Cleaning your Condensate Drain

How to clean your air conditioner drain

Air Conditioners & Fans, General, Heating & Cooling

Almost everyone knows that a “bug is snug in a rug”, but many do not know that living organisms also inhabit an air conditioner’s condensation drain. A rug gets shaken occasionally to clean it, but a drain provides the perfect hiding place for algae to grow. With time, it can completely block a drain, causing an overflow in the drain pan. Water that cannot escape through the drain can damage drywall in the ceiling, and a home owner’s problems worsen when that happens. You can prevent clogs and leaks from occurring by adding proper cleaning of your air conditioner drain, pan, and condensate line to your monthly maintenance calendar.

Assessing the need to clean a drain

A condensate drain that is working properly drips any time that an air conditioner is in use. Usually located near the outdoor compressor and attached to the wall of a house, the condensate drain pipe is either ½-inch or ¾-inch PVC. An absence of a slow drip probably means that the drain is blocked.

As a safeguard against a clogged pipe that can create an overflow, many drain pans have an alternate pipe that allows water to escape to the outside, usually under the eaves. If condensate comes out of that pipe, then it is another indication that the main drain is clogged. Time to put on your gloves and go to work.

Using vinegar to clear a drain

The pipe in the attic that leads away from the drain pan usually includes a tee with a threaded plug that is easy to open. The best way to kill the algae growth is with a dose of ordinary white vinegar that is a staple in most kitchens. The technique involves removing the plug and slowly pouring six ounces of vinegar into it. Most air conditioner condensate drains are slow to clog, taking as long as two years, but putting vinegar in the drain line every few months assures that it remains clear.

Vinegar kills algae, but it may require a few hours to work if the clog is severe. The disadvantage of pouring it directly into the pipe is that it requires someone to get into the attic. To avoid extreme heat, most home owners prefer to do the task in the early morning.

Using a wet vacuum to clear a drain

Some home owners may prefer to work on the ground to clear drain problems, and an alternative method is to use a vacuum cleaner that accepts water. A strong suction is required, making it necessary to fashion an attachment that precisely fits the small pipe that carries the condensate. Most home improvement stores stock a variety of fittings that can connect the vacuum hose to the pipe securely.

As always, be sure to heed all manufacturer safety warnings and the laws of common sense. If you do, this project will be an easy one for just about anyone to accomplish.