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Dealing With Clogged A/C Drain Lines

Believe it or not, water is a common byproduct of the air conditioning process. As your A/C system cools your home's indoor air, it also removes excess moisture from the air. Once condensed into water form, this excess moisture ends up in the A/C system's condensate drip pan. The extracted water eventually flows through a drain line that leads to an indoor drain or directly outdoors.

Over time, the A/C drain line can become clogged with debris or algae buildup. Not only does this prevent proper drainage, but it could also lead to equipment damage if left unchecked.

How Clogs Form

As water drips from your A/C system's evaporator coil onto the condensate drip tray, it also carries a host of microscopic bacteria and residue, including mold and algae spores. These spores can take up residence inside the drain line once the water passes through, setting the stage for mold and algae growth that eventually blocks the drain line. Dust and debris can also settle in the drip tray and create blockages as water moves toward the drain line inlet.

Blockages can also occur on the other end of the drain line. Dirt and dust buildup near the drain line outlet can eventually lead to clogging. Clogs can also occur when insects build nests inside the drain line outlet.

Common Symptoms

You might not notice there's anything wrong with your A/C system's drain line until you start seeing puddles of water around the indoor A/C unit. When drain line clogs occur, water simply builds up in the condensate drip tray until it eventually overflows and drips out of the A/C system itself. If your A/C system is located in the attic, the overflow can drip through ceilings and travel along ducts until it reaches a vent.

Most modern A/C systems feature cut-off switches that can detect an imminent overflow in the condensate drip tray and shut off the A/C unit until pan is emptied. So if your A/C system suddenly shuts off without warning, the cause could be linked to a clogged drain line.

Clog Removal Tips

There are several approaches you can take towards clearing the A/C drain line. Before you begin, you'll need to empty the condensate drip tray and thoroughly clean it with hot water and mild detergent to remove debris and buildup.

If you have a wet/dry shop vacuum, you can use the vacuum's suction power to draw out the clog from either end of the line. You'll need to create a tight seal around the vacuum hose to maximize its suction power. Use duct tape or a clean rag to form a seal between the drain line and vacuum hose.

If you have an air compressor, you can use it to send a blast of compressed air through the drain line. In most cases, a strong burst of air will dislodge the clog along with any other debris present in the drain line.

For clogs that prove too stubborn to remove with vacuum suction or compressed air, a small plumber's snake may help. Use the snake to carefully break through the clog and use the vacuum or compressed air to remove the clog's remnants from the drain line.

Preventive Steps

Prevention plays a key role in keeping your drain line clear. Here are a few steps you can take to prevent clogs from occurring later on:

  1. Disinfect the drain line to prevent mold and algae growth. Pouring a gallon of white vinegar or household bleach through the drain line will kill off any remaining microbes that could cause future clogging.
  2. Change your air filter on a regular basis. Replacing your air filter regularly will help prevent dust and mold spores from accumulating inside of your A/C unit.
  3. Clean your A/C evaporator coil on a yearly basis. Dust, mold and algae buildup on the coil can eventually migrate to your drain line. Cleaning the coil annually prevents this buildup from occurring.

For more information, reach out to companies like Bedell Plumbing & HVAC.