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How to clear a clogged condensate drain line

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If you live in an area with a hot climate, you know the benefits of having an A/C unit running in your home. In fact, you’ve probably experienced extreme discomfort if your A/C unit has ever broken down in the summer heat. Sweat droplets form, clothes become drenched, and it is not a pleasant experience for anyone. 

Thankfully, you can take some steps to prevent your A/C unit from breaking down. This article covers how to clear a clogged condensate drain line — one way to ensure your A/C unit stays running throughout warmer seasons.

 

What is an A/C condensate drain line?

Air conditioners operate by absorbing the heat and humidity in your home. An A/C condensate drain line plays a crucial role in removing any condensation that collects near your A/C unit. 

When your A/C condensate drain is clogged, the water your A/C generates becomes trapped. A clogged A/C condensate drain may even cause the collected moisture in your drain line to freeze. This results in a faulty A/C unit over time, which means your A/C won’t keep you or your family members cool during those hot and muggy days.

 

What causes an A/C condensate drain line to clog?

Your A/C condensate can clog for several reasons, including:

  • Algae and other gunk can build up in the drain line, reducing the efficiency of your air conditioner.
  • The drain line can clog over time due to moisture buildup. This buildup hinders the ability of your A/C unit to cool the air. 
  • The drain line is a closed, wet space, making it a prime location for the buildup of mildew and dust.
  • Insects and dirt can cause clogs in the drain if it’s not regularly cleaned and maintained.
  • Damage to your condensate pan can prevent your A/C unit from removing humidity. The condensate pan is located near the evaporator coil. It catches all the water beads and drips from your air-conditioning system.

 

Signs of a clogged A/C condensate drain line

When it comes to knowing if your A/C condensate drain line is clogged, there are a few common signs:

  • Your A/C doesn’t cool your home well (or at all).
  • You notice standing water collecting beneath your A/C unit.
  • The unit will shut off regularly or not turn on.
  • You notice a moldy, musty smell near your A/C unit.
  • There is water damage located around your A/C unit.

 

Unclog your A/C condensate drain line in 7 steps

While having a condensate drain line clog is a pain, the good news is that there are steps to unclog it. Once you know your A/C unit’s condensate drain line is clogged, you can attempt to DIY the repair or have your local HVAC technician unclog the drain line and make regular checkups part of your maintenance routine.

What you need

If you choose to DIY the repair, here’s what is needed to unclog your A/C condensate drain line:

  • White vinegar
  • Bleach
  • Rubber gloves
  • Stiff, thin wire brush
  • Wet/dry vacuum
  • Duct tape

Step 1. Turn off the A/C unit

The first step is to ensure your A/C unit is turned off. The HVAC unit needs to be turned off for safety reasons so there is no further damage to your A/C unit and to keep you safe. You can turn this off on your breaker or by unplugging the machine so it doesn’t have power. 

Step 2. Locate the drainpipe

Next, locate the drainpipe. If you reside in a single-family home, the drainpipe is usually in the garage or attic near the air-handling unit. The unit could be outside near the condenser unit. It is usually a pipe that extends downward.

Step 3. Remove the drainpipe cap

Once you find the access point, remove the drainpipe cap (located next to your A/C unit). Follow the drainpipe — a T-shaped section of pipe that comes off the main drain line and connects to your A/C unit. (It might have water dripping from it.) Remove the PVC pipe and lay it to the side. Use protective gloves during this process. 

Step 4. Visually inspect for debris stuck in the drainpipe

Next, inspect for debris stuck in the drainpipe. You might notice mildew, dust or other obstructions in the drainpipe preventing your A/C from working well. 

Step 5. Remove any visible debris and retest for proper drainage

Insert the stiff brush inside your pipe and carefully remove any debris located inside the pipe. If the clog is farther down, it’ll require more work.

Retest for proper drainage by pouring water down the drain line and ensuring it flows smoothly. Use a bucket or drain pan to test this. 

Step 6. Pour vinegar into the drainpipe

You can pour vinegar into the drainpipe to kill any mold, mildew or other forms of buildup to prevent future clogs. You can also use vinegar to remove harmful bacteria that cause mold in your drainpipe. 

To do this, add ¼ cup of distilled vinegar to your drain line where your cap was removed. Let the solution sit for 30 minutes and rinse with water. You can repeat this process monthly for routine maintenance. 

Step 7. Replace the drain cap

Always replace the drain cap after cleaning your drainpipe. The drain cap is located on top of the PVC pipe at the access point of the drain line. Replace the drain cap by purchasing a new replacement cap and twisting it back on the end of your drain line.

 

How to clear a clog in the pipe if you’ve never cleaned the A/C drain line before

If you’ve never cleared a clog in a pipe before, there are a few ways to go about it. You may have some heavy clogs to remove if you've never maintained your A/C. Have no fear. We will walk you through a few steps to clean the drainpipe. 

Step 1. Remove the drain cap

First, locate the vent tee, or sanitary tee, on your HVAC system (the pipe fitting that connects your A/C drain line to the drainage tray). The vent tee is the T-shaped piece of pipe  that allows air to vent and liquid to drain. Remove the PVC cap located on top of the vent tee. It will be at the top of the vent tee and easy to twist off. 

Step 2. Use a wet/dry vacuum

Next, use your wet/dry vacuum to suction any clogs remaining in the drainpipe. Prior to vacuuming, remove the paper filter to avoid damaging it. Hold the vacuum hose to the end of the drain line and plug the gap with duct tape, a cloth or a rag. Turn the vacuum on for up to three minutes to suck out any obstructions and unclog the drain.

Once you have vacuumed, check to see if any items were removed. The good news about this process is it’ll become less necessary once you regularly maintain your A/C unit. In addition, you can have a home protection plan to help cover any maintenance.

 

How to maintain your air conditioner

After removing the clogs from your A/C unit’s drain line, you can conduct A/C maintenance regularly to prevent further issues.

Here are a few steps to maintain your air conditioner:

  • Have routine maintenance. Have your A/C technician check your equipment every two years. Regular checkups are crucial because your technician will check for problems early on and seek solutions before a major setback occurs.
  • Clean your A/C line regularly. You can consistently maintain your drainpipe with the vinegar method described above. Flush with vinegar every three months. You can also use dish soap with warm water or bleach diluted with water (1:2 or 1:4 ratio). Use bleach with caution due to the harsh odor. 
  • Use high-quality air filters. Instead of using cheap air filters, use higher-quality air filters to keep clogs at bay. Air filters should be changed every three months, on average. However, air filters should be replaced more regularly if you have pets.
  • Clean your A/C unit regularly. Keep your entire A/C unit (not just your drainpipes) working well with regular tuneups. Hire a technician to safely clean the coils, motor and blades to reduce the chance of mold growth and water leakage.

Having a home protection plan through Cinch Home Services can help ensure you keep up with the maintenance of your A/C unit. An A/C technician can fix any issues that occur with your A/C unit, and repairs are covered under your Cinch home protection plan.

 

Protect your home from costly A/C unit repairs with a Cinch home protection plan

To protect your home from costly repairs to A/C units, purchase a Cinch home protection plan that covers A/C units and ductwork for the best peace of mind. Homeowners love Cinch’s Built-in Systems Plan or Complete Home Plan, which both cover ductwork and A/C repairs. Using one of Cinch’s covered plans can ensure your A/C system stays in tiptop shape.

With Cinch, it is easy to see what is covered for your A/C systems. File a service request and make an appointment for HVAC repair if anything happens to your air-conditioning unit. Get a quote for repairing your A/C system today, or learn more about our plans for HVAC service here.

 

Do you have a clogged condensate drain line? Take these steps to unclog your drain line and get your A/C unit running in no time.