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Refrigerant Leaks In Air Conditioning Units And Systems: 3 Common Detection Methods

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Depending on the age of your air conditioner, it either uses R-22, Freon coolant or R410-A, which is a more environmentally friendly option, as a refrigerant. All of these refrigerants contain chemicals harmful to the environment, and to your health if it is inhaled. In addition, a 10% loss in refrigerant volume can result in an increase in electricity cost of about 20%. If you suspect there is a refrigerant leak, contact a repair technician in your area immediately. There are 3 common detection methods that can confirm whether there is a leak and also identify the location of the leak so you can do an air conditioning repair.

Keeping It Old School — Using Bubble Solution

The old school method of determining whether there is a leak and the location of the leak is to use a bubble solution. This cost-efficient method can be performed by experienced homeowners as well. It basically involves applying a soap solution at suspected leak points. If there is a leak, the refrigerant will produce bubbles that will ooze out from the leak site. It is a very visible method. Although simple and cost efficient, the bubble solution is not very effective in identifying small leaks, and may also not be the best solution for windy conditions. 

Sniffing Out the Leaks with an Electronic Detector

Changes in the conductivity of gas or detecting electrodes after breaking apart molecules in the refrigerant can also be an effective detection method. There are two different types of electronic detectors: Corona-suppression detectors and heated-diode detectors. Both are considered as one of the most accurate detection methods available at the moment although they do require some technology, and tend to be a bit more time-consuming and expensive.

Corona-suppression detectors measure changes in the conductivity of gases that pass through two electrodes. Air conditioning repair technicians will be looking for a drop in current between two points, as it indicates that insulating gas is present. You can expect a greater current drop to be correlated to a higher concentration of gas.

The heated-diode detectors function quite differently. These detectors will heat up the refrigerant and break the molecules apart. This will cause different charges to be allocated throughout the refrigerant with chlorine or fluorine ions within the solution becoming positively charged. Heated-diode detectors will look for areas with a high concentration of positive ions. If you're interested in electronic detectors, most experts would recommend heated-diode detectors because they are less likely to trigger false alarms than Corona-suppression detectors.

Using Fluorescent Dyes for Fluorescent Leak Detection

Last but not least, you can use fluorescent dyes to determine whether there are any leaks. Fluorescent dyes will be added into the air conditioning system by being mixed in with the refrigerant through the lubricant. If the refrigerant is leaking, then so will the dye. Once the fluorescent dyes are added into the system, the repair technicians will allow your air conditioning units and systems to run for a bit before using an ultraviolet or blue light lamp to scan for the presence of a bright dye.

Fluorescent leak detection methods are the most popular nowadays because it easily shows where the leaks are. If you're interested in this detection method, you want to make sure the repair technician chooses a fluorescent dye compatible with the air conditioning system's lubricant. In addition, you want to use an ultraviolet or blue light lamp with a high-intensity output, so the fluorescent dyes will grow brighter and can be detected more easily. 

Most experts recommend fluorescent leak detection because it also couples as preventive maintenance. The fluorescent dye will stay in the system unless the lubricant is changed. In short, if you check the system regularly, you will be able to easily and quickly determine whether there are any leaks and the location of the leaks.


Most of the time, a refrigerant leak is detected once homeowners experience a loss of cooling, spoilage or product difficulty; however, homeowners, who are diligent in regular inspection and maintenance services, should check for leaks with each servicing. Detecting leaks early on can help you save a lot of money on costly repairs and on energy loss.