Clean air is a vital necessity. We live in a time where air purity is more accessible than ever, thanks to advancements in technology. However, some threats to air purity persist even with new advances in technology. One of the worst afflictions your home's air conditioning and ventilation system can face is mold.
If mold were to get into your air conditioning system, then you have a major problem on your hands that will only get worse with time. Not only could your home undergo structural damage, but you and your family could also experience some serious health problems. Here is everything you need to know about how mold can get into your air conditioning system and what you can do about it.
Why Does Mold Grow in Air Conditioner Vents?
When it comes to mold, it needs to have three things to grow: moisture, an organic food source, and darkness. While your vent system may be a cool area when your air conditioning is on, it is the time when the device is turned off that problems can first arise.
When you run your air conditioner, the metal vents eventually build up condensation. With that condensation, moisture is the first necessary factor for mold growth. If you turn your air conditioning off while there is a condensation build-up, moisture has nowhere to go, so it stays in your vents.
Without cold air pumping through the A/C vents, it is only a matter of time before there is enough warmth to encourage mold growth. When mold begins to grow in your vent system, it is only a matter of time before the spores start spreading.
Signs of Mold in Air Conditioning
Now that we know what causes mold in the air conditioning system, you need to know if there is mold in your system. It is simply not practical for you to attempt to tear down your A/C unit just to inspect for mold. Fortunately, there are some tell-tale signs that you can look for that will tell you whether mold is growing in your air conditioning vents.
A musty odor is one of the easiest, most unmistakable signs of mold growth in ventilation systems. Think of it as a more intense version of the smell that one would associate with an old, musty attic. This smell alone is insufficient to confirm mold, but it should certainly be a catalyst for further investigation.
Check Your Vents
If there is mold in your air conditioning system, you can tell by checking the vents. At some point, the mold in your system will spread, with one of its final destinations being the vents. If there is mold in your vent system, you will notice it. It has a dark, splotchy appearance if you are unfamiliar with mold. It typically has dark blue, dark green, and even black coloration.
It needs to be said that you should wear a face mask and gloves when checking for mold. This is to minimize any potential contact with the mold.
How to Remove Mold From a Window Air Conditioner
Wear Proper Protection
You must be protected if you want to remove mold from a window-based air conditioner. You need to wear rubber gloves. This way, you can handle any part of the air conditioning unit without it making direct contact with your skin.
You need to wear a respirator. This is to prevent accidentally inhaling any of the mold's spores. If you inhale mold spores, you can develop sickness that would require the use of anti-fungal medication. While a simple face mask would offer a degree of protection, you are better off taking full precautions and using a respirator. A pair of safety goggles would not be a bad idea either.
If you have a friend assisting you then be sure to let them know that you will be dealing with mold. Ask them if they have gloves and a respirator. If they do not have those things, then you should endeavor to supply them.
What to Clean With
Cleaning the air conditioner may sound like it would take expensive equipment, but that is only a misconception. You need a scrub brush, a rinse bucket, a rag for cleaning, a dry hand towel, a spray bottle, water, and white vinegar. You can substitute white vinegar with hydrogen peroxide, but vinegar will suffice.
A 1:1 ratio of water to vinegar is typically recommended when using vinegar. The ratio is the same if you are using hydrogen peroxide. It is not recommended that you use bleach for this task when vinegar or hydrogen peroxide are sufficient.
WARNING: do not mix vinegar with hydrogen peroxide! This creates peracetic acid and can cause serious harm to your respiratory system, skin, and eyes. It's a must to check before mixing any chemicals in day-to-day life. The life you save may be your own or your loved ones.
Remove the Unit
Make sure that the air conditioning unit is unplugged from your home. Then you remove it and take it outside. You should have a space outside of your home prepped ahead of time. You should lay out plastic sheeting on the ground and have a table to place the air conditioning unit on.
Begin Cleaning Process
The first thing you need to do is remove the grille at the front of the unit. Set it to the side. You then need to remove the filter. If the filter included with your air conditioning unit is disposable, then do not bother attempting to clean it. Write down what type of filter it is and replace it with a new one. The time and effort you save will be worth the money you spend.
Cleaning the Filter
If you have a reusable filter for your A/C unit, you can clean it. First, you must vacuum out any dust accumulated in the filter. Heavily spray down the filter with your vinegar solution. Let the solution sit for 10 to 15 minutes.
Once that time has elapsed, take your scrub brush and begin scrubbing off all traces of mold. You may have to rinse and repeat the process until you feel comfortable that the mold has been killed and scrubbed clean. Once you know the mold is gone, thoroughly wipe the filter with your dry hand towel. Letting it finish drying while exposed to sunlight is a good idea.
Cleaning the Unit
You will use the same process to clean out the air conditioning unit's body. Vacuum out any dust that has accumulated. Spray the unit with your cleaner where applicable. Let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Scrub the mold away as best you can. Rinse and repeat this process as often as necessary until you have completely removed the mold. After a final rinse, use your dry hand towel. Then let it sit in the sun briefly to kill off any potential residual traces.
How to Prevent Mold In Your Air Conditioner
Control Your Home's Humidity
One of the biggest causes of mold in an air conditioning unit is the presence of humidity. It is latent humidity that causes condensation in the air conditioning unit. To reduce the humidity in your home, you can use a dehumidifier, even though an AC does this job efficiently. However, in locations where humidity prevails, such as Florida, additional help may be needed. Modern dehumidifiers enable you to control the exact percentage of humidity in your home so that you can avoid mold growth. With that much control, it creates a much safer environment, preventing mold growth.
Use Quality Air Filters
You must buy good-quality air filters to decrease the contaminants in your air conditioning unit. Air filters vary in quality, but HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filters are best. Just make sure that the filter you choose is compatible with your unit.
Clean Drip Pans Often
Many air conditioning units on the market are equipped with a drip pan. The drip pan keeps gathering the condensation that occurs in one convenient spot. It is recommended that you clean the drip pan at least once a month, but there is no harm in choosing to clean it more frequently.
Check For Leaks
You should frequently check your air conditioner for any potential leaks. Make sure that the drain line is slanted towards the drip pan. If you find any standing moisture or condensation, that is a sign that you could be dealing with a leak. If you find a leak, you should check into getting professional work done to repair it promptly.
You need to ensure that all your HVAC components and drain pans are easily accessible. Learn the layout of your air conditioning unit well to check those components with minimum difficulty. Do monthly checks to ensure no chance for mold to take hold.
Know When To Call In a Professional
It is one thing to use DIY when cleaning a simple window-mounted air conditioning unit. Dealing with mold in your central heat and air unit is quite another. For a bigger project such as that, it is thoroughly recommended that you call in a professional mold specialist. A mold remediation contractor will be able to assess whether or not full remediation is a necessary course of action. It would be wise to purchase a test kit or have the mold professional perform a test to ensure no hidden mold in the home.