How To Clean An Air Conditioner Filter – Complete Guide

| Last Updated: May 25, 2021

You rely on your air conditioner to provide a comfortable environment inside your home, especially during the peak summer and winter seasons.

However, it is not simply a matter of switching on the unit.

Insufficient maintenance will affect the unit's efficiency, so we will provide you with the necessary guidance to maintaining your unit.

Quick Questions Before Starting

Regular maintenance of your air conditioner will help to ensure that it will continue to function efficiently for longer. The air filters should be cleaned at the start of each season, every 3-4 months. However, we suggest that you clean them monthly during the summer and winter months when they are used the most.

  • How Difficult is This to Do?

    Scale: Easy, you can do this yourself. The instructions should have been provided with the unit when you bought it. Alternatively, download the instructions from the Internet. 
  • How Long Does it Take?

    It should take approximately one hour.

  • How Much Do Materials Cost?

    Filters usually cost between $15-$60 depending on the air conditioner's make and model if you need a replacement.

Items Needed to Clean Air Conditioner Filter

Cleaning a filter is a relatively simple exercise, depending on the air conditioner's make and model. A dirty filter will hamper the unit from operating efficiently and will ultimately cost more to keep the air temperature inside your house constantly comfortable. It is essential to refer to the manual and ensure that you purchase the correct replacement if you are replacing the filter. Follow the instructions carefully if you are merely cleaning the filter. You will need the following items to clean the filter:

  • Soft cleaning cloth and brushes

  • Warm soapy water

  • Vinegar

  • Vacuum cleaner

AC Filter Cleaning Basics

Here are some cleaning basics you need to know:

Can All Air Conditioner Filters Be Cleaned?

One may not be able to clean all air conditioner filters as this depends on the unit's make and model. It is essential to read the manual first. Filters with cardboard frames, for example, will have to be replaced. Ensure that you purchase the correct replacement as advised by the manufacturer. It is a good idea to take the old filter with you to the hardware store when purchasing a replacement.

Replace rather than clean a damaged or filthy filter. Look for tears, holes and creases, and if the light does not shine through when you hold the filter up to a light source, it means it needs replacing. 

You will probably also need to replace the filter if you are using more energy and the unit has reduced efficiency.

The manufacturer will recommend the filter's lifespan, which is usually around six months. If the filter has been in use for longer than that, you should probably replace it. Signs that the filter needs replacing include excessive dust in your home, a change in colour of the filter, and the heating or cooling cycles are longer than usual.

How Often Should I Clean My AC Filter?

Cleaning frequency depends on the make and model of the filter and the type of household involved. Factors affecting this include the number of people residing in the house, pets, unusual activity such as remodelling or construction, and the house's air quality. 

Generally, the manufacturer will make recommendations on how often to clean the filter. Still, it is necessary to check the filter regularly to ensure that it is not excessively dirty.

Step-by-Step Guide to Cleaning Your AC Filter

Clean air filters are necessary for your family's health. Clean air is circulated through your house while the filter traps all the dirt and pollutants during the cooling or heating process. Mold begins to grow after some time if the filter is not cleaned and can be breathed in, negatively impacting your health. This step-by-step guide will show you how to clean your air filter to prevent this, and it is a simple job easy enough for one person to handle alone.

  1. Check for Instructions

    Check the instruction manual for the details on how to access and remove the filter. Download instructions from the Internet if the manual that came with the machine is no longer available. 
  1. Remove the Frame

    Make sure that the air conditioner is switched off and not connected to any electrical outlet. Remove the frame screws and pull the frame towards you. The air filter should be accessible and easy to slide off the frame.
  1. Clean the Air Filter

    You can hose the air filter down outside or under a tap in a sink or bath. Using warm water, wash all the dirt away and ensure that the filter is clear. Apply Baking Soda very gently to remove odours. Repeat on both sides of the filter. Shake the frame gently to remove excess water and allow it to dry naturally. 
  1. Replace the Filter

    Replace the air filter once it is dry and refasten the unit by replacing the screws. There is an arrow on most filters indicating which direction they should face when being reinstalled.
  1. Alternative Methods for Cleaning a Filter

    It is possible to vacuum the filter by gently using the brush attachment of a vacuum cleaner.

    The auto-clean function uses an internal cassette and brush device that is activated to evaporate the moisture inside the unit, providing you with cleaner, healthier air. This feature may not be available with all models.
  1. Deep Cleaning Your Filter

    For a deeper clean first vacuum the filter, then mix one part vinegar and one part water and wash the filter in a sink using warm water. If it is filthy, leave it submerged in the mixture for a couple of hours. Remember to make sure that the filter is completely dry before replacing it. Instead of vinegar, one can also mix a spoonful of detergent with water to wash the filter.

Cleaning Different Types of Air Conditioning Units

We have listed how to clean different types of air conditioning units you may have on your home.

Window Air Conditioner

The steps to clean a window air conditioner are the same; however, one should check if it needs a deep clean if excessively dirty.

Portable Air Conditioner

Ensure that the unit is not connected to the electricity supply and remove the filter from the frame. Tap the filter lightly to shake all loose particles off. If the unit uses a carbon cleaner, remove it, follow the supplier's instructions and either replace or clean it.

Mini-Split Air Conditioner

Lift the cover off the unit's front carefully and follow the same steps as above, ensuring there is no excessive damage to the filter requiring replacement.

Ducted and Ductless Units

The air filter can usually be found behind the central air duct in ducted air conditioners. 

Follow the same steps as above, ensuring that the filter is completely dry before reinstalling it and running the air conditioner. 

Clean the ductless air conditioner filter with clean, dry cloth by wiping all dirt according to the manual's instructions. 

Why Clean My Air Conditioner Filter?

Regular maintenance and cleaning of your air conditioner filter will ensure more efficient heating and cooling and keep the costs of running the air conditioner down. 

Dirty filters stop working efficiently and lead to the air conditioner running harder, longer cycles to achieve a comfortable climate inside your house. 

Eventually, the air conditioner may cease to operate and require a specialist to fix the problem, which is also costly.

A clean air filter will ensure good air quality inside your home. A build-up of dirt in the filter can lead to problems with your health, such as headaches, respiratory illness and tiredness due to breathing in poor quality air.

Air conditioners act as dehumidifiers while cooling, and it is necessary to ensure that the air conditioner has a clean filter to prevent the circulation of contaminated air. 

In Summer, a clean filter will ensure optimal efficiency and cooler air inside, maintaining a comfortable living environment.

What Can I Use to Clean My Air Conditioner Filter? 

Once you have established that the air filter needs a good clean rather than replacement, it is a simple process. 

Once you have removed the unit's filter, begin by shaking the filter carefully to loosen the debris and then, using the small brush attachment on your vacuum cleaner, gently suction all the loose debris. 

Do not wash the filter in a dishwasher. Soak the filter in warm, soapy water and, using a soft cloth, gently wipe the filter on both sides. For stubborn dirt, we suggest diluting a spoonful of vinegar or detergent in the warm water. 

Repeat the process on both sides

Dry the filter properly before replacing it in the air conditioner.

Do's and Don'ts of Cleaning Your AC Filter

Here are the do's and don'ts of cleaning your AC filter:

Do's

  • Read the instruction manual first to make sure that you may clean the filter, and follow the removal and cleaning instructions carefully. Ensure that the filter is not torn or wrinkled, as this could mean that it needs replacing.

  • Use a vacuum cleaner's soft brush attachment to suction the loose debris before washing. Rough handling could cause the filter to tear. 

  • Use soft brushes and cloths in warm water to clean the filter on both sides thoroughly. Add a little vinegar for more stubborn dirt and baking soda will also help remove odours. 

Don'ts

  • Don't wash the filter in a dishwasher

  • Don't reinstall the filter until it has completely dried in natural sunlight. Any moisture left on the filter could start to mold, which in turn could affect your health.

  • Don't use the air conditioner without reinstalling the filter. Dirt and debris will move through the system instead of being filtered and cause damage to the unit.

Conclusion 

It is not possible to clean all filters, so it is necessary to check the manual first and follow the given instructions. A dirty filter can lead to health problems, increased energy bills and an uncomfortable environment inside your house. 

It is a simple process to wash the filter and once it is dry, reinstall it. Doing so will ensure the longevity of your air conditioner and a comfortable temperature in your living areas.

People Also Ask

To assist you with the process of cleaning your air conditioner filter, we have answered some of the more common questions asked.

Where is the Filter on the Air Conditioner?

It is found inside the air conditioner's grille, where the air enters and exits the system. 

Can Dirty Air Conditioner Filters Make You Sick?

Yes, a dirty air filter can affect your health, especially those suffering from respiratory diseases and asthma, as bacteria and debris are exhausted into the air you breathe.

Can You Put a Wet Filter in Your Air Conditioner?

No, it is essential to make sure that the filter is completely dry before reinstalling it. Moisture can lead to mold, which can be bad for your health.

Can You Clean a Disposable AC Filter?

No, one should replace disposable filters after about one month. Cleaning a disposable filter will lead to inefficient operating and could also lead to mold and health issues.

My name is Bob Wells and I am a retired HVAC tech from Washington state. I am currently retired and no longer do much with HVAC, however, I feel like I have a lot of knowledge in the subject and I wanted to create a website where I could talk about what I've learned and help upcoming HVAC techs. Find more info about me and HVAC Training 101.