The Fundamentals of Commercial Air Conditioner Coil Cleaning

Multi-family properties such as apartments and senior living facilities are often heated and cooled by self-contained “through-the-wall” units such as Comfort Pack, MagicPak, and SKYPAK. The air conditioner coils are located on the outside of each individual unit, on every story of the building. Annual cleaning of these units is critical to their smooth functioning and the comfort of building residents.

commercial air conditioner coil cleaning
A commercial technician cleans a U-shaped air conditioner coil after removing the exterior grille.

Why and how air conditioner coils are cleaned

When these self-contained units are operating, they pull in air from the outside through the coils on the outside of the unit. The free flow of air is critical to the smooth and proper functioning of the unit. Over time, however, the tiny fins on the surface of the coil get plugged with debris. Many a Twin Cities property manager is familiar with the scourge of cottonwood during the Minnesota spring. Like dandelion fluff, it floats through the air, fairy-like, and lands on or gets sucked into anything that intercepts it. As cottonwood and other debris gets sucked into these air conditioner coils, it covers them like a thick mat, greatly reducing the unit’s ability to cool, and potentially leading to equipment failure.

Commercial air conditioner coil before cleaning
A commercial U-shaped air conditioner coil before cleaning. The tiny metal fins are completely choked with debris, hindering air flow.
A commercial air conditioner coil after cleaning.
A U-shaped air conditioner coil after its annual maintenance cleaning. The fins are completely cleared of debris, allowing air to flow freely.

Because the air conditioner coils are on the outside of the building, a variety of means are used to access the units. Lower floors can be accessed with ladders, while higher floors are accessed using an articulated lift. At around 6 stories and higher, the building would have to be rappelled using controlled descent to access the coils from the outside.

The AC coil itself is covered with a protective metal grille that can sometimes, though not often, be removed for easier cleaning. When this grille cannot be removed, the technician inserts highly specialized tools, including air triggers, through the grille to access the coil. An experienced technician can clean the air conditioner coil from the outside in a matter of 15 to 25 minutes once he’s hit his stride.

Flat vs U-shaped air conditioner coils

Commercial air conditioner coils are typically one of two shapes: flat or U-shaped. Because access plays a key role in labor intensity, coil shape will impact both project pricing and the project length.

Flat coils are positioned a mere one to two inches behind the grille and are thus easier to access and clean. U-shaped coils, however, sit about 18 inches back from the grille, so if the grille cannot be removed (and in many cases it cannot), they are much harder to clean through the small openings of the grille.

In some cases, with the approval of property management, access panels can be created for easier cleaning and maintenance. This is accomplished by removing the bottom three fins and having a custom screen, color-matched to the building, installed with screws.

Commercial AC coil cleaning access panel
The bottom three fins of the exterior grille on this self-contained unit have been removed, replaced with a custom screen that can be removed for easier and more effective annual cleaning.

From estimate to project completion

The process for commercial air conditioner coil cleaning begins with a site visit by one of our commercial project managers. He’ll meet with maintenance or property management and survey the building to determine the number of units, the shape of the coils, and the method of access.

Because clogged AC coils prevent the self-contained units from reaching peak operating efficiency during the summer months, the ideal time to have them cleaned is in the spring.

Reach out and we’ll show you how to keep your building on top of commercial AC coil cleaning for the benefit of residents and property managers alike.

Scroll to Top