With the summer approaching, thousands of Americans are going to be hitting the highways and byways across the country looking for RV adventure. The thrill of getting out on the road for a trip to a favorite family vacation spot, or somewhere entirely new, is exhilarating.
Before you head out on a road trip, it’s critical to ensure that you inspect and service your vehicle. The last thing you need on your vacation is for something to go wrong with the engine, power system, or electronics of the RV.
While checking all these components is vital, many people neglect to service the air conditioner unit on the vehicle. Even seasoned veterans of the RV world probably forgot to service the AC system the first time they took their rig on the road.
A dirty AC filter will reduce the air quality inside your RV. Traveling across the country with your cabin smelling of old socks doesn’t sound very appealing. Fortunately, it’s not too challenging to clean or replace your rigs AC filter yourself.
In this guide, we’ll give you a user-friendly, step-by-step guide to cleaning or replacing the air conditioner filter.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Cleaning Your RV Air Conditioner Filter
Before you start, you need to bear in mind that there are two types of air conditioner filters. Reusable air filters are suitable for washing, reconditioning, and replacement into your system. However, disposable filters require replacement after a specified period of operation.
Disposable filters are typically cheaper to purchase than reusable models, but with a reusable model, you never have to worry about finding replacement parts. A reusable filter can last for decades before you need to replace it.
Most RVs come with reusable filters that you can rewash as they start to lose filtering efficiency. When the filter gets dirty, you start to notice a subtle decline in the air quality inside your RV. After a week or so, it will begin to develop a strong stale smell, indicating the presence of bacteria or mold in the filter.
At this stage, it’s time to either wash or replace your AC air filter.
How often should you clan your unit’s filters ?
Once a month!
Step 1 – Remove the AC Filter
Turn off the electricity supply to the AC unit and remove the protective shroud. Some RV units have screws to remove the cover, while others pop off with tabs.
Review your RV owner’s manual, or the AC manufacturers manual for the exact instructions for removing the AC air filter.
To find out exact instructions on removing the air filter from your air conditioner, consult the AC’s user manual.
Step 2 – Vacuum the AC Filter
After successfully removing the filter from the AC unit, take it outside for cleaning. Use a vacuum cleaner with a brush tip fitting to clean off all the large dust and debris trapped in the exterior of the filter.
Don’t press down on the filter when vacuuming, as the force could damage the filter and cause the need for a replacement. If you clean your filter regularly, you can get away with a light vacuum cleaning like this once a month or every 45-days.
When replacing the filter, make sure that you wipe out the inside of the machine properly before fitting the filter.
Step 3 – Wash the AC Filter
If the filter is filthy, and there is the presence of grime or mold, then you’ll probably need to wash the unit to ensure you get rid of all the mold spores and dirt out of the membrane.
Fill a bucket or the kitchen sink with warm water and add some mild soapy detergent. Place the filter in the water and let it soak for 15 minutes. Avoid using strong cleaning detergents like bleach, as this may damage the membrane in the filter. If the solution does damage the filter, you’ll need to replace it.
If the filter is very grimy, then you might have to leave it to soak for up to 2-hours to loosen all the dirt. After soaking the filter, use an old toothbrush to brush away any dirt deposits or grime from the surface of the filter.
Using abrasive brushes on the filter may end up damaging it, so stick to soft bristles like toothbrushes.
Step 4 – Manage Bacteria
After washing out the filter, you need to kill off any pathogens, like bacteria and mold, that remain behind. Fill a spray bottle with equal parts white vinegar and water. Spray down the filter, and then leave it to soak for 10-minutes in a shady area before rinsing clean with water. Alternatively, you can spray the filter down with an antibacterial solution to protect the filter, and your lungs, from pathogens.
Step 5 – Dry and Replace
Let your filter air-dry entirely before placing it back in your air conditioner. However, don’t leave the filter in the direct sunlight, as the harsh UV rays may damage the sensitive materials in the filter membrane, causing it to lose efficiency.
After drying out the filter, wipe down the interior of the shroud and the AC unit and then replace the filter.
Step 6 – (Optional) Cleaning the RV AC Condenser and Evaporator
If you recently purchased a preowned RV, it’s a good idea to check and clean the AC filter. Many buyers don’t think to check the air conditioner to see if it’s dirty, and then wonder why their new RV doesn’t have that “New RV Smell.”
However, if you’re cleaning the air conditioning filter, it might be wise also to have a look at the condenser and evaporator fins while you are at it. RV owners should remember to check these parts for wear and tear every few years. Proper maintenance of these evaporator coils ensures good airflow and prevents the unit from overheating.
Over the years, the cooling fans on the AC unit will start to clog with dirt and debris, dropping the efficiency of your AC unit. You can use a good foam or spray cleaner to clean the vanes on the fans and around the housing.
Clean the condenser coils at least once a year.
Before you start cleaning, make sure you cover the air vent leading into the cabin. If you don’t, then dirt and debris will fall into the vent and enter the cabin when you start up the AC.
It’s also important to note that the fins or vanes on the fan are thin and fragile. Be careful not to damage them in the cleaning process. Bending or cracking the fins results in inefficient airflow, and you’ll have the replace the entire fan.
Uses a soft bristle brush or vacuum to carefully remove any buildup of dirt or debris from the evaporator coils.
TIP: Use compressed air, blowing from the inside, out, you’ll get to clear any debris that may have gotten trapped in the condenser coils.
Now it’s also a good time to straighten any bent cooling fins – using a comb knife or other small, flat wedge- as bent fins will restrict airflow through the unit reducing the air conditioner’s cooling ability.
Step 7 (Optional) – RV AC Compressor Repair or Replacement
If your RV is an older model, and your AC unit stops working, the chances are that the compressor packed up. Unfortunately, the compressor is the most expensive part of the AC system in your RV. In some cases, it might be possible to get away with a cheap repair, but in most cases, you’ll end up having to replace the unit.
New compressors can run you up to $800, depending on the model. In most cases, you’ll find that replacing the entire AC unit is not much more expensive than buying a new compressor – take that into account before you decide to spend your money on a repair or replacement compressor.
Step 8 (Optional) – Servicing and Repairing the RV AC Fan Motor
After removing the AC shroud, you can inspect the fan motor for maintenance. It’s critical that you remember to turn off the power supply before you start work on the AC unit, or you could end up with a severe injury that sends you to the hospital.
When working with the starter capacitor, use gloves, as there may be residual charge remaining in the capacitor. Make sure that the fan spins easily with a touch of your hand and clean the fins of any dirt or debris using lightly soapy water.
Oil the bearings in the fan motor, you’ll find oil tubes to help you lubricate the fan. Put a few drops of oil in the tubes on either end. If the machine uses sleeves, then dribble some oil on the area where the sleeves contact the fan motor shafts. Wipe away any excess oil after spinning the fan.
When starting your AC unit, the fan might seem sluggish or slow. If that’s the case, then it’s time for a replacement. If your compressor or fan motor fails to start, it’s usually a sign of a failed starting capacitor that needs replacement.
When replacing your capacitor, it’s critical that you select the right voltage and size for your rooftop AC unit. You can order these parts online from the AC manufacturer or licensed dealer.
What are the Leading brands of RV AC Units?
There are several leading manufacturers of RV air conditioner units. However, in our opinion, the top brands include Coleman, Atwood, and Dometic.
Coleman RV AC units are a common feature on most of the premium-end motorhomes in America. Dometic was one of the first manufacturers to innovate with the rooftop air conditioner, as well as ice machines and camper refrigerators. Atwood is another leading brand with RV air filters available in a variety of materials.
All three of these manufacturers offer top-quality air conditioner systems and spares. Most of the parts in these models are replaceable, and with the right maintenance, your AC system will last for years.
If you’re using a mesh-style foam filter, make sure you clean it carefully to avoid tearing the membrane. Never use a garden hose on high pressure to clean your filter as it will damage the fibers.
Replacement filters for these brands are readily available from online dealers. Replacements are typically not expensive, but you’ll save money if you wash and refurbish the unit yourself. Check with your owner’s manual to see if you have a replaceable or washable filter in your AC unit.
Final Tips for RV Air Conditioner Filter Maintenance
RV owners should clean the air conditioner filter according to the use of the unit. If you only take the RV out on the road once or twice a year, then the chances are an annual cleaning is more than adequate.
However, if you’re a regular camper, you might need to wash your AC filter every other month or at least once a quarter to keep it clean.
Between cleanings, you can reduce the buildup of dirt, dust, and grime in your air filter by following these tips.
Use the Auto-Cleaning Function
Many modern RVs come with an auto-cleaning function on the unit. By using this cleaning function after each use, you extend the service life of your AC unit. These units feature an internal brush that cleans the filter, preventing the buildup of dirt and grime on the membrane surface.
However, RV owners mustn’t over-rely on this auto-cleaning function for maintaining their AC system. You’ll still need to clean the filter from time to time and ensure the inner housing is clean and free of debris.
Clean the Filter Regularly
By now, you should understand the importance of keeping your air filter clean. A dirty filter drops the efficiency of your AC unit, and places pressure on the other components in the machine, causing premature failure.
Some manufacturers recommend that RV owners clean the AC unit after each trip, while others allow for quarterly cleaning. Always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines before cleaning your air filter.
Replace Your Air Filter If Required
Every RV filter, even reusable models, have a service life. If you’re cleaning a filthy air filter, then you might not be able to restore it to its original condition. If that’s the case, it’s time to find a replacement. Replacement filters vary in size and price, depending on the size of your AC unit, and the model.
When washing your filter, if you notice any tears or holes in the fabric, you’ll have to replace it. The holes will allow dirt and debris to enter the internals of the machine, causing a breakdown.
Avoid Unnecessary Use
Only run your RVs AC unit when you need it. This strategy reduces the soiling of your filter and drops your power consumption.