Developed more than a century ago, air conditioning is a wonderful luxury in many homes and vehicles around the world. Part of what cools and conditions the air is a substance called refrigerant. Every once in a while, your air conditioner’s refrigerant level may get low and need to be refilled to help your home or car stay cool and comfortable. Since different air conditioners use different refrigerants, we’ve created a brief guide about the refrigerants used in homes and cars today.

Types of Refrigerant

There are four general types of refrigerants: chloroflurorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and natural refrigerants. Certain refrigerants have been known to deplete the ozone layer, and after the U.S. passed the Clean Air Act in the early 1990s, regulations limit who can buy and work with refrigerants that could be released into the air. 

In general, refrigerants that contain chlorine are the ones that deplete the ozone layer, so you’re less likely to find those refrigerants today. CFCs and HCFCs both include chlorine, and since HFCs don’t have chlorine, they are replacing CFCs and HCFCs in newer air conditioning units in accordance with the Clean Air Act. You may have heard of the brand Freon, which produces refrigerants such as the CFC R-12, the HCFC R-22, and the HFCs 410A and 134A. Natural refrigerants used today include carbon dioxide, propylene, and ammonia, among others.

Refrigerants in Your Home and Car Air Conditioners

The two most common refrigerants in home air conditioning units today are R-22 and R-410A. However, air conditioning units are no longer built using R-22, so if you have an air conditioner built in the last 10 years, it will have R-410A. As of January 1, 2020, it will be illegal to produce or import R-22. So if your air conditioning unit needs more R-22 refrigerant, you’ll be purchasing from a very limited, expensive remaining supply of R-22. Most air conditioners last between 12 and 15 years, so it may be time for an upgrade anyway.

There are three types of refrigerants used in cars: R-12, R-134A, and R-134yf. Cars are not built with R-12 anymore, so if you have a car built after 1994, it probably has R-134A. Some of the newer cars have been built with R-134yf, a more environmentally-friendly refrigerant, since R-134A will be banned in 2020.

Best Refrigerant to Use in Your Unit

If you hear someone ask about the best refrigerant, they’re likely asking about the best refrigerant for the environment. While all the refrigerants we’ve mentioned do a good job at keeping your home or car cool and comfortable, some are better for the environment than others. Since different refrigerants function under different pressure levels, keep in mind that you can’t simply add a more environmentally-friendly refrigerant into an air conditioner. Each system is designed to work with a certain refrigerant, so you’ll have to upgrade in order to change refrigerant types.

Consider upgrading your air conditioning system, and be more environmentally conscious. If you’re ready to upgrade your home’s air conditioner to one that uses R-410A, consult a professional HVAC service company. They can help you choose the right air conditioner for your home.