Overnight temperatures are starting to feel like fall, which means you can't procrastinate too much longer on putting away your air conditioner(s) without inviting in a draft.
Before heaving your window unit into a closet or a corner, it's a good idea to clean it thoroughly. That's because air conditioners accumulate gunk from the New York City air throughout the year that can make them less efficient and, because they're damp inside, they can become havens for mold and other microorganisms.
"If you don't periodically clean a machine... bacteria and pollutants build up in the machine and can get into your lungs," says Harold Wissner, manager at Air-Wave Air Conditioning in the Bronx, which offers air conditioner cleaning and storage (more on that in a minute). "It's not just an economical question, it's a health question."
How to clean the air conditioner
Before you get to work, put some newspapers down so you're not spreading air conditioner filth around on your floor. You'll also need a drill or screwdriver, some gloves, a rag, warm water, and vinegar or dish soap. There are a lot of videos on YouTube that show various techniques for cleaning, and they're useful as far as it goes, but they tend to be put together by people with yards and hoses, who are free to get messier than the average New York City apartment dweller.
To start, as you're taking the unit out of the window, and making sure you have a firm grip on it and no one is walking below, a good tilt can empty the unit of any water still sitting in the pan. From there, follow these steps:
1. Once you've set the unit down on the floor, take out the filter (these are usually easily accessible in the front, but check the manual if you're confused) and rinse off the dirt in the sink, then set it aside to dry.
2. From there, take off the top of the unit—generally speaking, window units have covers that are attached by screws and can be taken off fairly easily—and look it over for dark spots and crust, wiping away what you can with a rag.
3. Next, the coils. Cleaning the AC coils is a bigger project that involves a hard-bristled brush and a spray called coil cleaner. Be prepared to get messy if you're going to take this on. We hear it can really improve the functioning of your unit.
4. And finally, be sure that the inside of the air conditioner and the filter are fully dry before you put the air conditioner away, or else the wetness could facilitate mold growth.
Apartment Therapy recommends storing the unit in its original box, or if you don't have it anymore, a trash bag, to protect it from being bumped by other stuff while it's sitting there. The site also warns not to store it on its side or its back, saying that can damage the compressor.
How to keep the air conditioner more clean next time
When the air conditioner is next in use, what are called AC tablets or pan tablets may help prevent as much scum from building up. The tablets are Tums-like pucks that you pop into the back pan area of the unit to sit there and slowly dissolve into the system. They are soapy-smelling and are supposed to kill micro-critters that might otherwise grow around where the water collects. They are described as lasting a month or two. On Amazon you can get 30 of them for $13.50.
Or, pay someone to clean and store the unit for you
In a particularly New York-y turn, there is a cottage industry of companies that will take your window unit away, clean it, and store it for the winter, then bring it back towards the beginning of summer. Besides sparing you the labor of removing and cleaning your AC, this saves you having to find space in your cramped apartment for an unmoving metal box that you won't use for much of the year. The obvious downside is that after one or two uses, the service starts to approach the cost of a new air conditioner. One StreetEasy user suggested that it may be more economical to donate your air conditioner to charity every so often and buy a new one, particularly as air conditioner designs get more efficient.
For those nevertheless interested, here are some places that pick up, clean, and store air conditioners. Prices for each include all of those services, as well as reinstallation.
Air-Wave Air Conditioning Co. in Morris Park, the Bronx charges $279 a unit. They're reachable at (212) 545-1122, and online at www.airwaveac.com.
Cool Air Inc. in Astoria, Queens also charges $279 a unit. They're at (212) 744-4224 and www.coolairnyc.com. Cool Air asks that customers pick up their units by May 15th, and charges a $5 a day late fee.
RCI Discount Appliances on the Upper West Side has closed and merged with Seaford, Long Island's Northern Home Appliance, but Northern still picks up and store air conditioners from the five boroughs. The charge is $259. Find them at (516) 826-7137 and www.northernhomeappliance.com.
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