You should clean the air conditioner coils on your heat pump at least twice a year. Remove the heat pump’s outer cover after cutting the unit’s power supply and vacuum the fins. Detach the grille and fan and wipe down the unit with a cleaning solution. Use a garden hose to wash the unit and reassemble it once it is fully dried.
Did you know a neglected heat pump consumes 10 – 25% more energy than a properly maintained pump? A few years ago, a close friend complained about spikes in his electricity bill. Immediately, I knew the problem; he needed to clean and fix his heat pump. As I helped him, we discovered leaves, clutters of dirt, and large balls of cotton blocking the condenser coils and severely restricting airflow. Eventually, we had to replace the heat pump as the compressor was damaged and rendered unfixable.
In this piece, after guiding you through the components of a heat pump and its operating principles, I will explain an easy, stepwise procedure on how to clean air conditioner coils on your heat pump and keep it working at maximum efficiency throughout the year. I use a simple DIY cleaning solution that works perfectly on the heat pumps in my office and home. Read on to learn how to prepare this effective solution and use it to clean your heat pump.
Components Of A Heat Pump
Heat pumps consist of an indoor air handling unit and an outdoor unit. These two units consist of multiple sub-components that I have explained below.
- Outdoor unit: This unit consists of a coil and a fan. The fan blows air over the coil to facilitate the heat exchange process.
- Indoor unit: The indoor unit consisting of a coil and a fan is the air handler. The coil acts as an evaporator in cooling mode and switches to a condenser in heating mode. The fan moves air across the coils and through the ducts located around the house.
- Refrigerant: This special substance absorbs (heating mode) and rejects (cooling mode) heat as air moves throughout the system.
- Compressor: This device pressurizes the refrigerant and moves it across the system.
- Reversing valve: You can switch the heat pump between heating and cooling modes by reversing the flow of the refrigerant. The reversing valve is the component that enables the switch.
- Expansion valve: This valve is a metering device that regulates the flow of the refrigerant across the system, allowing changes in the pressure and temperature of the refrigerant.
How Does A Heat Pump Work?
Heat pumps draw heat from the air and ground and use a refrigerant to transfer it between an indoor handler unit and an outside compressor unit.
Heat pumps can be set to cooling mode or heating mode. When you set your pump to the cooling mode, it absorbs heat from indoors and rejects it outdoors. In the heating mode, the pump absorbs heat from outdoor air or the ground and transfers it indoors. The operation does not involve any creation of heat but only the transfer of heat.
Heat naturally moves from high temperature and pressure to low temperature and pressure areas. Heat pumps utilize this natural physical property by bringing heat in contact with low-pressure, cool environments to create comfort in your home.
Stepwise Procedure To Clean Coils On A Heat Pump
Air conditioner coils on a heat pump use a fan to release heat absorbed by the refrigerant. Air flows into your coils when the fan is on, pulling in dirt, leaves, lawn clippings, and other light objects that reduce the efficiency of your unit. Follow my easy procedure below to clean your coils.
1. Turn Off The Power
The power to your unit can be turned off at the shutoff box. This is typically located within eyesight on a nearby exterior wall. If your unit has no shutoff box, you can cut the power to the unit at the circuit breaker box. Test if the power has been cut off by turning on the unit and ensuring that there is no power supply.
2. Clean The Surrounding Area
Efficient airflow requires a minimum clearance of 2-3 feet around each side of the condenser unit. Remove any equipment, debris, and shrubbery in this area. Cut off bushes, shrubs, and tree branches that have encroached on this area.
Safety Precaution: Before removing the outer cover of your unit, check again if the power supply is cut off. Taking extra safety precautions when dealing with electrical equipment is never wrong.
3. Dismantle The Outer Case Of The Condenser Unit
The outer case is the piece that goes around your condenser unit and protects it. Remove the case, grille, and fan, and keep them a few feet away. Depending on your unit, the grille may be slidable or screwed in. If it is screwed in, use a screwdriver to unscrew it and keep the screws in a safe place.
Both the fan and grille may be removable. If the fan is not removable, be careful not to spray it with water when cleaning the fins. Water will disturb the electrical connections that attach your fan to the unit.
4. Spray Down The Unit
Use a garden hose to spray water on the condenser coil. This will wash down accumulated dust, debris, leaves, and cotton. Use a cleaning solution to clean the coils. You can purchase a condenser coil cleaning solution from any home improvement store or use a simple DIY cleaning solution that does a great job. I have shared an easy method to prepare a DIY cleaning solution later in this article.
Wipe down the solution on the coils with a sponge or soft brush. Try getting around the entire unit, but be careful not to bend the fins. Once you’ve applied the solution, spray down the fins directly and not from the side to avoid bending them.
5. Straighten Bent Fins
If you encounter previously damaged fins or damage them when spraying, don’t worry! Specialized fin combs are available at your nearest home improvement store. You can use one to straighten any bent fins in your condenser unit. Never use knives, screwdrivers, or other sharp objects to straighten your fins. These will damage your fins and result in inefficient airflow, which can lead to permanent damage in the future.
6. Reassemble The Unit
Once your unit has dried up, reassemble all the removed components. Be gentle with the reassembly to avoid damaging any electrical components linked to the fan and grille.
7. Reconnect To Power Supply
After reassembling the unit, reconnect it to the power supply and turn it on to ensure it works properly. Adjust the thermostat and check if the unit responds to changes in settings. If you face any issues, contact an HVAC technician immediately.
This website has a great tool to help you find trusted HVAC contractors and get free quotes.
Preparing The Cleaning Solution
While several commercial cleaning solutions are available at the nearest home improvement store, a simple solution of mild detergent mixed with water is enough to clean most components of your heat pump.
I recommend another effective solution using three simple ingredients – baking soda, vinegar, and water. Blend half a cup of vinegar with half a cup of baking soda. Add the blend to one gallon of water and stir well to create a uniform mixture. This solution thoroughly cleans air filters, condenser coils, evaporator coils, and drain pans.
Mistakes To Avoid When Cleaning Your Heat Pump
There are several common mistakes you must avoid when cleaning the condenser coils in your heat pump:
- Not turning off the power: Water and other liquids are used when cleaning your heat pump. Not turning off the power can cause fatal electric shocks or damage your equipment.
- Using the wrong cleaning solution: Using harsh chemicals will damage the fins in your unit. You must use only mild or specialized cleaning solutions designed to clean coils.
- Using a pressure washer: The fins in your heat pump are delicate and can easily be bent. A pressure washer will bend fins and damage your unit or reduce efficiency.
Heat pumps rely on efficient heat exchange as the refrigerant passes through the coils. Debris and dirt prevent heat transfer and negatively impact the unit’s operation. Cleaning your coils regularly allows your unit to provide comfort in your home throughout the year. It increases your unit’s reliability, efficiency, and lifespan while keeping your monthly electricity bills in check. You will make fewer calls to your HVAC technician and benefit from high-quality indoor air.
How do I clean the air conditioner coils on my heat pump?
There are seven simple steps to clean the air conditioner coils on your heat pump.
- Turn off the power
- Clean the surrounding area
- Remove the outer cover of the unit
- Spray down the unit
- Straighten bent fins
- Reassemble the unit
- Reconnect to the power supply
What are the common mistakes to avoid when cleaning a heat pump?
There are three common mistakes to avoid when cleaning your heat pump.
- Not turning off the power
- Using the wrong cleaning solution
- Using a pressure washer
What cleaning solution should be used when cleaning a heat pump?
Use a simple solution of mild detergent mixed with water to clean your heat pump. An alternative is to use a solution of vinegar, baking soda, and water that effectively cleans air filters, evaporator coils, condenser coils, and drain pans. Specially designed coil cleaning solutions are available at all home improvement stores that can be used instead of DIY solutions.
How does cleaning your heat pump improve its efficiency?
Heat pumps use refrigerants that exchange heat as they pass through the coils. Debris and dirt prevent heat transfer and negatively impact the efficiency of your unit. Cleaning the coils regularly ensures smooth heat transfer and increases your unit’s reliability, efficiency, and lifespan.
How do I fix bent fins in a heat pump?
Straighten bent fins in your condenser unit with a fin comb that you can purchase at your nearest home improvement store. Never use knives, screwdrivers, or other sharp objects, as these will damage the fins and result in inefficient airflow. Inefficient airflow can lead to permanent damage to your compressor.