101 Guide how to clean an air filter | Car Air filter cleaning with steam

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Updated on:

June 5, 2023

How to clean auto air filter | Cleaning air filters

It is critical for all car owners to change and clean the car's air filter. If you do not clean it for a long time, a combination of dirt, dust, and pet hair and other contaminants can damage the airflow of your AC. This can also lead to you and your passengers getting sick since you are breathing in air that is filled with debris.

Those unwanted particles also impact the workflow of your engine and the car's performance. If dirt or pebbles in the air filter get sucked into the engine, those materials can damage the pistons and block the carburetor. Cleaned air filter lets clean air combine with fuel and produce your vehicle's power. This is why it is important to maintain the cleanliness of the filter.

This article will provide information on what you can use to clean the air filter, and how you can use the materials to do so.

Key Takeaways:

  • Regular air filter cleaning is crucial for optimal car performance and AC efficiency.
  • Different filters have specific cleaning intervals: dry filters (15,000 miles), oil-coated filters (50,000 miles), disposable filters (30,000 miles).
  • Signs for cleaning/replacement: check engine light, gas smell, filter color, and light test.
  • Use recommended cleaning methods, avoid petroleum-based or solvent cleaners.
  • Steam cleaning is a gentle and effective option for air filter maintenance.

Table of Contents (Show)

Table of Contents (Hide)

1. Air filter types

engine, air filter, sports air filter

1.1. Dry filter

Dry air filters are typically made out of foam. Foam blocks more particles than paper filters due to the density of the material. The problem with the density of dry foam filters is that when they get dirty over time, it inhibits the pressure of the airflow in your vehicle.

Some also are made from few layers of paper or a cotton gauze fabric. In general, dry filters trap dirt particles that are less than ten microns in size. This air filter should be replaced or cleaned every 15,000 miles. However, if you live somewhere with dusty roads or high pollution areas, the dry air filter need to be cleaned more often.

1.2. Oil coated filter

Oil coated filters are made of several layers of cotton gauze covered with a little bit of specialty oil. Oil for this filter is used as a sticky trap for dust and other particles. The openings in this filter are slightly larger due to the oily trap that they posses, which makes for better air flow.

Oiled filter should be cleaned or replaced every 50,000 miles or more often if you are living around polluted areas.

1.3. Disposable air filters

Disposable filters are typically made out of cotton paper or polyester paper sheets. They last for about 30,000 miles in normal driving conditions.

2. When should you change an air filter

check engine light

It seems hard to figure out when you actually need to replace your car air filter just by looking at the gas mileage of your vehicle. Here are some signs that can help you to figure if you have a dirty air filter:

Check engine light

If Check Engine Light turns on in your car, it might be because your air filter needs changing. If the air filter is dirty, there is not enough air going through which leads to a build up of carbon that triggers the warning light.

Smell of gas

If you get a smell of gas when you start the engine this also means that you have a dirty air filter. The fuel doesn't get burnt due to the lack of air which leads to the smell of it exiting through the tailpipe.

Color of the filter

The easiest way to see if the air filter needs to be replaced is by taking it out. The color of it will tell you if you need to change it ot not. Clean air filters are white or an off white color. While dirty air filters accumulate a lot of dirt and debris and become a dark color.

Light test

You can also put the air filter against a bright light to see if it is clean. If it lets some light through, that means it is good to use. If it barely lets any light through, it is time to clean or replace it.

Deep cleaning of car

If you performed deep cleaning of car interior, usually called detailing for smoke odor or mold smell removal, replacing or cleaning of air vents and air filter is highly recomended.

Check this article about best ozone machine for odor removal

3. How to clean a car air filter

engine, air filter, engine compartment

There are a lot of different methods on how to clean car air filter. In order to start, you need to figure out what filter you have and if you should replace the filter or it just needs cleaning. After you have decided that your air filter needs cleaning, you can choose one of these methods to clean it.

3.1. with Cleaning solution

a. Aerosol spray

air filter cleaning aerosol spray

Aerosol spray is one of the fasted ways to clean a car air filter. One of the best brands that you can us is a K&N Air Cleaning Kit that is available on amazon.

While cleaning with aerosol spray, make sure to wear a mask or something to cover your nose and mouth. This cleaning solution is harmful to inhale, so apply it on the filter outside to avoid stirring up the spray in your car.

To start, you need to remove the air filter from your car. To do so, read the owner's manual of your car to find a safe way that will not damage the air filter or your car.

Once you have taken out the air filter, vacuum out the visible debris to make the next step easier. After you are done with the vacuum, spray some of the K&N aerosol spray on the filter. Make sure the filter is covered with spray on both sides and leave it on for about 10 minutes.

After the solution has soaked in, you can use some running water to wash it off by running it through in the opposite direction of the air flow. Before you put the air filter in, make sure that it is dry completely and there is no excess water left.

b. Soap and water

Cleaning with soap and water is generally recommended for cloth and carbon filters. You need to be careful while washing with water since it can damage your filters. Water should not be used to wash paper filters.

First, use a vacuum cleaner to get rid of the dust, dirt and debris. Next, grab a bucket and fill it with warm water and dilute some soap in it. When you have prepared the mixture, carefully move the filter up and down through the warm water so all the crevices get cleaned. You can also use a soft damp cloth to help you in the process. Leave the filter in for about ten minutes to soak.

Be careful when you take it out of the bucket as to avoid damaging it. Do not use a towel to dry it off, but just leave it to air dry in the sun until it is completely dry.

3.2. Steam cleaning process

air filter steam cleaning

Steam is perfect to use for cleaning car's air filter. Steam does not have any harsh chemicals that will damage the filter and it is safe to use on any type of filter. It is much more gentle to use on a filter unlike using water for washing your car air filter.

You can begin by using a vacuum to suck up some of the dust and other particles. After you are finished with the vacuum, you can start applying steam on the filter. You can also use steam on the air filter housing to ensure that the area you are putting a clean car air filter in is also sanitized.

Check this article about best car steam cleaners

3.3. Not recommended cleaners for your air filter

danger to use for air filter cleaning

When choosing a proper cleaner for air filters, it is important to look at the chemicals that they include. Petroleum based cleaners are typically not recommended to clean air filters. These cleaners tend to dissolve or damage the air filter material. For that reason, kerosene and solvents are also discouraged from using on air filters.

About the Authors

Kristina Tretyakova
Distinguished as a South Florida Top-10 student in 2021. Studying Marketing and Business Administration at FIU. Proficient in daily operations and skilled in cleaning, auto detailing and copywriting.
Kris Traczynski
As the visionary behind Fortador Steamers, I've revolutionized the cleaning landscape across both the USA and Europe. With a profound understanding of the cleaning industry, I've fostered expertise that sets new standards. My journey is one of innovation, commitment, and a relentless pursuit of exce

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