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Can Air Conditioners Be Stored on Their Side?

Air conditioners are among the most high-maintenance appliances around the home. Luckily, you could save a ton of repairs if you know the proper way to handle your unit, especially when it’s time to store it before the winter. 

Air conditioners shouldn’t be stored on their side, mostly because this may damage their compressors. If you have to lay your AC unit on its side, let it stand upright for 12–24 hours to allow the compressor oil and refrigerant to resettle back in their original places. 

In this article, I’ll dive deeper into the components of an AC unit to explain what could go wrong. I’ll also share some tips on how to properly store your unit to prevent any damage. Let’s get going!

Why You Shouldn’t Store Air Conditioners on Their Side

Even though air conditioners differ in shape from one model to another, all models operate according to the same basic principles. 

Let’s take a quick look at these principles so you can better understand the ideal storage method for your AC unit. 

How Air Conditioners Work

Any AC unit consists of four main components: evaporator, compressor, condenser, and cooling refrigerant

The cooling cycle starts in the evaporator coil, which lies inside the AC unit’s indoor part. The refrigerant spans in this coil as a cool liquid, absorbing the temperature of your home air.

While your air turns into a cool breeze, the refrigerant heats up into a low-pressure gas. With such a low pressure, the refrigerant wouldn’t be able to move toward the rest of the cycle, and that’s where the compressor comes in handy. 

The compressor squeezes the molecules of the gaseous refrigerant close together, raising both the pressure and temperature.

The refrigerant then makes its last stop at the condenser, and that’s where it transforms back into a cool liquid by dissipating its heat into the outside air. The cycle restarts as the refrigerant moves back into your room to absorb more heat. 

Of course, the actual AC unit is much more complicated than that, but that simple explanation will do the trick in our case. If you want to know more about the process, check this video from Learn Engineering: 

What Happens When You Store Your AC Unit Sideways

As I said earlier, the main part that could be damaged from improper storage is the compressor. But why?

See, a compressor works just like a simple engine — it contains a crankshaft that thrusts a large piston onto the gaseous refrigerant to increase its pressure. 

For that process to work, lots of intricate gears have to turn together as harmoniously as possible. 

If any pollutant, like dirt, builds up between those gears, the cooling cycle would instantly stop. And that’s why any compressor contains a hefty amount of oil lubricant. 

When you store the AC unit on its side, the lubricant may seep away from its original place, leaving the unwary gears exposed to all sorts of pollutants. 

Besides, sideway storage will flood the evaporator or the condenser coils with excess refrigerant, which might raise the likelihood of future leaks. 

How To Undo the Damage Before Powering the AC Unit

If you already stored your AC unit on its side, don’t worry — you could still manage to get everything back on track. 

If you reinstall the unit soon, let it stand upright for 12–24 hours beforehand. If you’ve got more time to spare, it’s better to err on the side of caution and leave it upright as much as you can. 

The upright storage will make sure the lubricant covers every bit of the compressor, and it’ll also distribute the refrigerant over each part evenly. 

How To Know if the Compressor Is Damaged

If you notice something unusual with your AC unit, I highly recommend contacting a professional AC service to check it for you. 

Nevertheless, you should also familiarize yourself with some of the most common failure symptoms. This way, you can describe the problem precisely to the professionals: 

  • You’re getting warm air: If your AC fan is blowing warm air, there might be a refrigerant leak, or the compressor might be unable to squeeze the refrigerant properly.
  • The outside unit makes strange noise: A rattling sound usually indicates a dislodged part in the compressor. Turn off the AC immediately and call the repair service to prevent further damage. 
  • Tripped circuit breaker: If the compressor isn’t properly lubricated, it’ll overheat and draw high power, forcing the circuit breaker to trip. Although this usually requires a new compressor, professionals may find a way to salvage the damaged one. 

Tips To Safely Store Your Air Conditioner

Unfortunately, I can’t give you a step-by-step guide on how to clean every bit of your AC unit because every model may have a different approach. Please refer to the user manual to know how to safely handle each part of the unit without damaging it. 

Nevertheless, here are some general tips that should be helpful with any model. 

Don’t Remove the AC Unit by Yourself

According to Appliance Analysts, air conditioners can weigh anywhere between 60 and 180 lbs (27–82 kg). That’s A LOT of weight. 

To safely handle such weight, I recommend buying the Carhartt gloves from Amazon. These gloves are covered with a thick layer of rubber, which will help you grip the AC unit safely. There’s also a special model for women to make sure it’s fitted properly.

Ideally, you should ask one or two of your friends to come over and help you. One of them should lift the unit from the other side while the other holds the window open.

Clean the Unit Well

If this is your first time storing the unit for winter, you’d be amazed by the amount of dirt that has collected inside the casing, particularly around the filter. 

Preferably, you should take the unit outside to hose it down properly. Don’t use a pressure washer since this may damage the tiny fins. You can use a delicate spray hose, like the one produced by SprayTec

If the dirt is too stubborn, you can sizzle it away with the Frost King ACF19 Foam Coil Cleaner. I like this product because it can also take care of oil and grease stains, meaning that you can also use it on your car radiator.

Store in a Dry Room

If you still have the original AC package, use it to store the unit in a utility closet or storage room. If you already threw the box, cover the unit with plastic wrap to prevent insects and pests from damaging the internal wires and delicate components.

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If you have to store it in a garage, mount the unit on a bunch of bricks or a wooden platform. This should keep the base far from any spilled oils or chemicals. 

Consider Investing in a Winterizing Cover

Extremely low temperatures can freeze the delicate components of an AC unit, especially if you don’t dry it well before storage. 

Ideally, you should invest in a thick winterizing cover to properly isolate the internal parts. You can find these covers in most home improvement stores, or you can order them from Amazon

Just make sure to measure your unit before purchasing the cover because using an ill-fitted model will be pretty much useless. 

Final Thoughts

You shouldn’t store air conditioners on their side whenever possible. Upright storage will keep the compressor oil and refrigerant in place, meaning that the unit will be ready to use right when the summer kicks in.