Many people are unaware that their air conditioner system removes moisture from their homes. This is deposited in the condensate drain pan and then it’s removed from the home via the attached condensate drain line. This can be observed if you take a tour around your property when the AC is running. You may see a small line that’s dripping water that has been removed from the home. The condensate drain line can be prone to clogging under certain conditions and it must be clear or the system will not function efficiently. In this article, we will detail how to clean the AC condensate line.
What Happens if the Drain Line is Clogged?
Before we get started, it’s important to explain what’s likely to happen if this problem is ignored. This issue is not self correcting and the problem will only get worse as time progresses. The volume of condensation that’s produced by the evaporator coil can be greater than you might imagine. If the line is not clear and clean it can become a breeding ground for the growth of mold and algae. This will have three negative consequences. They are:
- The humidity in the home will rise leading to a number of other moisture related problems.
- The clogged condensate drain can cause the drain pan to overflow which may lead to water damage that’s expensive to fix.
- The mold growth will cause a musty odor that may permeate the entire home.
Regular HVAC maintenance is essential to keep the entire system running efficiently. Early identification of smaller issues can make the repairs simpler and less expensive. But, this part of the AC system is easy to overlook during maintenance and some less experienced technicians may forget the drain cleaning. The good news is that it’s easy to check and clean the condensate drain line and pan yourself. You don’t need any special tools or HVAC knowledge to remove clogs to prevent water damage, mold growth, and algae growth in the drain line.
5 Items You Will Need to Clean the AC Condensate Drain
Before you get started gather these five items to avoid an interruption later when you’re busy with the task at hand. They are:
- Some clean rags to mop up any water.
- A handheld wet/dry vacuum (they can be hired if you don’t own one).
- A funnel that fits the drain line.
- Some dish soap.
- A bottle of distilled vinegar.
When you have these items, you’re ready to get started.
5 Steps to Clean the AC Condensate Drain
Follow these five simple steps in order to clear, clean, and sanitize the AC condensate drain line. They are:
Step 1: Turn off the Power
To ensure that you’re safe as you work and that more moisture is not introduced to the drain line, it’s important to turn off the power to the thermostat, HVAC system, and breaker.
Step 2: Locate the Condensate Drain Pan
If you have an air handler located in an attic or closet, you need to locate the condensate drain pan. The usual spot is under the unit, but it may be covered by an access panel which should be easy to remove.
Step 3: Inspect the Drain Pan
When you look at the drain pan, you may see some standing water. This is a sign that the connected condensate drain line may be clogged. It’s important to remove this moisture before you continue to avoid undue mess and water damage. Take the handheld wet/dry or shop vac and remove the built up moisture. The water can be soaked up with the rags if you don’t have access to a wet/dry vacuum at this time. When the moisture has been removed, this is a good time to clean the drain pan with a little dish soap.
Step 4: Clearing the Clogged Drain Line
In most cases, it’s pretty easy to clear a clogged condensate drain line with a little suction from the shop vacuum. The clog can be pulled clear of the drain line via the drain opening. This is typically located outside the home near the foundation base. To improve the suction, you can place your hand around the drain line to make a seal. The vacuum needs to run for at least a minute to force the drain clog out of the line. If you were successful you should see the drain line clog in the vacuum canister. This is typically a moldy piece of solid material that may contain hair, dirt, and other debris.
Step 5: Flush the Drain
Now that the drain line clog is cleared, it’s time to clean and sanitize the line. This is important because the presence of algae and mold will contribute to future clogging problems. To start, locate the drain line access point which is usually a T-shaped vent that’s housed under a plastic cover. Remove the PVC cover and take a look at the drain. This port is the point where you will add distilled vinegar to the drain line to flush the line clean. If you don’t want to use distilled vinegar, you can add hydrogen peroxide which will bubble in the pipe for a short time as it cleans the debris. Another option is to add a drop of dish soap and hot (not boiling) water with the funnel. Whichever option you choose, this solution needs to sit in the drain line for at least 30 minutes. Then you can flush the line clean with fresh water and check that the line outside is draining freely.
This method should work most of the time, if you don’t have a shop vacuum you can use some surgical tubing to clear the blockage. If the drain line has sharp turns, it will be more prone to clogs, and if there is no access vent you can use the drain pan edge opening. There are underlying problems that can contribute to condensate drain line clogs. If the drain line and pan are not aligned correctly, this can cause a build up of water at the rear of the pan. This may lead to overflowing and newer systems have a sensor that warns the homeowner if an overflow occurs.
If you tried the above method and the drain line clog is still present, it’s time to call your local HVAC specialist for expert help.