How to Clean a Car AC System? – 4 Detailed Steps

Written by

Bruce Sonnier


Marcus Dutton

how to clean a car ac system

A clean air conditioner in your car can provide you with optimum riding comfort, but it is only achievable when your car’s AC system is maintained properly and addressed early on when issues.

So, do you know how to clean a car AC system?

You should, but fear that the task is best left to professionals? You can actually do it at home with the right tools and knowledge.

Save on cleaning cost by ensuring that your car AC functions efficiently with as simple as remove grime, dirt, grease, and dust from your vents and evaporator to increase cooling efficiency without detaching it.

A Practical Guide to Clean a Car AC System


There’s no substitute for hiring a professional car AC cleaning specialist to do comprehensive maintenance on your car’s AC system or a technician when experiencing hardware issues.

Instead, this guide is intended for practical and DIY cleaning without removing your full dashboard assembly to access your AC unit and only those that are manageable on your end.

What to prepare for car A/C cleaning

Before you begin to clean your car AC, the best way to start is to prepare the tools you need for the job;

  • Hand gloves
  • Face goggles and mask
  • Basic hand tools – such as a screwdriver or plastic prying tool.
  • Over-the-counter AC evaporator cleaner, car AC disinfectant spray, or car AC cleaning spray
  • Rag or soft cloth
  • Reusable spray bottle or garden hose
  • Microfiber towel
  • Blower or handheld fan
  • Brush

Make sure you have all your cleaning tools ready within reach for your DIY car aircon cleaning.

Step 1: Locate your AC system, evaporator core, and system parts


Wear your face goggles, mask and hand gloves, then establish where your AC system is situated, which is usually under the car’s hood.

The compressor is attached to the drive belt then trace the pipes and lines for you to know the different components of your AC system.

Step 2: Identify the areas to access your AC especially the evaporator core


If you see electronic attachments along the system passages, only remove those that are detachable by using a screwdriver or plastic prying tool.

However, make sure the parts are not joined or welded together. After detaching the attachments, cover the terminals or sockets to avoid exposure to cleaning materials.

Step 3: Check your AC evaporator core and assess carefully


After inspecting the evaporator core, determine whether it needs simple DIY cleaning or professional attention if there are signs of physical damage.

Do not troubleshoot damage issues if you are not professionally trained lest it could only worsen the problem.

Step 4: Apply AC evaporator cleaner


If DIY cleaning is possible, apply your AC evaporator cleaner or car AC cleaner then let sit for a few minutes to soften dried deposits and disinfect the unit.

When using foam-based cleaners, wait until the foam dissipates before rinsing with water using a hose or spray bottle, then gently wipe dry with a rag or soft cloth.

Dry the evaporator core with the fan or blower on hard-to-reach areas of the unit.

Reserve the brush for grease or grime that could not be removed using the blower, just make sure not to apply too much pressure.

Step 5: Remove and clean cabin filter


Remove the cabin filter, which is usually located under the dashboard and clean the filter element with the blower and brush, if necessary.

Also use your car AC disinfectant spray on the vents, passages, and surfaces as it will help clean bacteria out of your car AC system.

Clogged filters can affect cooling efficiency or strain the compressor and risk damage when used for long periods.

Step 6: Attach all parts


Check and clean car AC lines, as well as other attachments using the microfiber cloth, make sure to avoid touching terminal wires or sensitive areas to prevent damage.

Make sure everything is clean and dry before re-installing everything back in its original set-up.

Frequently Asked Questions


Can I clean my AC unit myself?

Yes, but remember there are limitations on DIY cleaning and when you need get a professional car AC cleaning service.

For instance, when you need to remove oil from the car AC system or flush the auto air conditioning system, which require professional attention.

How do I know if my AC needs cleaning?

You need auto air conditioner cleaning when your AC system is not cold, emits foul odor, makes rattling sounds, and the car interior condenses.

These are also indicative of germs so it is imperative to clean bacteria out of your car AC system for health reasons.

How often should I clean my car’s AC system?

Professionally, a thorough car AC condenser cleaning or flush car air conditioning system maintenance at periodic intervals such as once in two years for new cars and at least once a year for older cars.

For DIY cleaning, do it once in two to three months using a good quality car AC system cleaner.Check for any sign of damage or issues before you spray water on the car AD condenser unit.

What are the vital parts and functions of a car air conditioning system?

Before going ahead with DIY car aircon cleaning, it is crucial to know how car AC systems work, different parts and what you can manage on your end.

Many of today’s cars are composed of five vital parts;

  • Compressor

The workhorse of the AC system that most easily wears out. It also holds the pressurized refrigerant.

Power is generated by the car’s drive belt connected to the driveshaft of the car’s engine.

  • Condenser

This serves as a heat exchanger and responsible for receiving the vapor from the compressor and condenses the gas into liquid.

This function is a crucial step in the cooling process by removing heat from the refrigerant and cools it.

  • Evaporator

The evaporator functions as a cooling unit that releases cool air into the cabin through the car AC vents.

  • Receiver-dryer

The receiver-drier is also known as the accumulator, which works as a filter that removes contaminants and excess moisture from the refrigerant.

  • Expansion valve/tube (some models have an orifice tube)

As the name suggests, the expansion valve or orifice tube is where the refrigerant expansion takes place by lowering the pressure of the refrigerant as it gets pushed to the evaporator.

This part also ensures the whole air conditioning system sustains the closed loop process and make the system function properly and efficiently.


Achieving a clean car air conditioner smell is possible only when an efficient AC system works properly and optimally.

While periodic professional service is essential, it pays to know how to clean a car AC system especially when all that’s needed is a manageable DIY process, so you can save money in the long run.

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