How to Clean Your Car Air Filter

A green car on a  road.
  • 1 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 0-50
What You'll Need
What You'll Need

If you want a clean car air filter, there are simple tips to follow. Doing your own maintenance on your air filter will save you time and money and you don't have to worry about replacing it. After you clean your air filter it will be as good as new.


Make sure you soak the air filter in a mixture of degreaser and water. Don’t use pure degreaser. It’s important that the degreaser is thoroughly mixed with water or it can eat through the paper in the air filter.

When you clean your air filter give the mixture plenty of time to work. The filter needs to soak for at least 15 minutes in order to remove all the dirt and grease.


A red car on the road.

As you clean the car air filter, leave it to dry completely before replacing it in your vehicle. If you put it in and start up the engine before the filter is absolutely dry you can end up damaging your engine.


You can’t keep cleaning the same cheap filter forever. Be aware that periodically you will need to replace your filter. When you clean your car air filter you should also clean out the air filter box. Use degreaser and paper towels for this. Do this every time you clean the air filter for the best results.

An air filter is a filtration device placed on the mouth of air intake system of vehicles. It prevents abrasive particulate matter such as dirt, dust, pollen and insects from entering internal combustion engine. Several air filter variants are available on the market today, each using different elements such as paper, foam, cotton and oil bath for filtering the air before it enters the engine.

Pleated-paper filter elements are the most commonly used due to their cost effectiveness, efficiency and ease of service. While oil-wetted polyurethane foam, oiled cotton gauze and oil bath elements are extremely efficient, they are mostly used by motor sport professionals due to extreme driving conditions and high maintenance costs.

Following are 5 questions that will help you understand air filters:

How Does an Air Filter Work?

An internal combustion engine requires air (oxygen) for burning the fuel. When a pumping system sucks the air from outside environment, unwanted and damaging particulate matter such as pollen, dust and even insects enter the system. If these foreign particles enter the engine, they can lower the engine performance or damage the engine. Air filter connected to the throttle body prevents any such dirt from entering the engine by using any of the filter elements described above.

When Should I Change my Air Filter?

Ideally, air filter should be cleaned or replaced after every 30,000 to 60,000 miles. It is also advisable to check air filter after every oil change (which should be every 3,000 miles). This is particularly important if you drive or reside in dusty areas.

How to Change an Air Filter?

Air filters are encased in metal or plastic frames, which are usually round or square in shape. This makes their identification quiet simple. Once the air filter is spotted, it can be replaced as follows.

Replacement Procedure

Using a screw driver, remove clamps or screws that hold the filter.

Clean the dirt and debris from the housing with a rag.

Place a new filter in the housing.

Fix the filters screws or clamps with a screw driver and close the hood.

What are the Benefits of Replacing the Old Filter?

Changing air filters regularly increases the fuel efficiency of the engine. Clogged and dirty filters affects engine performance too. Clean filters on the other hand can increase the engine performance or acceleration of modern fuel-injected cars by 6 to 11 percent.

Air filters filled with dirt and grime affect the air–fuel mixture ratio. Once this specific ratio is disturbed, your car starts emitting exhausts gas, which is full of unburnt carbon particles leading to more pollution.

It increases the life expectancy of engine by restricting entry of abrasive materials to the engine through contaminated air.

Can I Reuse my Old Filter after Cleaning It?

Paper-pleated air filters are very cheap and can be replaced easily. Moreover, cleaning paper air filters by using water damages them completely. Therefore, it is advisable to replace them with new ones instead of cleaning and replacing them. Cotton, foam and oil-bath filters just require the replacement of filter element, which can be done easily at home.