Never miss a leak again with one of these awesome leak detectors. We decide which is the best of all as we compare and review the top models on the market.
If you are an HVAC technician, you will already know that the most important tool in your toolbox is going to be your trusty refrigerant leak detector.
Whenever you are called out to fix an air conditioning unit, one of the very first things you will want to check is whether or not that unit is suffering from any kind of CFC, HCFC, R-410A/Puron, or HFO refrigerant leaks.
While there are other methods that you can use to check for these kinds of leaks, these tools are the easiest and most effective way to get the job done.
Sure, in the past many of these tools were not known for being too accurate and were fairly useless but in the last decade or so technology has improved in such a way that many technicians will not go anywhere without a quality AC leak detector in hand.
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The question is, with so many to choose from, which is the best refrigerant leak detector on the market?
To save you a bit of time trawling through the many products and reviews that are available concerning refrigerant leak detectors, we have made the task of choosing the best one to purchase a whole lot easier by giving you our opinion on which are the five best that money can buy right now.
Never again will a leak escape you when you are called out to repair a client’s HVAC system.
The Top Models Compared
Take a look at how the top refrigerant leak detectors compare in the table below.
OUR TOP PICK
- 10 yr sensor life
- Auto shut-off
- Audio/visual alarm
- Long probe
- Long battery life
- Long-life sensor
- Audio/visual alarm
- 1 year warranty
- Amazing value
- Amazing value
The Top Models Reviewed
In this section, you can read about them all in more detail and find out which we’d choose over all others.
1. Elitech ILD-200 *OUR TOP PICK*
We will dive right in at the top end of the price scale with our first recommendation with the Elitech ILD-200, a rechargeable infrared refrigerant detector that is earning rave reviews right now.
One of the reasons why this detector is the most expensive is simply because it has been made to last. It looks solid, fits the hand well and has a sensor that has been designed to last for ten years before it needs to be replaced. Any of you that have used cheap detectors in the past will know just how frustrating it is when you need to replace far more often than you would like.
As for the sensitivity levels on the ILD-200, there are three pre-set levels with the max level being that of 4g/year. Using the probe on this detector, you will be able to identify if there are leaks of any halogenated refrigerants usually within a matter of seconds.
What we also like about this leak detector is that it will last around six hours of continuous use and that it comes with a rechargeable battery.
Many detectors will require you to frequently change batteries which as you will know, can be a right pain. The Elitech ILD-200 will essentially allow you to go all day without running out of battery as you will literally only be using them for minutes at a time. When you get home, simply charge it for four hours and its ready for your next day at work.
Other features of this excellent detector include an automatic shut off feature which will happen after 10 minutes without operation and an alarm that will let you know of a leak both in a visual and audible fashion.
Finally, we have to say that it is nice to find a leak detector that has a long probe. For some reason, many other products seem to think that a six or seven-inch probe is enough when really this needs to be double the length. On the ILD-200, this has finally been resolved with a probe length that is 14.37 inches.
Bottom Line: If you want a detector that is going to give you plenty of use, does not require the changing of batteries, and is able to detect all types of halogenated refrigerant leaks, the Elitech ILD-200 is certainly one that you should consider. In fact, while it might be on the expensive side, we feel that it is among the very best refrigerant leak detectors that money can buy right now.
2. Fieldpiece SRL8 *The Reliable Alternative*
Costing a little bit less is the hugely popular Fieldpiece SRL8, a heated diode refrigerant leak detector that many HVAC technicians claim they would not be able to live without. This detector is known for its accuracy and speed at detecting leaks of CFC, HFC and any blends of the two harmful refrigerants.
Like the Elitech ILD-200, this is a fully rechargeable unit but where it differs is that it will last for almost two days. The Elitech lasts for six hours of use but will only require four hours of charging whereas this model needs 15-hours of charging to be at full capacity. Essentially, when choosing between the two you will just have to decide if you want to charge once a day or once every two days.
The battery is replaceable too, so you could effectively buy a spare one and charge that when using the other.
The SRL8 works by heating up the air that it collects before detecting if that air contains any Chlorine or Fluorine ions. This detection process is very quick and, in many cases, you will know if a particular area has been infected by a leak within seconds. It takes just 30 seconds to be ready to use once you have powered it up and you can choose from three sensitivity settings between 0.01oz per year or 6.6oz per year.
It has to be said that you can tell how well made this unit is as well. It looks and feels really durable and while you would not want to drop it on purpose, it looks like it can take a number of them without experiencing any dame. It fits really well in the hand too, so comfort is never going to be an issue.
Overall this is a great all-round product that should provide you with many years’ worth of usage. It even comes with a good supply of replacement filters and O-rings too which makes it even better value for money.
Bottom Line: As you can see from our review, it is easy to tell why so many HVAC technicians choose the SRL8 over any other leak detector. It has a very good build quality, is quick and efficient and can detect just about every refrigerant that air conditioning units use. Having spoken to many HVAC technicians over the years, those that prefer this model state that they love its accuracy and how easy it is to use compared to some other models.
3. Inficon TEK-Mate 705-202-G1
Coming in a little cheaper than the two leak detectors above, this Inficon leak detector is another great model to consider. Admittedly, this model is aimed at those that are looking for a unit that is good for light to medium residential use as this is not really suited for use in a commercial setting.
Using a highly sensitive heated diode sensor, this effective and easy-to-use refrigerant detector will be able to quickly identify any leaks of R22, R507, R32 CFCs, HFCs and any blends of the two.
In terms of the design, this is a lightweight and portable detector that while fairly durable, is not as sturdy as some of the other models. It does look a bit more modern and what we particularly like is the rugged and flexible probe that will really allow you to get into some tight areas.
Among the excellent features that you can expect with the TEK-Mate include the ability to adjust the sensitivity settings between low and high and its loud audible beep that instantly goes off as soon as it has detected any refrigerants in the air. There is also an LED display on the detector that will quickly tell you that there is a leak by flashing up as soon as it has detected one.
If we had to choose one major reason why we like this detector so much, it would definitely be the fact that the sensing cells in this product will last for more than 1,000 hours of use. To emphasize just how good that is, there are some detectors out there with sensors that will only last 10% of that time.
A downside is that the unit itself is not rechargeable but this is not too much of a big deal as the batteries are rechargeable. Simply get a recharger and charge them overnight and you are ready to go for your next day at work. Regular batteries can be used as well so it is always handy to carry a few packets around with you.
Bottom Line: While this freon leak detector is not quite up there with the other two detectors above, its lower price makes it an excellent alternative if you are after value for money for something that you might not use as frequently. It is lightweight, very sensitive and picks up just about every type of refrigerant going.
If you are in the market for a leak detector for low to moderate usage, there are not much better than the Inficon TEK-Mate 705-202-G1 in this price range.
4. LotFancy Leak Detector
If you are in the market for something that you could class as being more a budget refrigerant leak detector, there are many around that are capable of doing the job. One of the more popular and reliable is that of the LotFancy Leak Detector and it really is a steal at its current price as it has plenty going for it.
At a fraction of the cost of some of the more high-end leak detectors, you might expect the LotFancy to have a number of drawbacks. Well, it does but at the price, you really cannot complain as it actually performs very well and is therefore great value for money. It looks and feels quite basic but it is still pretty durable and looks like it can suffer a little bit of abuse.
Able to detect all halogen refrigerants, this sturdy detector will last a decent 50 hours on a set of AAA batteries and takes around 6 seconds to get up to the required heat for detection. Its design is straightforward which makes using it a breeze and it actually offers up some very good sensitivity levels.
Sure, it is a simpler device that does not have many additional features of note but it gets the job done and should last you several years before you need to replace it. A warranty of one year is given with this detector too, so you are at least guaranteed to get a year out of it.
Reviews are mixed with this product with many complaining that it struggles with the detection of R134a while others say that it works exceptionally well at discovering freon leaks. Despite those reviews, we have included it in this list purely because it is one of the better budget detectors on the market right now and one that having used ourselves, is more than good enough to get the job done.
Bottom Line: The LotFancy shows you that leak detection tools really do not have to cost you an arm and a leg if you are after a basic tool that does what it was designed for. It might not be rechargeable, have as much battery life or sensor life as many of the top-end detectors but for doing the basics well, you will not get a better budget detector.
Of course, if you need something that is more suited to heavy-duty work or extended use, you will have to look elsewhere but if not, this model will be more than adequate for what you need.
5. Signstek Portable Detector
If there was another budget HVAC leak detector that we would have no trouble recommending, it would be the Signstek Portable Detector. This is an inexpensive detector that uses the heated diode method of refrigerant detection. This is the process of collecting air and heating it so that chlorine and fluoride ions are separated.
When using this detector, as soon as any refrigerants have been detected the LED display will flash and let you know how severe the leak is across six different levels. We did notice that this detector is not as sensitive as some of the more expensive models but a positive is that it is able to detect a wide range of different refrigerants and blends.
That sensitivity can be set between 3g/year and 0.1oz/year while the 14-inch probe is longer than many of its competitors. This allows you to reach more difficult areas that some of its competitors will not be able to get to.
Where it falls down is that you can tell quite easily that it is a budget model as it is very lightweight and does not feel very sturdy in the hand. We have not dropped but fear that a single drop may be enough to do irreparable damage. That said, as long as you are careful and are not a clumsy HVAC technician, this should offer more than enough to get the job done.
The Signstek understandably at its price is not rechargeable so you will have to carry around plenty of AAA batteries with you and it does not last as long on its batteries like some of the more popular detectors. It does at least have a battery indicator that goes from green, orange and red so that you know when it is time to put some more in.
Overall this is an excellent option if you have a small budget or need a backup for your main AC leak detector. It might not have the sensitivity that better models do but it is more than able to help you find all kinds of refrigerant leaks.
Bottom Line: In terms of value for money, you are not going to find much better than the Signstek Portable Detector as this is definitely one of the best in its price range. It might not look or feel very durable or have the sensitivity of more expensive models but it is accurate, easy to use and has the ability to detect most known refrigerants.
Our go-to A/C leak detector over the years has been the Fieldpiece SRL8 and we still feel that overall it is the best refrigerant finder on the market. That is taking into terms its price, features, sensitivity, battery life and everything else that we have mentioned in these reviews. As a complete package, it offers more than anything else we have recommended though it is being pushed very hard by the Elitech ILD-200 with many technicians preferring that particular model.
With all that said and done, all of the detectors that we have recommended will all serve their purpose well and will detect the leaks that you are searching for. As for our budget model of choice, that is also close between the two that we reviewed but edging it would be the LotFancy simply because the sensor on it is said to last up to 1,000 hours of use. Admittedly we have not tested that claim ourselves but other technicians we know have pretty much backed up those claims.
Whichever one of the above that you choose, we can definitely say that you have a bought a product that will be of great benefit and will prove to be a great purchase in terms of value for money.
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Now that you have seen our top recommendations when it comes to refrigerant leak detectors, you should already be thinking about which one will make for the right choice. However, if you are thinking of taking more of a look around, you will first want to understand a bit more about leak detectors and learn what you need to consider before buying one.
It is not going to be a simple case of picking one based on value as you can get good or bad detectors at all price ranges. Take our time to consider each and every aspect and then decide on which would be the best fit for your budget.
What Different Types of Leak Detectors are There?
In days gone by, long before HVAC leak detectors were reliable enough, technicians would use other methods to identify if there were any leaks in the systems they were fixing. Soap and water or ultraviolet dyes were the common methods used but since the technology has improved in recent years, many technicians will never leave their homes without a top quality freon detector as part of their toolkit.
Today there are three main types of accurate leak detectors on the market, with those being:
As far as leak detection technology goes, this type is the oldest of the three. It works using the simple method of using a high-voltage corona on its sensor that will pick up any refrigerants in the air before sounding an alarm.
Another popular type of electronic refrigerant leak detector is that of the heated diode type. This will collect air from the area in which is being diagnosed before heating it to such a level where any molecules will separate. The diode will then be able to detect and refrigerants in the air and sound an alarm to let you about them.
These are the latest technology in the HVAC leak detection market right now and rather than trying to detect the refrigerants themselves, they will detect if there is a leak using sound instead. All leaks will let off a similar sound that you will not be able to hear with your human. These detectors can hear them however and they will tell you straight away if there is any kind of leak happening.
Each and every HVAC technician will have his preferred method but out of the three, we would have to say that heated diode is probably the most popular method when it comes to the detection of refrigerants. Ultrasonic is quickly catching up though and while corona suspension may be older technology, you will be surprised at how many technicians still swear by it.
Curious about ultrasonic leak detectors? Check out our big guide.
What Kind of Refrigerants Will These Detectors Find?
There are a number of different refrigerants that HVAC systems will use so it is important to have a detector or detectors that will cover all of your bases when called out. You can imagine what it would feel like to have detectors for all but one refrigerant only to be called by a client that has an air conditioning unit that uses the refrigerant that you do not have a detector for.
A decade ago you would only have to worry about detecting CFC, HCFC and HFC refrigerants but since then other refrigerants have been used in HVAC systems such as R-410A/Puron and HFO. Furthermore, some systems will actually use a blend of these different types of refrigerants which makes it even more difficult for you and your detection tool.
What to Consider Before Buying a Leak Detector
Now that you understand a little more about the types of leak detectors and the refrigerants that they will be used to detect, you will now want to understand what you should be considering from any leak detector before you buy it.
Time is money after all so you will want to be able to identify a leak as quickly as possible, fix it and then move on to your next call out. For that reason, you will want an accurate leak detector that will discover a leak as quickly as possible. The better models on the market right now will have higher-quality sensors and will be able to establish whether there is a leak in a matter of seconds.
The Refrigerants That Can be Detected
It makes more sense to buy a refrigerant detector that can detect most if not all of the different types of refrigerants as well as any blends. Again, detectors that cost the most are usually those that are able to detect a variety of the most common refrigerants.
Another important consideration is that of how long your chosen a/c leak detector will last before running out of batteries. You will obviously want one that at least lasts a full day as you do not want to keep swapping out batteries every few hours.
We also suggest looking at detectors that are rechargeable or at least use rechargeable batteries. This will save you time and cost over the years as well as those embarrassing moments when you forget to buy batteries and your detector dies while you are on a call out.
Many detectors will use a sensor to determine whether there are any refrigerants in the air and depending on the detector you use, the life of these sensors will vary. Ideally, you want to go for one that provides a good life as it can become a pain to have to keep buying and fitting replacement sensors. Again, longer life normally comes with a higher price tag so bear that in mind when deciding.
There are some excellent leak detectors on the market that have been made to last but on the other hand, there are also some that have a reputation for needing replacement sensors after just a few days. This is why durability is one of the biggest factors when deciding on which leak detector to purchase.
Of course, the cost will always come into play no matter what item you are buying and this is no different with refrigerant leak detectors. While there are some detectors on the cheaper end of the scale as you would have seen in our reviews, sometimes it is best to stump up a bit more cash if you know that a certain leak detector is more accurate and durable.
When buying refrigerant finders, you should always to check to see if there is a warranty and for how long it lasts before making a final decision on whether to buy. If you do not feel that the warranty is good enough or long enough, it will certainly make sense to move onto a product that does have one that is satisfactory.
So, there you have it, our five top recommendations when it comes to refrigerant leak detectors and also a helpful little guide that explains what you should be looking for when considering which leak detectors to buy. Hopefully, you have learned more about this kind of product and if you have purchased one of our recommendations, we are sure that you will be happy with it.