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How to Clean Your Vehicle’s Air Filter

Don’t buy a new air filter—just clean the old one

The air filter in your car acts like a shield against any debris that could travel into your cabin through the air system. The filter catches dust, pollen, flying dirt and many other airborne materials that could make driving a particularly unpleasant and sneeze-filled experience. Matters will only be made worse if you suffer from respiratory problems.

Given their important role, you will want to make sure you have a clean filter at all times, as these filters can grow very dirty and thus ineffective over time. However, new air filters can cost up to $50 or more. Instead of purchasing a new one, consider cleaning the filter you already have.

Finding the filter

Before you can do anything else with it, you first have to locate the air filter. Most of the time, this information will be in your vehicle’s owner’s manual. If you do not have your manual or if the manual does not detail the filter’s location, try searching online—there are numerous guides and videos that can help you find the filter. Most of the time, the filter is easy to access, inside a canister held shut by a wing nut or clamps. Once the canister is open, simply pull the filter out.

Cleaning the filter

There are two general methods to cleaning a filter. The first method involves washing it with soap and water; the second method requires vacuuming the filter. Both have strengths—washing the filter will get it cleaner and ensure all of the contaminants are removed, whereas vacuuming the filter is quicker and easier. However, both also have weaknesses—if you wash the filter, you have to make sure that it is absolutely dry before putting back in the motor, or it could damage the engine. On the other hand, vacuuming will not get all of the contaminants out.

If you decide to use soap, suggests putting the filter in a bucket filled with soapy water, then swishing it around and removing it. Shake it vigorously to get out as much liquid as possible, then put it on a towel to dry. Give it lots of time.

If you are vacuuming it, says to run the vacuum over the filter for roughly a minute on each side before removing any remaining material manually.

Cleaning the canister

Unfortunately, the filter is not the only item that requires cleaning. The canister that houses the filter can get filled with dirt and contaminants just like the filter, so use a paper towel or soft cloth to wipe it out, making sure not to leave any bits of paper towel inside. If you use water to help with this, make sure the canister is absolutely dry before replacing the filter.

Replacing the filter

This is the easiest part of the process. After checking again to make sure that neither the filter nor the canister is wet, simply slide the filter back inside, close the canister and secure it shut.

So there you have it—the process is quick and simple, and could potentially save you a little money. If you are constantly sneezing in your cabin, if the air flow through your HVAC system seems impaired, or if there is a persistent bad odor, check your air filter right away. For that matter, you should get in the habit of routinely checking it once every year yourself. It is rather easy after all.

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