Many homeowners are not aware that their air conditioner system acts as a dehumidifier to remove moisture from their homes. During a hot summer day, an AC system can remove a large volume of moisture from the indoor air. All of this collected water has to go somewhere, and the condensate drip pan is designed to deal with this issue. Let’s take a closer look at how your air conditioner drainage system works, how it can become clogged, and how to fix the problem.

How Does an Air Conditioner Drainage System Work?

The moisture is removed from the circulated air as it passes over the evaporator coil. There is a condensate drip pan located in or under the air handler where the water is collected. The water gathers there, and it then flows into a drainage tube that directs the flow out of your home, usually near the external AC unit. The drain line is made from thin, flexible plastic, but it can become clogged over time, and this will cause the drip pan to fill and eventually overflow. Water will begin to pool under the air handler, and this could lead to water damage that’s expensive to repair.

How Does a Drainage Clog Form?

Inside every home, there are particles that may not be visible to the naked eye. We’re talking about materials, such as mold, dirt, dust, skin, and other contaminants that are circulating throughout the home via the air conditioner. These air pollutants can be removed with air filtration, but they will still be gathered up with the moisture and deposited in the condensate drip tray.

So, the moisture or water that is collected isn’t clean; it contains tiny clumps of wet material, and this enters the drain line. Over time the passage of this dirty water will leave behind a residue that will gradually grow. In time a clog of debris will be formed, and this will grow in size as more material is added. The clog can promote the growth of collected mold spores, and algae can be formed inside the drain tube.

A drain line clog can also form at the other end of the line outside the home. If the drain line terminates in a dirty or dusty area, this material can enter the end of the drain line and mix with the drain water to form a clog. If you’re using the air conditioner for the first time, you may even discover that insects have moved into your drain line and built a next there.

How Would You Know That There is a Drain Clog?

If a drain clog has formed and it has become large enough to block the drain tube, how would you know? When the drain line is clogged, the next thing that will happen is determined by your air handler features. Some modern air handlers can detect that the condensate drip pan is full of collected moisture, and to avoid an overflow, it may respond by automatically shutting the AC system down. The most advanced air handlers may even send you a text message or email to tell you that the system has been shut off. This is an extremely useful safety feature to have in your home compared to the alternative. Many homeowners with less advanced air handlers only discover that there is a drain line clog when water is dripping from their ceiling.

If you discover any signs of water leaks on a ceiling or under the air handler, it’s important to shut off the air conditioner immediately. If you examine the condensate drip pan, you may notice that it is full of water, and it is overflowing as long as the AC system is running. The drip pan should be emptied to prevent any more water damage, and this will allow you to take a closer look at the drain line.

How Can You Clear a Clogged Drain Line?

If you don’t have any DIY skills at all, it’s a great idea to call on your local HVAC company for expert help and advice to clear your drain line. But, if you have some basic skills, some special tools and you don’t mind working in tight spaces you should be able to clear the drain line yourself.

The air handler is typically located in the attic, so you will need some way to get up there using ladders or steps. To clear the drain line, you will need an air compressor, a wet/dry shop vac and a gallon of white vinegar. It’s also a good idea to take some old dry towels or a roll of kitchen paper to mop up any puddles of water or spills.

The next thing that you need to do is locate your air handler and move your equipment up there. Take your time and go carefully to avoid damaging your ceiling and injuring yourself. Once you reach the air handler, examine it carefully and located the condensate drip pan. This unit is typically located under the air handler, and the pan can be removed by sliding it out of the housing. The condensate pan may be filled with dirty water, so go slowly and use the wet/dry vac to remove the water from the pan. Take the pan away and wash it thoroughly in hot water using an antibacterial soap or detergent to kill any germs and allow it to dry.

Now it’s time to clear the drain line, and this can be achieved with positive air pressure or suction. It may take a few attempts using each method to dislodge the clog and clear it from the drain line. Vacuuming the line from either end may work, but it’s difficult to create an air tight seal around the vacuum attachment. Sometimes using a rag or old towel may be enough to seal the hole and let the vacuum do its work. This method is more effective if someone goes to the other end of the drain line and blocks the opening. The best way to clear the clog is to use an air compressor to blow the clog out of the drain line.

Once the drain line is clear, pour in the white vinegar using a small funnel, and this will disinfect any mold or bacteria that may have grown there. Then replace the cleaned drain pan and turn the AC system back on to check that everything is working correctly. If you run into any problems, contact your local certified HVAC professional for expert help.