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Condensate Line: How to clean and care?

The Critical Role of Condensate Lines

Everyone knows that an HVAC unit is responsible for keeping the home at the homeowner’s preferred temperature; it’s thought of as the system’s primary role. Equally important, however, is the dehumidification your HVAC unit provides. In older window air conditioning units, the results of this process can frequently be seen dripping from the air conditioner. That water is the moisture being pulled from the hot, humid air inside the home. 

In the kind of home-wide HVAC system referred to as ‘central air,’ letting this condensed moisture just drip isn’t an option. Excessive condensate will not only encourage mold and bacteria growth within the unit and condensate line itself, but it also has the potential to cause structural and cosmetic property damage within your home.  

The solution is for a shallow catch basin, called the drain pan, to fit under the evaporator coils (the parts that do the actual work of cooling). As the air running past the coils is cooled, water builds upon them, the same way it does on the outside of a cold glass on a hot day. 

The drips fall into this drain pan, which directs the water to the condensate line. The flow is then directed to an exterior drain by the condensate line.

Condensate Line and Drain Pan Problems

Condensate Lines and the drain pans that feed them are usually made out of plastic or PVC, which prevents rust from being a problem, but they are still vulnerable to blockage and wear. They do not last forever and must be thoroughly checked and (if necessary) replaced as part of a regular home maintenance schedule. Some issues that can affect your condensate lines and drain pans are; 

  • Buildup of algae 
  • Contamination by mold 
  • Cracks in the plastic lines or drain pan 
  • Environmental debris  
  • Debris from corroded coils 

Doesn’t My HVAC Service Agreement Cover These Issues? 

Routinely having a home watch service company check on any HVAC lines is important. That is why our home watch check includes looking at the condensate lines within reach. If an air handler is too far out of reach, we highly recommend having your technician clean out the lines as part of your service agreement.  

How Do I Prevent This Kind Of Problem? 

The best way to prevent a clogged condensate line is to schedule yearly maintenance, ideally at the beginning of the cooling season. A trained HVAC technician will be able to inspect and clean your system, ensuring that you have a steady flow of cool air. 

Still, there are steps you as a homeowner can take to maintain a clean air conditioner drain. 

Using this 6-step process and ¼ cup of vinegar monthly you can kill any mold, algae, mildew, and other bacteria or fungi that may build up in your air conditioner drain line. 

Cleaning Your Condensate Line

Step: 1 Turn Off Your Air Conditioner

             Turn your system off at both the thermostat and the breaker. 

Step: 2 Locate Your Condensate Drain Line

             Your drain line is a PVC pipe near your outdoor unit and attached to the wall of your house.

Step: 3 StepClean Out the Condensate Line

             Use a wet vac and vacuum the line outside. Hook up the hose and hold it or tape it to the line and turn on the vacuum. 

Step: 4 Identify the Access Point

             Go inside to the AC unit and look for the PVC drain line that runs away from the unit and down towards the wall. Remove the cap of the drain and inspect for any blockage 

*Note: this is not the emergency cut-off valve

Step: 5 Flush with Distilled Vinegar

             Use ¼ cup of distilled white vinegar or peroxide

Step: 6 Let it Sit for 30 Minutes

             Flush the pipe with water to ensure everything is   flowing freely as it should


Issues that come from condensate lines can quickly become very costly for a homeowner. Following these cleaning steps along with maintaining routine inspections and understanding your HVAC service agreement is vital to prevent problems that may occur with condensate lines. Home watch visits can help prevent issues as well as routine inspections to prevent problems or minimize damage if an issue may occur.

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