I used to pay $20 to service an aircond fancoil (the aircond unit that is installed in your room), which seems pretty cheap, but did you observe what they actually do for you for $20? Not very much really, nothing that you cannot do yourself. Not sure if this sounds familiar, but i was one of those who thought i could get away with not doing regular aircond maintenance on a newly installed aircond, until the drainage pipe became blocked with jelly-like algae and water started dripping out of one of the aircond fancoil unit. To solve this problem, you need a wet and dry vacuum cleaner (i.e. a vacuum cleaner capable of handling liquid). So finally i arranged to have aircond servicing done, got the drainage pipe cleared, and repented from not doing regular aircond maintenance. At some point in time, i started wondering if i could do aircond servicing myself. Really the only thing that stood between me and DIY aircond servicing was a wet and dry vacuum.
Until recently, you didn’t have much choice when it comes to buying a wet and dry vacuum, it would most likely be a Karcher, whose products are usually not cheap (though prices have come down). I struggled with the thought of possibly up to two years before breaking even on such an investment as compared to getting someone else to do the aircond servicing. Then comes taobao into the picture. Well, you know how good the Chinese are at reverse engineering, so it comes as no surprise that you can indeed buy a wet and dry vacuum cleaner on taobao. I finally settled on this one which costs about S$80 (the main selling point was that it was made of 304 stainless steel which will not rust). It pays for itself in just 2 rounds of servicing. A very short review on the Deerma DX135F – basically it rocks. The English tagline for this product is “It’s more powerful than you think”, which is surprisingly fitting. It also comes with various attachments that amplifies the already-powerful suction and to get to hard-to-reach corners.
Vacuum cleaner attachments
There are basically 4 parts of the aircond that you need to clean regularly – the filter, the fins, the blower and the drainage pipe, as illustrated below:
Vacuum cleaning the filter is usually good enough. You can also wash it with water. A dirty filter blocks air flow through the heat exchanger and diminishes the cooling effect.
There are 4 methods to clean the fins – vacuum, steam, foam and chemical wash. You should vacuum the fins every time you vacuum the filter. However, vacuum cleaning may not be able to pick up the dust trapped deep within. Steam cleaning should be able to do the trick. Here’s a Youtube video that demonstrates steam cleaning. If you don’t have a steam cleaner, you can use this foam air-conditioner cleaner. I tried it and found that it did improve the cooling efficiency of my aircond. Finally, a chemical wash is basically an overhaul of your aircond fancoil where the servicing personnel dismantles the entire fancoil unit and washes it with some “chemical” liquid. The labour involved is very costly, and can be avoided if you do regular maintenance using the first 3 methods mentioned above. I would suggest doing vacuum cleaning once a month at the very least, steam cleaning (if you have a steam cleaner) every 2 or 3 months and foam cleaning every 6 to 9 months.
Cleaning the blower is the most difficult of all since it is usually located deep within the fancoil unit, plus the fact that the blower consists of many blades that has to be cleaned individually. Don’t expect the aircond servicing personnel to do this for you, they won’t. I get very annoyed about having to deal with a moldy blower. Just like blades on a fan, the blower traps dust as it spins. Since the blower blows cold air, condensation takes place and the dust that’s gathered on the blower becomes wet, attracts even more dust and becomes fungus-infested over time. Not only does it smell, it is harmful to your health (especially to little ones). The moldy smell is most obvious when you’ve just switched on the aircond; you just need to stand near the fancoil unit to smell it. It bothered me so much that i finally took the plunge and bought a steam cleaner (S$89 after discount, comes with 2 years warranty) to deal with it. As with the wet and dry vacuum cleaner, you’ll find Karcher to be an expensive option. Note that the teapot shaped steam cleaners have a very small capacity and are less powerful and are therefore not recommended.
The only way to completely remove moldy dust on the blower is by chemical washing. I wished they made the blower easy to dismantle to allow me to do this myself. Chemical washing is prohibitively costly to do regularly, and besides, the blower doesn’t stay clean for long after the chemical wash, so it’s not practical at all. Regular DIY cleaning is the real way to tackle it – using a combination of different methods, including brushing, vacuum, brute force wiping and steam cleaning.
The pressurized hot steam from a steam cleaner is strong enough to dislodge the moldy dust, and i suppose the heat also helps to kill the fungus at the same time. Since there are so many blades on the blower, it takes a lot of care to ensure that you have blasted steam at each of them. It is not possible to completely remove the dust even with a steam cleaner (since the dust that is blown away by the steam may settle somewhere else within the blower again), but it is faster than just wiping the blades by brute force, although i actually like the brute force method because you get a sense of how much dust you managed to remove. This is what i do to clean the blower:
- Start by vacuum cleaning the blower (use a brush to try to dislodge dust). This method is not very effective, but since you have the vacuum cleaner on hand, no harm having a go.
- Next, do brute force wiping. This method actually removes the most dust. I wrap a wet wipe around the handle end of a spoon (or anything similar) and scrape the blades. Trust me, you will go through a few wet wipes and each of them will be dark like charcoal. It is impossible to go through each and every blade, so i only scrape those blades with visible dust.
- Next, do steam cleaning. You should be able to go through most of the blades.
- Finally, use a hair dryer to completely dry the blades, also wiping the area around the blower as droplets of dirty water will be squirted all around. If you don’t fully dry the blades, dust might start sticking to the blower. In my case, the use of ointment in the room encouraged growth of mold, so that’s something to avoid doing if you can help it.
- You will not be able to see the dirt once the blades get wet, so you may have to do a few rounds of this steam cleaning.
Don’t expect dust and mold to be eliminated with just one round of cleaning. You should check the blower after a few days to see if there are spots where dust has accumulated again. If so, do brute force wiping and blow dry with hair dryer. If you take up this routine say once every 3 weeks, the blower shouldn’t get too moldy. Do this for the sake of health.
4. Clear the drainage pipe
Cleaning the drainage pipe is easy, just suck using a wet and dry vacuum cleaner. If you’ve applied the foam air-conditioner cleaner, as a side effect, the foam will flow through the pipe and help to clear it as well.
I hope you can see by now that DIY aircond servicing is as much about having peace of mind as it is about saving money.