How to Clean an Air Conditioner Return Vent Cover

The return-air duct in your house pulls in the air in your home and cools it before it is redistributed through registers in each room. Over time, as dust and dirt-laden air is pulled through the vent cover of your air conditioner return, the particles will collect and leave the fins noticeably dirty. This is a normal occurrence, and you can restore your return vent cover back to its clean appearance with the aid of a few household products.

Step 1

Turn off your central air conditioning unit before beginning. Release the top of the return vent cover. Allow the cover to fall backward into your hands. Grip each side of the vent cover and pull up. Then pull the bottom outward to release it from the holders.

Step 2

Take the vent cover outside on your driveway or patio or to your bathtub to clean. Spray the fins with an all-purpose cleaner or put some warm water in a spray bottle, add a couple of drops of dish-washing liquid, replace the sprayer, shake to mix and spray the fins with the solution.

Step 3

Wait two to three minutes for the cleaning solution to begin to loosen the dirt and dust. Scrub any stubborn spots with an old toothbrush.

Step 4

Spray clean with water from a hand-held shower sprayer or a hose with a sprayer attachment, and dry with a clean towel.

Step 5

Use a hair dryer set on high to evaporate any water present in the joints to prevent rust. Re-attach the vent cover.


  • If your return vent cover is brass or lacquered, don't use a toothbrush to clean it. Instead, use a nonabrasive sponge or a towel.

About the Author

Based in Texas, Cynthia Measom has been writing various parenting, business and finance and education articles since 2011. Her articles have appeared on websites such as The Bump and Motley Fool. Measom received a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Texas at Austin.