25 Jul. 19

What is Air Conditioner Refrigerant and How Does it Work?

Do you have an air conditioner in your home or office space? Most offices and homes regulate temperature by using air conditioners. Yet, most people do not know how an AC cools or what an air conditioner refrigerant is. In this article, we will discuss the features of a refrigerant and how it works.

In the refrigeration process, heat moves between a region of low-temperature to a region of high-temperature. The fluid meant to carry heat from the compound in a vapour compression refrigeration system is the refrigerant. This fluid can also cool-off or be released to the atmosphere.

During the process of heat transfer, the atmosphere is at high temperature and the substance is at low temperature. The refrigerant changes to vapour. This absorbs the heat and converts it into a liquid state after releasing it to the atmosphere.

For a chemical fluid to meet refrigerant requirements, it must possess a specific type of chemical and certain physical properties. This chemical is thermodynamic and is compulsory for a safer environment. In air conditioning and refrigeration applications, there are conditions in which a refrigerant has to work. There are different refrigerants for different purposes, but only a few are not harmful to society.

Related article: Is Air Conditioning Healthy?


What is refrigerant?

An air conditioner is a machine that treats the air in your home/ office spaces through a refrigeration cycle. The refrigeration cycle allows cooler air to replace the warm air. A refrigerant is a chemical compound present in either fluid or gaseous state. It absorbs the heat in the environment and can produce air conditioning by combining with other components.

An air conditioner refrigerant is a compound that undergoes phases between liquid and gas to cool the environment. It can contain different compounds and combines well with various components like evaporators and compressors. Notably, your air conditioner needs a refrigerant to work.

An air conditioner refrigerant can change swiftly between two states; which is ideal for the production of an air conditioner. It requires a lesser amount of energy to change from one form to another swiftly. An air conditioner refrigerant will always remain at a constant level throughout the air conditioner lifespan. This is except a leak occurs. If the refrigerant level drops, it means there is a possible leakage, and you need a repair. Low refrigerant levels can easily damage the compressor and also reduce the cooling strength of the air conditioner.


Types of Air Conditioner Refrigerant

There are various types of air conditioner refrigerant. But the most common refrigerants are;

Natural Refrigerant

These sorts of refrigerants mostly occur naturally. This means that they are not artificial or human-made refrigerants. These types of refrigerants can be useful as cooling agents for air conditioners and refrigerators. Below are examples of naturally occurring refrigerants including ammonia, carbon dioxide (CO₂), and hydrocarbons.


As a refrigerant, water is low cost, environmentally friendly, and non-toxic. It is commonly referred to as a refrigerant during evaporation. It also serves as a material storage or heat transfer medium. In an extensive system, it may also fulfill all of the functions.

The overall cooling power of water as a refrigerant is limited because neither air nor coolant can be recycled. It can become stagnant and bring about humidity. The atmosphere becomes uncomfortable if the cooling unit does not get a fresh supply of air. It is not recommended for use with your air conditioner.

Hydrofluorocarbons (which consists of R134 and R410A).

Without a chlorine mixture, HFCs are safer for the environment in comparison with other refrigerants. It is the most acceptable air conditioner refrigerant because it does not contain any chlorine. An air conditioner that uses HFCs (R410A) improves air quality, reliability, increases comfort, and efficiency.

Chlorofluorocarbons (also known as CFCs)

These refrigerants are inexpensive, easy to store, less reactive, have low fire risk, and possess low toxicity. However, CFCs are ozone-depleting greenhouse gases with fluorine present and therefore dangerous to the environment.

Hydrochlorofluorocarbon, which consists of R22 (HFC)

This is a refrigerant with chlorine. Even though it is useful in cooling the atmosphere, it contributes slightly to the greenhouse gas effect.

Refrigerants Blends

These types of air conditioner refrigerants are also known as “Zeotropic” and “Azeotropic.” They are environmentally friendly and risk-free. The only issue is that the overall air conditioning systems’ cost of production is higher. Nonetheless, many manufacturers seem to prefer this option nowadays. It is possible that over time, the price will reduce.

Related article: How Much Does Air Conditioner Installation Cost?


Why Does My AC Needs a Refrigerant?

Every air conditioner uses refrigerant to cool indoor air. This is mainly because a refrigerant can undergo a phase transition between liquid to gas and back. Air conditioners make use of these changes. This happens when certain chemical compounds condense and evaporate continuously in confinement. The refrigerant then releases fresh cold air and takes in heat in the process.

A refrigerant is active in your air conditioner’s copper coils. It absorbs the heat from the air in your homes. It then changes from a low-pressure gas state to a high-pressure liquid. The air conditioning components then send out the refrigerant to where the fan is blowing hot air outdoors. It releases this hot air outside and starts the cycle again.

It is essential to know that your AC needs a working refrigerant. Every AC requires a refrigerant for perfect air conditioning. It is vital for running the cooling and heating process. Without a proper refrigerant, your air cannot change to the various temperatures of your choice.


How Does My Refrigerant Work?

The main part of a central air conditioner is its compressor. It is a device that is responsible for disseminating the refrigerant through the entire system. Since the compressor is the central part of an air conditioner, the refrigerant is the life of the AC. An air conditioner refrigerant is the most critical part of an air conditioning system. It essential for the system to do its job correctly.

The refrigerant kick starts inside the compressor, where the volume deduction changes it into high-pressure gas of about 140˚F. It then moves to the condenser coil. The warm air then moves over the refrigerant to cause condensation and release heat to the refrigerant.

The gaseous refrigerant heads towards the coils at a temperature of about 105˚F. Hence, the gas moves through an expansion gear. It then drops its pressure and temperature. Consequently, it changes its state to liquid of about 25˚F. The chemical refrigerant stored in the compressor puts pressure on the refrigerant. This pressure heats the refrigerant in its gaseous state and then pumps it into the condenser coils.

The warm air that is indoors will be drawn into the system and spread across the evaporator. The coils cool the warm air, and the refrigerant starts to warm up again as it consumes heat from the air indoors. The cool air then makes its way through the valve and back to the building. Once the evaporator warms the refrigerant, it changes back to the gaseous state. It then returns via the compressor to restart the process.

At no point in this procedure is the refrigerant lost; it remains constant all through. A refrigerant can only lose its volume via leakage, which would require a significant repair. Lower refrigerant volumes will not only put the cooling power at risk but will also change the pressure of the system.

From the above, it is easy to realize that two different processes are going on in an air conditioner continuously. First, the refrigerant is cooling the air. Secondly, the resulting gas is undergoing continuous compression and cooling for conversion back to liquid.

Related article: Why Your Air Conditioner Is Making A Clicking Noise?


Components of an AC

Generally, every air conditioning system has different designs for different purposes. For example, the air conditioning system in a residential building may be different from the one in a hotel. Regardless of this, one thing is sure. They all share the same principles and use the same components. These include:


A uniquely selected liquid with a chemical ability to transit to a gaseous state at a relatively low temperature.


A part of an air conditioner which converts the refrigerant to a gaseous state from the liquid state.


This is the part of the air conditioner that produces air and moves air through the whole air conditioning system.


This is the passage through which cool air spreads throughout the entire building.

Condenser coil

This is the component that converts the refrigerant state from gas to liquid. It expels the heat and cools the refrigerant from the next refrigeration cycle.

Evaporator Coil

This is the part of an air conditioning system that converts the refrigerant state from a liquid to a gaseous state.


Rules and Regulation guiding the Use of Air Conditioner Refrigerant

Although HFC is the best for the environment and certainly the most acceptable, it is not 100% safe. While there are other air conditioner refrigerants that are theoretically safe, most are yet to receive certification from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The agency establishes a few rules binding the disposal and handling of air conditioner refrigerant. The rules are as follows:

  • Repair all air conditioner refrigerant leakages within 30 days
  • Intentionally releasing the refrigerant to the atmosphere is prohibited.
  • Only air conditioning technicians and companies with a license to ventilate and heat refrigerants can purchase it.
  • Recycling, disposing, and recapturing of air conditioner refrigerant must be done safely by HVAC technicians
  • Every technician must use the application of a low-loss fitting. This reduces the amount of escaped refrigerant during the process of connecting and disconnecting the air conditioner.

Related article: Why do I need to recharge my AC?


Why Is My Air Conditioner low on Refrigerant?

Your air conditioning system is constantly in confinement. This means that the refrigerant level should never reduce. Since your HVAC agent installs the air conditioner with its initial charge, it should last long within the system.

If you realize the refrigerant levels are falling, there are two possible reasons. First, the air conditioner can experience charge losses through regular air conditioning system maintenance. Secondly, one of the tubes and coils may have been damaged leading to a leak. If you detect a leakage, contact the HVAC technicians immediately to avoid contamination with your air supply.

The following points can cause your refrigerant to leak out of the system:

  •   The evaporator coils,
  •   The valve – refrigerant refill point,
  •   The compressor, and
  •   The coils and tubes.

Any of these may experience leakages and holes due to ageing or excessive maintenance. Mend these leakages properly to avoid further health and property damages.


Why Does My Air Conditioner Break Down?

While the mechanism behind the design of the air conditioner is simple, the components comprise of parts that need maintenance.  A blockage in the air filters or dirty coils contributes heavily to the malfunctioning of the air conditioner. It can also cause low cooling power and excessive noise.

An air conditioner, just like any other machine, needs proper lubrication to work correctly. So, inadequate lubrication of an air conditioning system can cause excessive noise. An air conditioning system can break down due to the contamination of the lubricating oil. Also, too much dirt in the system can make it difficult for the air conditioner to work; which can lead to a loss of efficiency.

Related article: How often should I service my air conditioner?


Getting the Best Out of Your Air Conditioner Refrigerant

To get the best out of your air conditioner refrigerants, maintenance is important. Maintaining your air conditioner refrigerant should be of priority to you as failure to do so can risky. Although, you should know that the careless handling of maintenance tools can cause damage to your air conditioner refrigerant.  This is why your maintenance efforts are best handled by an expert.

In a typical air conditioner, the condensing part is always somewhere outside the house near the compressor.  When cooling your house, this part emits heat to the surrounding by rotating the fan over condensing coils. Make sure there is no obstruction to the airflow between the condenser and the fan.

With proper usage and maintenance, your air conditioner can work effectively for a long period of time. The same is applicable for an air conditioner refrigerant. As far as there is no mishandling or leakage, your air conditioner refrigerant will not reduce in volume.


To sum it up

Finally, an air conditioner refrigerant is the heart of every air conditioning system. It is the reason why your air conditioner produces cold air in the summer and warm air in the winter. Air conditioner refrigerant is virtually the “muscle” behind the possibility of an efficient air conditioning system. Designed within the coils of your air conditioner, a refrigerant is capable of dehumidifying and cooling indoor air.

It is essential to always notice every little change in your air conditioning system’s work rate or sound. It helps to avoid significant damage to your air conditioner. Also, you should run a maintenance check on your air conditioner refrigerant every two (2) months. Our experts can help you make sure that your refrigerant is at the required level. Contact us today!