How to Clean a Window Air Conditioner Without Removing It

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A window air conditioner is a breath of air on a hot summer day. That is unless it’s exceptionally dirty. If your window air conditioner unit is dirty, it may be making the air smell weird, running extremely loudly, or not working as efficiently. 

Symptoms like these are probably leading you to wonder how to clean a window air conditioner without removing it. 

Removing a window AC can take a lot of time, effort, and labor. It is tedious, to say the least. So, it’s important to know some methods about how to clean your window unit without removing it and reinstalling it completely. 

How to Clean a Window Air Conditioner Without Removing It

Okay, so you’re ready to take on the task of cleaning your window AC unit as long as you don’t have to remove it from the wall. 

With a little setup, preparation, and elbow grease, you’ll be able to clean that unit all on your own. Plus, you can do it all without removing it from the wall. Let’s get started. 

Building with window air conditioner units

Components You’ll Be Cleaning

If you’re new to the world of air conditioning units, the terminology can get confusing very quickly. We’ll talk about each component and where you’ll find it. That will make the next couple of sections a breeze! 

  • Filter: This is what filters the air that your window unit is pushing into your home. It should be able to be removed easily and slide out of the air conditioner.
  • Front Panel (or grill): This is what you look at every day. It’s the front of your unit and the part that faces you.
  • Control Panel: This is what you use to control your window unit. It typically has the temperature, the fan setting, and other settings you can control.
  • Adjustable louvers: This is what the air blows out of on a window unit. Some units have levers that can be moved up and down which allow you to direct the airflow. 
  • Fins: This is the part in the window air conditioner that look like fish fins. They are close together and wavy. They can sometimes get smashed and dirty, so we will give them some TLC.


You’ll want to gather your materials, so you have them on hand ready to use. Gathering your materials will help the job go much smoother. Get together the following:

  • Warm water
  • Dish detergent
  • Soft-bristled brush
  • Spray bottle 
  • Clean rags
  • Tarp or newspaper to lay under the AC to collect dirt
  • A screwdriver compatible with your unit
  • Your user manual
  • New filter, if using disposable filters
  • Vacuum with a brush attachment
  • Compressed air (optional)
  • Fin comb if your fins are smashed or especially dirty (optional)

Once you have everything ready, you can get set up to clean your window unit without entirely removing it.


There are a few things you need to do before you start cleaning your window air conditioner. Follow these steps, and you’ll be ready:

Cleaning materials
  • Spread out your tarp or newspaper directly under the unit
  • Shut your unit off
  • This step is extremely critical: unplug your unit completely
  • Remove the filter
  • Remove the front panel (or grill) with a screwdriver

Make sure you place your screws in an area where you won’t easily lose them—that would cause an unnecessary trip to a hardware store to get replacement parts. 

After you have completed these steps, you are ready to begin cleaning the window unit.


Cleaning the window unit may seem difficult with all the things you need, but it doesn’t have to be daunting. 

There are a lot of steps, but each of the steps are simple to complete. By the end of this article, you’ll be a pro. 

To clean your window unit, take your prepared unit, and follow these steps:

  1. If you have access to a hose, take the parts you removed outside and hose them down, this will remove a majority of the dirt
  2. If you don’t have access to a hose, create a cleaning solution of warm water and dish detergent. Spray your cleaning solution over all parts of the front grill, louvers, and control panel and let that sit for a while.
  3. Use a dry brush to brush off any loose debris and dirt from the front grill, louvers, and control panel. Use the dry brush to clean what you can from the filter without water. Then, wash with water and remove all the dirt and grime, let that sit to dry.
  4. Take your vacuum and turn your attention to the AC unit on the wall. Vacuum the majority of the dirt and grime out of the unit
  5. Take your cloth and wet it in your cleaning solution and wipe over the inside. Don’t worry about electronics here: they are made to withstand water—plus, you unplugged your unit
  6. Spray the inside of your unit with your cleaning solution and wipe everything down 
  7. If you have your fin comb, use this in the fins to remove water and properly space the fins again
  8. If you have compressed air, spray this in areas that are hard to reach with your cloth and fingers. Let this dry, and let’s turn our attention back to the front panel
  9. By now, your front panel has soaked in the cleaning solution for a while. So, let’s take our brush and scrub any remaining dirt off of it
  10. Let all parts of the AC dry—you can help it along with a dry cloth, but be careful not to squish your AC fins
  11. Finally, put your AC back together (this is the part where you may need to consult that manual!) 

It looks like a lot of steps, yet following these steps one by one is easier than you think. 

Clean window air conditioners

How to Maintain Your Window Unit

After that deep clean, you probably don’t want to be doing that every day. It can be a time-consuming practice. Don’t worry! Now that your unit is clean, the maintenance is a lot more simple. 

1. Replace the Filter Often

In the peak of summer, if you’re using your window air conditioner regularly, you may replace or clean the filter at least one time a week. 

This will prevent debris from building up long term. When you aren’t using it constantly, you can do it bi-weekly or even monthly.

2. Clean the Front Panel Often

Make sure that you’re not using an abrasive brush that is likely meant for cleaning thermocouple water heater, always use a soft bristled brush. Even if you are simply brushing it with a dry rag or using a soft-bristled brush on it, making sure the dust is off the front of the unit is very helpful to your window unit.

3. Complete a Deep Clean Every Other Month

To keep your window air conditioner in top shape, you will likely need to clean it bi-monthly when it’s in use. 

This sounds like a lot, but remember, it’s taking in all the air from your dirty concrete and cleaning it for you to cool down the house. It’s doing a lot of work, so we need to make sure to keep it in good condition! 

4. Store the Unit Properly When Not in Use

The best thing to do during winter (especially if you live where it gets very cold) is to take the unit off and store it. 

Rain and snow can build up in your unused AC unit and cause mold, clogging, or other problems that you definitely don’t want to face. It’s best to store it somewhere covered, away from your decking, where it won’t have to face the elements! 

Building with window air conditioner units

Why Should I Clean My Window Unit?

We get it. It sounds like a whole lot of work to complete the steps above to clean your window air conditioning unit. 

The maintenance seems more doable, yet the initial clean seems like a drag. This is all for a good reason, though. Here are our top reasons we have found which show the importance of cleaning your window AC:

Hopefully, this has convinced you to keep your unit maintained and clean as well as possible! If you aren’t feeling up to the task, there are professionals that will give your window unit a great clean for you. 


After following the cleaning steps and keeping up with maintenance, your window air conditioning unit will certainly be performing better and pushing cleaner air throughout your house. 

You may notice a decrease in bills, as well! All of those positives are definitely worth the time and work it takes to learn how to clean your window air conditioning unit.