Can Portable Air Conditioners be Recharged?

During the summer or experiencing high temperatures, a portable air conditioner is a fantastic way to make the space liveable. However, it may not always work anytime you need to use it.

Recharging is a regular troubleshooting step people tend to cling to when a device or appliance doesn’t work. But can portable air conditioners be recharged?

While some portable air conditioners will have an option to be recharged, it is not advisable to do so. When people say they will restore their portable air conditioner, it usually means refilling their refrigerant.

There is a refrigerant leak when there is less refrigerant than there should be. In that case, the best way to fix it is to repair the leak instead of “recharging.”

This article will answer whether you can charge or regas your portable air conditioner and why it may not need recharging.

Can I Recharge My Portable Air Conditioner?

It would be best if you never recharged your portable air conditioner. When most people think of recharging their portable air conditioners, they assume it’s the refrigerant that needs refilling.

However, if you find your air conditioner needing recharging, the problem is not the recharging need but a refrigerant leak.

Hence, you can only repair a refrigerant leak and not refill it. Reloading the refrigerant will only be a temporary solution before running out of the refrigerant again.

Note that even if you must recharge a portable air conditioner, you should never do it alone. You are also not allowed to purchase a refrigerant as it is a controlled product – only certified technicians under section 608 can buy it. 

To know why you should never recharge your refrigerator, you need to know how it works. We are going to discuss that below.

How Does Refrigerant Work?

The refrigerant is circulated in the air conditioner compressor by coils. The refrigerant uses a change of chemical state to capture and dispose of heat.

It moves via the air conditioner’s coils, beginning as a gas absorbing indoor heat and converting into a highly pressurized cold liquid.

The liquid flows into the fan; then the fan blows air, which cools when it comes into contact with these coils. Through this process, you achieve a colder house or space.

What Makes a Refrigerant?

For many years, people have used freon as a refrigerant. It is composed of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs).  

However, these chemicals are hazardous to the atmosphere and pivotal to ozone layer degradation. Currently, manufacturers no longer produce these chemicals or are in the market.

It is not to say you cannot replace your poorly functioning refrigerant system. The current portable air conditioners use modern refrigerants, which are safer for the atmosphere but not safer for homeowners to handle.

However, as a homeowner, you should never need to refill your refrigerant. A portable AC unit has a volume that should never reduce. If it does, there is more to check on than the refrigerant.

Why Should You Never Refill Refrigerants?

Portable air conditioners have a design where they should never need refilling. It should remain constant in your air conditioner at all times. If you notice a reduction in refrigerant volume in your system, it indicates a leak.

If a technician recommends recharging a portable air conditioner, be sure you will need that service again, as recharging is not what you need. 

There are only two options to choose from if the volume of your refrigerant goes down. You can either repair the leak in the system and recharge the unit or purchase a new one.

Why is My Portable AC Not Cooling Enough?

1. Check for Inadequate Airflow

The main reason your portable air conditioner may not cool your room is the lack of airflow. The evaporator coils and the coils may become too cold, and ice builds up, interfering with airflow.

Hence, check the filter and evaporator coils for clogging and dirt when troubleshooting your portable air conditioner. If there is dirt and clogging in the system, clean it first.

Also, examine for any other obstruction. Besides, an excessively long exhaust hose hinders adequate airflow. Make it as short as possible.

Check if the doors and the windows are open as they can let in warm air, making you feel like your air conditioner is not working. You’ll also want to see if the air filter is dirty. In that case, wash it down by running it under warm water.

2. You Have an Improperly Sized Unit

A portable air conditioner should cool a small to medium-sized space such as a living room, bedroom, basement, or lounge.

If the area the AC is required to cool is not proportional to its size, you will not feel its cooling effect unless you increase the size of the AC unit.

3. Ambient Temperatures

When the surroundings around your house are very hot, the portable air conditioner will struggle with cooling the home faster and achieving low temperatures.

If this is why your AC cannot cool your room, consider ambient temperature adjustment. Your AC should not be more than 10 degrees cooler than the environment.

You can achieve ambient temperatures by making sure your space is well insulated. No matter how small, every gap in the room can affect the portable air conditioner by some margin.

How Do You Fix a Portable Air Conditioner That is Not Cooling?

Though you should not recharge your portable air conditioner, it does not mean it can’t develop a fault. If you notice your portable air conditioner is blowing and not cooling your space, below are possible reasons and how you can solve them.

1. Change AC Mode Setting

The setting of the AC mode will determine its effect on your space or house. Typically, portable air conditioners have three modes: cool, dry, and fan.

If you do not set the AC unit in cool mode, it could blow air and not cool your space. Hence put it in the cool setting and check if it starts blowing cold air.

2. Check the Thermostat Temperature

Your AC should be set to a low temperature to enable cooling. For example, let’s say your room’s temperature is 70 degrees, and your AC’s thermostat is 80 degrees. 

In that case, your AC won’t give your space that cooling effect you need. Set the temperature as low as possible for it to begin cooling your house.

3. Close All Doors and Windows

Your portable AC can’t cool your house if the doors and windows are open. If you do not shut the doors and windows, it provides a clear inlet for warm air outside the conditioned space.

When your AC is on, shut doors and windows to minimize air transfer between the conditioned and unconditioned space. Any gap in your house that can act as an inlet for outside air can affect your house’s cooling, so you should close it.

4. Vent the Exhaust Hose Outside

A leaky exhaust hose is a common cause of insufficient cooling from a portable AC. Your exhaust hose vents hot air outside your home so the portable AC can work.  

If the exhaust hose is leaking hot air or is not blowing outside, your house will not cool down because the heat removed by AC finds its way back into the room.

You can go out and confirm if the hot air is blowing out of it from inside. Things like leaves, debris, and bird nets can block the airways. Always check your venting hose to avoid AC function disruption.

5. Reduce the Level of Heat

Sometimes the heat load may prevent the AC from functioning well. If there is a high heat level in the surrounding area, the AC may not effectively cool the house as the workload is very high. If this is the case, get a bigger AC or reduce the space your portable AC needs to chill.

Your house may have ample sunlight, making cooling the home hard. However, you can solve this issue by covering all windows with heavy curtains to prevent sunlight from entering the house.,

Also, heat can come from inside. Electronics inside the house could be generating a higher amount of heat than your AC can absorb.

Hence, your AC will not give you the desired coolness unless you turn the electrons off or look for another alternative for your electronics. 

Sometimes, your portable air conditioner may fail to start no matter how many times you start it.

6. Confirm if There is Power Connected to the AC Unit

The only reason your AC cannot start could be that you have not plugged in power. If the power cable is well plugged and can not start, investigate if there is power in the outlet. Using a power outlet detector, you can test if there is voltage in the power outlet.

Besides, the problem can be in the circuit breakers. Check the circuit breakers and ensure they are on and not tripped:

  • Investigate the circuit breaker built into your AC’s plug.
  • Investigate the state of the circuit breaker in your electrical panel.

If one of the circuit breakers has a fault, it could insinuate an issue with the portable air conditioner unit. You can solve this problem by resetting the circuit breaker and turning back on your AC. While starting your portable AC, listen carefully to any noisy component that could cause circuit breaker tripping.

7. Check for Warning Lights

Typically, portable ACs have an indicator that lets you know when the condensate tank is full. The flashing may not be an indicator of a full tank but of a fault in some cases. Hence it is good to consult with manufacturers on the meaning of the warning light.

8. Ensure Condensate Tank is Not Full

The primary function of the condensate tank is to remove moisture from the air. Cool air cannot hold as much moisture as warm air; hence water comes out of it as it cools down. Condensates of water collect in a tank while the air cools in your portable AC.  

Some portable air conditioners have a hose that you use to drain the condensate directly out of the unit. If you have this kind of AC, you must ensure the hose is clear for proper draining.

A full condensate tank is only a problem when it is hot or muggy. On cold days, the condensate evaporates. Typically the air is cooled in your portable AC.

How to empty a full condensate tank:

  • Shut off and unplug the portable AC.
  • Put the portable AC on and empty the condensate tank.
  • Make sure the drain spout hangs over the edge of the surface, and place a plastic container under the faucet.
  • Ensure you have a large container to collect water from your AC tank.
  • Open the lid on the spout and let the water drain out. Dust the cap and restore the location of the AC.

9. Check for Adequate Air Flow From Your Portable Air Conditioner

Here are some reasons your portable air conditioner may be blowing cold air but not as much as usual.

Dirty Air Filter in the Portable Air Conditioner

Dirt clogs your portable air conditioner filter interfering with the airflow. To solve this issue, you can clean the filter regularly. But how do you clean the AC filter?

  • Power off the AC.
  • Carefully remove the air filter and ensure that any caked dust or debris doesn’t fall off.
  • Clean the filter. If it is just dusty, dust it off. You may also rinse it with clean water.
  • Replace the air filter and grille.
  • Once everything is dry, reinstall the air filter grille into the AC unit.

Fan Blowing Excessively

Inadequate airflow can be a result of a faulty fan or faulty motor. A fan has three-speed out-caked alternatives, and for the maximum output, you must set it to full-speed airflow.

If your fan is running at top speed and is not blowing as much air, turn off the portable AC and check if the fan blade is okay.  

A faulty fan can result from dust building up on the blade hence interfering with its functionality; before cleaning the fan, check for guidelines in the manual or consult with the manufacturer about how to go about it.

Dirty Coil

The evaporator coil can get dirty, interfering with the air conditioner cooling system. When removing the filter for cleaning, check to see if the evaporator coil is clean. If it is not, get rid of the dust by sucking it away.

Frozen Evaporator Coil

The evaporator coil can sometimes get very cold, and ice builds upon it. The building of ice can prevent airflow via the coil. However, the frizzing of the evaporator coil is not normal, and if it happens, check the following things:

  • If the air filter is dirty
  • If the evaporator coil is dirty
  • The refrigerant is leaking (unfortunately, there is nothing you can do if the refrigerant is leaking) 

How Often Do You Recharge a Portable AC?

Your portable air conditioner does not need recharging. So at no time are you required to reload it. If you notice your refrigerant going down, it indicates a refrigerant leak in the system that needs repairing.

Please consult with the manufacturers on handling a refrigerant leak as you are not supposed to take it on independently.

Portable air conditioners do not need regassing. Usually, air conditioner units are completely sealed; hence no gas leaves the unit.  

If it needs regassing, there is a clear indication of a leak. In that case, a professional should repair it. Repairing a gas leak needs to be done by trained technicians. The technicians would check the leak, fix it, and refill the gas to the required amount.  

Conclusion

As we wind up, no matter how much you need your portable air conditioner to work, you should never think of recharging it. The reduction in the volume of the refrigerant is associated with leaking, which needs fixing.

If your portable air conditioner can’t cool the house, check the power connection, clogging and dirt in the coil, and the temperature difference between the surroundings and the place. After solving these issues, consult with the manufacturers or consider replacing the whole unit if nothing works.

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Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections for 17 years. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. I started HomeInspectionInsider.com to help people better understand the home inspection process and answer questions about homeownership and home maintenance.
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