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Split system air conditioner mold contamination clean-out (C) Daniel FriedmanAir Conditioners & Heat Pump Air Handler Mold Removal
How to clean mold from a window or wall air conditioner or heat pump

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Cleaning suggestions for the indoor air handler of split system air conditioners, window air conditioners, and through-wall air conditioners & heat pumps.

This article describes simple cleaning procedures to remove mold from the air path of window or wall mounted indoor air conditioning or heat pump units.

This article series describes split system air conditioning & heat pump systems. We review the major system components, switches & controls, and typical applications for split system cooling systems. We also discuss use of the remote thermostat control, where to find and how to clean the split system air filters, how condensate is disposed-of, and what to check first if your split system air conditioner is not working properly.



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Cleaning Mold from a Wall or Window-Mounted Air Conditioner

These air conditioner mold removal steps will work on most window or through-wall air conditioners as well as on wall-mounted split system air conditioners and heat pumps. A split system or "ductless" air conditioning (or A/C & heat pump) system dispenses with duct work entirely, using a wall-mounted indoor evaporator/blower unit and a separate outside compressor/condenser (below left and right).

Split system air conditioner mold contamination clean-out (C) Daniel Friedman Split system air conditioner mold contamination clean-out (C) Daniel Friedman

[Click to enlarge any image]

At above left you can see rather typical dark mold growth on the plastic surfaces of the indoor half of a wall-mounted split system air conditioner. Similar mold may appear on window or through-wall mounted air conditioners as well. Mold grows readily on the plastic surfaces of the air conditioner's face cover and on its air-directing louvers because these surfaces often are damp with condensate from the conditioned air.

Air conditioner air handler fan blade dust debris & mold (C) Daniel FriedmanMold may also grow on the metallic surfaces of the squirrel cage fan that blows room air through the air conditioner, more so as those surfaces accumulate building dust that typically includes organic debris such as skin cells.

At left is a close-up of a fairly-clean split system air conditioner blower fan. If you click to enlarge the image you'll see normal dust accumulation on the blade edges. In contrast, if the curved blades have become dust-laden not only does that serve as possible mold food it also means that the air-flow of the blower fan will be reduced.

Don't panic if you see some black mold or dark brown mold in the blower portion of your wall-mounted split system air conditioner. Most commonly the fungus is a member of the Cladosporium sp. family (among those samples we've tested in our lab).

Molds found in buildings may be relatively harmless, or allergenic, or sometimes more seriously harmful. Health risks are greater for people at extra risk themselves such as asthmatics, people suffering from allergies, the elderly, infants, and people with a compromised immune system.

It is normal for dust and debris to collect on the fins of air conditioner air direction louvers, grilles, and squirrel cage blower fans. Typically this is harmless house dust and it's not a problem until it obstructs air flow.

Below is a fairly dirty air conditioner air outlet grille or fan blade.

Moldy wall air conditioner unit (C) Daniel FriedmanBut if the air conditioner is frequently wet, for example from condensate, that same dust can host the growth of a variety of molds, many of which are not highly dangerous.

However depending on the surface material that has been wet, sometimes different and more troublesome mold genera/species may grow. And if such areas in the building are large (more than 30 sq .ft. of contiguous mold) or if harmful molds are in the air path of building air handlers such as air conditioners, professional cleaning may be in order.
See MOLD CLEANUP GUIDE- HOW TO GET RID OF MOLD if your building has a significant mold problem.

All of these surfaces can be cleaned if you work carefully to avoid damaging cooling coil fins or knocking about the wall mounted unit and its components. You'll need some household spray cleaner (any cleaner will work but avoid using corrosive cleaners or agents on metal parts and avoid spraying your eyes). You'll also want some clean rags or paper towels and a clean soft bristle paint brush.

Remove the plastic cover for the air conditioner and for best results, use your spray cleaner, paint brush, and a garden hose sprayer outdoors to clean the cover and its louvers. You can do that job indoors too at a large kitchen sink. Now while the air conditioner's cover is drying there is more mold cleaning to do.

Watch out: be sure that electrical power is off and disconnected from your air conditioner before removing its cover for cleaning or service. Otherwise you risk death by electrocution or cut or amputated fingers by moving parts should the equipment start while you're messing with it.

While the covers are off of the indoor air handler unit of a split system air conditioner, if you take care not to bend or damage any components, the use of a simple household spray cleaner, paper towels, and a paint brush can clean out most of the mold that likes to grow on these frequently-damp surfaces in the air conditioner's room-air path.

Split system air conditioner mold contamination clean-out (C) Daniel Friedman Split system air conditioner mold contamination clean-out (C) Daniel Friedman

Using spray cleaner and dry paper towels we sprayed and wiped clean the easily-accessible areas of the wall-mounted air handler's surfaces taking care not to move, disturb, or break any louvers or other components. You can see the black mold on our paper towel at above left.

We also used a household-cleaner to wet our long soft bristle paint brush that in turn was used to gently clean the louvers of the blower fan (above right). Rinse the paint brush in clean running water, wet it again, and go back to continue cleaning the louvers of the squirrel cage blower fan until accumulated dust and debris have been removed.

Typical air conditioner outlet grille mold (C) Daniel FriedmanWatch out: take care not to spray or wet electrical components, and avoid spraying or wetting any fan bearings or you may be sorry you undertook this step.

Watch out: if the cooling coil itself is badly soiled or blocked with dust and debris at your air conditioner or heat pump that tells us two things:

  1. You should as for cleaning help from a professional who can probably get the job done faster, more completely, at lower cost, and with less risk of damaging the equipment than if you mess with it yourself.
  2. You have not been cleaning the unit's air filter as frequently as you should.

At above-left is rather typical dark mold growth on the plastic components of a wall-mounted air conditioner.

This mold growth is small in total area, is not deserving of panic, and would be of only trivial concern were it not in the air path of an air conditioner that circulates room air. You indeed might want to clean the system using the methods described in the article above, particularly if there are building indoor air quality complaints that appear to correlate with operation of the air conditioner.

Article Series Contents

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Continue reading at SPLIT SYSTEM AIR CONDITIONERS & HEAT PUMPS - home, or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.

Or see AIR CONDITIONER COVER USE

Or see DUCTWORK CONTAMINATION

Or see Legionella BACTERIA & HVAC Equipment

Or see PARTICLE & MOLD LEVELS in DUCTWORK

Or see WHY DOES MOLD GROW in INSULATION?

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