4 Tips To Keep Your Air Conditioner Running Smoothly

cleaning air conditioner filters

Why Does My Air Conditioner Keep Breaking?
Common Air Conditioning Problems and Their Causes

With the heat of summer upon us, there’s no better relief than the cool breeze of an air conditioner. However, that chilly relief can quickly disappear due to several common air conditioner problems. Air conditioners are complex machines that can suffer from various issues due to lack of maintenance, age or damage. Here are some examples of the most common problems that air conditioners can suffer from to help you get out of the heat and into the cool once again.

cleaning air conditioner filters
Replacing or cleaning air conditioner filters is a critical maintenance task. | Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/firemanYU.

Dirty Air Filter

Air conditioners work by taking hot air from the room, expelling it outside and circulating in cool air. However, a dirty air filter can easily cause the air flow to decrease. Low air flow means it takes much longer for the room to cool down, which wastes energy and puts unnecessary wear and tear on the unit.

The filter should always be checked and cleaned at the beginning and end of the season to ensure that it’s always fairly clean. It’s also a good idea to check the filter at least once a month to see if there is significant buildup. If there is, a quick vacuuming or rinsing it in the bathtub will make it as good as new.

Faulty Wiring

Wiring issues are actually fairly easy to detect in units with digital control panels. If the display doesn’t activate at all or shows errors, there’s likely a wiring issue present. If the panel lights up and shows no errors, it could still possibly be a wiring issue, but the chances are low. Another sign of failing wiring is if the unit turns off randomly or has difficulty turning on.

Wiring issues typically occur over time due to accidental damage, wear and tear and possibly animals. It’s always best to consult a professional when diagnosing and repairing wiring problems.

Refrigerant Leaks

Possibly the most important aspect of your air conditioner is the refrigerant. It is a chemical substance that cools down the air that enters the room. Without it, your air conditioner is really nothing more than a big fan. If your air conditioner is not blowing cool air and the filter is clean, it may indicate that the unit is low on refrigerant and possibly leaking.

Refrigerant can be replaced fairly easily, but it generally shouldn’t need to be refilled unless it wasn’t properly filled to begin with. A professional can check for and repair any leaks in the unit for you.

Drainage Problems

Air conditioners also act as dehumidifiers, which means they need to be able to drain all of the water that they remove from the air. That is why it is suggested that air conditioners be installed at a downward angle to ensure that the excess water can merely drip off of the back of the unit. Some bigger units may have a separate drainage hose to help remove the water. Drainage issues can cause the unit to suddenly shut off and it may also cause corrosion and damage to internal parts.

Drainage problems are also fairly easy to diagnose as they typically cause a noticeable tapping or dripping noise when the unit is active. Some units also have an indicator on the front that can tell you when there’s a problem with the drainage system. Luckily, it’s also fairly simple to fix most drainage issues. Repositioning the unit to point downwards can help drain the water. You can use a small piece of wood to help raise the front end if necessary. You can also carefully drill some holes in the bottom of the unit to help it drain. Keep in mind that this will likely void your warranty. In addition, ensure that you drill in areas that are open and away from important mechanical parts. For a drainage hose, remove the hose and ensure that there are no obstructions such as leaves, grime or even small animals. Ensure that the hose is properly installed as well.


Like any machine, air conditioners are vulnerable to damage, wear and tear, lack of maintenance and more. Luckily, most of these problems are not irreparable. With a keen eye, some simple maintenance and perhaps the help of a professional, you can get your air conditioner back in proper working order to help beat the summer heat.

  • Thanks Schultzy. I agree!

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  • garybirtles14

    I’ve been reading a lot that a clean filter can greatly improve the efficiency of an air conditioner. It is something worth keeping up with I guess. I don’t remember the last time I changed mine. I guess I need to change it out soon. <a href=’http://jpgriffininc.com/projectlist.php’ >http://jpgriffininc.com/projectlist.php</a&gt;

  • garybirtles14 Every homeowner should definitely put it on their home maintenance schedule.  Thanks for the feedback!

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  • sfreddson2156

    I had no idea that a dirty air filter could be such an issue. I figured it might make it less efficient but I really didn’t know that it could be noticeable. Is there any way to clean them generally or do you usually just replace them? Thanks for this helpful article! http://www.savageairconditioning.net/air-conditioning-services-plano-tx.html

  • daveyhiltz

    We just replaced our air filter a few days ago and we’re really seeing a huge difference. Our electric bill has gone way down and we’re getting more heat consistently. I wish I would have known this before then I would have changed our filter a long time ago. We’ll have to check if there are any leaks or drainage problems. I would like to see how I can save from fixing our air conditioner.

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  • KentClark1

    I like that you touched on drainage problems. That seems to be something I’ve struggled with every air conditioner that I’ve owned. Maybe I should start taking better care of it. http://www.longbeachair.com/air-conditioning-services-signal-hill-ca.html

  • James Lisbon

    The part in the article that mentioned cleaning the air filter seemed relevant to helping your AC unit work to its full potential.  My dad worked on different machinery over the course of his job and when air filters were a part of the machine, it seemed like he cleaned them out on a fairly regular basis.   Watching the refrigerant could probably help as well in ensuring that the unit works to the best of its ability.  http://jonesairconditioning.com/a-c-services.html

  • JamesSimon1

    It can be easily argued that air conditioners are the most expensive part of a home. After all, the primary purpose of a house is to provide shelter from the elements. If it can’t cool you down in the heat of summer then it’s not doing it’s job. For this reason, people are often willing to splurge on high-end air conditioners when living in hot climates. 

  • AshleyReed

    I just got a new air conditioning unit put in last week, and I want to make sure that I take good care of this one. The last one was already at the house I bought, and they did not take very good care of it. It lasted about 8 months before it died on us for good. I’ll make sure I check the filter regularly, thanks for all the tips! http://www.assetaircon.com.au/maintenance.html

  • JamesClarkson

    schultzy There are a number of contaminates and microbes that are present in the air around us. A properly working air filter will ensure that these potential hazards don’t enter the engine’s cylinders; however, a dirty air filter has a steep decrease in efficiency. Keeping your air conditioner serviced regularly will ensure that it maintains its efficiency and keeps utility bills lower. 

  • AshleyReed My pleasure Ashley.  Thanks for your feedback.

  • JamesSimon1 Good point.  Thanks!

  • sfreddson2156 Depends on the unit.  You could clean the filters periodically.  Always good to have a spare on hand though.

  • Pyrrhomaniac I agree!  Always consult a professional when it comes to electrical wiring.  Thanks for the comment.

  • Pyrrho Well, I wouldn’t go with just any contractor who can fix it fast.  Do your research and find a reputable contractor in your area!  Thanks for the feedback.

  • James Lisbon Glad you found the article interesting James.  Thanks for the feedback!

  • tedsmith575

    Thank you for the tips on how to keep my air conditioner in tip top shape. I like the tip to check for wiring problems. It is true that when you are dealing with wiring, you want to enlist the help of a professional. Does anyone know of a professional that I could call to fix my air conditioner?

  • jasonshwartz1224

    My parents have been having problems with their air conditioning as well. It turned out that there was a leak that was freezing into a block in their A/C unit. That sounds like it’s something that would be a very extreme problem. The good thing is that the list that you mentioned shared very common problems with A/C units. http://www.dodds-inc.com

  • jasonshwartz1224 Glad the article was helpful Jason.  Thanks for sharing!

  • LaceyRockwell1

    For the last week or so, my air conditioning isn’t working nearly as well as it usually does. I would much rather try to figure it out on my own, before calling a professional. That way, if it’s something simple and easy to fix, I can do it myself. The filter is fine, so I am wondering if it’s the wiring. It has a hard time turning on, and sometimes will shut itself off. Like you said, that is a good sign that it’s a wiring problem. 


  • rbenson1

    I didn’t know that a dirty air filter could cause so many problems with an air conditioner unit.  Last summer my air conditioner wasn’t working very well.  It seems like we should check the air filter before we call in a repairman.  http://www.arlingtonheating.com/services/heating-ac-repair.php

  • rbenson1 Sometimes it seems like it can be the simplest thing to keep your equipment running smoothly.  Of course, if that doesn’t work, always have a good repairman on speed dial!  Thanks!

  • Pyrrho Great idea!  It doesn’t take long and it’s pretty easy to do.  Thanks for commenting.

  • LaceyRockwell1 Sounds like a wiring problem.  Just be careful.  When in doubt, hire a local professional!  Safety first!  Thanks for sharing.

  • avalaurie86

    One thing that I have noticed that causes problems for me is the fact that I have the AC on all day. This is something I’ve noticed only happens on the hot summers. It never happens to me in the spring because that’s when I don’t always have it on. http://kasselac.com

  • TravisSimons

    I like the tip of changing the filter.  That seems important to help your air conditioning unit work properly.  I wonder how often you should have it checked out.   http://www.airconomic.com.au

  • avalaurie86 Maybe you need a larger AC unit?  Sometimes people under size them and they have to work too hard.  Something to think about that, in the end, could save you some money!

  • TravisSimons Hey Travis, we like to check it monthly.  Depends on the quality of the filter how long it will last.  Thanks for the comment.

  • eugened314

    If I have had to fill my refrigerant twice over the past year, does that mean I have a leak? I haven’t seen any liquid around the air conditioning unit. I didn’t really think it could leak that slowly until I read your article. Your remarks imply that I should never have to refill it.

  • bryanflake1984

    My kids play football in the house and the air conditioning panel has taken some hits.  The panel doesn’t show all parts of the digital numbers.  Luckily, I can tell what the numbers are.  Regardless of this, I need to figure out how to replace the panel.

  • Pyrrho Glad you found the article helpful!  I wouldn’t necessarily go with whoever can fix it fastest though!  Do your research and find a qualified pro!  Thanks.

  • James Lisbon Good points James.  It’s best to leave electrical work to licensed electricians.  Thanks for your feedback.

  • tedsmith575

    Thank you so much for the tips on how to keep my air conditioner running smoothly. My air conditioner has been making this weird sound lately and it is starting to worry me. Hopefully these tips will be able to stop the sound and fix the problem. If not, does anyone know of an air conditioning company that I could call?

  • JaxWillis23

    It’s kind of interesting how many people forget about changing their air filter. It only makes sense that if the air freshener isn’t cleaned properly, then things won’t work properly. I hope that people realize how common this issue is. It’s a lot easier to change it if you do what you need to.

  • emilysmith47876

    It is true that a dirty air filter will affect the efficiency of your air conditioner. I have seen it in my own air conditioning system. I remember getting the bill at the end of the month and it was very high. I wondered why and I realized that I hadn’t changed my air filter in a long time. After I changed it, my bill went back down to normal. Now I always change my air filter when recommended.

  • daveyhiltz

    I hope that most those things can be fixed via DIY. I wouldn’t have the money to get a new air conditioner or repair my current one. It’s lasted me a few summers so far, and I hope it can last me just one more though college. That would be awesome if it could, because I’m broke already from paying for school.

  • quintrent13

    Knowing these four tips to keep an air conditioner running smoothly is exactly what I need. Just got my own air conditioner repaired and I want to keep it working properly. That way I will not have to worry about it not working the way that it is suppose to for a long time.

  • wjack4580

    I think the refrigeration leak is what is happening with my AC where the air comes out, there is a liquid that drained. The AC hasn’t blown cold air since then.  http://www.aircomfort.com.au

  • Don’t accept a little discomfort, because it might be the early sign of a BIG problem. If your unit takes a long time to cool down the house, does not seem to be reaching a corner room, or is making an annoying sound, get it checked out. This could be the sign of an issue.
    You should be equally vigilant about your electricity bills. Does your bill this summer seem higher than last?
    An inefficient use of electricity usually means your unit needs some maintenance.
    Ailsa@ http://unitedfilter.com/default/Blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/unitedfilter-airfilters-furnace-acfilters.jpg

  • MarcusFillion

    A dirty air filter is definitely the most common problem in my house. If I forget once, I don’t remember to change it for another six months. It usually takes a bigger problem to remind me that I need to change the filter. I’m trying to get better about that this year, though. http://coloradohomeenergypros.com/products-services.html

  • JamesSimon1

    There aren’t a lot of good ways to deal with a broken air conditioner. It can become a very costly replacement. It’s much better to prepare and prevent that kind of damage rather than have to deal with a costly repair or full replacement.

  • Pyrrho Yup, sure does make a big difference!  Thanks for your comment!

  • lillysedrick

    I had no idea that faulty wiring was so common in air conditioning systems. It is really nice to know that aspect of air conditioning isn’t too difficult. However, this is one job that seems like it would be a lot harder than it seems. I am really impressed by air conditioning repair workers and their attention to detail.


  • SkyJensen

    This is some really helpful advise for a first time homeowner. I had no idea that a air conditioning unit even used a refrigerant. I seems like if I my AC is running and the air isn’t cold I should check for a leak. Do you have any tips on how to repair that problem? http://www.lucedfurnaces.com/air-conditioning.html

  • FelicitySandy

    I feel relieved after reading your “faulty wiring” section for problems with your air conditioning that it’s much easier to detect the problem when you have a digital system. I’m much more confident in fixing our system since I think the issues are with faulty wiring, or perhaps a short in the wires. Would I have to grab more wires to install them in place of the faulty wires? Thanks for all of these ideas by the way! 

  • Jeffybridge

    Great tips for maintaining a good air conditioning system. I once had a problem where it was not blowing very hard anymore. Eventually I figured it was the filter that needed to be changed. I didn’t know you should check it twice a year. Thanks for the tip!

  • FelicitySandy Glad you found the article helpful!  We always recommend being careful with wiring.  If you’re not sure what you’re doing, it can be dangerous!  You may want to contact a pro for some help!  Thanks and best of luck.

  • LaurenAdams

    Perhaps the most common cause of an air conditioning system not working is the filter being dirty. In my experience, that has usually been the reason for it not working. While it can be very frustrating to deal with, it is much easier to avoid the issue by cleaning your air conditioner. How frequently should I be changing the filter? http://www.airthermairconditioning.com.au/contact

  • Gary Puntman

    It seems like my parents are always complaining about this.  I agree that a dirty air filter is a common cause of this.  You need to check your filter frequently and change it quite a few times during the summer when you are using your air conditioning a lot. http://Pointnepeanaircon.com.au/Mornington_Peninsula/Air_Conditioning/Cooling

  • geraldvonberger

    It’s interesting how many things can actually go wrong with your air conditioning. I hadn’t even considered the wiring. It’s really helpful to know what types of problems can be caused by wiring issues and how to recognize that there are wire problems. A lot of what you mentioned sounds like my air conditioner. http://quickservant.com/cooling-baltimore-residential-air-conditioning-cooling-installation-services-howard-county-md.php

  • gparizeau321

    It is fairly surprising how often the problem that people have with their air conditioning is simply a dirty filter, as described in the article. This is, indeed, what I believe should be checked first when problems arise, as the fix is very simple and generally costs nothing. It would be a shame to overlook this possibility and take more drastic, or expensive, measures when the problem was quite simple all along.

    Gaston Parizeau | http://plumbingandair.com

  • JamesHarvon

    This has me thinking about our air conditioning unit. I wonder if the air filter needs to be changed soon. Doing the little maintenance requirements will certainly have lasting impact on the longevity of our unit. http://www.tropicairfl.com/AC-Repair-AC-Maintenance-Sarasota-FL.html

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  • RandyBradford

    Gary, I never knew how important the refrigerant was to your ac unit. This seems like it might be good information to remember in case you ever start to have issues with your air conditioner. Being able to make small repairs yourself sounds like it might help you save some money in the long run. However it might also be good advice to shop around for an ac repair company that has a lot of experience. http://www.normanaireservices.com/fort-worth-tx/

  • emilysmith47876

    Thank you so much for the tips on how to keep my air conditioner functioning properly. I really like the tip to make sure that the drains are not clogged and such. That didn’t occur to me as I was looking at my air conditioner. I will have to take a look at it again and see if it is draining properly. 

  • LevyRedfox

    Gary, these are some really amazing tips about how to keep your air conditioning unit running well in the summer. I really liked your tip about checking if there is any refrigerant in your unit. That  is something that most people are not going to think about when they are having problems with their AC. http://www.stpeteclearwaterairheatrepair.com

  • EmilySmith3

    Gary, this is just the information I was looking for about air conditioning. My husband and I just realized that we need to either replace or repair our air conditioning. Hopefully these tips  will help us keep our new or repaired one run smoothly. 
    Emily Smith | http://www.aggressivemechanical.com/air-conditioning-service/

  • Pyrrho

    Gary, I didn’t know that air conditioners also acted as dehumidifiers. Now it makes more sense why it gets muggy when my air conditioning goes out. At times like those, I find the contractor that can fix it the fastest, no matter who it is.

  • EmilyMerrell

    I think that I’m going to have to check the wiring on my air conditioner. We have checked the refrigerant, and it seems to be working just fine. The unit is still blowing warm air out, and we are dying in our house. It got up to 95 in the house the other night. http://www.robertsonairconditioning.com.au

  • sfreddson2156

    Do you know if having a dirty air filter can increase the cost of running an AC unit? I just want to make sure that I’m not paying more than I need to. It’s not easy to know when to change the filter because I’m not sure exactly what to look for. Thanks for sharing these tips with us! http://www.floridaradonmoldandairconditioningllc.com/products.html

  • Great tips for diagnosing and fixing air conditioners! The hardest and most important part is usually finding the source of the problem. After that, it’s simple repair or replace.

    Jim  | <a href=’http://www.thompsonheatingcooling.net’ > http://www.thompsonheatingcooling.net</a&gt;

  • MikeReynolds13

    Gary, I didn’t realize that air filters could prevent so much air from actually getting through. A dirty air filter can easily cause the air flow to decrease. Maybe I should start checking mine more often, to make sure that I keep things working in peak condition.

  • EbonyKleinman

    Would any of these problems also apply to window air conditioning units? My husband and I live in a rental that has some units that the tenants can borrow. We took one out of storage the other day and it was super dusty! I’m hoping that hasn’t affected the air filter and it is blowing cold air, but I want to make sure it’s as efficient as it can be. http://alwaysreadyrepair.com/services.php

  • CaseyJones1

    Great tip on checking the air conditioners filter!  My AC has been running rather hard lately and I am worried about how high our utility bill might be.  I will be sure to give it a check once a month as you suggested.  Perhaps I will also hire someone to come look at my unit and do any necessary repairs.

  • JenniferStevens

    The line that stuck out to me and that made sense was when it said “Low air flow means it takes much longer for the room to cool down”.   I can see how if less air is passing through the filter, then it might take longer for there to be sufficient airflow into the home.   Luckily, there seem to be services out there that can help with issues like that should someone decide they need help.  http://www.cydcom.ca/a_c_repairs.html

  • Sally2015

    Keep your air-conditioner (AC) maintained, and you’ll not only save money on energy, but you’ll also extend its lifespan, saving money on costly early replacements. It is very important to check the system regular basis and remove the debris & clean the fins. If the fins are particularly dirty, commercially available fin cleaning spray can be used. I would like to say thank you for sharing these tips we mostly did not give priority.

  • correysmith321

    At one time,  my father found a refrigerant leak running down from my air conditioning unit. That was something that got him somewhat startled but also easy to fix. The air conditioning repair consisted of us just putting the refrigerant back on appropriately. http://www.beaconairservices.com.au/airconditioning-services-penrith

  • AshleyReed

    I can’t seem to figure out why my air conditioning isn’t working as well anymore. We’ll have to check the filter, although I’m pretty sure that isn’t it. It was changed just a few months ago. Unless you have to change them every few months, in which case, it’s about that time again! Thanks for all the insight on air conditioning, this has been really helpful. http://www.airconperthwa.com.au/

  • edwardsteve123

    Nice Article. Regular checking of air filters reduce electricity bills to large extent and it also increase the life of your AC. But one and the only thing is that it should be regularly checked.

  • meglund02

    I had not idea that air conditioners act as dehumidifiers. I can see now why properly draining your air conditioning unit can help ensure that it is working properly. It’s helpful to know that drainage problems are easy to identify and easy to fix– as you suggest, propping it up with a piece of wood or drilling a few holes to allow the water to pass through, will do the trick. I will definitely be sure to keep an eye on my air conditioning unit and make sure that it’s properly draining. Thank you for the tip! http://www.longbeachair.com/air-conditioning-services-signal-hill-ca.html

  • April Williams

    Having your AC working smoothly is so important in the summer. If it breaks it is going to make your life really uncomfortable. It seems like the best course of action is to get your air conditioning unit inspected before summer hits. That way you know if it need to be repaired or not. http://www.climecresidential.com/products.php

  • Jeffybridge

    In most cases, a dirty air filter is the reason an air conditioning unit isn’t running smooth. Always check that before to plan to pay for an expensive repair. If the air filter is dirty, there isn’t very good air flow and the unit has to work much harder to produce cold air.

  • jstrong196

    My parents just got a new air conditioning unit and they are loving it so far. One thing that they both want to do is make sure that they take good care of it and make it last a long time. This article has some great points that I think could help them do just that.