Getting Your Air Conditioner Cleaned

One thing that Japan has that I seldom experienced on America’s west coast is shiki (四季), four distinct weather seasons throughout the year. When I lived in Seattle, we only had two seasons: winter and August.

With so much annual temperature and humidity variation, most modern homes in Japan are decked out with エアコン air-conditioning units, mostly room-specific, wall-mounted machines that combine heating and cooling functions. One nice thing about these devices is that they are reasonably priced, at least compared to central air systems found in the US. But the downside of climate-controlling your home in Japan is the ongoing maintenance cost, thanks in large part to high summer humidity.

Here’s what you want to avoid: black mold (くろカビ). It’s not human-friendly, especially when inhaled. But air conditioners seem to love it, given how quickly the stuff grows inside. Therefore, you need to clean out your coolers and heaters regularly, which unfortunately isn’t cheap. If you call a cleaning professional, expect to pay between ¥9,000 and ¥11,000 for each smallish, basic unit, or at least double that for large, fully automated devices.

The most popular cleaning company in Japan is probably Duskin, at least based on their advertising budget. We decided to go with a local company that had good reviews. Our home has four smaller wall units, plus a behemoth in our LDK. We were only planning to clean out two of the bedroom systems this time, but the two technicians who showed up said the main cooler in the largest room was an emergency, given the mold growth. Here’s a lesson for you who are renting apartments in Japan: your leasing company might not tell the truth about how well they cleaned things before you moved in!

Over the course of one to hours, the techs worked diligently and silently. Here is what they accomplished.

  • They dismantled the unit, removing the housing and extra parts until it looked like the Death Star in Episode 6.
  • The parts were taken to our bathroom (お風呂ふろ) to be cleaned gently and lovingly by hand.
  • A plastic shroud was put around the wall unit, shaped into a makeshift funnel where all filthy, mold-bearing water would descend into a large bucket-of-yuck.
  • They sprayed copious amounts of water and a cleaning solution into the エアコン. They wiped away any residue like they were born to do it.
  • As hoped, they reassembled everything and confirmed that it all worked.

The techs took before and after pictures. I didn’t ask for copies, since sharing photos of my personal black mold with the general public isn’t a habit I’ve picked up yet. Maybe next time.

In addition to being great at cleaning, this vendor had plenty of advice to share.

  • Get your AC units cleaned annually, or at least every two years.
  • Be glad we don’t live Singapore, where you have to clean four times per year.
  • Don’t buy systems from Sharp, Panasonic, or Daikin. Do buy from Mitsubishi Denki. Fujitsu is adequate. It’s possible that this company has manufacturer relationships, so take this advice with a grain of salt.
  • When buying a new AC, don’t get the fancy bells and whistles if you can help it. Anything designed for 18-jyo (18畳) or larger rooms is going to have expensive but mostly useless features.
  • Self-cleaning is a marketing ploy. Only the dust filters get cleaned, and you still have to empty the dust-collectors. That is, you have to clean the self-cleaning systems. Mold is not automatically wiped away.
  • You can get a unit slightly smaller than your target room to save money. If you have a 15-jyo room, a 10-jyo machine is probably fine, though your mileage may vary. Oh wait, this is Japan. Your kilometerage may vary.

Here are a few useful terms from this article, with translations.

  • エアコン = air conditioning unit
  • 冷房れいぼう = cooler
  • 暖房だんぼう = heater
  • くろカビ = black mold
  • 四季しき = the four seasons
  • じょう = unit of measure based on standard-sized tatami mats
  • 修理しゅうり = service or repair
  • 掃除そうじ = cleaning

Downloadable Content Available

Click here to access the vocabulary list for this article.

[Image Credits: photoB/]

Tim Odagiri

Tim Odagiri is an author, software developer, and the host of Japan Everyday. He has published more than a dozen books and hundreds of articles covering technology, current events, and now life in Japan. Find his latest books at

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