Japan Apartment Maintenance: Cleaning Your Air-Conditioning Unit

With the rainy season and summer just ahead of us, it’s more than likely that our trusty air-conditioning units are going to see an increase in use. Now is a great time to prepare for this by performing some basic apartment maintenance in the form of cleaning your AC unit. You might want to contact a professional cleaner if you don’t feel comfortable with this, or if your AC unit is extremely dirty.

Throughout normal use, the condensation and moisture inside the AC unit will cause mold and bacteria growth. Even though there are “self-cleaning” modes on recent AC models, they can only do so much to prevent this. To be on top of your apartment maintenance, you’ll want to clean your AC filters once every 2 weeks or so, and perform a cleaning of the main unit once every 1-2 months depending on how dirty your AC unit gets.

If you can access the indoor part of your AC unit, the cleaning process is generally fairly simple. Although, as stated earlier, a professional cleaning is probably the best course for units with excessive mold growth.

Step 1: Get a hold of some air conditioner cleaner

Photo: Scott Kouchi

This is エアコン洗浄スプレー (eakon senjou supure, air conditioner cleaner spray) that you can find at drugstores around Japan. It is unscented (無香性) and made to be used on the fins of air conditioner units. If you are just cleaning your air filters, you don’t need a cleaner like this.

Step 2: Unplug your air conditioner

Photo: Scott Kouchi

For safety’s sake, you’ll want to make sure your AC unit is unplugged when you’re performing any maintenance on it.

Step 3: Access the inside of your AC unit

Photo: Scott Kouchi

Most AC units are made to be accessed easily without tools. In my case, all I have to do is lightly pull on these tabs to swing the main cover open. If you’re having trouble getting inside your AC unit, find your user’s manual and give it a quick read (even if you can’t read Japanese the pictures should help guide you). Or find the model number of your AC unit and look it up online.

Step 4: Remove dust filters

Photo: Scott Kouchi

This particular AC unit has two dust filters that are easily removed by pulling up just slightly to disengage the lower tabs. Be careful not to touch the metal fins inside the AC unit.

Once the filters are removed you can clean them with a damp cloth.

Step 5: Apply cleaner

I couldn’t get a photo of this because my hands were full, but follow the directions on your cleaning product. In the case of エアコン洗浄スプレー, hold the can roughly 5 cm from the fins and spray liberally. But also be careful not to spray onto the electronic parts of the AC unit. Wait 10 minutes and then you are good to go.

Step 6: Reassembly

Put your dry air filters back in, and close up the AC unit. Plug it back in and congratulations, you’ve cleaned your AC unit!

It might be hard to tell from these before-after shots, but my AC unit was due for a good cleaning and the difference in person is very noticable!

Shot of my AC before cleaning. I am a little embarrassed at how dirty it is, but it’s a good teaching lesson! Photo: Scott Kouchi

After cleaning. It might be hard to see through the pictures, but the filters are definitely way more clean now. And I have peace of mind for the next few weeks going into the rainy season! Photo: Scott Kouchi