LAST UPDATED: September 11, 2019
Best Refrigerant Leak Detectors: Find Leaks In Your System
Find refrigerant leaks more quickly with these automatic refrigerant leak detectors
The Review Team
How We Decided
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PUBLISHED ON September 11, 2019
The refrigerant is the backbone of your air conditioning unit. If it leaks, it reduces the performance of the system and eventually damages it. The leak often happens when your HVAC system has been working overtime, especially when cooling RVs or travel trailers. Since you can’t rely on your nose to sniff out the source of the leak, we have come up with some of the best AC leak detectors on the market in the buying guide below.
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Benefits of a Refrigerant Leak Detector
- Timesaving. There are conventional methods of detecting a leak in your HVAC system, which includes using a UV dye or soapy water. However, a UV dye can reduce the overall performance of the unit if it's not compatible with the refrigerant, and it’s time-consuming to get soapy water every time you notice a leak. On the other hand, it only takes a few seconds for an automatic refrigerant leak detector to detect the source of the problem.
- Prevent an HVAC system breakdown. When there's a refrigerant leak, you will notice that the HVAC system takes too long to cool after attaining high temperatures or the AC unit may not be efficient at cooling a room. Eventually, the system may break down and cost you lots of money in replacements.
- Promote health and safety. In a recreational vehicle, a leaking refrigerant may produce an uncomfortable and unhealthy living environment. If used in a greenhouse, the harmful gases may destroy the plants. A high-quality detector will help you detect harmful refrigerant chemicals such as HFC or CFC and stop them in due time. You may also be fined by the EPA if you have an unrepaired refrigerant leak.
Types of Refrigerant Leak Detectors
When used sparingly, UV dyes can be quite efficient in detecting leaks in a system. You need a UV dye and UV light to detect the source of the leak. You simply have to apply the dye on the suspected leak points and shine a UV light on them to illuminate the leaks. Be sure to find a dye that’s compatible with your compressor’s oil to avoid damaging the compressor and shortening the life of the air conditioner.
Soap and Water
This is a simple and efficient, but time-consuming, way of detecting a leak. You can either dip the suspected leak point in a bucket of soapy water or apply soap and water to the suspected trouble points. Either way, you will notice bubbles coming from the leak points. It’s a convenient way to test the leak if you are alone and don’t want to risk having a room filled with refrigerant.
Electronic Leak Detectors
Electronic leak detectors are simple, handheld devices that identify the exact location of a leak. You have to get close to the suspected leak point to get a reading from the gadget. There are Corona–Suppression detectors that use a high-voltage corona on the sensing tip to detect a leak and heated diode detectors that use heat molecules to detect leaks. Another type is ultrasonic detectors that use sound to detect a leak in the refrigerant. All these units will light up or sound an alarm if there’s a leak.
Inficon was founded in 2000 after the merger of vacuum technology companies under a Swiss company, The Oerlikon Group. The company manufactures innovative products featuring the latest technologies, and some of its products include vacuum components, vacuum gauge controllers, HVAC service tools, and leak detectors. If you are looking for an R22 refrigerant leak detector, try out the Inficon TEK-Mate Refrigerant Leak Detector.
Elitech is a London-based company with over 20 years of experience in manufacturing safety equipment for the refrigeration industry. It’s an innovative company that currently has 80 authorized patents with 30 software patents. Some of its products include pressure gauges, air quality detectors, electronic refrigerant scales, temperature controllers, and gas leak detectors. One of its high-quality refrigerant leak detector sensors is the Elitech ILD Advanced Refrigerant Leak Detector.
Refrigerant Leak Detector Pricing
- Under $50: This price range includes mostly heated diode sensors with a decent sensitivity rating. The units are typically sold with their batteries, which can last for at least five hours before they drain. Also, you may find a good fluorescent dye that’s compatible with your AC unit within this price range.
- $50 to $100: This price range houses some of the best AC sniffer tools with compact, durable, and user-friendly designs. The units can detect almost all halogenated refrigerants and have a high sensitivity rating and automatic calibration settings that adjust the sensitivity level to match the conditions of the environment. However, the gadgets found lower in this price range may not have long battery life.
- Over $100: At this price range, you are paying extra for extreme sensitivity, durable designs, and long battery life. The units here are fully rechargeable and have automatic zeroing where the unit adjusts its sensitivity level to find the smallest leak. However, you should ensure that you are not buying a complicated product with features that quickly drain the battery.
The sensitivity or accuracy of a detection instrument is its ability to locate the exact source of a halogenated refrigerant leak. Extreme sensitivity is used to detect small leaks, and detection tools with such a setting are capable of detecting all types of refrigerants you are working with. Typical sensitivity leak detectors are mostly used in household applications and can detect fewer halogenated refrigerants in comparison.
An automatic leak detector can detect a leak faster than any other method. However, different models have different response times. Some take three minutes to warm up and six minutes to find the leak. Some high-end models have impressive speeds and can locate the leak within seconds of being powered on.
Another thing to consider is the type of batteries that your electronic leak detector uses and how long the batteries last. Some units only last for a maximum of four hours while others can stay on for weeks. Some detectors drain the battery even when not in use. Ideally, a model with a rechargeable battery is the best gadget for long-term use.
- Sensor Life: Automatic refrigerant detectors come with detachable sensors that are used to detect the level of refrigerant in the air and to zero in on the cause of the leak. Select a model with a long sensor life to avoid spending a lot of money on annual sensor tip replacements.
- Warranty: Look for a gadget that includes a warranty and be aware of the length of the warranty. If it's a good deal, then choose that product; a good warranty is proof of quality. If it's not satisfactory, move on to another product.
Best Refrigerant Leak Detector Reviews & Recommendations 2020
The Inficon TEK-Mate is one of the most unique electrochemical sensors that can detect all types of refrigerants, including R22, R32, R507, CFCs, HFCs, and their blends. It features infrared sensor technology for accurate readings and operates on heated diode technology with a diode made of a ceramic substrate. Moreover, the gadget is fitted with a flexible probe for easy access to tight spaces. This gadget alerts you of any leaks with its visual and variable-intensity audible alarms.
It has an LED indicator that lights up when the unit detects a leak, and you can adjust the sensitivity of the gadget to find the exact leaking spot. It also has two sensitivity settings, low and high, and the LED light flashes faster when the gadget gets closer to the source of the leak. The unit runs on two rechargeable D alkaline batteries, and the sensor can run for 1,000 hours without draining the battery. This leak detector is ideal for small-scale and industrial use.
However, the unit’s sensor is highly sensitive and may pick up false readings from the environment. The alarm may go off unnecessarily, especially when used outdoors. Also, it’s made of a fragile carrying case that may easily break when dropped or when the unit ages. If it cracks at the battery compartment, the unit may stop working.
LotFancy is an affordable and compact refrigerant leak detector that operates on heated diode technology for fast leak detection. It allows you to adjust the sensitivity setting to match the task. It also has a flexible probe with a sensor at the tip. The sensor sucks the air into the housing and triggers an alarm once it senses a leak. The probe is made of stainless steel for durability and can reach all the nooks and crannies of your HVAC unit.
The unit runs on four AAA size batteries or a six-volt direct current and has a dial on the body that allows you to adjust the sensitivity rating. Once turned on, the unit beeps consistently at a rate of two beeps per second, and it increases the frequency to 10 beeps per second when it detects a leak. The unit has a maximum sensitivity of 0.2 ounces per year and is ideal for household applications or in a hospital setting to detect Ethylene Oxide gas leaks.
A major drawback of the product is that it has an average sensitivity level and may not be accurate at finding a small leak spot. It may also beep constantly when it gets close to the leaking point but may not zero in on the exact spot. In addition, the gadget isn’t very durable and may stop working after only two years. The unit doesn’t come with batteries.
Use this versatile detector to sense all refrigerants. It has many features that help you do the job. The eight-bar LED shows the strength of the leak. There’s an audible beep indicator, too, and you can set the detector’s sensitivity level (low, medium, high). The rechargeable battery holds a charge for as long as 15 hours so you can work almost two full working days without a recharge. You can replace the battery yourself if you need a new one. The unit also works off a wall receptacle or a vehicle charger.
The detector features either manual or auto zeroing. Auto zero works every two seconds until the leak activates the sensor. The hardshell carrying case is great to transport the detector and for storing it. The detector itself is ergonomic with attractive yellow and black colors.
In some cases, though, the detector did not detect R134A refrigerant. Some users claim the audible beep is not loud enough.
- It’s not easy to replace the refrigerant fluid or stop a leak by yourself. You may need to hire a trained HVAC technician to repair the leak and add more refrigerant. You could use tape to temporarily stop the leak before the technician comes in.
- Automatic leak detectors may sound an unnecessary alarm if you are outside and the wind starts blowing. It may also sound off constantly if a room is saturated with the refrigerant and may take a while to detect the source of the leak.
- Read the manufacturer's instructions on the maintenance service needed for the leak detector. Do not invest in a unit that requires a lot of time and money in maintenance. Also, you shouldn't rely on an automatic leak detector alone. Use conventional methods from time to time to verify or supplement the automatic detector.
- Apart from the smell of the refrigerant (a sweet chloroform scent in the air), you can identify a unit with a leaking refrigerant by placing your hand on the air conditioning unit when it's at a low-temperature setting. If the air feels warm, then you know that you have a leaking refrigerant.
Q: What happens if I ignore a refrigerant leak?
A: A refrigerant's main purpose in your HVAC system is to remove heat from the air. When there are insufficient levels of the refrigerant, your air conditioner runs longer to compensate, uses up more energy, and the components may get damaged in the process. Also, large leaks could be an environmental hazard, and it’s unhealthy to inhale large amounts of the refrigerant compound.
Q: What causes a refrigerant system leak?
A: The refrigerant comes pre-installed in the coils of your air conditioning system. The refrigerant could leak as a result of the normal wear of a system or a collision that results in damaged coils that leak the refrigerant. You should note that the air conditioner never uses the refrigerant, and it could circulate in the system for years if there's no leak.
Q: What type of refrigerants can be identified by an automatic leak detector?
A: It depends on the sensitivity of the electronic leak detectors. Some models can only detect a handful of refrigerants, while others can detect CFCs, HFCs, HFOs, and blends of the
compounds. Manufacturers always indicate on the packaging the type of refrigerants the unit can detect.
We choose the Inficon TEK-Mate Refrigerant Leak Detector as our top pick because it has a variety of user-friendly features, and its battery can withstand over 1,000 hours of use. It combines functionality with accuracy, and you don’t have to worry about buying a replacement sensor tip or batteries for a long time.
Our budget-friendly pick is the LotFancy Refrigerant Freon Leak Detector. It offers real-time sensitivity readings and can tune itself to the most optimum state to detect a leak.