Air conditioners work by sucking in air from the room and absorbing its heat, then it transfers the heat to the outside environment. It does this by continuously evaporating and condensing a refrigerant gas known as Freon in a closed system. This gas is contained withing the AC’s coils. However, Freon can leak from your aircon given the right (or wrong) circumstances.
The best DIY way to know if your aircon has a refrigerant leak is to apply a soapy water solution to the condenser coil and evaporator coil. If the soap is bubbling up, it means that your aircon is leaking Freon.
What should you do if your aircon is leaking Freon? What are its effects on your health? Is your fridge still repairable? We will answer these questions in this article.
Note: Freon is the brand name of the refrigerant gas R-12, it has since become a generic term for different refrigerant gasses like R-22, R-32, and R-410a.
How to know if Freon is leaking
Freon is a relatively odorless and colorless gas, so it is hard to know if it is leaking from your aircon. However, your air conditioner will begin to show symptoms when it does leak.
If your AC exhibits most of the following symptoms, then there is a high likelihood of there being a Freon leak.
Okay, we know we said that Freon is relatively odorless, but it still does emit a chloroform-like odor. Check your AC immediately if you smell this. If it occurs with the next item in this list, then it is a sure sign that your air conditioner is leaking Freon.
Oily residue on the unit or on the wall
Another sign of a Freon leak is if there is a substantial amount of oil within the vicinity of your aircon.
Do note that this oil is not the Freon itself – it is the oil that is used to lubricate the compressor that pumps the Freon to the air conditioner’s coils.
Try to find where the oil begins to leak as it will indicate where the Freon is leaking as well.
If air being blown is warm
Freon is used as an agent in the heat transfer process of the AC. If this leaks, then it will compromise the ability of your AC to do its job.
While there are a lot more common mechanical reasons why your aircon is not cooling, a Freon leak should not be taken out of the equation.
A compressor that is running continuously
As you know, an aircon’s compressor cycles on and off to maintain a set temperature.
Since the temperature regulation capability of your AC is being compromised by the leak, its thermostat will begin sending signals to the compressor that it is not doing a mighty fine job of cooling your room down. This will drive the compressor nuts, and it will keep on running until it achieves its goal.
Unfortunately, the aircon will not achieve its goal while the Freon is leaking. Apart from being a sad story for your AC, this continuous operation will result in another sad story for your wallet:
High electricity bill
As the compressor overworks to compensates for the lost Freon, it will use more electricity and thus will increase your energy bill.
Also, this continuous operation will strain the compressor, which will make it more susceptible to a total breakdown.
How your health is affected by a Freon leak
While a Freon leak means trouble for your aircon, did you know that it can also affect your health negatively?
According to Healthline, a refrigerant leak may cause any of the following symptoms:
- irritation of the eyes, ears, and throat
- frostbite (liquid Freon)
- chemical burn to the skin
Most air conditioners don’t carry that much Freon in their systems, so most people will only have mild exposure to this gas. However, for people with a large aircon that requires more Freon to run, this could be a problem.
Warning: if you suspect that your illness is being caused by a Freon leak, go to the nearest emergency room to get treated.
Can you fix an aircon that is leaking Freon?
Your aircon is in dire straits if it is leaking Freon. However, this does not mean that all is lost – you can still have it fixed!
This process, called a refrigerant recharge, is complicated and can be dangerous when done incorrectly, and so it must be done by a professional technician.
Call the manufacturer’s customer service team to have your unit check if it is still under warranty. If not, there are a lot of third-party companies that do this service, and it usually does not cost that much.
However, if your air conditioner has been leaking Freon even after several repairs, it may be wiser if you just have the whole thing replaced.
How to detect Freon leaks
If you suspect a Freon leak, you should immediately call a technician to check on your air conditioner. To detect a leak, he/she will put a fluorescent dye in the system and then use a special lamp that detects where the dye and the Freon is leaking from.
You can recreate this on your own with no special tools – just materials you might have laying around your house. This diagnostic test is called the Soap Bubble method.
- Unplug your AC, and take out the contents inside
- Mix the water and the soap and put it inside the sprayer
- Spray the soapy water on the condenser coils (at the back of the AC) at the evaporator coils (inside the air intake panel, behind the filter) If you have a split type model, you should also spray it on the copper tube connecting your indoor unit to its outdoor counterpart.
- The leaking spot will become apparent when large bubbles form around an area
- Mark this area, and call a technician to have it fixed.
If you think you’re dealing with an aircon that is leaking Freon, call a professional immediately so as to limit the damage to your air conditioner and to your health.
Miguel Mores worked for 5 years as a member of the product management team for a home appliance company in the Philippines. He started 101appliance to answer the most common customer questions that he has encountered during his time in the industry. He now works in the digital marketing field and manages a small online bookstore on the side.