Informational Guide

AC Refrigerant & Freon Types (Complete Guide)

We explain the different types of refrigerants, and you can now determine which one your air conditioner needs.

by Josh M

When it comes time to replace the AC refrigerant, it can be difficult to know which one you need to use. This is made even more difficult because if you use the wrong one, you can badly damage the appliance. In this guide, we’ll introduce the different types of refrigerants and help you determine which one you should be using.

Your air conditioner works by cooling the air in your home. This is done by pulling the air into your AC and using a refrigerant to extract heat and allow cool air to blow back into your home. Without refrigerant, there would be no cooling effect from your air conditioner, so it’s one of the most vital parts of the machine.

Refrigerant itself is a chemical compound that moves between liquid and gas states. It starts as a low-pressure gas, but as it absorbs heat, it transitions into a high pressure liquid. As the liquid starts to cool, it then transitions back to gas and can remove more heat from the air.

Refrigerant is an artificial substance that took 80 years to be created. The journey started in 1840 with the creation of the first ice machine. Then, in 1928, Thomas Midgley, Albert Henne, and Robert McNary created the first refrigerants. These were then used in the cooling process for various applications, including air conditioning.

Since 1928 the refrigerant manufacturing process has been refined, and several new refrigerants have been created. There are now several different refrigerants available, but they aren’t interchangeable, so it’s essential to know the differences between them.

Refrigerant Charging for AC

Different Types Of AC Refrigerant

There are a few different types of refrigerants, but most of them are variations on the same compound. The earliest refrigerants featured chlorine, which was an effective coolant, but bad for the planet. Later refrigerants were made with hydrogen, which was better for the environment, but still had issues. The search for a genuinely clean refrigerant continues, but here’s a breakdown of the main types of refrigerants used today:

R12 (Chlorofluorocarbons)

R12 refrigerants, often referred to as CFCs, are regarded as the original refrigerant which was invented in 1928. The invention of the CFC was ground-breaking because it was the first non-flammable refrigerant, making air conditioners considerably safer. It quickly became the standard refrigerant that was used in domestic and commercial air conditioners and heaters. Alongside air conditioners, R12 refrigerant was also used in fridges, aerosol sprays, and heat pumps.

In the 1980s, it was discovered that the commonly used CFC refrigerant was actually having a detrimental impact on the ozone layer. CFCs were labeled as ‘ozone-depleting substances‘ and found to be creating a hole in the stratospheric ozone layer. This, in turn, was impacting global warming, and in 1987 the Montreal Protocol listed CFCs to be phased out of production. This led to the creation of a new generation of air conditioners that used different types of refrigerants.

R22 (Freon)

Freon was another type of refrigerant which was very similar to R12 and utilized throughout the 20th Century. Freon was used by General Motors in the 1930s in a new range of home refrigerators. Then in 1932, the Carrier Engineering Corporation produced the world’s first residential air conditioner using freon.

Like R12, Freon was also linked to environmental damage and the degradation of the ozone layer. It was agreed that because of the risks that the manufacture and distribution of Freon would be phased out, but given the widespread use of the refrigerant, it would take some time. If your AC was produced before 2010, it likely uses Freon, but if not, it’s probably using a more modern refrigerant.

Related ArticleHistory of Air Conditioning

R410A (Puron)

Puron is the modern refrigerant that replaced R22 and R12. The R410A was invented by Allied Signal, which is now known as Honeywell, and in 1996 they rolled out a range of residential ACs using the new refrigerant. It was used for air conditioning and air heating primarily, with a few other commercial applications. If your AC was made after 2010, the chances are you are using Puron.

Puron is a hydrofluorocarbon and has no chlorine in the mixture, so it’s much less harmful to the environment but still an effective coolant. It’s also been shown to be a more efficient coolant, and modern air conditioners which use it provide better air quality. However, in 2018 new information has found that Puron still has a negative impact on the environment, and in 2020, it was announced that it would be phased out and replaced with a new refrigerant.

R454B (Puron Advance)

Hydrofluorocarbons don’t pose any threat to the ozone layer, but they have been found to be potent greenhouse gases that are adding to global warming. In 2016 the UN made an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to reduce the production of hydrofluorocarbons by 30% in the next 30 years. Carrier developed a new refrigerant, Puron Advance, in 2018 to help meet this target.

R454B is now being rolled out in every new air conditioner, but unless your AC was made after 2018, it probably isn’t using it. Puron is scheduled to be eliminated from all AC systems by 2023, and you will see residential ACs with Puron Advance from that point onward. It’s not yet clear how this will impact the efficiency of the appliance or the air quality, but it’s thought to be similar to Puron devices.

How To Know What Type Of Refrigerant To Use?

Air conditioners are designed around your refrigerant, and they aren’t interchangeable. If you put the wrong refrigerant in the AC, it can badly damage the mechanism, and it won’t function properly.

The easiest way to tell which type of refrigerant you need is by checking the large sticker which is present on every model, usually on the evaporator. This will give you details of the required refrigerant and any other useful information you need to know.

You can also consider the age of the AC. If it was made before 1980, it likely uses R12. If it was made between 1980 and 2010, it probably uses Freon, and if it was made after 2010, it probably uses Puron. Puron Advance refrigerant isn’t really in circulation yet, but if you have a brand-new AC, it may use that type.

If you can’t find any information on the air conditioner or in the user manual and you aren’t sure about the refrigerant, you should consult a professional. Using the wrong refrigerant will probably cause irreparable damage, and it will be cheaper to get a consult than to replace the whole system.

AC repairman

People Also Ask (FAQ)

Which is the best AC refrigerant?

Generally speaking, modern refrigerants have been designed to be more efficient and provide you with better quality air, plus they have less of an environmental impact. Puron Advance is the best refrigerant, but there are a limited number of devices using it.

What is the coldest refrigerant?

Freon is generally considered the coldest refrigerant and can be used for temperatures as low as 150 degrees Fahrenheit.

What refrigerant is used today?

R410A is the most common refrigerant used today, but R454B will become more commonly used in the next few years.

How much is the AC refrigerant to buy?

The price of refrigerant is heavily impacted by the supply, so given that Puron is the most widely produced, it is the cheapest at $4-5 per pound. Freon is a lot more expensive at $50-$80 per pound. R-12 refrigerant is now so hard to buy it’s difficult even to know how much it would cost.

Conclusion

Your air conditioner refrigerant is essential to the smooth operation of the appliance, and without it, you won’t get any cooling effect. Refrigerants aren’t interchangeable, so if you need to have it topped up, you must make sure you use the right type. Hopefully, this guide has helped explain the different types of refrigerants, and you can now determine which one your air conditioner needs.

Last Updated on May 26, 2022

Josh M

My name is Josh and I am obsessed with the HVAC industry. I created this website to help HVAC techs of all levels get the best out of their heating & cooling systems. I have spent thousands of hours studying air conditioners, heaters and home air products so you can learn & buy with confidence. Learn more about the team here.

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