Cleaning an Air Handler Drain – A Step-by-Step Guide

Maintaining an air conditioner is important in order to ensure that it continues to work at maximum efficiency. One of the things that home and business owners can do on their own involves cleaning the air handler drain. Believe it or not, a clogged drain can cause a host of problems including condensation on the air handler and significantly decreased efficiency.

Step One – Locating the Drain Lines  

When it comes to any do-it-yourself HVAC project, disconnecting the unit is absolutely essential not only to protect the mechanical parts inside the unit, but also to protect personal safety. To do it, simply shut the air conditioner off and turn the power off at the source. Then, the outer panel can be safely removed to expose the coils, fins and fan as well as the drain line; the drain line is usually at the bottom of the air handler and it may drain either into a pan or into a previously installed drain.

Step Two – Clean the Casing, the Coils and the Fan

While the panel has already been removed, it’s a good idea to go ahead and clean all of the other moving parts. First of all, using a soft cloth, remove all of the dirt and debris from inside of the air handler unit. A wet and dry vacuum can lighten the load and make this process incredibly simple. For cleaning the coils and fan, however, an antimicrobial solution can be used. Some solutions are available online, however, a certified air conditioning contractor often uses a more potent commercially available product that does a much better job and does not harm your coils.

Step Three – Clean the Drain Lines

The next step in the process involves disconnecting the air handler drain lines from the unit itself. This is a relatively simple process in itself, but can be cumbersome when in tight attics. Some DIYers will spray a strong stream from a garden hose through the lines. Commercial HVAC contractors often follow up with compressed air and other techniques to fully flush the lines.  This will remove all of the buildup inside the lines and ensure that condensate can flow through them freely. Certain hand tools are also great for cleaning; things like sewer tape or a hand spinner may provide even better and more effective cleaning. Also flushing with anti-fungal solution will slow the growth of future clogs.

Step Four – Preventative Maintenance

Now that everything is clean again and there are no more clogs, there are some things that home and business owners can do to prevent new clogs – or at least slow their occurrence. Once the lines have been reattached, pouring bleach through them from the air handler will kill any microbes that may be waiting to cause new clogs. Alternatively, a UV light can be used on the downstream side of the cooling coils as well as directly above the drain pan, if one is present, to inhibit microbial life and prevent future clogs.

Anyone who simply does not feel comfortable with cleaning these air conditioner parts can certainly call a certified HVAC professional for assistance. The process of cleaning the air handler drain, casing, coils and fan should be done annually by a professinal in order to preserve the life of the air conditioner unit and provide maximum energy efficiency.