The first sign of a refrigerant leak in an AC system will be identified not by your new high-tech refrigerant leak detector, but by begrudgingly finding your LP switch tripped on your AC system.
Once you've wiped the look of utter disbelief off your face, you're going to have to locate and repair this problematic refrigerant leak.
Hence the reason we've put together our 2021 review of the top 5 best refrigerant leak detectors.
- SRL8's robust battery allows you to conduct leak testing for up to 15-hours without any interruptions.
- Extremely reliable and accurate heated diode sensor locates leaks fast without triggering annoying false alarms.
- Triggers on all CFCs, HFCs, HCFCs, and blends, and is an excellent detector for common refrigerants like 410, 134a, and R22.
- Perfect for pros and DIYers as the SRL8 picks up leaks on everything from split systems, to PAC units, and commercial chillers.
Best Refrigerant Leak Detector Reviews
1. Fieldpiece SRL8 Heated Diode Refrigerant Leak Detector
The Fieldpiece SRL8 is what we believe to be the best refrigerant leak detector to date. It is one of the most highly reviewed and sought after products on the market today. It is created with professionals in mind and is high tech, so the do-it-yourself homeowner might have difficulty using this tool.
Its precision, quality, and accuracy have earned it the top spot on our list of the best refrigerant leak detectors.
This refrigerant leak detector finds all of the most common refrigerants in the United States, including CFCs, HFCs, HFOs, and HCFCs. The SRL8 has three sensitivity settings; high, medium, and low.
The Fieldpiece SRL8 is also able to detect leaks at 0.10 ounces per year, which is minuscule. The detector makes an audible sound when it has recognized a leak. It then gets louder and begins beeping and flashing as you close in on the exact point of the leak.
There is no calibration required with the Fieldpiece SRL8, you can literally just unbox this beauty and get to detecting any refrigerant from R410, 134a, 502 or even R22.
What’s to Like About The Fieldpiece SRL8 Heated Diode Refrigerant Leak Detector
The Fieldpiece company has been in the HVAC business for over twenty-five years, earning them a top spot in the industry.
This specific model is an easy-to-use heated diode detector, which we love. A heated diode works by taking in a sample of air and heating it. The molecules break apart, and the sensor will detect what ions are in the air. This process is very accurate.
One of the best selling points of this refrigerant freon detector is its portability. It comes with a rechargeable battery which lasts up to 15 hours, and it comes with both a wall and a car charger! This makes it easy to charge it between jobs and on the go.
A Fieldpiece Heated Diode purchase includes a carrying case, and the tool comes with a handy magnet on the back of the sensor so you can place it directly on the air conditioning unit during use! Additionally, it comes with a filter on the instrument that blocks all water and humidity from entering the sensor, which keeps it protected and lengthens the sensor life.
Overall, this is an excellent refrigerant leakage detector with high sensitivity.
What’s Not to Like About The Fieldpiece SRL8 Heated Diode Refrigerant Leak Detector
There are very few impactful cons with purchasing the Fieldpiece Heated Diode, but there are a few things to be aware of.
Over time, the product sensors will burn out, but they can be easily replaced without purchasing a new detector.
The wind is known to cause false leak alerts on this tool and heated diode sensors in general. Although they have done a pretty good job of limiting these false wind alarms, they sometimes occur.
The Fieldpiece Heated Diode does not detect hydrocarbon refrigerants such as propane, ammonia, or carbon dioxide, but HVAC systems in the United States rarely use these. It also has a warm-up time of about 30 seconds when you first turn it on.
You do need to install the sensor into the detector before it is ready to use. Many people don’t realize this and wonder why their detector isn’t working when they first receive it. It is not a hard installation by any means, but it is worth noting.
Lastly, the unit is quite expensive and likely won't be worth the money if you aren’t planning on using it regularly. It does include a one year warranty, though.
2. Inficon D-TEK 712-202-G1 Refrigerant Leak Detector
The Inficon D-Tek is a high quality, well made, extremely accurate refrigerant leak detector, earning it the second spot on our list of the best refrigerant leak detectors.
Inficon is a brand within the HVAC industry that was renowed for delivering excellent leak detecting equipment. Their leak detectors like the D-Tek 712-202-G1 have been favoured by industry insiders, because they are both accurate and reliable.
The Inficon D-Tek is excellent for leak detection for refrigerant in an HVAC system and automotive use. Inficon produced one of the first leak detectors I ever owned (Inficon Tek-mate), and that thing performed flawlessly, before I dropped it off a 4 story building.
So how is the Inficon D-Tek an upgrade on the previous model? Well, unlike the Fieldpiece SRL8, the Inficon D-Tek is equipped with an infrared sensor for increased sensitivity and accuracy.
When a leak is detected, the tool beeps steadily when turned on and increases in speed and volume. It has a 16-hour run life and catches all of the most common halogenated refrigerants, including CFCs, HFCs, HCFCs, and HFOs.
What’s to Like About the Inficon D-TEK 712-202-G1 Refrigerant Leak Detector?
The main selling point of this great leak detector for refrigerants is its extreme accuracy. Leaks as small as 0.10 ounces per year can get picked up by the sensor. It is an excellent value for its price, and it is highly sensitive, making it highly sought after by HVAC technicians.
This unit features an auto-compensation technology, which means that if anything changes in the surrounding environment or interferes with the reading, the detector will monitor and continuously compensate for these changes. It makes it much easier to use the leak detector.
Lastly, this detector is manufactured in the United States. The company is Swiss-owned, but manufacturing occurs on our home turf, which is always an excellent point to consider. It also includes a two-year warranty, and a hard carry case.
What’s Not to Like About the Inficon D-TEK 712-202-G1 Refrigerant Leak Detector?
Compared to the Fieldpiece reviewed above, this detector lacks the convenience of a rechargeable lithium battery but runs instead on 2 D cell batteries. They last up to 16 hours, but you might find yourself replacing them often if you use this detector regularly.
Reviewers also note that this refrigerant freon detector is prone to giving false alarms when searching for an HVAC leak, which could be because it is highly sensitive. Additionally, like many sensors on this list, it does not detect hydrocarbon refrigerants like ammonia and carbon dioxide.
You will have to replace sensors and filters over time, but you can purchase them online without replacing your entire unit. Some users had reported receiving a broken unit when it was shipped to them, but the warranty covers this completely.
3. Robinair 16455 TruTrack Ultrasonic Leak Detector
This highly versatile leak detector earns the third spot on our list of the best HVAC refrigerant leak detectors. The Robinair 16455 is ideal for those seeking a micro leak detector as it uses ultrasonic sound waves to locate leaks.
The Robinair 16455 is also excellent if you are looking to find more than just a refrigerant leak. It is suitable for any air leaks, seals, bearings, and more!
The Robinair 16455 TruTrack Ultrasonic Leak Detector uses sound to help you find gas leaks of almost any size. This leak detector doesn't use a traditional diode or infrared sensor to locate leaks, it does so by detecting ultrasonic sound waves from both negative and positive pressure to effectively pinpoint both vacuum and pressure leaks.
It has sensitivity levels on a decibel level that you can adjust, and it uses sound cues and visual cues to help you find leaks. The Robinair 16455 also runs on a standard 9V battery disposable or rechargeable battery and delivers around 20+ hours of runtime.
What’s to Like About the Robinair 16455 TruTrack Ultrasonic Leak Detector
The main advantage of the Robinair 16455 TruTrack Ultrasonic Leak Detector is its variability. It can detect all refrigerant types because it uses audio rather than gas identification methods to help you pinpoint the leak. Along with refrigerants, it allows you to hear vibrations of anything that might have failed in your system, including valves, seals, bearings, and more.
This device makes everything easy to find and fix. It has a sensitivity meter so that you can begin your search from a few feet away on high sensitivity. Then you can lower the sensitivity as you narrow in on the leak until you pinpoint the exact location.
Your purchase includes a solid probe, flex tube, and a carrying case. It also comes with a highly informative and complete manual on leak detection, making the detector easy to use and understand.
What’s Not to Like About the Robinair 16455 TruTrack Ultrasonic Leak Detector
To use the Robinair 16455, you must wear headphones and listen for the leak’s audible hissing. The headphones may be an issue if you are not working in a quiet place because ambient noise from your surrounding environment can easily be picked up by the machine and make it difficult to pinpoint the leak.
Similar to the Inficon Tek-mate, this instrument runs on a 9V battery that does require replacing rather than re-charging, which can be annoying if you are frequently using this tool.
4. Elitech ILD-200 Advanced Refrigerant Leak Detector
The Elitech company, though not as established as other brands on this list, such as Robinair, is making a name for itself quickly in the industry.
Its quality and price value have earned it the title of the number 4 best freon leak detector.
The Elitech ILD-200 is an infrared detector that can detect leaks as small as 0.14 ounces per year. That is incredibly sensitive, and although some of the more expensive models are even more sensitive, this detector offers an excellent value for its price.
The Elitech ILD-200 detects a wide range of refrigerants. It will be able to detect leaks caused by halogenated refrigerants: HCFCs, CFCs, HFCs, and HFOs.
This detector comes with four settings, high sensitivity, medium sensitivity, low sensitivity, and “peak function,” which will detect the highest leak point possible during a scan. You can choose between a sound or a light alarm to alert you when the device has found a leak. It also has a display screen that shows you exactly when it has found a leak.
What’s to Like About The Elitech ILD-200 Advanced Refrigerant Leak Detector
The first thing we love about this refrigerant leak detector, and many other infrared freon leak detectors, is its longevity. The sensor inside will last for up to 10 years! We also love how the company offers 24/7 customer support via phone or email, so you have help available any time you need it. If you test the refrigerant leak detector out and are not satisfied, you can return it within 30 days, no questions asked.
The price point of this leak detector is incredibly noteworthy. It is an excellent value for a reasonable price, compared to the other items on our list. The detector includes a heavy-duty carrying case that is light and easy to carry. Also included is a manual, flexible probe, pack of filters, LED light, charging cable, and adapter.
What’s Not to Like About The Elitech ILD-200 Advanced Refrigerant Leak Detector
Although the Elitech ILD-200 does detect a lot, it does not detect hydrocarbon or natural refrigerants. Additionally, the tool takes about 30 seconds plus to warm up once turned on.
Some people have reported the tool falsely reporting leaks due to moisture in the air. Reviewers also recommend leaving the screen protector on the detector’s front because of how easily the screen can get scratched.
5. MASTERCOOL 56200 Refrigerant Leak Detector
The MASTERCOOL 56200 Refrigerant Freon Leak Detector sets itself apart from our other freon leak detectors with its UV blue light detection technology and its range of sensitivity settings, which has earned it the final spot on our list of the best HVAC refrigerant leak detectors.
The MASTERCOOL 56200 Refrigerant Leak Detector is a digital signal microprocessor and UV blue light technology to provide accurate and instant leak detection.
It has six adjustable levels of sensitivity that can detect some halogenated refrigerants, including CFCs, HFCs, and HCFCs. The 56200 can detect leaks up to 0.1 ounces per year. It can be used for both automotive and HVAC leak detection.
What’s to Like About The MASTERCOOL 56200 Refrigerant Leak Detector
Many features are unique to the MASTERCOOL 56200. First of all, it has a blue UV light technology that can be used on systems with dye injected to detect leaks. This is extremely helpful in pinpointing dye-injected leaks.
The unit also has an abundance of helpful detection features. When honing in on a leak, the tool has an audible alarm that variates in frequency, which you can choose to mute. It also features an alarm, a flexible probe, and an LED light that changes between green, yellow, and red depending on the area’s refrigerant leaking levels. These features make it easy and clear to understand where the leak is coming from.
Additionally, the instrument has six sensitivity levels, which you can adjust up and down by simply pressing the button on the unit. Between the six sensitivity levels, there are 15 levels of detection. Once the detector audibly and visually indicates a leak, you can reset the sensor, so it detects leaks at a higher concentration, allowing you to pinpoint the exact point of the leak.
Your order includes a carrying case, UV glasses, two C batteries, and a sensor tip, along with your detector. Overall, it is a good price for its value, and it is highly recommended for leaks that can be seen with UV detection.
What’s Not to Like About The MASTERCOOL 56200 Refrigerant Leak Detector
The MASTERCOOL runs on 2 C batteries. As we mentioned before, this is much less preferred to a freon leak detector with a rechargeable battery because if you use the instrument frequently, then you will find that you have to change the batteries quite often.
As with all of the leak detection equipment on our list, it does not detect any hydrocarbon refrigerant leaks. It also does not mention being able to detect any HFO’s, which may be an issue for some HVAC technicians.
Best Refrigerant Leak Detector Buyer's Guide
There are a lot of things to consider when purchasing the correct refrigerant detector for you. Take these factors into account when buying your next tool.
Refrigerants you Need to Detect
Determine which refrigerants you specifically need to detect. As discussed above, different detectors find different gasses. There are over 75 different refrigerants used across the world. The most abundantly used refrigerants in America are the halogenated refrigerants: CFCs, HFCs, and HCFCs.
- Chlorofluorocarbon Refrigerants, also known as CFCs include R-12,and R-502
- Hydrofluorocarbon Refrigerants, also known as HFCs include R-134a, R-407C, R-410A, R-438A, R-404A, and R-507
- Hydrochlorofluorocarbon Refrigerants, also known as HCFCs include R-22, R-401A, R-401B, R-402B, R-408A, R-402A, and R-40A
Also worth mentioning are HFO’s, or Hydrofluoroolefin refrigerants. These are sometimes used as well.
Find out what refrigerants you need to detect. If you are a homeowner, you only need to get a tool for your specific refrigerant. Contrarily, if you are a contractor or HVAC technician, you will likely need a device that detects a wide range of refrigerants for your different jobs.
The leak sensitivity of your tool determines the size of the leak that you can detect. The more sensitivity your instrument has, the smaller the leaks that it can find.
Note the levels of sensitivity of each different freon leak detector that you are considering. Professionals will want a tool with high sensitivity, while homeowners might not require the same level of precision.
Battery Life and Sensor Longevity
Battery life is something you must consider when purchasing your detector. If you use a sensor regularly, you won't want to be replacing batteries frequently. If this is the case, consider purchasing a refrigerant detector with a rechargeable lithium battery.
Additionally, if you are a professional, you do not want your tool to die on you in the middle of a project. If you purchase a battery-run unit, it is smart to carry an extra battery on you while on the job.
Sensors have different life spans as well. Some sensors are more prone to contamination than others, and some have much higher life expectancies. If you want your equipment to last you a long time with constant use, consider their life spans.
Refrigerant leak detectors are not cheap, and you want your investment to last you a long time. You want a high-quality sensor, especially if you are using it a lot.
A well-built, rugged detector will protect itself against accidental drops and damage. Considering whether or not it comes with a carrying case might be necessary for an HVAC technician as well.
Some sensors are more prone to oil seepage and moisture damage than others. Later on in the article, we discuss the different sensor types and which are the most ideal. Warranties are also essential to take into account in case something does happen to your tool.
Ease of Use
Freon leak detectors do take some time and practice to understand how to use them correctly. Some detectors are easier to understand than others. Some come with highly detailed manuals, while others do not. If you are a beginner or a DIY homeowner, do some research on which are the easiest to use and take that into account.
It is also essential to look up the cleaning and general maintenance that the required refrigerant leak detector. Refrigerant detectors require care to make them last. You need to keep your freon leak detector free of contaminants to prolong its life. Each leak detector will have a different care routine, and some will take a lot more work to maintain.
Know the process before purchasing your new leak detector, so you know exactly what you are getting yourself into.
Price is often the most restrictive of considerations when purchasing anything. While you might want the most superior, top quality leak detector, it might not be in your budget. Consider how often you will be using your tool and how important it is to your overall work.
How to Know if You Have a Refrigerant Leak
If you find you have a refrigerant leak in your HVAC system, make sure to get it repaired immediately. Failing to do so could lead to severe problems down the line. The first sign that you have a leak is if your AC is not cooling your home as it should. If this is the case, then you, or an HVAC technician, should take a look at your HVAC unit.
If you notice frozen pipes between your condenser unit and your home, there is likely a leak. The freezing will continue to spread the longer you wait. Eventually, the freezing will trigger the system to shut down entirely, and the ice will melt, often causing flooding in your walls and floors.
If you notice that your house feels more humid than usual, it could be a sign of a refrigerant leak. Your air conditioner dehumidifies the air as it runs, and if it is compromised, this feature will stop as well.
If you notice that your air conditioning is running for long periods of time without kicking off, or if you see that your utility bills are unusually high, it is best to take a look at your unit. Additionally, if you hear audible hissing or leaking noises coming from your outdoor HVAC condenser unit, that is a sign of a potentially massive leak.
The best way to avoid a refrigerant leak is to assess your ACs performance regularly. Get your HVAC system tuned up annually to prevent any expensive repairs over time. Make sure that you have a professional inspect your system and perform pressure tests often. If you do find a leak, get it taken care of as soon as possible.
Leaks that fail to get repaired can lead to compressor failure, and complete system failure over time.
Best Refrigerant Leak Detector FAQ.
Understanding refrigerant leak detectors can be a bit complicated. Here are some of the most common questions we receive.
What Is the Best Refrigerant Leak Detector?
There are a wide variety of refrigerant leak detector types on the market. Here are the four best types of electronic refrigerant leak detectors and how they work.
Infrared detectors are the top type of sensors on the market. An infrared leak detector for refrigerant works by drawing in air samples through an internal pump in the tool. The air samples run across an optical sensor that measures infrared radiation levels in the sample.
Infrared technology has many benefits. It lasts longer, has more accurate and reliable readings, can find tiny leaks, and does not get overloaded by large amounts of refrigerant.
The heated diode sensor works by drawing air through a flexible probe and over the heated sensor. The gasses break down due to the heat and cause changes in currents across the sensor. The differences cause an alarm to sound, alerting you to a refrigerant leak.
The sensors are susceptible to sensor degradation due to contaminants, such as excess refrigerant, oil, and moisture. They must be regularly checked and have a life sensor life of only 100 hours.
Corona suppression detectors use electric sensors, similar to the heated diode. The refrigerants break the corona, which triggers an alarm and alerts you of a leak. It is an old method that is highly susceptible to contamination and false alarms. Dirt, moisture, dust, and air can set off the alarm falsely, so it is no longer a widely used method.
With a heated electrolyte refrigerant leak detector, the air is drawn through a flexible probe to heated electrolytes. The refrigerants react with the electrolytes and alter the currents, triggering a leak. Similar to the heated diode, these sensors are susceptible to contamination.
Ultrasonic refrigerant detectors use sound amplification so you can hear where the leak is occurring. This method is useful for any type of leak, not just refrigerants. However, it is challenging to hear tiny leaks, and it also is hard to use if there is noise in the environment around you.
What is the Most Sensitive Type of Refrigerant Leak Detector?
As mentioned above, infrared is the most sensitive of the refrigerant leak detectors. It has only come onto the mobile leak detection market in the last few years, and it is marginally more accurate and precise than the other kinds.
The sensor life is expected to last more than 1000 hours. Since the refrigerants never directly contact the sensor (it is broken down by heat before it reaches the sensor), it never contaminates it, making it last much longer than other refrigerant sensors.
How do you Check a Refrigerant Leak?
The best way to check a refrigerant leak is to use a mixture of different methods. This includes using electronic freon leak detectors, like the ones mentioned above, along with the soap bubble test or a UV light test to pinpoint exactly where the leak is coming from.
Many refrigerant leak detectors can get you to the exact leak location, but combining it with one of these other methods will make sure you know exactly where the leak has sprung.
How to Find a Refrigerant Leak Without a Leak Detector?
If you do not have access to a leak detector, there are other ways to find a leak. Though they are not as quick and convenient, they may be just as accurate.
The Soap Bubble Method
The soap bubble method is one of the most commonly used detection methods apart from leak detectors. If you are an at-home DIY leak detector, this would be the method for you. All you have to do is mix dish soap with warm water. Make sure you mix the solution for several minutes, so it is well combined.
Next, you pour it on any exposed areas of your HVAC system focusing on where any oil is located. Bubbles will appear wherever there is a leak. You can mark these areas so your technician knows precisely where they need to repair.
The Dye Method
In this method, you pour fluorescent dye into your system then use a detection lamp to pinpoint where the dye is leaking out. The dye method is an easy and effective way to mark your leak spots, although you will need the correct dye and lamp to carry it out.
The Oil Method
This method is not as reliable, but it can help you find leak locations. When refrigerant leaks, it often leaks oil with it. Wearing gloves, feel around the components of your HVAC system, and check for visible signs of oil. Oil remnants on your gloves will show you the areas where leaks are probably present.
Where do Most Freon Leaks Occur?
Freon leaks are often found in the condenser and evaporator coils. These coils have small capillary tubes that vibrate when the system is in use. The vibrations make it easy for them to develop holes over time and spring leaks.
Another common place for Freon leaks is in the condenser coils. These coils are U-shaped and are held together with sheet metal tubes. The metal rubs against the top of the coils when the system is on, causing small openings where refrigerant can escape.
The third most common area is the refrigerant line sets. They often leak at the flare connections or the joints, but they can leak on the line sets if they are hit by something. Weedwackers, lawnmowers, or house workers can often break the line sets. Leaks can also happen if a drywall nail or roofing nail hit the lines.
Contractors all across the country agree with us that the Fieldpiece SRL8 Heated Diode Refrigerant Leak Detector is the best HVAC refrigerant detector on the market today.
Its overall design sets it apart from other freon leak detectors in its class. Its sensitivity, accuracy, portability, longevity, and reasonable price point make this our top recommendation for the best refrigerant leak detector on the market today.
Each of the refrigerant detectors that we reviewed in this article is a high-quality, reliable instrument. Each leak detector has its own unique strengths, whether it is the type of sensor it uses, the reasonable price point, the rechargeable battery, or its warranty.
Also, take into consideration the information provided to decide what would be the best detector for your specific projects.
If you are a homeowner, make sure that you know the signs when attempting to detect a refrigerant leak. If you find that your AC not blowing cold air when on cooling mode, it would be best to conduct a bit of HVAC fault finding.
Check your system often to avoid having to pay for the potentially expensive expense of refrigerant.
Hopefully, we have helped you understand a little more about the best refrigerant leak detectors, how they work, and which is best suited for you. Good luck with your HVAC repairs!