My Guide to Cleaning Portable ACs So They Run Better!

Josh Mitchell

Written By

Josh Mitchell

Expert Reviewed By

Holly Curell

Last Updated On

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Let me show you how to maximize your portable air conditioner's efficiency with this easy-to-follow guide.

Learn to clean filters, coils, and exteriors, and discover tips to prevent future dirt buildup, ensuring your portable AC unit runs smoothly.

Key Takeaways

  • To clean the portable AC, you must drain the water tank, dry the unit, wash/replace the filters, and clean the coils. 
  • Cleaning your portable AC is very important as it improves its cooling ability, energy efficiency, as well as its longevity.
  • Before cleaning your portable AC, you must drain it properly.

10 Easy Steps For Cleaning Any Portable Air Conditioner

The best way to clean your portable air conditioner is through these 10 simple steps.

1. Gather Necessary Items For Cleaning

To clean your portable air conditioning unit, you will need common household items and tools, such as:

  • Warm water
  • Mild detergent or a DIY home cleaning solution
  • A non-abrasive cloth or a soft rag
  • Acidic cleaner, such as coil cleaner
  • Vacuum cleaner with appropriate attachments
  • Replacement filters, if needed
  • Screwdriver (potentially)

2. Unplug Your AC

Safety comes first, so before thorough cleaning, unplug your air conditioner.

3. Drain The Water Tank

If you don't own an auto-evaporative cooler or your AC isn't drained through a hose, drain the condensate water tank before you proceed.

The drain plug is usually located on the bottom backside of your AC.

Once located, remove the plug and drain your AC into a floor drain, in your yard, or into a bucket.

Feel free to wipe-dry the drain with a towel once you finish.

4. Dry Out The Unit

To ensure any residue moisture is removed, run your AC unit on fan mode for one to two hours, depending on the size of the unit.

After drying the portable AC out, unplug it once again.

5. Remove And Clean The Air Filters

Pop off the lid from your portable air conditioner to access the filters, and take them out.

With many types, including HEPA and carbon filters, you will be able to shake loose or blow out (preferably with canned air dusters) any dust build-up.

Some portable AC units also have washable filters, if the manual says so, feel free to clean the filter with a solution of detergent and warm water to remove any additional residue.

If there's a pre-filter in your AC, clean it the same way.

In the end, dry out the clean filters thoroughly for 30 to 60 minutes. 

6. Vacuum Or Blow Out The Dust

Use a screwdriver to open up your unit from the back and clean the intake valves and fins on the evaporator and condenser.

Use the hose attachments on a vacuum cleaner or a handheld vacuum to remove dust build-up from the inside components.

Notes / Tips:

If you don't want to vacuum and you have a yard, using a garden hose to spray your AC clean is perfectly safe and efficient.

7. Clean The AC Coils

Clean the grease, dust, or other dirt from the cooling coils with an acidic cleaner. Instead of using a detergent, a dedicated coil cleaner is available to buy.

If you prefer the DIY route - white vinegar and water solution make an effective acidic cleaner.

Notes / Tips:

To combat the vinegar smell, add a shot of lemon juice to your DIY cleaning solution.

8. Wipe Down The Outside

Use a non-abrasive cloth, or a soft towel to wipe the exterior of your AC.

For better results, mix water and mild detergent, dampen the soft cloth with it and wipe the unit clean.

9. Reassemble The AC

Put all parts as you found them once you have finished cleaning and the filters have dried.

If there were screws, screw them back in, without overly tightening them.

10. Test For 10 Minutes

When reassembled, run your portable AC for ten minutes in cooling mode to test if it works before installing it in its usual place.

37 how to clean portable AC

Draining A Portable AC (2 Easy Ways)

Here's how to easily drain your portable air conditioner before cleaning it.

1. Draining A Portable AC Into The Floor Drain

Draining a portable AC in the floor drain is the fastest and most effective way to remove all the water from the unit.

Simply roll your portable AC into the bathroom (or any other place with a floor drain), remove the drain plug, and let the water run out.

2. Draining A Portable AC Into A Container

To drain a portable AC into a container, first find a chair, table, or just a sturdy box and place your portable AC on top of it.

Then, place the container (a bucket, plastic tub, etc.) underneath the drain.

Finally, remove the drain plug and let the water slowly drain.

Notes / Tips:

Do not tilt your portable AC during draining. Tilting the AC could result in the unit falling over and breaking.

TL;DR: Draining the portable AC is the first and a very important step in cleaning it out thoroughly. 

Cleaning A Portable Air Conditioning Unit: By Brand

To ensure cleaning the AC goes smoothly, follow the guide provided by your model’s manufacturer before cleaning or removing any part of your portable air conditioner.

Danby Portable ACRead Danby Product's Resources

Keep in mind that the user manual with all the necessary information regarding your particular portable air conditioner will come in the box, so don't throw it away.

TL;DR: Make sure to read the manual for your specific brand and model to learn how to clean it properly.

Why Is Cleaning Your Portable AC Unit Important?

Keeping your portable air conditioning unit clean is about more than just appearances. Cleaning is important because it:

  • Improves The Overall Efficiency
    By cleaning the filters and removing built-up dust and dirt from the air conditioner unit's insides, you’re effectively increasing the unit’s cooling ability, airflow, dehumidification capacity, etc.
  • Lowers Running Costs
    Cleaning the insides of your portable AC means the compressor won't have to work as hard to achieve optimal temperature, effectively reducing the total electricity spent.
  • Prolongs The Life Of The AC Unit
    Depending on the portable air conditioner model, if kept clean, your unit should last 5 – 10 years, compared to 3 - 7 if left dirty.
  • Helps Protect Against Microorganisms
    Moisture from the air, alongside dust and bacteria, makes air conditioners a breeding ground for mold and mildew to grow. If not cleaned regularly, these microorganisms will be blown out into the air you breathe.
  • Prevents Unpleasant Smells
    A clogged filter, leaking fluids, or mold and other bacteria growing inside a dirty unit can disperse foul smells all over your living space.

TL;DR: Cleaning your portable AC regularly can improve its overall cooling and energy efficiency. It can also improves its longevity and keep the air healthy and safe from microbes.

HVAC Expert Tips: Storing A Portable AC Correctly

Here's how to properly store your portable AC unit during winter or when you're not using it:

  • Follow the steps above to properly clean, drain, and dry your AC.
  • Choose a storage area that is cool and dry, away from direct sunlight or extreme temperatures.
  • Coil the power cord neatly and secure it to avoid damage or kinks.
  • Fold the intake/exhaust hose and place it in the box with the window kit, and the rest of the gear.
  • Use a light cover (like a sheet) or a cloth to protect the AC from dust and scratches while in storage.
  • Store the unit in an upright position to protect the compressor and internal components.
  • Don’t place heavy items on top of the AC to prevent casing and internal damage.
can you lay portable AC on its side

Notes / Tips:

If kept in a humid basement, place your portable AC in a large vacuum storage bag (or the original box) to prevent any humidity-induced damage.

TL;DR: Properly storing the portable AC when not in use can keep it in pristine condition and save it from wear and tear.


Can You Refill A Portable Air Conditioner?

You cannot refill a portable air conditioner unless it is a swamp cooler which uses water instead of refrigerants to cool down the air.

Do Portable Air Conditioners Use A Lot Of Electricity?

Portable air conditioners don't use a lot of electricity compared to central ACs. However, a portable AC can consume up to 4.4 kWh, which, depending on your living conditions, could be up to $200 a month in electricity cost.

What Are Some Causes Of Smelly Portable AC Units?

The main cause of a smelly portable air conditioner is a build-up of mold, mildew, or dust in the unit.

If you smell gas, the AC may be leaking refrigerant fluid and should be checked out by a professional technician.

Do All Portable Air Conditioners Have To Be Vented Out A Window?

Most portable air conditioner units will need to be vented out a window via an exhaust hose.

Is A Portable AC Better Than A Window Unit?

Depending on your home, a portable AC may be a better option for you than a window unit, especially if you're renting or you aren't allowed to install a window AC.

Can You Leave A Portable Air Conditioner On All Day?

You can safely leave your portable air conditioner on all day, but you probably shouldn't. If you can't efficiently cool down your space in a matter of hours, you probably need to look for a higher BTU (British Thermal Units) capacity unit.

Start Cleaning Today!

From safely unplugging the unit to carefully reassembling after cleaning, portable AC cleaning is an easy and straightforward process.

In the end, I'd suggest you clean your portable air conditioner twice a year, before and at the end of the season, as that is both sufficient enough, and ensures your air con runs efficiently when you need it to.

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Josh Mitchell


Josh Mitchell
My name is Josh and I am obsessed with home appliances. From portable AC units to heaters and air purifiers, I enjoy testing, learning and using these devices to improve the air quality inside my family home.

My Favorite Home Appliance?

Midea U Shaped Window Air Conditioner

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