areas that need some serious attention.
  5. Spray with warm soapy water. All over the interior – especially the fins. (Water is OK, but don’t use force).
  6. Softly brush/comb down the fins. Remove as much dirt/grime as possible. Don’t push on them, though!
  7. Leave everything to dry, then reassemble. Use your user manual if you get stuck.

At least, that’s the short version!

If you’re not in a rush, there’s plenty of more detail that’s worth taking note of. Read on for the full guide.

Benefits of a Clean Window Air Conditioner

Before doing any kind of chore or ‘adult’ task, it’s worth remembering why we’re putting the effort in.

Like every major appliances, air conditioners degrade over time. They get dirty, their filters clog up, and their generally efficiency drops as a result. But don’t worry. It’s totally natural.

All your window air conditioner needs is a little bit of love and care to really shine. Just like us humans!

Having a clean air conditioner isn’t just satisfying. It also means that:

  • You’ll have cleaner air. With less irritants for allergies, asthma, and other respiratory issues.
  • Your air will smell fresher. Suddenly removing the faint musk of air conditioner mold and dust will leave your air feeling fresher and cleaner.
  • It’ll run quieter. A dirty machine needs to work harder to give the same result. By reducing it’s workload, your air conditioner will be much more efficient. Meaning the ac should run quieter.
  • You’ll use less energy. As above, with a more efficient AC comes lower energy bills.
  • It’ll last for longer. With less stress on the machine, you’ll benefit from a longer, healthier air conditioner lifespan.

Ready to begin? Then let’s get started!

Setting Up

Here’s a quick list of things you should prepare. Just like with cooking a meal, it’s easier to have everything in one place rather than running around as you work!

  • A bucket or nearby sink filled with warm soapy water
  • A vacuum with a soft brush attachment
  • An actual soft brush or comb
  • A spray bottle with warm water + 2 drops of detergent or bleach
  • Cloths or a small tower you can get dirty
  • Newspaper to lay down under the AC and where you’ll be working
  • A screwdriver
  • A small tray to place screws/small parts in
  • Your user manual (Lost it? Just Google your model + ‘manual pdf’)
  • Protective gloves (for bleach and sharp fins)
  • Optional: A Fin Comb
  • Optional: Can of compressed air
Air Conditioner Before Cleaning

Try to detach whatever you can – including the frame fins.

Cleaning Your Window Air Conditioner

Let’s get started with a full deep clean. Since you’ve taken the time to look this up on the internet, I imagine that AC is pretty dirty! We’ll cover monthly check-ups later.

So, is it possible to clean a window air conditioner without removing it? Yes, it’s possible. It won’t be quite as good (or straightforward) as dismantling it completely. But it’s more than possible – and can still give you a huge boost in performance and air quality.

Step by step. Let’s do this together.

  1.  Disconnect Totally. Take the plug out of the wall. Done? Woohoo! Step one complete. Great going.
  2. Remove the Filter. This should come out easily. If it’s washable, great – get it soaking in a basin of warm soapy water. If it’s disposable? Get your replacement ready.
  3. Remove the Case. Take out the screws and place them somewhere easy to remember. Take off the front grille at least – as well as any other components that you can remove. Particularly the back grille, any removable condensation drain, and any parts of the framing you can easily get off. Again, soak all of these in warm soapy water and leave to sit.
  4. Vacuum & Wipe. Take your vacuum and get any obvious balls of dust and dirty out of there. Take a slightly damp cloth and do an initial wipe over any obvious areas (i.e. early mold patches).
  5. Spray. Using the spray bottle (+ 2 drops of detergent), spray over every interior surface you’ll be able to wipe down. Especially the fins. Don’t worry – air conditioners are made to handle water. They’re also dehumidifiers, after all. 
  6. Wipe Exteriors. While the interior soaks in spray, we can now wipe down the exterior. Take each part and give it a good going over with a towel or a cloth. Once clean, leave out to dry.
  7. Brush Down. Back to the interior. Take the soft brush and gently brush down the cooling fins and coils. Try your best not to push these to either side. Only go up and down. Use a fin comb if you have one (don’t worry if you don’t). You can also use a can of compressed air to get at any nooks and crannies.
  8. Wipe Interiors. Lastly, give the soaked interiors a good wipe down with a wet cloth. Pretty much any surface you can get your hands on – especially the fins and fan blades. Get as much as you can out of there – then leave everything to dry.
  9. Reassemble. Put each piece back together in the order you took it off. Not sure? Don’t worry – consult the user manual (or just give it a shot!)
  10. Study Up. Last up – read our section on window ac best practices below to keep your air conditioner at it’s best!

And there we have it. 10 simple steps to clean success. Step 10 is especially important, of course.

Monthly Check-Ups

For a monthly check up, it’s super simple. Once you’ve got a clean window air conditioner, it only needs a check once a month or so. All you need to do is give the filter a clean, empty out the condensation tray, and have a quick inspection of the AC. If at all looks good from the outside, then great!

If you suspect you smell mold or spot anything out of the ordinary, just take the case off and have a look. It’ll only take a minute. Follow up with any spot-cleaning that’s necessary.

Hey, presto! All good.


Rather see this process in video format? Here’s a great one by Becky’s Homestead. She does take this outside, but you can still use the same process (maybe just without the hose!)

Window Air Conditioner Best Practices

Now that you’ve got a squeaky clean window air conditioner, let’s make sure it stays at it’s best.

Follow these quick tips to make sure you get the most out of your unit.

  • Keep the filter clean! Monthly cleaning should be fine for this, but do more as necessary if it’s a tough ol’ season for your unit. If you’re shopping for a new one, keep your eye out for HEPA-certified filters. They’re much better for anyone with allergies (and any lovers of clean air).
  • Keep the fins straight. During and after any deep cleans, keep the cooling fins as straight as possible. These are used to cool the air, and should be running straight up and down.
  • Keep it on! The more you use the window air conditioner, the less chance of mold build up there is. (No, I don’t work for the energy company!) Basically, moisture breeds mold – especially stale moisture. If the AC is sitting on the window on a damp day, that’s when mold will start to creep up. Try to have the AC shut away if you’re not going to be using it.
  • Keep it in the shade. An air conditioner will be suffering if left in the sun. Where possible, try to mount it on a window that gets the most shade.
  • If in doubt, consider a service. If your AC hasn’t been performing and you can’t find out why, consider hiring a professional. One quick dismantle, clean, and reassemble might be all you need to get the AC feeling brand new again.
  • Store it well. When not in use, keep the AC in a cool , dry space. If it’s over-exposed to the elements, you’re looking at accelerated onset of rust and other problems.

Window AC Cleaning FAQ’s

Is A Dirty Window Air Conditioner Bad?

Yes! A dirty window air conditioner can hurt you in a lot of ways. It can lower the cooling efficiency of the air conditioner, and increase the wear and tear on it. The dirt and mold will lead to the foul smelling air, and the spreading of dust/dander can aggravate your allergies.

Can I Spray Water on my Air Conditioner?

Yes! Air conditioners are sturdy appliances, and they also deal with moisture in the air. This doesn't mean soak the unit - but spraying to wipe down is absolutely fine and even encouraged. See our cleaning notes for more detail.

How Often Should I Clean A Window Air Conditioner?

The most important time to clean a window air conditioner is when you take it out of the cupboard for summer. That's when the dust, grime, and mold might have built up. Once it's had a spring clean, a quick check-up every month or two (depending on how much you're using it) is more than enough.

Conclusion

Window air conditioners can be a gamechanger for the summer.

But no-one wants smelly, dusty air. Nor a hot, overworked air conditioner.

I hope this quick guide has helped give you guidance on keeping that baby clean, happy, and running well.

If we’ve helped you out, please consider checking out some of our other articles! The best way to support or thank us is by spending more time on the website.

Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you have a great day.

Best wishes,

-Craig