How Should I Store My Air Conditioner for the Winter?

Q: I'm beginning the sad, sad conversion of my apartment from summer to fall. Is there a proper way to clean and store my window conditioner unit?

A: Sad, sad is right my friend. In fact, I can’t think of a more depressing end-of-summer ritual. For the past couple weeks I’ve been avoiding even looking at the two faithful — if a bit tired — window units in my own apartment because when I do, the grim reality that winter is just around the corner hits me like a quick and frosty slap across the face. Ouch. A touch melodramatic, I know, but I can’t imagine a more emotionally painful process than seasonal air conditioner retirement. But hey, look at it this way: An out-of-commission air conditioner means lowered electricity bills and that’s certainly a good thing.

Wintertime AC storage isn’t rocket science, but there are a few pointers to keep in mind.

Remove It (Safely) From the Window

It helps to recruit a beefy pal donning work gloves to help you safely lift the thing out of the window. I always forget how heavy those bad boys are. If you have a bad back, butterfingers or are simply averse to lifting large and potentially lethal objects, don’t risk it. I have a not-exactly-nimble friend who once, while attempting to remove a large window unit unassisted, lost her grip and the entire thing, cord and all, plunged two stories to the street below. Luckily, no one on the ground was injured, but as you can imagine, being clobbered by an air conditioning unit falling from the sky isn’t the most pleasant way to go. And being responsible for it is even worse.

Prepare for Leakage

Once you’ve successfully removed the air conditioner from the window (remember to unplug it and remove any insulation or objects that may be securing it before making the big lift), place the unit on a towel that you don’t mind parting with or use exclusively for home improvement tasks. If you’ve used the AC recently, it may still be full of water, so placing it on a towel will prevent it from leaking all over your floors.

Clean the Filter

Next comes the important part that, according to Energy Savers, can help improve an air AC unit’s efficiency by 5 to 15 percent: cleaning the filter. If your unit has a reusable filter, start by vacuuming it to remove any significant gunk and grime. The next step for some folks is to place the filter under running water and gently scrub away any dirt with a mild soap. Better yet (especially if you have pets or a particularly dusty abode), treat the filter to a luxurious, hourlong bath of equal parts vinegar and water for a truly deep clean that will help to better remove any bacteria or allergens. While you’re letting the filter dry post-bath time, grab a rag and wipe down the unit’s external surfaces with the same water/vinegar solution or your favorite nontoxic cleaning product. Remove the front grill and give that a good cleaning as well.

Store It Properly

Now with your decommissioned air conditioner sparkling and clean, it’s time to find it a temporary home. This, as I can attest to from firsthand experience, can be tricky for apartment dwellers with limited storage space. I usually make room in a small patch of out-of-the-way floor space near the window. Sure, this takes up valuable real estate and isn’t exactly aesthetically pleasing, but I don’t really have any other option (I certainly don’t have the closet space or a high enough bed). To keep the unit dirt- and dust-free during its several-month vacation, place it upright in a large bin, trash bag or in its original box if that’s still kicking around ... otherwise, you’ll have to wipe it clean all over again come next summer. If you have the luxury of storing your AC unit out of sight for the winter, haul it up to an attic, down to the basement or to the garage. If you opt for the garage, it’s probably best to place the unit on blocks so that no leaky auto fluids or other caustic unsavories damage it. Whatever location you choose, make sure that your air conditioner is kept in a cool, dry place that’s out of the way ... that is unless you want to dress it up and use it as an end table in your living room.

That should about cover it. While your Mr. AC is enjoying his well-deserved sabbatical, take the time to familiarize yourself with a few ways to become less dependent on air conditioning when the time comes to resurrect him from his slumber and plug him back in again. Chin up, buddy — he’ll be back in action in no time.

-- Matt