How To Easily Clean Your Air Conditioning Vent And Intake Covers

Everyone should change their home's air conditioning filters on a frequent basis, but many people ignore the metal covers that hold filters in-place. However, as a source for accumulating dust and debris on their own, these covers can become thick with loose material that quickly clogs filters and infiltrates your system's internal components. It doesn't make much sense to install a new, clean filter only to permit existing debris to shorten the life and effectiveness of your system. Below is how you can effectively and easily clean dirty, dusty vent and intake covers:

Cleaning your air conditioner vent and intake covers - tools and materials needed

  • Wet/dry vacuum
  • Floor fan or hairdryer
  • Household bleach
  • Bathtub
  • Liquid dish soap
  • Bristle broom
  • Sponges
  • Magnetic-tip screwdriver
  • Drywall screw anchors (if needed)
  • Eye protection
  • Respirator
  • Step ladder

Cleaning your air conditioner vent and intake covers – step-by-step

1. Prepare to work safely – while removing and cleaning covers in your home's central air conditioning system is a fairly-mundane activity, there are still ways to hurt yourself if you aren't careful. Below are a few tips on protecting yourself from possible hazards:

  • Use caution on the ladder – if you need to remove vent covers from a ceiling, get help holding the ladder and keeping you steady. Looking over your head can be disorienting and result in a bad fall if you don't have support.
  • Be alert for falling covers – once you remove the screws or latches holding covers in place, there is nothing to keep them from falling. Be prepared to keep a steady hold on these often-sharp sheet metal fixtures while you carefully lower them from the vent or intake. Otherwise, you could suffer a nasty cut to your head or face.
  • Shield your eyes, nose and mouth – these covers are full of debris that will scatter everywhere when disturbed. Wear goggles or safety glasses to keep it out of your eyes, and also wear a respirator to prevent inhaling fine bits of dust and lint.

2.  Remove loose materials from the vent and intake covers – position your stepladder, if necessary, beneath the vent or intake cover so you will have room to work from a natural position. Be sure the ladder is stabilized and that you have assistance in keeping it from shifting or to protect you from falling.

With a wet/dry vacuum, remove as much loose material accumulated on and in-between the vent louvers as you can. Be careful not to disturb the materials so they fall to the ground or are dispersed into the home; otherwise, your filter will ultimately perform the same work again by recapturing the debris.

3. Remove the covers from the vent or intake - once you have removed loose material from the cover,  remove the screws holding the cover in-place with a magnetic screwdriver. Place the screws in a safe location so you can find them later. If there are latches holding the cover in-place, use a flat blade screwdriver to pry the latches open. Be careful not to scratch the finish on the covers while prying.

Next, pull the covers away from their housing and hand them off to an assistant or gently lower them to the ground. Take the covers outside immediately for further cleaning.

4. Sweep the covers with a broom – after getting the covers outside, use a bristle broom to scrub away stubborn dust or debris that is accumulated on the louver blades. Don't forget to scrub both sides of the cover to remove all materials.

5. Wash the covers in your tub – place the covers inside a bathtub filled with hot water and 2 tablespoons of dish soap. If the covers appear to have mold or mildew, add a half-cup of household bleach to the water and soap mixture.

Allow the covers to soak for 15 minutes, then check them for loosened dirt. If necessary, use a sponge cut into thin strips that can slide between louver blades to remove stubborn residues. Next thoroughly rinse the covers with clean, warm water to remove all traces of soap. Place the wet covers in front of a floor fan to help speed drying, or use a hairdryer for faster results.

6. Reinstall the covers – along with new filters, reattach the covers to their vent or intake housings. If the screw holes are stripped, as is often found in covers fastened to drywall, you will want to use drywall screw anchors inserted into the holes first.

For more information about maintaining or repairing your air conditioner, contact a local air conditioning repair company.