Redneck air con service

Well – it’s that time of year again: my Celica’s air con is starting to smell a bit like a wet dog. If you can’t be bothered to clean your air con “properly” (i.e. depressurising the A/C system, removing ungodly amounts of dashboard and trim etc) this approach might be of some use to you. I was certainly pleasantly surprised with how good the results were!

You will need:

  • An old vegetable steamer, kettle or similar
  • Dettol
  • 1 Can of air-con cleaner

Time required: approx. 40 minutes.


  1. Take your old vegetable steamer and discard all of the silly cooking stuff that normally lives on top of it.
  2. Fill it up to its maximum level with boiling water and add half a cap of Dettol.
  3. Place the steamer in whichever footwell your car’s recirculating air intake resides. Mine was in the passenger footwell.
  4. Start the engine, switch on the air con, turn the temperature to its coldest setting, switch the fans to top speed, set the ventilation to windscreen demist and set the air to the recirculate position.

    Settings for air con when running steamer

  5. Switch on the steamer. You should see all of the steam being sucked quickly under the dashboard.

    Steamer doing its thing - steam sucked up under dash

  6. Let the system run like this for about 15 to 20 minutes. I had to refill the steamer about half way through. The steamer managed to boil nearly two litres of water during this time!
  7. While this is going on, check that no steam is making it to the windscreen: If your air con is working properly the screen should stay perfectly clear. All of the water should be collected in the air con system’s condenser and end up as a puddle of water under the car. If steam does make it to the windscreen, turn down the steamer a bit and consider having your air con system checked 🙂

    All of the steam should condense and end up under the car

  8. After 20 minutes has elapsed, switch off the steamer and remove it from the footwell.
  9. Set the system to take in fresh air rather than recirculate. Turn the temperature up to maximum and switch off the air con. Open the windows and let the moisture evaporate from the air con condenser (approx 5 mins).
  10. Close the windows and set the system back into the state it was in step 4.
  11. Follow the instructions that come with the can of air con cleaner – usually place the can behind the front passenger seat and activate. Close the doors (and stay OUT of the car – the air con cleaner is toxic!) and let the system run for another 10 minutes, allowing the air con cleaner to circulate within the car.

    Air con "bug bomb"-style aerosol

  12. When done, open the doors and windows to ventilate the vehicle, again being careful not to inhale the gas.
  13. Try your new air con! You’ll probably find its now colder and fresher smelling than it has been for a while 🙂