How To Avoid Serious Expenses by Cleaning Air Cooled Chiller Coils Regularly

How To Avoid Serious Expenses by Cleaning Air Cooled Chiller Coils Regularly

May 15, 2017

Air cooled chillers are efficient and compact, making them a popular choice for supplemental or emergency use. Air cooled chillers work almost the same way that water cooled chillers do, with an important difference: they use air to fuel the condenser cooling instead of water. Because of this difference, air cooled chillers are easier and less expensive to maintain. But they still must be cleaned regularly!

Dirt can build up on the coils of air cooled chillers, increasing the operating discharge pressure. If chillers operate at an increased pressure for very long, the life of the compressors will be reduced along with their refrigeration capacity. In the process, they’ll also use up to 30% more energy. If cleaning is neglected long enough, a system failure may occur. Dirty coils equal significant unnecessary expense.


Facilities and maintenance teams are busy. Their days are full of urgent needs and requests, making it easy to neglect the not-urgent-but-important tasks. Many of the “excuses” given by facilities and maintenance directors are not excuses at all—they’re legitimate reasons! But think through these objections and consider the consequences of neglecting coil cleaning

  • Budget Constraints — Yes, cleaning takes time, which results in personnel costs. But consider the impact on the budget when your chiller is eating up additional energy and losing capacity. Ultimately, what’s the cost of a system failure?
  • Manpower Constraints — Sometimes the constraints don’t have so much to do with budget as with the fact that there just aren’t enough hands on deck. You can’t have your people working overtime all the time. But cleaning is a high-priority task, and it needs to be placed with other high-priority items. If there are just too many essential tasks for your team to reasonably complete, you may want to consider outsourcing the cleaning.
  • Safety Concerns — Cleaning coils is a dangerous job without the proper equipment. Eye and respiratory protection are essential, and the company must provide these for any employee engaging in cleaning. If chemicals are being used, workers must have rubber gloves and protective outerwear. If workers are unsure of how to properly clean the coils, the company should provide training.


If your coils don’t have a lot of buildup, you may be able to simply clean them with a brush-tipped vacuum, compressed air, or a soap-and-water solution. If you’re cleaning your coils regularly, you’ll be able to use one of these simple methods.


If grime and grease have accumulated on the coils, you’ll need to use a chemical to remove the dirt. There are two types of chemical cleaners: acidic and alkaline. Different manufacturers recommend different cleaners, so you’ll want to be sure that you know which is best for your individual chiller.


The biggest mistake people make when cleaning their condenser coils is accidentally damaging the delicate fins or the surface of the coils. Damaged coils increase discharge pressures even more than dirty coils, so you’ll want to be especially careful. If you’re using a brush or brush-tipped vacuum, be gentle. If you’re using a chemical, first consult with the manufacturer to make sure you’re following their recommended procedures. Some chemicals can cause a reaction with the metal coils, causing them to deteriorate. At the very least, you’ll need to flush out all chemical residue with fresh water after cleaning.

Cleaning coils does take time and expense, but when you realize that the alternative is higher energy costs, lower refrigeration capacity, lower life expectancy, and the potential for a system failure, you understand that the time and expense spent cleaning is well worth it. Spending a little more on maintenance now will save you many times over in the long run.

Do you have questions about air cooled chillers? We’re happy to talk with you. Just give us a call at 1.864.249.0943!

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