How to Clean a Cabin Air Filter

A cabin air filter like an engine filter is responsible to restrict the entry of several pollutants such as dust particles, allergens, and pollen particles into the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system of a vehicle to ensure the health and safety of passengers. Therefore, a cabin air filter must stay clean 

Like any other part of a machine, the performance of a cabin air filter deteriorates over time of its usage. This happens because pollutants and other debris get clogged up in the pores of a cabin air filter. 

Hence, if a filter is not clean it must be replaced or in some cases can be cleaned and reused to let the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system of a vehicle operate at their peak ability. We will discuss the chances of reusing a cabin air filter, How to inspect cabin air filter, and how to clean a cabin air filter in this article.

Can we reuse a cabin air filter?

A cabin air filter is a very important part or component of the heating ventilation and air conditioning system of a vehicle

A dusty or clogged cabin air filter will not allow the required amount of airflow into the system which will lower the efficiency and the performance of both the engine and heating ventilation and air conditioning system of a vehicle. Therefore, a cabin air filter must be checked periodically for its condition. 

Two types of cabin air filters are available in the market i.e. HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) and activated carbon or activated charcoal air filter. HEPA is a kind of mechanical air filter whereas activated carbon air filters are chemically reactive cabin air filters. 

Both HEPA and activated carbon cabin air filters can be reused but there it is important to note that the effectiveness of an activated carbon cabin air filter will decrease over time as the activated carbon becomes saturated with impurities. 

However, the condition of an activated carbon cabin air filter will depend on several factors such as the frequency of use, the type of contaminants in the air, and the size of the filter. 

Similarly, a HEPA cabin air filter can be reused if it is not excessively dirty or damaged. If the HEPA cabin air filter is only slightly dirty, it can be cleaned and reused using several methods. 

However, most cabin air filters are designed to be disposable and should be replaced periodically to ensure optimal performance. Similar to the activated carbon cabin air filter, the condition of the filter depends on several factors, including driving conditions, climate, and usage.

How to inspect a cabin air filter?

A cabin air filter must be regularly checked for dirt and or any damage to it to avoid any complications in the heating and air conditioning system of a vehicle. A step-by-step DIY (do it yourself) procedure for analyzing a cabin air filter is given below.

Step 1: Locate the cabin air filter

A cabin air filter is typically located under the hood or behind the glove box of a vehicle. Most modern-day cars have their cabin air filter behind the glove box but the exact location of a cabin air filter can be determined using the vehicle’s maintenance manual. We will discuss the procedure

Step 2: Remove the filter

The second step is to remove the filter from its place. To do it, locate and loosen the screw that is keeping the glovebox in its place. One might also need to remove an additional band that also holds the glovebox. 

Take the cabin air filter out of its place carefully so that dust and debris don’t fall out from it. Once the cabin air filter has been located and found, it can be taken out by gently pressing the clips around it.

Step 3: Inspect the filter

Once the filter has been removed, check its condition carefully. There are three different types of tests you can perform to inspect car cabin air filters.

  • Visual Inspection Test
  • Sniff test
  • Blow test

Visual Inspection Test

This is done to inspect any physical damage or know the condition of the air filter due to dust and debris. Any damage to the body or too much dust stuck on the filter surface will result in replacement of the cabin air filter with a new one.

Sniff Test

As air filters block all types of foreign objects from entering into vehicle HVAC systems, there is a good chance that biodegradable things stuck on the filter surface will start to decompose or other objects will chemically react with filter material.

Sniff test will make sense of any bad material in the filter that is not possible with a visual inspection test.

Blow Test

With no physical damage on the filter surface and no bad odor, a cabin air filter can still go bad due to deep internal blockage. So a blow of pressurized air will help to check the flow of air through the air filter. 

Pressure needs to be moderate, not too high to damage the filter. You can even try to blow air by yourself with the help of any pipe that distance cabin air filter from your face.

If particles of dust or other debris are available in the filter, the filter should be cleaned or replaced. Furthermore, the pleats of the filter play an important role in capturing contaminants by increasing its surface area therefore pleats of the filter must be inspected properly to ensure that they're not clogged with dirt or debris.

On the other hand, a carbon-activated cabin air filter might not be replaced because these filters contain activated carbon and cannot be cleaned in the traditional ways, as washing or drying the filter would remove the activated carbon particles.

Step 4: Check for damage

The filter housing should also be observed for any damage such as wear and tear, holes, or worn edges. If the filter housing is damaged, it must be replaced immediately to avoid unwanted consequences because a damaged filter housing can’t be repaired.

Step 5: Check the size and shape

If the current underuse filter was not replaced under your supervision or by a professional person, check the rating and type of the filter carefully because a low-rated filter cannot stop unwanted pollutants from entering the HVAC system.

Step 6: Reinsert the filter

Once the inspection has been completed, reinsert the filter back into its place. Make sure to secure it properly and ensure that it's properly seated. If the filter is located behind the glove box, reattach the glove box before closing it.

How to clean a cabin air filter?

A cabin air filter can be cleaned and reused but it is very important to consult the vehicle’s manual and comprehend the filter’s specification before attempting the cleaning procedure to avoid any damage to the HVAC system of a vehicle. 

It should also be noted that a carbon-activated cabin air filter is not easy to clean because the activated-carbon particles may fall from the cabin air filter which will reduce its filtering efficiency.

Here are several methods on how to clean a cabin air filter which have been stated below.

Tap Method 

If a filter is in good condition and contains dust in its pleated or folded region, gently tap it to remove the available dust or debris.

Vacuum Method

If a cabin air filter is relatively more clogged with dirt and pollutants, a vacuum cleaner can be used to suck the dust out from it.

Soap and Water Method

A filter based on its specification and make can also be washed for its cleaning. Usually, a cabin air filter made of paper can only be replaced but some cloth-made filters are reusable and can stand up to a wash. To wash it, soak the cabin air filter in a solution of soap and water, then rinse it thoroughly and let it dry completely.

Compressed Air Method

To blow the dust and debris out of a cabin air filter, pressurized or compressed air can also be used.

Cabin Air filter cleaning kit

Cleaning a cabin air filter using a filter cleaning kit can help improve the quality of air that enters your vehicle's cabin. Here are the steps to follow:

  • Park your vehicle in a well-ventilated area and turn off the engine.
  • Locate the cabin air filter. This is usually found under the dashboard, behind the glove compartment or in the engine compartment.
  • Remove the cabin air filter from its housing.
  • Follow the instructions on the filter cleaning kit to prepare the cleaning solution. Most filter cleaning kits come with a cleaner and a spray bottle.
  • Spray the cleaning solution on the filter, making sure to cover all areas of the filter. Allow the solution to soak in for a few minutes, as specified by the instructions on the kit.
  • Rinse the filter thoroughly with water. Make sure to remove all traces of the cleaning solution.
  • Allow the filter to dry completely before reinstalling it in its housing. Do not use any heat source to dry the filter, as this may damage it.
  • Reinstall the filter in its housing and make sure it is securely in place.

Start your vehicle and test the air flow from the vents. If the air flow seems to be restricted, you may need to repeat the cleaning process or replace the filter.

Last works on how to clean a cabin air filter

Your car cabin air filter must be kept clean and in proper working conditions to ensure clean air in your car cabin. To how to clean a cabin air filter, we recommend to use cabin air filter cleaner as they are best in their work.

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