Air Conditioner Spitting Out Ice – What To Do?

Air conditioners are supposed to give cool and clean air to your living space. On the same note, you would think that ice spitting out from the air conditioner is good. Surprisingly, it is never a good indicator. We have asked the experts how to troubleshoot if it happens, and here is what they say.

Do not allow your air conditioner unit to get frozen, or spit out ice. But in case you find your AC spitting out ice, act on it by following these simple steps:

  1. Unplug the air conditioning unit immediately.
  2. Let the ice thaw out completely, which may take approximately 4-5 hours.
  3. Detach and clean the air filter.
  4. Air dry the filter and put it back in the AC unit.

However, the above steps would only offer an immediate solution. We need to dig deeper, that is, go into the root cause of the problem in order to prevent the issue to recur in the future. Stay on this page as we dive into the details on how the air conditioning works and how to maintain your air conditioner in top shape to function efficiently at all times.

Ice on a coil cooler of dirty air conditioner, Air Conditioner Spitting Out Ice - What To Do?

Why Does Ice Form Inside the Air Conditioner?

The mechanism of ice forming inside the air conditioner is basically the same for all types of models such as the centralized, ductless mini-split, and window mounted. 

There will be a build-up of ice in the AC unit’s evaporator if the air flowing through it is obstructed by a clogged air filter. The thick dust that has accumulated at the filter will envelop the cold air over the coils of the evaporator.

When there are blockages in the airflow, it causes the air conditioner to work doubly hard, causing a glacier within the system. Also, when the air is humid, ice will begin to form inside the unit. When these ice particles begin to defrost, these small and light droplets will just be ejected out while using the air conditioner.

Another reason is that the evaporator coils' chamber is already very cold. When the refrigerant is insufficient and tends to block the air passages, the surrounding moisture within the chamber will freeze the coils, causing the temperature to further drop to form layers of frost and ice.

Ice on the air filter of the air conditioner

What Are The Indicators of Ice Buildup in the Air Conditioner?

It is quite a common sight if you notice some light dusting of frost at the evaporator coils while your air conditioner is running. You would only be alarmed if those thin specks of frost will gather to form layers of frost and ice. These layers will eventually defrost and get ejected the moment you run the air conditioner. 

Here are the indicators that ice is beginning to gather inside your air conditioner:

  • The air conditioner does not reach the temperature you have set on the thermostat. The evaporator coils are choked in ice from humid air. Since air cannot pass through the ice, cool air may be insufficient to the desired level.
  • You won’t feel any air coming out when you power on your AC unit. It could be that heat from the room is absorbed and expelled outside the house.
  • You feel warm air coming out, and you even get uncomfortable with your AC unit as shown in the photo below.

Sick couple having cold from air conditioner

  • And lastly, the air conditioner starts up then stops, and restarts its compressor. You would hear a cracking or popping sound like the clicking of a clock. This is referred to as “short cycling” and a serious indicator that could eventually damage your AC unit due to unnecessary wear and tear.

What To Do When Air Conditioner Is Spitting Out Ice

Hand holding the air filter with alot of dust

The moment you notice ice splattering out while using your air conditioner, do not waste time. Act on it!  The task is straightforward and easy, all you need is a soft brush and a towel. We've listed the steps to do below:

  1. Power off and unplug your AC unit immediately, including the breaker.
  2. Let the ice at the evaporator coils thaw out completely, which would approximately take 4-5 hours. You can also opt to run the blower, use a hairdryer, or a heat gun to hasten the melting. Then towel off to soak up the water.
  3. Detach and clean the air filter, making sure to get rid of the dust accumulated at the filter holes. Use a soft-bristled brush or compressed air for cleaning. In a few instances, the filter may call for a replacement.
  4. Air-dry the filter and put it back in the AC unit.

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How To Prevent Air Conditioner Icing Problem

The preceding section lists down the steps to do when ice begins to drizzle out from your AC unit. Bear in mind that those steps can be DIY and represent an immediate solution to your air conditioner freezing problem. However, the problem would not stop at this point. You need to take further steps to prevent the problem to recur in the future.

Ice spitting out seems to point out poor maintenance of your air conditioner as the root cause of the problem. Below are some tips to prevent the issue to recur and to make your air conditioner function efficiently:

Clean or replace the air filter

Cleaning dirty air filter inside air conditioners

HVAC specialists suggest that maintenance or cleaning of the air conditioner filter be done every 4 to 6 weeks, especially if you are using the unit daily. In this way, you prevent dust and other pollutants from gathering at the filter holes that trigger the problem.

Alternatively, you may also choose to get a replacement for the dirty or worn-out air filter. There are many brands of air conditioner filters available in the market. Generally, it will help keep your AC unit in prime condition.

It is always a best practice to not allow ice to develop in your air conditioner, or else, it may damage the interior parts which may even lead to more costly repairs. When you need to replace the air filter, you might need this pleated home air filter with nanofiber below:

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Clean the evaporator and condenser coils

In some instances, even with a clean or new filter, you can still see ice formed inside the AC unit. Due to this, you need to check the evaporator coils. The coils can also collect dust, hairs, grime, lint, debris, and many others. Like the air filter, these can also obstruct the airflow, causing the unit to overwork and freeze.

Schedule the cleaning of the evaporator coils on a yearly basis, at the least. Since the evaporator coils are one of the critical elements of any air conditioning unit, you may need to avail the services of an air conditioner technician to do this preventive maintenance job.

Monitor coolant levels

Another probable cause of freezing air conditioner is low refrigerant. Get help from HVAC specialists to detect leaks, and perform leak repair if needed. This maintenance and repair job may cost between $225 to $1,600 depending on the severity and location of the leak.

Check the return air intake register that it is not blocked by furniture, draperies, or rugs

Be sure to arrange your furniture, drapes, and rugs that they will not pose as obstructions to the airflow of your air conditioner.

Don’ts When Checking or Cleaning Your Air Conditioner

We have here a few reminders, and warnings, that you should not do while doing some repair or cleaning on your air conditioner. In this way, you avert further damage to the internal components and also protect yourself.

  • As with any electric appliance or mechanical device, never open, check, or clean the innards with the power plug on. Make sure to completely shut down the unit first, including the breaker, before working on the appliance  Make this a habit to protect yourself from burns and electrocution.
  • When there is leftover ice that may gunk the evaporator coils, never attempt to scrape off the ice by yourself. Scraping may puncture the coils and cause the freon refrigerant to leak, thus paving the way to more serious and long-term damage to your air conditioner.
  • When cleaning evaporator coils, do not use hard bristles or abrasive materials as these may also cause damage. Instead, use a soft brush and mechanical cleaning solution. You can also opt to use the air compressor to speed up the cleaning.

The Takeaway

Frost and ice can build up inside the air conditioning unit when there are obstructions in the airflow due to dust that accumulates at the air filter and evaporator coils. The ice begins to defrost and gets ejected out when the air conditioner is running.

It is a good practice to never allow ice to build up in your air conditioning unit. During instances that you would notice ice spitting out of your AC, act on it immediately. Shut down the unit and let the ice thaw out completely. Detach and clean or replace the air filter. Put back the clean filter to the AC unit.

Ice spitting out of your air conditioner clearly points to a maintenance problem. Clean or replace the air filter every 4 to 6 weeks, clean the evaporator coils yearly, and monitor the coolant level. You need to contact an AC technician for the preventive maintenance job. 

Solving the root of the problem is the ultimate solution. Have your air-conditioning system undergo preventive maintenance to make it function in its prime condition at all times.

To read more on air conditioning systems and maintenance, check out these posts:

Should You Remove Window Air Conditioners In the Winter?

Should You Remove the Drain Plug From A Window Air Conditioner?


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