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How to clean, maintain and properly use your HVAC system

HVAC system maintenance


Your HVAC system regulates the temperature in your home, keeping you and your family comfortably cool in the summer and toasty warm in the winter. The last thing you want is for your air conditioning unit to break down on a scorching summer day or for your heat to give out when there’s snow and ice outside.

Regular maintenance and cleaning will help your HVAC system run smoothly and avoid unexpected breakdowns. This guide provides actionable tips for HVAC maintenance and also explains how best to use your system for maximum efficiency. With these steps, you can potentially cut down on energy costs and help preserve your HVAC system’s life span.


How to clean your HVAC system


This section explains how to clean your heating and cooling system.

Clean your outdoor A/C unit

The A/C unit consists of three main parts: the evaporator, the compressor and the condenser. Together, these three components take warm air from inside the home, cool it with the help of refrigerant-filled condenser coils and then siphon the cooled air back inside via the blower.

The condenser is the large unit usually located outside of the home (because it’s noisy). Since it’s an outdoor unit, it’s prone to buildup of dust, pollen and grime. Furthermore, leaves and sticks can fall into the condenser and obstruct the fan blade. Although there is a protective grille on top of the condenser to protect the fan, small debris can still slip through.

To clean the condenser, first switch off the power to the unit. Then, use a vacuum to remove debris like dust and leaves. Next, take off the top of the unit (you’ll need a screwdriver to remove the protective grille on top) and pull out the fan. You can then remove any sticks, leaves or other debris that may have fallen into the condenser and could clog it.

The outside of the condenser has thin metallic fins. Use a hose to clean the fins, running water through them from the inside. You can then let the unit dry, replace the fan and grille and turn the power back on.

Change your HVAC filters

Your HVAC system has filters for cooling and heating. Your A/C filter is likely located in the return air duct, which is responsible for drawing warm air from the home into the cooling system. Turn off power to your cooling system before removing the old filter (you should be able to slide it out of the slot securing it in place) and inserting the new one.

Next, check your furnace filter. First, switch off power to the furnace. Then, locate the filter. It’s usually situated behind the furnace door panel, next to the blower. You should be able to simply slip it out. Hold it up to the light. If no light comes through, it’s time for a replacement.

Clean your air ducts

The temperature-regulated air created by your HVAC system is siphoned throughout the house via air ducts. Over time, dust and other grime can build up in the ducts. You want to keep them clean, or else these particles will end up being pumped into the air you breathe. You can partially clean air ducts yourself.

First, locate the vents that allow air into the various rooms of your house — you probably have at least one in every room. Cover up all the vents by placing a paper towel between the vent cover (you’ll have to unscrew it first with a screwdriver) and the floor or wall where it’s situated. Next, switch your thermostat to the “fan on” position. This will help loosen dust in the ductwork.

You will then clean the ducts one register at a time. Remove the paper towel from the register you want to clean. Using a long-handled brush or broom, reach inside the register and tap lightly to further help dislodge any dust. Then, use a vacuum with a long hose to suck up dust and dirt from inside.

Finally, use a damp microfiber cloth to wipe down the inside of the air supply register as far as you can reach. Finally, screw the grille back into place. You can then move on to the next air supply register until you’ve gone through the entire home.

While this DIY process can help keep ductwork clean, you should also invest in professional duct cleaning annually. An HVAC service professional will have the tools needed to thoroughly clean the entirety of the ductwork. They can also check for holes or tears in the ducts that might allow temperature-controlled air to escape and impede efficiency.

Clean your vents and registers

After you’ve cleaned the ductwork, make one last round with a microfiber cloth and wipe down the outside of each register to remote any last dust. While you will probably only clean ductwork a few times per year, you can wipe down the registers on a weekly basis to help maintain good indoor air quality.


HVAC system maintenance tips

In addition to cleaning your HVAC system regularly, there are also some general upkeep steps you can take to help ensure your system runs efficiently.

Set a schedule to replace filters

Your HVAC system’s air filters remove impurities like pollen from the air, ensuring good indoor air quality. Clogged filters will result in poor air quality, which can exacerbate issues like asthma and allergies, and generally cause problems like dry eyes, a scratchy throat and a runny nose. They can also impede airflow, ruining your system’s efficiency.

You should always replace your HVAC system’s filters before any heating and cooling season (so, in the spring for your A/C unit and in the fall for your furnace). For maximum efficiency, aim for monthly filter replacement throughout heavy-use seasons (spring/summer for the air conditioner and fall/winter for heating).

Schedule regular full cleanings of your HVAC system

Although you can help keep your HVAC system clean following the steps above, it’s still best to have an HVAC technician run a full clean and checkup at least once per year. A professional will have the HVAC equipment and knowledge to do a more thorough job. For example, they can get into the full length of the ductwork, not just the entry points at the registers in each room.

This is also an opportunity to have your HVAC technician check for possible damage, replace parts as needed and take care of preventive maintenance. An expert can also make recommendations on how to improve efficiency and enhance air quality in the home (for example, by upgrading to high-quality HEPA filters).

Pay attention to HVAC components

Even if you stick to a regular cleaning and preventative maintenance plan for your HVAC system, you may encounter unexpected technical difficulties. Recognizing the signs of potential problems early on will allow you to schedule a quick fix and hopefully avoid a full breakdown.

Here are some signs that your HVAC system could use servicing:

  • Strange noises, like clanging or banging
  • Uneven heating and cooling airflow in the home
  • Higher energy bills.
  • Poor air quality (e.g., as evidenced by increases in asthma and allergy symptoms)

An HVAC expert can diagnose the possible problem and provide repairs or replacements as needed to help preserve your HVAC system.



Proper use of your HVAC system for efficiency

Regular HVAC cleaning and maintenance can help maintain heating and cooling efficiency and save money on utilities. There are also some other steps homeowners can take to enhance overall energy efficiency.

Consider a smart thermostat

A smart thermostat is a high-tech addition that can help you save money in various ways. For example, these devices track heat and energy use, allowing you to pinpoint possible inefficiencies.

You can also set them to turn on and off at certain times. For instance, if you’re at the office all day, you don’t need to heat or cool much while you’re away. You can set the thermostat to turn back on shortly before you get home from work, so you still come home to a comfortable house. Some programmable thermostats can even be controlled remotely via your mobile device.

Utilize fans in your home

Fans can help distribute temperature-controlled air evenly throughout your home, alleviating the burden on your HVAC system. In summer, you can turn fans on to circulate cool air. In winter, you can reverse the direction of the fan blades by flipping a small switch on the fan base. This will push down hot air that accumulates at the ceiling (since hot air rises).

Make sure your doors and windows are sealed

Improperly sealed windows and doors allow heated or cooled air to escape your home (and let outdoor air in). Check for drafts in your house and seal any leaks. You can use simple door stoppers or a rolled-up blanket at the base of doors to cover cracks. For windows, foam insulation can help seal cracks around frames. Heavy curtains can also help maintain comfort.

Use good insulation in your home

Proper insulation helps regulate the temperature in your home and keep it consistent. Making the one-time investment in high-quality insulation can help reduce energy costs for years to come. In particular, target areas of the house that are prone to drafts and exposed to the elements, such as attics, basements and crawl spaces.


Protect your HVAC system from expensive repair bills with Cinch

Your HVAC system is an essential component of your home. You want to enjoy uninterrupted HVAC use. A home warranty from Cinch Home Services can help cover the costs of unexpected HVAC repairs. Our Built-in Systems Plan provides repair and replacement coverage for air conditioning systems and heating systems, including ductwork. Take the first step in protecting your HVAC system and get a quote.


A well-functioning HVAC system is essential to your comfort at home. Regular HVAC maintenance and cleaning will keep it running smoothly.