Thursday, July 12, 2012


Ask a Clean Person: Dusty Air-Conditioners and Dirty Fans

What is the proper way to clean an air conditioning screen? I kind of just pull it out and rub it lightly so some of the dust pills off, but then now I ran it under some water? It didn't work all that great, either, but it was mostly clean, and I patted it dry with a paper towel and then put it back in, dampish. Was that horrible?

This is a great question and oh so very timely for those of us sweating and cursing our way through yet another summer of heatwaves.

Okay so! You're not that far off … the way to clean an AC screen is to take it out of the unit, put it in your kitchen sink (or bathtub if the sink isn't big enough, though it should be because the screens aren't that big) and cover it with warm water and a bit of dish soap. Then while it's submerged, use a sponge to clean the dirt and whatnot off. Things get even easier if you have a hose attachment on your kitchen sink — oooh and one day we really need to talk about replacing the faucet on your kitchen sink so that you can have a hose attachment because hose attachments are the best, and I love mine so much that I sometimes worry my boyfriend is getting jealous — which you can aim at the back of the screen, i.e. the not-dirty side, and force the grime off with just the water pressure.

When you're done cleaning the screen of dirt, dry it before you put it back in the unit so the water doesn't get into the machinery. It's best to use a dishcloth or rag for this task rather than a paper towel, which will get all torn up and stuck to the screen.

While you're at it, it's not a bad idea to give the rest of the unit a dusting. If you've got a feather duster, great! That will go a long way in getting any dust out from the vents. If not, you can either use a dry cloth or something that you've sprayed lightly with an all-purpose cleaner and go over each vent; just wiping down the front of the unit won't do much, honestly; you really do need to take the time to wipe out each slat. It won't take that long, though!

If you notice that the innards of the unit have any build-up on them, you can use a dryer sheet rubbed gently over the grimy areas to remove the dirt. You can actually use a dryer sheet to clean the vent slats too. Handy dandy new use!

Also, and this is an important safety note: please turn off the unit AND UNPLUG IT before you go messing about. Just out of an abundance of caution. It's pretty easy to knock the on button and have the darn thing turn on while you're futzing, which is why I do want you to take the extra step of unplugging the unit.

How do I clean a dual window fan full of dust and dirt inside the little plastic grid/frame thing? Dirt gets sucked in and it stays there (and probably blows into my apartment), but short of detailing it with a toothbrush and a vacuum, it still doesn't seem like the most effective way to make this thing spotless, or at least less caked with dirt in 500 separate, tiny hard-to-reach crevices.

There are two ways to clean a fan (and this goes for box fans, dual window fans, and oscillating fans): the proper way and the quick and dirty way. We'll go through both methods, starting with the proper way.

Unplug your fan and move it to a workspace. You may want to put down a trash bag so you don't get dirt and grime all over the place, but that's entirely up to you. Using the appropriate screwdriver, remove the screws holding the front and back covers in place. Set the screws aside in a small dish or cup so you don't run the risk of losing one. You'll need those again!

Step 1 is to wash the covers, which you can do by either putting them in the sink and giving 'em a good going over with a soapy sponge and some hot water, or by wiping them down with a rag and an all-purpose cleaning solution. If you're dealing with a fan cover with a small grid pattern, go ahead and cover the pieces in water and wash them while submerged, or use a hose attachment if you've got one. <3 u Hosie! Dry them thoroughly and set aside.

Step 2 is to wipe down the blades, which you can do with either a rag, sponge or paper towels. Depending on how dirty they are, you may want to wipe the dust off with a dry rag and then go over them with a wet rag, or you might just skip directly to the wet rag. Here you can use soap and water or an all-purpose cleaning solution of your choice, but it's best to wet the rag or sponge you're using than to spray the blades directly.

Step 3 is to wipe down the outer parts of the unit, including the cord, with a dry cloth. Then you're ready to reassemble the unit! Not too hard, right? But let's say you're terrified of screwdrivers. Or maybe you just don't own one? (Related: you should own a screwdriver.) If that's the case then how about my quick and dirty method of leaving the unit intact and spraying the entire thing down with canned air? I KNOW RIGHT?? So genius.

Man, I really love canned air.

Also before I leave you, I would be remiss to not point out that the wonderful and talented folks at geeky brother site The Wirecutter have reviewed both fans and air conditioners, so that they can recommend the very best for you! If you're still in the market for one or both items, please do check out their picks. And while I've got you on the subject of The Wirecutter: are there any cleaning tools or gadgets you're interested in having them offer advice on? Let me know and I'll pass the requests on!

Previously: Roaches

Jolie Kerr is not paid to endorse any of the products mentioned in this column, but she sure would be very happy to accept any free samples the manufacturers care to send her way! Are you curious to know if she's answered a question you have? Do check out the archives, listed by topic. More importantly: is anything you own dirty?

66 Comments / Post A Comment


OMG can we talk about replacing your faucet to have a hose attachment? This is now the second thing (the first was a garbage disposal) that I tried to hold out for in an apartment and eventually failed. Washing dishes without one makes me feel like I'm back in the dorms, rinsing out my ramen bowl in a weird laundry sink.


@themmases yes! i have -- and love! -- a hose attachment but my faucet is leaky. our current solution is a strategically wrapped dishtowel that drains into the sink which is rather ingenious and also kind of janky. i want to replace our faucet but i'm skerred!


@themmases Can I tell you about the meltdown I had recently at my apartment? (Readers of AaCP should appreciate why someone might have such a meltdown, whereas many of my friends did not.) So, the old, rotten faucet handle (one of those stick-shiftlike ones) broke. I called the office from work to have maintenance replace it. When I got home that night, I saw a shiny new faucet, which was good, but NO SPRAYER! That was bad! They actually removed the existing sprayer because I guess it was attached to the old faucet, but they did not give me a new faucet with a sprayer -- they actually covered the hole with a little metal round thing as if it never mattered! Man, I was pissed. Do you know how hard it is to clean the mac & cheese pot without one?


@Hellcat Aaaah both my sinks in this building have had that stupid little metal circle covering the place the sprayer should be! It adds insult to injury every time I see it.


@themmases I'm sure it was due to more than this incident and the sprayer was probably just the last straw in a bad week, but the freakout I had was practically otherworldly. Had anyone seen it and thought it was just about the sprayer, I'd have been locked up. Oy, I hated that day.


@themmases Seconded! I bought a short(4') drinking-water-approved hose extension that screws onto my kitchen faucet to facilitate beer-making and the large amounts of water transfer it entails. I already want to leave it on all the time, but I would DIE of happiness if my faucet had an actual faucet sprayer. they are the best.

sudden but inevitable betrayal

@Hellcat When I moved into my current apartment, I was so excited to see that it had a sprayer because the previous apartment didn't. Excited until the first time I did dishes and pulled the sprayer out to discover that it wasn't attached to anything and ended in a decayed, filthy nub about six inches down. My asshole landlord had just set it there so it LOOKED like it had a sprayer. We have since replaced the whole faucet with a real working sprayer and a super tall faucet that pots will actually fit under and it's amazing.


@sudden but inevitable betrayal Clearly, there are some people in this world who do not respect the sprayer!


@Hellcat You can get a different head for your faucet! I used to have one that converted the regular flow to a spray when you pulled down on the head. Check a hardware store! It'll just screw onto the faucet, and it'll be cheap, too!


I found this where i am@a


I really feel I need to write to A Clean Person about my boyfriend's entire house - but I feel that would be almost cruel/too much?
The bathtub is horrifying, no matter how I scrub and soak and throw bubbles at - there are weird stains. STAINS. Long brownish yellow stains like something dripped (BLOOD???) and wasn't cleaned off for days. (These weird stains were there before he moved in.)
.... Do you want pictures?

Leon Tchotchke

@Jade Ooh! Ooh! It might be something as innocuous as shampoo or bodywash with a dye in it. The same thing happened to my tub when some shampoo spilled and ran down the walls while we were on vacation, and I guess because it sat there for several days until we got back the weird yellow stains refuse to come out completely. (The tub/shower is this incredibly terrible pink color, though, so it's actually sort of an improvement).


@Jade Could be hair dye too!


@Jade You could try spraying a solution of one part vinegar and one part dish soap, leave it for an hour, then wipe your tub. I saw that on Pinterest...

Koko Goldstein

@Jade I have to say that those magic erasers clean my bathtub like nothing else in the world. They are truly magic.



Oooh the bathtub was like this when I moved in to my flat too! And no I have no idea how to make it pretty again. I guess this is a support post and not a constructive post.


@Jade I had similar issues with a tub at one of my old apartments - my mom (bless her clean, hospital nurse heart) got rid of them this way:
1.) fill tub with bleach and water solution (I think it was 1 part bleach to 2 or 3 parts water). Make sure you fill it to the top, also make sure the tub isn't able to drain.
2.) put sign on door saying "HAZMAT AREA DO NOT ENTER UNTIL TOMORROW"
3.) let tub soak overnight
4.) drain tub, scrub at stains
5.) if any stains are left over, hit them with a sponge and soft scrub bleach, and a mr. clean eraser
6.) rinse tub thoroughly
7.) air out entire house, since it probably smells like toxic levels of bleach
8.) enjoy taking a shower/bath in a clean tub :)


@Jade Could be rust? Did you try Mr Clean Magic Eraser? Those things pretty much saved my last tub, which was disgusting when I moved in.


@parallel-lines @Koko Goldstein Totally tried magic erasers - I've been through about 20 of them in his house.

@oaklandbooty - I WANT to do this but I can't, because his pet bunnies have the room next door and I feel it would be too toxic for them?
I tried rags soaked in bleach draped over the offending spots. But the fan has a 1 hour timer and will turn off so I had to abort after 4 hours of running to turn it back on. THERE WAS NO DIFFERENCE.

@ohoreo I didn't try dishsoap... (tried vinegar though) and I will try this magical concoction!

@EVERYBODY - you guys are awesome. JUST SAYIN'.


@Jade When I moved into my current apartment the building manager refinished the bathtub with a new coat of enamel. I found some instructions on how to do that here: http://www.ehow.com/how_5097914_reenamel-bath-tub.html

Based on how quickly they got us into that apartment, I really doubt that our tub needed any of the sanding or chip removal the instructions suggest-- just a new coat because the old finish looked kinda gross. If you strike out with more than one cleaning method, you could do this or get the landlord to do this depending on your relationship with them.


@Jade Oooh, yeah, no bueno. Bleachie does not love bunnies. (now I miss my bunny)
Now that I think about it, your stains might be rust. Try hitting it with some CLR and see if that helps? Good luck!


@Jade Hopping on-thread for ideas, although my bathtub stains are...navy? And only around the drain?


@Koko Goldstein Magic Eraser on the tub? You have just rocked my world. Why did this never occur to me.


@Jade If it is hair dye, you can try nail polish remover - the good acetone kind. That has worked for me.

oh! valencia

@Jade I tried so many things with my bathtub and nothing worked, so I concluded that the finish on the tub must have been damaged. BUT THEN - I used Norwex Descaler and it took off the stuff I didn't even know could come off. Norwex is a home-party-marketing based business, but maybe you can find someone near you who sells it? I swear it is amazing.


Can of air in one hand, vacuum nozzle in the other, I rule my universe.


Me next, me next, pick me!

My air conditioner is full of mildew or mold or something. It's in the blowy vents, not on the screen (which I clean pretty obsessively). It looks like little black spots.

I don't know if I should spray it with bleach water or vinegar water. And I don't know how to get in there with anything to scrub.

Anyone? It's a really nice, 2-year-old AC unit and I'd rather fix it than toss it.


@PotatoPotato Related: Jolie, can we get Legionnaire's disease from our window units? A...friend with a persistent cough wants to know.


@PotatoPotato Seriously, Jolie. I really don't have the 300 bucks it takes to buy a new AC unit in the middle of a heat wave. What do I do about the G-damned black spots?


When we moved in together my boyfriend gave me the best screwdriver EVER. Its a multi-driver but its spring loaded, so I flick the little switch to change bits. I'm a fairly handy person so it comes in handy for A LOT and I use it pretty much all the time. I think everyone should have one. <3 you screwdriver!


@ReginaSavage I have one of these things! My dad gave it to me when I moved in to my first apartment. It is SO handy, and I love that I can never lose the bits.


@ReginaSavage I have a multi-driver from Ikea and I love it! Mine is magnetic so it's probably not as secure as yours, but since I mostly use it to do build and do minor repairs to Ikea furniture, it works.

I live in fear that I will lose one of the little bits.


@themmases I have that one, too! Even after five years of use, I still worry about the bits, but it turned out to be the most useful apartment-warming gift ever.


I used to lazyperson clean by fan by turning it on so all the grody bits blew outwards, then using the brush vacuum attachment to unlodge them and suck them into the vacuum. afterwards, a quick go over with a wet paper towel. Worked pretty well on everything except the blade.

Now that I'm no longer a cat owner I clean my fan half as often. Serious, you were warned--get rid of 'em!

Lily Rowan

OMG, I love cleaning my window fan! Good times.

Also, if you don't have a screwdriver, a butter knife usually works fine.

Redheads have even more fun

Just a heads up - you'll want to scrub down your sink afterwards. I hosed my screens off in the shower (and they were groddy) which resulted in an even groddier ring around the tub. Oh, and wear gloves if you're as allergic to dust as I am. No wonder I was waking up all stuffed up every morning.

Rachel Beaton@facebook

I always feel so productive whenever I clean a fan - it's just so instantly gratifying.

On a unrelated note, does anyone know where the other advice columns went?


Solution for a clean fan: THIS, which my lovely BF bought me for my birthday (along with a big Han Solo on a tauntaun)!

OK, I confess, mine is not the Dyson model -- I would have probably made him return it because what the hell kind of price is that? But the imitation one (also blue) works for me.


@Hellcat Where did he get the knockoff, and what company makes it?


@MsChilePepper I think it's this one, judging just by the photo (I can't for the life of me remember the brand name). But I really don't think my BF paid more than $150 for it, if that, so I am confused...



@MsChilePepper The brand is Roward -- I just remembered just now to check (even after the gin!). I can't find a link; I have no idea how the BF located it. But it's pretty nice!


@Hellcat Excellent! Thanks!


So, can miniblinds be taken down and soaked in the tub as well? Same principle? I lack the patience to wipe every slat by hand effectively, so by halfway down the blind I am bored and just kind of swatting at it with a rag.


@MoonBat You're a better Clean Person than I am; I throw them away and get new ones. Good thing Home Depot has them for about six bucks and I have only five windows in this place.


@Hellcat I wish it were that simple. I cannot get out of Lowe's or Home Depot for under $100. I love all of the things.


@MoonBat I was just ten minutes ago congratulating myself on getting out of Target today for under $200! And, on top of that, none of the stuff I bought was for me in the fun way; it's all organizing/packing/moving-related, including some spackle, which is drying as I sit here typing (and wondering about whether it will be invisible enough to get my deposit back).


@Hellcat Aaaah, you had to say spackle. Damn, there is a hole that I keep meaning to fix, where my previous toilet paper holder was. I may have been not-quite-gentle-enough when I moved it to a more logical location in the room.


@MoonBat --I had to log in for this. Don't be afraid of the hole. I did the same repair a couple of years ago, several months after I ripped out the TP holder with my entire posterior/lower dorsal area after falling off the tub ledge, where I'd been standing doing something so very important like hanging up hand-washed clothes or re-hanging the shower curtain. OUCH, did that hurt. But anyway, I recommend care when spackling and repainting (if you'll be repainting). You really want to get that spackle as even and smooth as possible. Use sandpaper. You may know that already, though. Have fun! I still get a little thrill of pride looking at it sometimes, even though I didn't do the best job.


@Lu2 I'm hoping mine will at least suffice for my deposit. I mean, there is no getting around the fact that these walls need to be painted (is there anything worse than the standard apartment-issue, chalky-ass, white(ish) paint that shows all kinds of horrid smudges that came from god knows where? Wouldn't it be more cost-effective in the long run for the management of these places to spring for even the lowest-quality semigloss?), and I guess an amateur spackle job is better than a hole, right?

Also, I only had one piece of screen; I totally just cheated on a gouge by, like, splorping globs of the spackle in it and hoping it adheres to itself well enough to fool the apartment-office lady.


@Hellcat --I should think so! I hate that paint, and you're right. Why do they always use it? And I've tried to get small smudges off the wall using various spray cleaners, and that paint rubs right off with the cleanser. It's like they're begging to have to paint every time someone moves.

I'm sure your spackle job will be fine and, soon after your move from Chalk Walls Farm, will be covered by yet another layer of white paint, no one the wiser.


@Lu2 I think there's a rule that all of these places have to be painted when someone moves out, so I get the penny-pinching there. But, on the other hand, maybe that rule wouldn't be needed if the paint were more durable/cleanable? Oh, who knows? But I can tell you that I don't think there were freshly painted walls when I moved in (judging by the FOOD SPOTS on them!).

That rule also makes me wonder if the square footage eventually diminishes with all these coats of paint...


@Lu2 Definitely a weekend project. It's way past time to get it done and stop eying the gaping hole everytime I pee, since if I don't there will almost certainly be a rogue spider crawling out.


@MoonBat Not that I have ever seen a spider crawling out, just that I expect it will happen, pretty much any day now.


@Lu2 Also, depending on the laws in your state, security deposits are usually only allowed to be used on actual damage - not wear and tear. I mean, a gaping hole probably doesn't count, but if the paint chips in a few places it shouldn't be an issue. I don't get why my place has painted ceilings but no sort of ventilation in the bathroom, because the whole area above my shower is flaking off after living here for 9 months.


Soooo....you're saying DON'T turn the fan on outside and shoot it with the hose?


I am so confused. This might be because I've never dealt with our units directly, but I have no idea what an air conditioner screen is. I've also never actually seen a window a/c box in person except old ganky kinds in cheap motels down here in Florida (I've recently learned that cheap but decent motels don't exist up north?! like, I said to my dad that I was thinking of going up to the Adirondacks this summer but staying in cheap motels along the way, and he was like "you know, those don't exist north of DC or so" and I was gobsmacked. I've never been that north in my life... and you can always find a not-too-sketchy Red Roof Inn or whatever around here)

I was disappointed that this AaCP didn't include ceiling fan tips. Do those not exist Up North either?

My favorite tip is to spray an old pillowcase liberally with water or cleaning solution, then fit it over the blade, grab it tight at the mouth, and pull it towards you. Most of the dust stays inside the case instead of floating down and onto the floor or bed or my head. But I always forget to do it often enough (because my fan doesn't get turned off unless i'm away for more than a day), so it's never quite enough and I end up having to scrub at muddy dust in the crevices of the decorative connecting bits with a toothbrush :(


@keristars Plenty of motels & ceiling fans up here, don't worry.



Oh, good! people tell me things about Up North and I never know what to believe. I've never been able to afford to travel much, and when I could, I went all out and visited France for a month.

(True story: I did not understand that snow comes from clouds until I was 27 years old. I always thought people woke up and it was somehow on the ground, like dew/frost? beats me where I thought falling snowflakes came from. I am not stupid, either, and watched the Magic Schoolbus episode about precipitation tons of times as a kid. So I knew scientifically about the clouds, I guess. Anyway, this is my story I bring out to give perspective to how little I understand what it's like to live in colder climates.)


Replacing faucets! It is not a thing that I, personally, would mess with (and this is a girl who owns her reciprocating saw, driver/drill, vice, uncountable screwdrivers including Torx, and etc, etc, etc). Fucking up mounting some shelves is one thing, but fucking up plumbing can have DIRE consequences -- ruined walls, ruined cabinets, ruined floors, mold, other expensive unpleasantness.

As my mother will tell you, the thing to say if a plumber asks you what you know about plumbing is "Hot on the left, cold on the right, shit won't flow uphill, and the boss is a sonofabitch." The thing to say if a non-plumber asks you about plumbing is "For god's sake, call a plumber."

Want a new faucet set (with hose!)? Tell your landlord you'll buy it if they'll send someone to install it. A nice 4" spread standard vanity set will run you $75 and up; for kitchen sink fixtures it'll be a little more. Watch that the major pieces (mounts, drain assemblies) are metal, not plastic.

HOWEVER. Replacing a broken / wonky kitchen sink sprayer is super easy. Also, those of you who're trying to clean off big AC filters and vents? Do it in the bathtub, and replace your crappy shower head with a lovely one of these. Look for one with a STAINLESS STEEL hose, which are nice and flexible -- not one of the crappy "metallic" looking plastic hoses which suck. For those of you with horrible rusty stainy water, they even make them with filter cartridges in the handle! For rinsing out the shower, washing filters, bathing the dog, those things are just life-changing.

But save the crappy old shower head and put it back before you move out....

Sensory Homoncula

When we remodeled the bathroom, I insisted on including a Hosie at the bathtub. So many times in my youth -- which was spent Up North where houses do not have showers-- I rinsed my hair in unladylike positions in the bathtub. Yay! for the Hosie. After the kids have Bubble Baths and use the Soap Crayons, I can hose them down and get all that crap off their skin. And washing the dog. TL;DR hosies are good in the bathroom AND the kitchen.

In regards to compressed air, my Yankee Thrift [see above regarding childhood spent Up North] won't allow me to pay money for a can labeled "Air." So I use the bicycle pump, and its a bit of alright. Definitely an aerobic workout.


Whenever I have problems with the AC I call the guys responsible for it and they fix it, we call them twice an year for maintenance work. I would buy an Hydrogen monitor at Weidmann-Diagnostics.com to check if the air is clean, I saw a cheap model and I will give it a try.


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Maintenance is the key for the long life of the home appliances. More you will care more you will enjoy. As the air conditioner's are the most common home appliances which needs much more maintenance as compare to others appliances. under-maintenance of an ac's usually the one off the most common reason due to which ac's stops cooling . So make sure that clean the filters and the once in a month.


When we have free time such as a holiday or a Saturday week 3 Months once it doesn't hurt us to wear clean AIR CONDITIONING yourself. Commonwealth Life


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