How to Clean Your RV’s Air Conditioner Filters – A Step-by-Step Guide

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There are plenty of reasons to get an RV, even for a short period of time. They let you bring an unprecedented level of comfort and privacy to your campsite, make road trips more bearable, and provide all the amenities you might otherwise have to leave behind in a cozy and convenient manner without slowing your trip down at all. Whether you need to get somewhere specific or just want a more comfortable way to live in the woods for a bit, the RV has the answer to a lot of problems.

Some people enjoy the compact lifestyle and lower taxes so much that they forgo a normal house entirely, electing to make the motorhome their permanent place of residence. It’s an intriguing existence, to be sure, free from property tax or utility bills, but with all manner of problems of its own to contend with in their stead.

Despite common conception, the life of those living out of a motorhome is far from self-sufficient; although capable of carrying a considerable supply of utilities on board, including water, cooking fuel, and a generator for electricity, they still need to stop and resupply or repair every so often.

Properly supplying an RV is a bigger task than most people realize, simply because of the roles that it is expected to fill. While most things on the road are supposed to be vehicles only, the RV also needs to be a house. To get it fully stocked means taking on everything you need to keep both a large van and a small home well-stocked, from sanitary supplies to windshield wiper fluid.

Maintenance is a similar issue, as the RV has the appliances and electronics found in both a car and a home; to make matters worse, they are often interconnected or separated at counterintuitive points, making it harder than ever to properly address electrical problems. Keeping the owner’s manual on hand has never been so important.

All of this is more for the long road trip or secondary residence communities, which tend to become both literally and figuratively more attached to their RV over time. Newer or less frequent RV users often opt to sidestep the entire problem by simply taking out a rental for their camping trip, effectively ridding themselves of any problems before or after they have the keys in hand.

If you aren’t renting the fifth wheeler, though, even a short term camping trip may mean a fair amount of long-term maintenance; things get bounced around, brackets and pegs wear out, paint rusts, and the scores of other minor problems that can be occasioned by a trip into camping country all come to light in a different pattern than the time before. Repairs of this kind can often cost considerable amounts due to the specialized nature of the vehicle; you can actually save yourself considerable time and effort by not needing to take the fifth wheeler to a shop or calling professional help.

One such field of minor maintenance is actually more oriented towards the household facet of the vehicle; specifically, the many small appliances we use daily to try and make our world a little bit simpler all around. The kitchen is full of these things, the most notable of which is almost certainly the microwave, which can allow you to cook without creating an open flame inside your RV and conserves the gas you might otherwise have used to do so.

One particular device is not solely hosted by the kitchen but is nevertheless crucial to your enjoyment of your time in the RV. Your air conditioner is vital to ensuring your comfort while you are on the road and is equally likely to be in any area in the RV as long as the family doesn’t object.

It takes a deceptively large amount of care to keep an air conditioner running, but the most common part of it may well be cleaning the filters that sit inside the machine and trap particles before they can be blown back out the egress spout and returned to the otherwise clean and breathable air.

Cleaning filters are less a matter of physical strength or genius as is it is a matter for those with the time and inclination to see it done properly. Really cleaning the filter can take long enough to make people decide they will take their chances and use an air conditioner that is missing the filter entirely. The main point is not how long it takes, but that the filter is returned clean and ready to be returned to the car once you are done with it.

We’ve put together a list of all the steps you will need to follow to see your RV air conditioning filters spotless. Keeping to these steps will have the AC back to normal and your RV rolling long again.

Step One: Prepare for electronics servicing. Although it is not often noticeable when responding to an incident, the air conditioner is nevertheless a complicated appliance with more power in it than most people realize; make sure you have powered down anything connected to the AC’s wiring and that the AC itself is off.

Step Two: Prepare the air conditioner itself to be serviced, either by a manufacturer technician or, in this case, by the RV user who is determined not to have to either wait or pay for any such attention. Once you are quite sure that the air conditioner has been disconnected from the trailer’s electronics, it is safe to open the cover and remove the filters in need of cleaning.

It is important to note the manufacturer and model, and it may even be worth looking up the differences if you are intending to try and claim your warranty. Besides that, though, is the simple fact that the manufacturer’s recommendations are the place most likely to have current, relevant information about the air conditioner in question.

Take care not to reactivate the air conditioner without the filter, even briefly. Doing so runs the risk of allowing particles to build up inside the filter itself, which is much harder to clean and can damage the delicate internal components of the unit itself.

Step Three: Scrape the filter clear of all dust and other particles that may have gotten inside since the last time the filters were properly serviced. How much force is required depends on what kind of debris has accumulated inside the filter; a simple wipe down with a light microfiber cloth might be enough for simple buildups of dust or sweeping away large particles, or a coarse brush may be necessary if you are experiencing large quantities of grease or grime caked onto the filter.

Discard any removed particles in a waste bin instead of simply throwing them aside. This is both more environmentally friendly than releasing them back into the environment and will prevent any chance of them insinuating themselves back into the filter grate.

Step Four: Use a vacuum cleaner to remove any particles too fine to reach with the towel or scrubbing brush. These tend to be in the corners or crevices formed by the cross-hatching in the grate slats; make sure to change vacuum attachments and cover the entire area of the filter with each one to achieve maximum dust removal.

Keep in mind that pressing the vacuum cleaner too hard against the screen can cause it to separate from the frame or rupture at the spot where pressure is being applied. You want the mouth of the hose or attachment just barely visible from the other side of the screen or slats; if you hear a creaking sound or if the hose is hard to glide easily along the unit’s surface, you are likely using too much pressure and need to ease off to prevent damaging the RV’s air conditioning filter.

Step Five: Submerge the filter in warm, soapy water for up to a quarter of an hour to remove any grease or chemicals that may have accumulated on the screen or slats. A bathtub is a convenient place for this, assuming you have a plug to keep the water draining out; wherever you decide to do it, though, make sure that it is completely submerged to prevent the contaminants from floating back to adhere to the filter frame.

Although it may be tempting to soak for longer to remove more particles, be careful not to soak for much longer than thirty minutes at most without allowing the filter to dry first; any longer than that might damage the delicate screen elements of the filter. If your filter has metal components, it is well worth the time to dry them off properly once they are removed from your cleansing solution to prevent them from corroding inside your air conditioning unit.

Step Six: Remove the filter completely from the cleaning solution and drain off the solution to dispose of any contaminants it may have removed. Use a shower head, garden hose, or any other such faucet to rinse away any traces of the solution before proceeding.

The last traces of the cleaning solution will be on the filter itself, which should be rinsed off as well. Don’t aim the hose at the filter full blast. In the same way that excess pressure from the vacuum cleaner can damage the filter, one can also harm it by subjecting it to too strong a flow from a hose or showerhead.

Step Seven: To prevent the accumulation of airborne bacteria or the formation of mold inside your air conditioning unit you may want to treat your filter with a vinegar solution to prevent microbial growth after it is reintroduced to the unit. This is a natural way to ensure that you will be breathing clean air for longer and that there will be fewer contaminants to remove the next time around.

To prepare the solution, combine equal quantities of vinegar and water in a spray bottle and mix well; if you would like, some antibacterial soap or ion-based detergent can add an additional layer of chemical cleanser and protective action to your solution. If you are cleaning your filter outside, keep this solution well away from any plants, as it bears a strong chemical resemblance to some commercial weed killer and will have much the same effect should it drift onto your lawn.

Apply this solution to both sides of the filter screen, making sure to reach all areas of the filter and to cover it from multiple angles. Allow the solution roughly a quarter of an hour to work before giving it one final thorough rinse with fresh water.

Step Eight: Once you have rinsed off your filter, dry the rigid parts with a towel, then set the screen in a warm place to allow the thicker fibers to exude all the water they may have absorbed during the cleaning process. Direct sunlight is best for this; if you are cleaning your filter during a warm season, it is also preferable to leave it outside to allow the warm air to evaporate the water out of the filter screen.

Step Nine: You can now reinsert your cleaned and dried filter into your RV’s air conditioning unit, and once again enjoy clean, cool air whenever you need. It is recommended that you take a few minutes to listen to the unit running and try to detect any odd smells or sounds that might indicate that something has gone wrong with the filter cleaning or replacement; should any warning signs appear, power down the unit and seek help from an experienced air conditioner mechanic to help you diagnose and repair the problem.

Aside from a deep clean like the one outlined here, it is also recommended that you engage in more basic maintenance for your RV on a regular basis. A brief wipe every one to two weeks, for example, can prevent buildups from ever beginning; some newer models have a self-cleaning function that can be run to much the same effect.

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