A well-maintained unit is the best way to beat the heat.
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Woman laying down on sofa in living room with air conditioner
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Window air conditioning units are affordable tools that will help beat the summer heat. These units are often smaller, easier to maintain, and significantly less expensive than full-home central air conditioning systems, but that doesn't mean that they are completely maintenance-free. Fortunately, most of the care required to keep your unit pumping cool air this summer can be handled without the help of a professional. Ahead, we're sharing how to clean a window air conditioning unit so you can ensure your machine works its best.

Window units are amazing during the hottest season of the year, and while they are a great addition to keep any home cool, it's essential to clean them regularly, explains Steve Truett, president of Aire Serv, a Neighborly company. "Exterior conditions and heavy-duty work can take a toll on your window air conditioner," he says. "By maintaining your window AC unit and consistently cleaning it, you'll help prevent mold and mildew from growing inside." Additionally, your air conditioner will keep you cooler (and your electric bill lower) when it's properly maintained.

How to Clean Your Window AC Unit

Your air conditioner will work best when it's cleaned annually, and specifically prior to when you're going to need it the most. "Wash the condenser coil with a water hose at a slow water pressure to ensure you don't bend the condenser fins," suggests Brian Ludemann of Devine Mechanical. Additionally, he suggests straightening out the coil fins in the back with a fin comb ($9.99, amazon.com). Both of these tasks are best done annually (unlike filter cleaning, which he says should be done monthly during the months your unit is running). "The best way to clean your AC unit is by cleaning it outside," he says. "This way you keep any water and dust out of the house." Just be careful when sliding the window unit out of the metal housing, you don't want to pull the electrical wires along with it. Additionally, Ludemann suggests wearing rubber gloves (to prevent cuts) and safety goggles to prevent dirty water or dust from splashing back into your eyes."

Don't Forget the Exterior

After you've cleaned the interior facing parts of your unit, you'll want to take a look at the outside. Truett says you can do this by washing your grill with warm water and mild detergent. "Another alternative is to use a damp cloth to wipe it down instead," he says. "Once the grill is cleaned, wipe down the top and sides of your unit." You'll need to wait until all the parts are completely dry before turning your AC back on, so save this job for early in the morning or when you're going to be away from home for the day, this way you won't be caught without AC when you need it most.

When to Call the Pros

Of course, the average homeowner can't handle every aspect of air conditioner maintenance on their own, which is why Ludemann says you might need to call in the professionals from time to time. For example, if your window unit isn't starting up, he suggests having a professional come check it out. "[You should also call when you need] to check the electrical going into the window AC unit," he says, or if the compressor doesn't seem to start, and no cool air is being pushed out. Regular maintenance will always be cheaper (and faster) than waiting until you need to call a professional to help, or having to replace your unit all together.

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