Air conditioner maintenance is one of the most important -- and overlooked -- aspects to keeping energy costs down. It also extends the life of your unit, saving on costly repairs or replacement. Regular cleaning is the most effective way to keep your air conditioner running efficiently. It may seem a daunting task, but with a couple hours and a little know-how, anyone can easily complete this project.

Getting Started & Exterior Unit

The best time to clean your air conditioner is before the cooling season. It requires a bit of technical knowledge but can certainly be done by a novice. The first step is to turn off the power to the unit; the easiest way to do this is to turn off the breaker. Now that you can work safely, you should head to the outdoor portion of the unit and make sure it is clear of any debris, dirt and leaves. This may require use of a screwdriver to remove the fan; a wet/dry vacuum is recommended for cleaning.

Don't Forget The Fins!

Air conditioner fins are an often overlooked but crucial part of the unit. With the fan removed, spray the fins with a garden hose to clean them. There are commercial fin cleaners, but simply cleaning with water should suffice. Bent fins can reduce efficiency; gently straighten out any bent fins with a butter knife or similar tool. You can now replace the fan and move on to the next step. Clear the area of any leaves and debris, as well as any vegetation near the unit. A good rule of thumb is to leave two feet of clearance in all directions.

Interior Cleaning: Evaporator and Filter

Moving inside, you should check the evaporator and filters. A clean evaporator and clean filters are vital for efficiency. It will be necessary to remove the housing for access to the evaporator. Dust off with a soft brush and move to the drain pan. Clean the drain pan with hot, soapy water and ensure it drains easily. If there are problems with draining, use a wet/dry vacuum to clear it out.

Filters should be changed at least twice a year; most filters are not changed as often as needed. Remove the old filter and insert the new, making sure to use the arrows to match air-flow direction. "Air purifying" filters may reduce airflow and are not recommended. Turn the power back on and the job is done!

Air conditioner maintenance is a simple -- and very important -- job. Using the tips provided will keep your unit running efficiently and keep your energy bills down.