What Is Freon and How Does It Work?

By: Mitch Ryan  | 
Freon gas is just one type of refrigerant that could be used in your air conditioning unit. ungvar/Shutterstock

You might think that your air conditioner uses something called Freon. All air conditioners, including your car's air conditioning, use refrigerants to cool warm air. Freon is just one type of AC refrigerant.

But Freon isn't the only refrigerant, and not all air conditioners use AC Freon to create cold air. So let's start with some basics on Freon first.


What Is AC Freon?

Freon is a DuPont brand name for the proprietary R-22 coolant. And like other brand name products like Q-tips and Kleenex, there are other air conditioning refrigerant options, such as R-12 and R-410A, also often called Freon.

These colorless gases absorb heat and humidity before expelling them outside. Freon could last forever in your air conditioner without needing a Freon recharge. But most air conditioners will end up with a Freon leak at some point and will need a refill.


3 Steps to Get the Most Out of Your Home Air Conditioner

Air conditioners are convenient luxuries for most homes, but they can be necessary appliances for households living in high-heat regions where summer months bring triple-digit temperatures.

Follow these essential maintenance steps to extend the functional life of your AC unit and ensure your family enjoys a cool home for years.


1. Check your Freon levels regularly.

Low refrigerant levels stemming from minor Freon leaks are some of the most common causes of subpar performance from your air conditioner. Checking your levels every month will allow you to stay on top of your appliance maintenance schedule, as well as provide you with early warning signs of AC system failures. A simple Freon recharge may be the only thing you need to get your air conditioner back to tip-top shape.

2. Perform maintenance to improve your air conditioners.

Learning a few simple DIY maintenance tasks like trimming your landscaping to provide adequate venting space, checking your system for Freon leaks, cleaning vents and changing air filters will pay off dividends by extending the functionality of your outdoor air conditioners.

There are several DIY tutorials available online that can walk you through these tasks with step-by-step instructions. Although, if you feel uncomfortable with your knowledge or abilities, it is always better to call in a professional rather than damaging your costly equipment through trial and error.

3. Schedule annual air conditioning system inspections with an HVAC technician.

Avoid waiting until the weather's heating up to schedule an appointment with a professional. An HVAC technician is trained to spot and mitigate telltale signs of failing heating-and-cooling equipment.

Annual inspections can reduce home appliance costs by replacing small components, like a compressor or condenser, before you are forced to replace an entire AC unit. HVAC specialists can also provide a quick Freon charge and fix any refrigerant leaks to keep your system working at optimal performance during warm months when you need it most.


Drawbacks of Freon AC Systems

Manufacturers of Freon gasses, also known as hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCBCs), claim that there are few health risks associated with common usage within maintained air conditioning systems.

However, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), these claims typically fail to address chronic toxicity hazards of leaking refrigerant liquid and generally gloss over larger implications of using them on a global scale.


The EPA considers Freon refrigerant and hydrochlorofluorocarbons ozone-depleting substances, which means they contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer, and began phasing them out in 2010. A new air conditioner manufactured after 2005 most likely does not use R-22 Freon, and air conditioners made after Jan. 1, 2010, are prohibited by law from using R-22 refrigerant. They use the refrigerant R-410A.

As we mentioned, any refrigerant leak will reduce cooling performance, resulting in cost increases to already high energy bills and further ozone depletion. New air conditioning units are significantly more energy-efficient than former models.


Freon Refrigerant in Your Car's Air Conditioning System

car air conditioner Freon
Your car's air conditioning system might also use Freon to keep the system cooling properly. MVelishchuk/Shutterstock

So far we've focused mostly on how Freon works in your home air conditioning system. But it also plays a big role in your car's air conditioning too.

Try to imagine your car as a human body. R-410A Freon refrigerant acts as the circulatory system carrying blood and oxygen to and from the heart, or in this case, the compressor. The compressor takes in low-pressure vapor through a suction line. Compressors then apply pressure to produce a high-pressure vapor for the condenser to release.


The remaining low-pressure vapor falls through condenser coils, where it interacts with cool air from a fan. As the vapor cools, it condenses back into a liquid form, and the built-up pressure releases through the expansion valve before flowing to the evaporator coils.

Warm air from the car's interior is sucked across the evaporator coils before the AC unit fan pushes cool air back into the vehicle, allowing the process to repeat in a continuous cycle.