How to Clean Cabin Air Filter

Should You Clean A Cabin Air Filter Or Replace It?

Cabin air filters are the unsung heroes of enjoying a pleasant atmosphere during your drive. Most people don’t even know they exist. Just like any other filters on your vehicle, they have a job to do and that job gets them dirty. Knowing when to clean a cabin air filter or identify when a new filter is due is not just a braggable skill, but actually helps keep your environment healthy. Most vehicles made after 2000 have these filters, and manufacturers generally recommend replacing them every 15,000–20,000 miles or so, depending on routine driving conditions, or roughly once a year.

Purpose

Cabin air filters help keep the air inside your vehicle free of dust, mold, pollen and other fine particles that can be unpleasant or dangerous to ingest. When a filter is dirty, environmental contaminants sneak through and can cause discomfort. Additionally, a dirty or clogged filter can impact the efficiency of the cooling and heating systems for the car’s interior.

Removal

Most cabin air filters are located on the passenger side, under the glove box, but some are also under the hood, right behind the firewall. Depending on the car, there may be one or two. There are different ways to get at them on different vehicles, so check your owner’s manual for the proper way to remove the filter(s), as it might require the additional step of disconnecting the glove box. Even though removal is an easy process, handle the filters with care so as not to rip them. Even a small tear will require replacement.

Debris

Once the filter is out, you’ll notice that one side is dirtier than the other. Check for discoloration, accumulation of dust or dirt and tears or bent pleats. Remove any sticks or other larger debris by hand  or whatever else might have accumulated.

Cabin Air Filter

Cleaning Different Filter Types

Cabin air filters come in cloth, carbon and paper. Paper filters should always be replaced, never cleaned. Some cloth and carbon filters are reusable and can stand up to a wash. Using a hose on low pressure, direct water from clean side to dirty, sweeping top to bottom. Then fill a container with soapy water, submerge, slosh back and forth and allow to soak for at least 10 minutes. Repeat if needed with another batch of clean soapy water, then rinse and let it air dry on a towel in the sun. Only reinstall when completely dry or you could end up with mold. There is a limit to how many times you can wash a reusable filter, so once it starts looking ragged or develops holes, it is time for a new one.

Maintaining a clean cabin air filter is a simple way to improve air quality and help support the efficiency of your heating and cooling systems. You can save up to 20% off on select filters (air, cabin, oil) when you reserve online with participating stores or buy online ship to home.* Just remember, it’s a big job for an unassuming object, so don’t skimp on quality.

Check out all the ignition parts & filters available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 16,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on when should you clean a cabin air filter or replace it, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Blair Lampe.

*Offer ends 12/31/18. May not be combined with other offers. Store participation and discount may vary. Exclusions apply. For warehouse items, availability may vary. For Reserve Online, please call store to verify before pickup; additional actions and shipping charges may be required. We may cancel, modify, or deactivate this offer at any time and it is subject to change. We reserve the right to limit quantities and correct errors without notice.

about author

Blair Lampe

Blair Lampe is a New York-based professional mechanic, blogger, theater technician, and speechwriter.  In her downtime she enjoys backpacking wherever her boots will carry her, rock climbing, experimental theatre, a crisp rosé , and showering love on her 2001 Sierra truck.

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