How to Clean Heat Pump Condenser Coils

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Posted April 14, 2017

You may not be thinking of your outdoor heat pump condenser coils when planning Spring Cleaning tasks, but it may be the most important thing you can do.

We highly recommend cleaning your heat pump condenser coils this spring. Sure, your HVAC technician will clean your indoor evaporator coils and outdoor condenser coils, but you will greatly benefit from more frequent heat pumps cleanings.

With spring and summer comes increased grass clippings, cotton from cottonwood trees, and dandelions. If you have a lot of grass and floating debris around, you may have to clean your heat pump weekly!

A simple heat pump cleaning will bring you into the cooling season with increased comfort, efficiency, and energy savings.

Step-by-Step Instructions for Cleaning Outdoor Condenser Coils

Your outdoor condenser unit needs to be cleaned at least twice a year, and spring is the perfect time to do so — it’s not too hot or too cold out, and most likely you’re using the unit sparingly at the moment.

1. Before you do anything, turn off the power to the heat pump at its shutoff box, usually located within eyesight on an exterior wall. Shutoffs can be different depending on the unit. If there is no shutoff box, you can turn off power to the unit at the breaker box. Try turning the unit on to test if it is indeed off.

2. After power has been turned off, clean the area around the condenser unit. For air to flow efficiently, we recommend about 2-3 feet of clearance around each side of the condenser. This means any shrubbery, equipment, or other debris should be cleared away. Keep this minimum clearance in mind when planting anything around your unit. If any bushes or shrubs have encroached on your heat pump’s breathing space, cut them back.

After you’ve cleaned up around the condenser, you’re almost ready to wash. Just don’t forget to turn off the power to the unit! Safety precautions are the most important when dealing with anything with electrical connections.

3. Once you have cleared a minimum 2-foot clearance around the entire unit, the next step is to remove the outer piece from the condenser unit. That’s the piece that protects and goes around the condenser. Depending on the need, you may want to consider using a soft-bristle attachment to vacuum the metal fins.

Before using your garden hose to complete the cleaning process, unscrew the top grille and prop it open. The fan should be attached, so be very careful about not stressing any electrical connections. The point is to avoid directly spraying or hitting the fan with water when you are cleaning the condenser fins.

If you cannot unscrew the top grille or lift the fan out, just be careful not to directly hit it with water when cleaning your fins.

4. Next, it’s time to use your garden hose to clear away any dirt buildup. The most important thing here is to clean the condenser coil. You can use a condenser cleaning solution, available at your local home improvement store, but regular soap and water will do.

Simply brush your cleaning solution on the coils (or use a spray bottle). Try to get around the entire unit, but be careful not to bend any fins.

After you have wiped down the fins with your cleaning solution, be sure to target the water directly at the fins, and do not hit the fins from the side. If a few fins do bend, or if any were previously bent or damaged, you can fix them afterwards.

Using what is called a fin comb, straighten any bent fins on your unit. Bent fins create inefficient airflow and are harder to clean. An HVAC Fin Comb can be found online or at a home improvement store. Do NOT use knives, razor blades, flathead screwdrivers, or any other sharp object. Either use a fin comb or call your contact your local HVAC technician.

Replace the outer grille and top grille (if it was lifted). Turn the power back on to the unit. Adjust the thermostat if needed.

TL;DR — Recap of Steps:

  1. Make sure the unit has been turned off at the source (shut-off switch or breaker box)
  2. Clear the area around the condenser (you may want to put on gloves for this)
  3. Remove the outer heat pump cover (you may need a screwdriver for this)
  4. Remove the top grille and fan (if you can)
  5. Wipe down the condenser coils with condenser coil cleaner or a solution of soap and water
  6. Use a garden hose to wash it from the outside (hit the fins head on, not at an angle)
  7. Use a fin comb to straighten out any bent consider fins
  8. Put the top grille and heat pump cover back into place
  9. Turn power back on and enjoy the fruits of your labor!

Facts about Dirty Coils

Condenser coils must stay clean to ensure energy efficiency, indoor comfort,  and low energy bills. Dirty coils put unnecessary strain on your HVAC system. In fact, according to a 2010 Southern California Edison (SCE) Report, dirty condenser coils degrade cooling capacity up to 40% and reduce energy efficiency by up to 60%.

Benefits of clean condenser coils:

  • Maximum heat transfer
  • Energy efficiency
  • Indoor comfort
  • System longevity
  • Indoor air quality

Of course if you don’t want to DIY this project, reach out to the HVAC professionals at Hiller. We provide full service HVAC tune-ups and maintenance plans that include seasonal cleanings.

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