How to Clean Your AC Drain Line

Having a broken AC unit on a hot day is one of the worst case scenarios. Everyone stuck in the house becomes hot, sweaty, and the heat can even pose a health risk for humans and animals if you’re not getting proper airflow. One of the most common problems for a malfunction in the AC unit is a clogged drain pipe, but how can you tell if that’s your problem? If you have a newer HVAC unit then there’s a possibility that there are sensors which will tell you if the problem is your drain pipe. If you don’t have sensors on your unit then you can usually tell that your drain pipe is the issue if you see the drain pan is full of water, which is a problem since it can cause leaks in your home.

Since the pipe’s function is to remove water then there is the possibility for algae and other debris to build up in the drain pipe and clog the line. The warm air that combines with the evaporator coil to produce a lot of humidity which makes perfect living conditions for algae. This is most common if you don’t perform regular maintenance on your unit but thankfully, there are ways for you to clean the drain pipe yourself before you call a repairman.

In order to clean your drain pipe you’re going to want to follow the instructions below. These steps aren’t very difficult but you don’t want to take on any additional serious HVAC repairs unless you’re a professional with the tools and skills needed to be safe with electrical work. In order to complete the following steps you’re going to need the following materials:

  • A Bucket
  • Protective Gloves

There are a few basic ways of cleaning the drain pipe depending on the tools you have at hand, this article will outline three easy ways to unclog your AC unit.

1: Cleaning a Blockage With Vinegar

In addition to the items listed above you will need distilled, white vinegar.

Turn Off the Power

The very first thing you want to do is turn off the power to your unit. The thermostat and circuit breaker need to be off before you can proceed with any of the cleaning steps for safety reasons. If you are unable to turn off the power for some reason it’s best to leave this work for a professional.

Important: As a homeowner, realizing that you need to waste another Saturday waiting for the landlord or handyman to come over to fix another damaged appliance is frustrating. It shouldn't feel like the norm to constantly have damaged appliances and systems in your home since it can come to a huge cost at the end of each year.

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Finding the AC Drain Pipe

In order to find the pipe you’re going to go outside and look for a PVC pipe around the condenser unit. There is a likelihood that the pipe may be full of water so you’re going to want to use the bucket in order to drain the pipe if it’s full. You should be able to find a vent on the top of the line covered by a cap and you may even be able to see what might be blocking your system.

Find the Blockage

Look in the pipe and see if you can see the blockage. Be careful trying to extract the clog with your hands as it’s possible to push the blockage farther down and creating a bigger problem. You can use a quarter cup of distilled vinegar (or mix it with soap and warm water) and pour it into the drain pipe access port and fill it until the line is full. Let the mixture sit for about thirty minutes and then use water to flush the pipe out. If the pipe is still not flowing properly you can try the mixture again, however if the problem persists then the clog is likely too big and you’re going to have to call an HVAC technician to come take a look.

2: Cleaning a Blockage With Pliers

In addition to the items listed above you will need a pair of needle-nose pliers

Turn Off the Power

The very first thing you want to do is turn off the power to your unit. The thermostat and circuit breaker need to be off before you can proceed with any of the cleaning steps for safety reasons. If you are unable to turn off the power for some reason it’s best to leave this work for a professional.

Finding the AC Drain Pipe

In order to find the pipe you’re going to go outside and look for a PVC pipe around the condenser unit. There is a likelihood that the pipe may be full of water so you’re going to want to use the bucket in order to drain the pipe if it’s full. You should be able to find a vent on the top of the line covered by a cap and you may even be able to see what might be blocking your system.

Find the Blockage

Look in the pipe and see if you can see the blockage. If it’s visible you can use needle-nose pliers to gently try to extract the build up out of the drain line. You need to be careful when performing this task though because there is the possibility of pushing the blockage farther into the pipe where you won’t be able to reach and if you’re too rough you might crack the pipe with the pliers. It doesn’t hurt to use the vinegar mixture from step one to wash out the rest of the pipe even after you get the blockage removed or if you accidentally push it to where you can’t reach.

3: Cleaning a Blockage With A Wet Vacuum Cleaner

In addition to the items listed above you will need a wet vacuum (view on Amazon) like.

Turn Off the Power

The very first thing you want to do is turn off the power to your unit. The thermostat and circuit breaker need to be off before you can proceed with any of the cleaning steps for safety reasons. If you are unable to turn off the power for some reason it’s best to leave this work for a professional.

Finding the AC Drain Pipe

In order to find the pipe you’re going to go outside and look for a PVC pipe around the condenser unit. There is a likelihood that the pipe may be full of water so you’re going to want to use the bucket in order to drain the pipe if it’s full. You should be able to find a vent on the top of the line covered by a cap and you may even be able to see what might be blocking your system.

Find the Blockage

A wet vacuum is one of the easiest ways to clear out a blockage in your drain pipe. The vacuum is handy if the blockage is too far down because you won’t be able to reach it with your hands but you may be able to suck the debris and algae out and clear your drain pipe. It doesn’t hurt to use the vinegar mixture from step one to wash out the rest of the pipe even after you get the blockage removed or if you accidentally push it to where you can’t reach.

You Need to Know This About Your Drain Pipe

If you’re noticing problems with your drain pipe, you need to know what’s causing the issue and if you’ll need to get the drain pipe repaired or replaced. Having a working drain pipe is crucial for any home, and fixing it is just one form of home improvement, but there are many more.

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Bottom Line

After reading hopefully you are better acquainted with your drain pipe for your AC unit and have been able to solve your problem. It’s also helpful to use the vinegar flush from part 1 about once a month in order in order to prevent any build up from becoming a problem in the first place.