Can You Snake An AC Drain Line?

When your A/C drain line clogs, a plumber’s snake may be the solution that saves you money. Snaking a drain line is a simple process with the proper type of snake. 

You can snake a clogged A/C drain line to remove blockages. Traditional plumbing snakes usually cannot navigate the 90* turns of PVC elbows, but a smart snake can. Be careful when snaking the drain that you do not push the clog farther down the line. 

Drain lines with PVC traps are more challenging to snake than those with smooth curvy traps. But with a little patience, it can be done. We will now consider how to snake an A/C drain line.

Snaking An A/C Drain Line Can Save You Dollars

Air conditioner drain lines are subject to frequent clogs from a variety of factors, including:

  • Dirty filters
  • Mineral deposits
  • Mold or mildew build-up

This creates a mess and a health hazard since you breathe in the mold spores growing in your drain line. 

To save money on repair bills, you can sometimes unclog your drain line by running a drain snake through it.

  • Open your drain clean-out 
  • Insert the snake
  • Push it in as far as it will go 
  • Twist a few times to try and break through the clog 
  • Pull the snake out.

Typically, this is a last resort before calling the repairman. Usually, a snake is used only when water or air pressure has failed to break up the clog.

Traditional drain snakes only work with smooth traps. If the trap is made of PVC elbows, these snakes just can’t negotiate the series of 90-degree turns.

There’s No Snake Like A SmartSnake

However, the SmartSnake can. The drain snake is made of flexible stainless steel with a ball on the end that looks like a fishing bob.

The other end attaches to a power drill and augers away all the build-up inside the line.

Because of its slim design, PVC elbow traps are no problem for it. It also does a better job than air or water pressure.

Vacuuming or blowing the line with pressurized air may break through the clog, but it won’t remove the build-up. It’s the same with pressurized water streams. 

The SmartSnake is just the right size to fit inside the line and scrape away all the gunk that has built up. This will keep your line open longer.

Symptoms Of A Clogged A/C Line

If you’re wondering how to tell if your A/C line is clogged, just look for one or more of the following tell-tale signs:

  • Full Drain Pan
  • Foul Odor or Moldy scent
  • Standing water or water damage
  • Unit shutting off for no apparent reason

When you notice standing water near your unit, this should be a tip-off that all is not well with your drain line. Water damage in walls or ceilings near your unit also indicates a drainage problem. 

When your unit kicks on, you may notice a musty, moldy odor coming from the air vents. This should alert you that soured, stagnant water is someplace it has no business. 

As water backs up further into the line, you may notice that your A/C doesn’t work at all or shuts off for no apparent reason. This is because the water backs up from the line, through the drain pan into the float switch. 

As a safety feature, this trips the float switch, which will not allow the unit to turn on.

When any of these conditions are present, you probably should have a look at your A/C drain line. 

How To Clean An A/C Drain Line

A clogged drain line doesn’t necessarily mean an expensive repairman call. If you are handy with DIY procedures, you can usually rectify the problem yourself.

  • Shut off power to the unit
  • Find and open the cleaning port
  • If you can see the blockage, you can try to clear it manually
  • If you can’t see it, pour warm soapy water or vinegar water into the pipe until it fills up
  • If it doesn’t drain out, the clog may be too big for this method
  • You can blow the line with a pressure water hose or a wet/dry vacuum

Be careful that you don’t flush water back toward the unit. Always flush away from the unit since your clog is always going to be in that direction.

Once the line is clear, you may want to pour straight vinegar through it to kill the mold spores lurking there. Since vinegar kills only 82% of mold and mildew species, it should not be diluted.

Do not use bleach since the vapor coming through the air vents can cause serious respiratory issues.

Normally, two cups of vinegar per year through your drain line is adequate to keep it functioning correctly.

Stop A Clog Before It Starts

A little attention to your A/C set-up can save a big headache later. Regular maintenance is important to keep your unit functioning at peak capacity.

Make Sure Gravity Is On Your Side

The drain line coming out of your unit should be slanted at a slight angle toward the ground. This allows the natural force of gravity to pull the condensation out of the trap and down to the exit.

If your line is level, the old water will sit there until new condensation forces it out. This is the perfect environment for:

  • Bacteria
  • Mold
  • Mildew

Slanting the line at even a 5-degree angle will help to keep the water drained off. Less water in the line means less sediment that is cementing itself to the walls of the pipe.

Less sediment means a lower chance of the line clogging, so your unit remains trouble-free for longer.

Of course, this doesn’t guarantee that you’ll never have a clog, but it can help to reduce the frequency.

Give Yourself A Peephole

Most professionals replace a section of pipe with a clear rubber tube that allows them to see if the water is draining correctly.

Over time, these tubes become coated inside with mold and mildew, making it impossible to see through them.

When you can no longer see through your tube section, it should be replaced. It is important that you keep this “window” clear so you can tell if water is draining too slowly or not at all.

Periodically, you should observe the flow of water through this tube to tell when a problem is forming without waiting until water is standing everywhere.

Keep Your Filters Clean

One reason drain lines clog is because air filters don’t get changed as often as they should. Dust mixes with condensation and forms mud in your drain line.

A simple fix for this problem is to change your filters regularly. For some units, it is recommended to change the filters monthly. Others may need to be changed less frequently.

Read the routine maintenance recommendations of your owner’s manual and keep a regular schedule for checking up on your unit’s health.

Often, it is easier to keep up with yearly tasks like this by scheduling them on a special day like your birthday, so you’re not as likely to forget.

Tablets Can Break Down Problematic Fungi

A helpful agent in keeping drain lines clear is the drain pan tablet. Typically, you get 200 tablets per bottle. 

Just pop one in your drain pan after changing your filters. It is designed to break down algae and gunk before it has a chance to clog your drain line.

Be sure to keep the bottle tightly sealed so that moisture from the air doesn’t ruin the remaining tablets.

Warning: after one year, they tend to lose some of their potency, so you may need to use several at once to get the same degree of decomposition.

When All Else Fails, Replace

In extreme cases, the entire drain line or parts of it may need to be replaced. This can be expensive if done by a professional.

On the other hand, if you don’t know what you’re doing, it could cost more to try doing it yourself. But if you’re handy with fixing things, it’s not that hard to replace your drain line.

It will probably work better if you take the old drain line off in situ and use it as a pattern for the new line.

Don’t forget to put in a clean-out access to make routine maintenance easier. You can also add a clear rubber trap to see when problems begin forming before it’s an all-out blockage.

Always be sure to disconnect power from the unit before attempting any sort of maintenance or repair.

Clogged Lines Can Ruin Your House

A clogged A/C drain line can be far more detrimental to your home’s health than you would think. As the clogged line backs up, the water has to go somewhere.

Often, that “somewhere” is down a wall or over a roof. This can lead to:

  • Leaks
  • Discoloration
  • Mold
  • Mildew
  • Rotten timbers
  • Ruined walls and floors

Keeping your drain lines open is key to preventing these homeowner nightmares. Running a plumbing snake through an A/C drain line once a year can go a long way toward lessening the possibility of a blockage.