Informational Guide

How To Clean Leaves Out Of Your Air Conditioner

Leaves, sticks and twigs can be harmful to your air conditioner. Learn how to easily clean your AC from these natural enemies.

by Josh M

Your air conditioner is one of the most important pieces of equipment in your home. They can help you control the environment around you and make you more comfortable in your own home, but only if you maintain them properly.

If you live in a rural area or have trees nearby, then you’ll know that leaves can cause havoc to your AC unit, particularly in the fall. In this guide, we’ll help explain why leaves can be a problem and how to clean leaves out of your air conditioner.

If you haven’t experienced a blocked AC unit, then you might not realize the impact leaves can have. Air conditioners work by drawing cool air in, passing it over condenser coils to cool it, and then releasing it into your home. At the same time, warm air is drawn from your home and expelled through vents.

When leaves start to pile up on and around the AC unit, they can block the device’s airflow. This impacts the ability to cool your home by stopping airflow into the unit. Leaves can also block your exhaust vents and stop heat from being dispersed from your home. This will impact the efficiency of your unit and prevent your home from cooling down.

If there’s a blockage for long enough, this can badly damage your AC unit and mean that internal components stop working. This can lead to expensive repair work or can even mean you need to replace the whole unit.

How Leaves Affect AC

What Happens If Leaves Are Stuck In Your AC’s Compressor?

The AC compressor is used to control the cooling action of the device. Refrigerant is used within air conditioners to cool down warm air, and the compressor moves this refrigerant around the internal mechanism. Leaves can have a particular impact on your compressor in the following ways:

Refrigerant Get Trapped

Small parts of leaf litter can get into your device and block the compressor. This stops the refrigerant from moving within your AC unit and can mean it gets trapped. This will completely stop the air from cooling within your conditioner and mean you get none of the positive effects.

Mold & Bacteria Growth

Small leaf particles can carry micro-organisms and bacteria. Over time this can lead to mold, and the bacteria can multiply and grow. The fan within the AC will then spread these into your home, which can be hazardous to your health. If left unchecked, this could cause issues to you and your family’s respiratory systems and make you sick.

AC Will Stop Working

Ultimately, if your compressor isn’t working, then your AC may shut down as a safety precaution. The leaf particles can be really hard to remove from your compressor, so regular cleaning and maintenance will stop this from happening.

Leaves Stops AC From Working

How To Clean Leaves Out of Your Air Conditioner (Safe Steps)

General cleaning of your air conditioner isn’t tricky, and you don’t need to be a specialist, but the key is consistency. You need to clean your device regularly to keep it running properly, and you should follow these steps every month, if possible, more often if you live in a leafy area.

To clean out the leaves, you’ll need some sturdy gloves, an outdoor floor brush, wet cloth, vacuum cleaner, and compressed air. Then, follow these steps:

1. Turn Off The Power

It’s crucial that you turn the AC unit off completely to prevent any risk of injury. Make sure you turn the power off and turn it off at the breaker. Remember, your AC will have separate power buttons and breakers for the interior and exterior parts, and you need to make sure they’re all turned off.

2. Remove Visible Debris

Start by removing any visible twigs, branches, and leaves from around the outdoor vents. Make sure you’re wearing your gloves, so you don’t injure your hands. Once you’ve removed everything you can, move on to the next step.

3. Remove Debris From Interior

Next, open up the AC unit to get access to the compressor. There should be a latch on the side to open it up, but you may need to unscrew a panel and lift it off. Once in there, remove any visible debris with your hands. Then, use your vacuum to get rid of the smaller leaf particles and other smaller debris. Remember to use an outdoor vacuum as your inside model won’t work as well.

The compressed air can be used here to help blow bits of debris loose so you can lift them out. Use a thin nozzle so you can spray it in all the harder-to-reach areas.

4. Clean The Fins

Your vents usually have fins on the outside to help keep leaves and debris out. You should clean these down using a wet cloth to wipe the dirt off. You can use compressed air to help force any debris clear; make sure all the fins are clean and clear before you replace them on the AC unit.

5. Sweep The Area

Finally, use your outdoor brush to sweep the area clean around the unit. This will help to stop any airflow blockages and help prevent any leaves from getting into the device. Try to clear an area of 2-3 feet around the device.

6. Trim Back Branches

Finally, look for any overhanging branches or bushes which can be trimmed back—removing anything around the AC unit that you can will help to stop blockages in the future.

7. Turn It Back On

Turn everything back on and make sure it’s all working. Hopefully, it’s now completely free and clear to work properly and give you effective AC in your home.

Related ArticleSteps for Cleaning a Central AC

How To Protect Your AC From Leaves (Preparing For Fall Season)

Preventative measures are always best, and if you can keep the leaves out of your system, it’ll mean less work cleaning the AC unit. Here are some of the things you should to do to prepare for fall:

  • Trim Overhanging Branches
    Look around your AC unit and trim back any overhanging branches or plants which are nearby. This will help prevent foliage from blocking your device.
  • Clear Your Yard
    Take an outdoor brush and clear your yard of all the leaves and debris around. This will stop them from blowing into your AC and blocking your vents.
  • Bag Your Leaves
    Throughout the fall period, make sure you are bagging your leaves when you gather them up. This will stop them from blowing into your vents.
  • Inspect Your AC Unit
    At the end of Summer, you should take the opportunity to properly inspect your AC unit for any issues and blockages. Then, use compressed air to loosen leaves and debris so you can remove them from the unit.
  • Book Regular Cleaning
    AC units need professional reviews every year, and many of these will include cleaning. You can purchase an HVAC cover to help protect your AC unit so it can get sorted quickly if any issues develop.

By taking the time to carry out these preventative steps each year, you’ll help to protect your AC unit. This will help keep it running through fall and winter and help prevent any long-term damage to your device. Ultimately, this will help keep your home cool and save you from shelling out for expensive repair work.

Protect AC From Leaves

People Also Ask (FAQ)

How much does it cost to get your leaves cleaned out by a professional?

This varies depending on the area but will generally cost between $150 and $400.

Can I pressure wash my outside AC unit?

No, you should avoid using a pressure washer on an AC unit because it can be too rough on the coils. This could damage your device and lead to costly repair work.

Is AC airflow bad for plants?

Cold temperatures caused by AC units can impact houseplants and stop them from growing. An AC unit won’t have any real impact on your outdoor plants.

How far should plants be from air conditioners?

Try to keep plants 2-3 feet away from air conditioners to avoid any blockages.


An AC unit is a real asset, but like any home equipment, it can be a real problem if you don’t take care of it. Falling leaves can be a real issue, but by taking preventative measures and carrying out regular cleaning, you can keep your AC unit running. Hopefully this guide has helped explain how to clean leaves out of your air conditioner and has given you the confidence to do it yourself.

Related ArticleHVAC Preventative Maintenance

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Last Updated on July 14, 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.