Last Updated on December 24, 2020
The cabin air filter, also known as the car air conditioner filter, is one of the most overlooked and neglected filters in a vehicle. This is mainly because of their more popular and critical cousins such as the oil filter, air filter, and fuel filter.
However, if the cabin filter is not regularly replaced or cleaned, it can make your driving experience extremely unpleasant. A dirty air conditioner filter will not only hinder the HVAC system in your car, it will also become a breeding ground for different germs and bacteria which will release unpleasant musky odor.
The cabin air filter may not be included in the key components of a vehicle but its importance is still that of one.
Reading this may have induced thoughts of cleaning the A/C filter in your mind and it is a fairly simple job. But if you don’t know how to do it properly, then you can end up with an expense of buying a new filter if you damage the current one during the cleaning process.
While replacing the cabin filter with a new one is ideal, you can often get more life out of this filter by simply cleaning it so air can flow through again. Here’s how to properly clean your car’s cabin or air conditioner filter.
How to Clean a Cabin Air Filter
In order to clean the cabin filter in your car, you will first need to remove it from your vehicle. The position of the filter can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer or model to model, so be sure to check the manual of your car to find where it’s located.
It is usually placed behind the glove box or underneath your dash board in most cars but check the owner’s manual or online to confirm.
Its shape and size may vary depending on the vehicle, but the general shape of the air conditioner filter is similar to the air filter in your engine but smaller. Typically it’s a rectangular or square frame with a woven fabric filter inside it.
After locating the cabin filter (some vehicles, like many Mazdas, have more than one), gently pull it out of its mount and place it on the ground or on a work table. You will need an air compressor or another source of compressed air.
Gently hold the cabin filter and blow the air through it. Make sure to blow the air through every slot of the filter so that any dust hiding in any corner of the filter is flushed out.
Be careful that the air hose nozzle doesn’t get too close to the pleats of the fitler or you risk damaging them. After thoroughly blowing the air through the filter, spray it with a spray such as FAB-1 or K&N Filter Refresher.
After spraying it, let it dry for a few minutes and gently place it back into the mount you took it out of. Start up the vehicle and turn on the HVAC system so it’s blowing air out of the vents. After a few seconds, you should notice a big difference in air freshness.
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What NOT to Do
During the cleaning process, do not use any cleaning accessories like cleaning brushes or anything like that. The pleated (zig-zag shape) air conditioner filter is one of the most delicate parts of a vehicle’s HVAC system and can be easily damaged.
Also avoid using any detergents. Do not wash with water in order to clean it. Washing with water has higher risks of damaging the pleats and the filter needs to be air dried without any excess heat (like a hair dryer) which can take a lot of your precious time.
Besides cleaning the filter, also clean the vents in your dashboard to get the most out of the HVAC system in your car.
How Long Does a Cabin Air Filter Last?
As noted earlier, replacing a cabin air filter is ideal but occasionally cleaning it can prolong its life. It’s recommended that a cabin air filter be replaced every 12,000 miles (or once a year). You may be able to get a few more months out of its lifespan by cleaning it.
If you tend to drive on dirty, dusty roads or in heavily polluted areas, cleaning your filter at least a couple times a year before replacing it can make a big difference as it will clog up sooner under those conditions. Areas with above average humidity may need their cabin filter replaced sooner as a musty smell will likely develop. Unfortunately, cleaning the filter will likely have no effect in this scenario.