We had a really hot spell a couple of weeks back and the air conditioning was working overtime at our house.
I happened to walk by the compressor and noticed that it was time for a quick clean.
Keeping your compressor clean is very important to the operation and efficiency of your air conditioning system. I really don't know the specifics of how it all works, but I know that a main part of the system is a massive flow of air within the compressor unit. I know enough to understand that keeping the flow of air is critical to the effective operation.
There are two areas where this is key: The top and the sides.
Sounds pretty simple.
The top is easier to keep clean. With every unit I've seen it's basically a big fan blade protected by a safety grate. You want to make sure that these aren't covered with leaves or anything bigger. Also, give it a check just to make sure nothing is cracked or appears loose.
The sides are the part where you'll want to do some work. The sides of our unit appear solid, but they're really not. Air is drawn in through the sides and the openings are tiny, making it much easier for them to get clogged. We have quite a few mature cottonwood trees in our neighborhood, so it doesn't take too long before the ‘snow' creates a film and enough of a buildup will make it so your air conditioning isn't working like it should. This can lead to higher energy bills as it has to work harder to keep up, a warmer house if it can't keep up, and a shorter life span on your A/C unit as all that extra work will take its toll.
I clean mine with the tried and true method of hosing it down. I turn off the A/C to the house, and aim the hose jet at it until the cottonwood and other little debris gets washed down on the ground. After I'm done, I turn the A/C back on and enjoy the cool.
Anything beyond that probably requires a professional, but keeping your A/C unit clear of debris is something you can (and should) easily do.