Do I Need to Recharge my Air Conditioner?

There is a very common misconception out there when it comes it air conditioners. I don’t care if it is an air conditioner at your home, your car, or even your office. A lot of people think that air conditioners need to be routinely recharged with refrigerant. I believe they see it almost like oil on a vehicle or tractor. Sure, on my tractor I have to check the oil a few times a month to make sure I’m not running low. Refrigerant in an air conditioning system is different.

Before your purchase any refrigerant either for yourself or from a contractor you need to realize that the refrigerant in your air conditioning unit is in a closed system. What that means is that the refrigerant is an endless cycle from gas to liquid from liquid to gas. This cycle repeats forever as shown in the below picture. It is a cycle. That means that there should be no leaks or draining of refrigerant.

Refrigerant Cycle in a Closed System
Refrigerant Cycle in a Closed System

If you find that your unit is low on refrigerant or is completely out do NOT just refill your machine with a new refrigerant. I repeat do NOT do this. Your system does not need a top off. It does not need just a little bit more refrigerant to get by. No. If you are running out of refrigerant that means that somewhere in the refrigerant cycle there is a leak. Your unit is leaking refrigerant and will continue to leak refrigerant until a repair is made. If you dump more refrigerant into it without fixing the leak you are literally throwing money down the drain. Potentially a lot of money too if yours is an R-22 unit.

I like to think of it as a above ground pool. If you get a puncture in the pool lining water will leak out. Sure you can always add more water but it’s not fixing the problem. Adding more refrigerant doesn’t fix the problem either. It’s just prolonging the inevitable and wasting money.


Ok, folks so now that we got that part out of the way let’s take a moment and look at the two main applications where you will run into an air conditioner needing to be recharged. The first, and most common, is an automotive application. Right now, as I write this article, it is May and the temperatures here in Kansas City have been hovering around ninety degrees. If you car air conditioner is on the fritz then you’re not going to be having a good time. There are two solutions here to fix your car’s system. You can take it into the shop or dealership and have a repair done, but this may end up being very costly. The other option is to purchase an automotive air conditioner recharge kit.

Now, I know that I mentioned above that just putting in more refrigerant isn’t the best solution but when you are dealing with a car and a hot season a lot of people opt for these recharge kits. The reason that is is because they are cheap, especially when compared to a mechanic’s bill. The hope here is that the leak in your ac system is small enough that a simple recharge will get your vehicle through the hottest months without having to do a costly repair. However, if the leak is large and you are losing refrigerant like crazy then these recharge kits won’t do you much good. I will say that they are a great ‘test’ to see how bad your system is and if you should go to the shop or not. If you are not sure which recharge kit to buy I would highly recommend you visit our ‘Best AC Recharge Kits‘ article from earlier this year.

The other side of the coin is dealing with a home air conditioner that is low on refrigerant. This is where things get quite a bit more tricky and where I would recommend consulting with a professional HVAC technician. Home air conditioning systems are much more involved and much more expensive if you were to make a mistake on recharging the unit yourself. (Not to mention the refrigerant is restricted for resale to laymen.) The good news here is if you pay for professional service from an HVAC professional that they will identify and find the leak of refrigerant, patch it, and then recharge your system. That means that the problem is solved and you won’t have to call them back in a few months to recharge it again.