How to Clean an AC Filter

How to Clean an AC Filter

Knowing how to clean an AC filter is one important skill you should have. Before cleaning your air conditioner filter, check to make sure that you have a filter that is meant to be cleaned and reused rather than one that is meant to be disposed of and replaced.  If your air conditioner’s filter is in good shape, your air will also get a lot cleaner in the process.

Cleaning the filter of your air conditioner is essential for it to run effectively. Running water alone is not enough to get the dirt out of the air conditioner filter. Flipping on the switch when it’s hot out may be second nature to many of us, but it’s crucial to get your unit back in top shape before you get the cold air blasting. Filters inside air conditioners are designed to catch dust and microbes, but if not cleaned regularly they can clog up and collect moisture and even mold.

Manufacturers usually recommend that you clean the filters every few weeks, but it really depends how often you use the air conditioner. Simply put, the more you use it, the more often you should clean the filters. At the least, aim to clean them a couple of times a year. For example, if you mainly use the unit in summer, clean the filters in spring so it’s ready for the peak season, and again when the hot season is over. Follow these cleaning tips to clean your filter and get your ac running as good as new.

The process is easier than it looks, but you should be prepared to put in an hour or two.

How to Remove Your AC Filter

Determine If You Can Clean Your Filter

You should check if it can be removed for cleaning or meant to be disposed of after a given amount of time. Consult your air conditioner’s instruction manual to determine whether cleaning your air conditioner’s filter is an option.

Turn the Air Conditioner Off

You should never clean your air conditioner’s filter with the air conditioner on. This will cause a rush of unfiltered air into your residence and cause your air conditioner’s evaporator coils and other internal parts to collect dirt and particulate matter.

Do not use your air conditioner until you’ve replaced the filter.

Access Your Filter

On large central air conditioning units, you should be able to locate your filter by looking along the return duct’s length. You might need to unscrew a few screws to access it. In small window-mounted air conditioning units, you’ll have to pop the front face of the air conditioner off with a putty knife. In wall-mounted air conditioners, you might have to slide the front panel off in order to access the filter.

Consult your manufacturer’s directions for more information on how to access your air conditioner’s filter.

How to Clean an AC Filter

Use the following steps to clean your AC filter

Use a Vacuum Cleaner for Routine Cleaning

Just pop the filter out or unclip it (depending on the make and model of your air conditioner) and use the tube extension on your vacuum cleaner to suck all the grit and dust out of the filter. Replace the filter when you’ve finished cleaning it.

If you’ve taken good care of your air conditioner’s filter, you might not see a visible change in the filter when cleaning it. Rest assured it is getting clean.

On the other hand, you might not be able to get all the dust and grit out of the filter. Just use the vacuum to suck up as much as you can.

This method is best for giving your filter its regular cleaning.

Rinse the Filter for a Deeper Clean

If, after you’ve vacuumed your filter, it still has a good deal of particulate attached, try washing it. To get started, remove your air conditioner filter. Mix one part vinegar and one part water. For example, you can mix six cups of vinegar and six cups of water. Pour the mixture in a tub or a wide sink that can accommodate your filter.

Submerge your filter in the mixture for at least one hour. If it is particularly grimy, leave it in for about two hours or more.

Drain the water and vinegar solution and dry the filter on a rack. Replace it when dry.

Instead of water and vinegar, you could mix a small amount of detergent or liquid dish soap into a volume of water that will cover your filter when it is submerged.

Hose Your Filter Down

If the weather is nice and your filter is too large to fit in your sink, take your filter outside and lean it against a wall. Spray your hose on the filter. Do not use a pressurized hose nozzle or you might risk tearing or damaging the flimsy filter.

You could also hose your filter down in your shower. Just prop the filter up in your shower and, using your shower’s detachable shower head, spray the filter’s entire surface, front and back, in a zig-zag motion.

After hosing your filter down, allow it to dry, then replace it.

For additional effect, you could sprinkle a few spoonfuls of baking soda over your filter before spraying it down.

Use the Automatic Cleaning Function

Some modern air conditioners might be equipped with a function that cleans the air filter for you. These air conditioners use an internal cassette and brush device to remove particles from the filter, then deposits the dust and particles in a small chamber from which they are blown outside. If your air conditioner has such a feature, set it to clean your filter regularly.

How to Care for Your Air Conditioner

Clean Your Filter Regularly

Different air conditioners have different filter cleaning requirements. Some filters need to be cleaned once every two weeks. Some manufacturers recommend cleaning just once every 30 days. Still, others require cleaning only one to four times per year.

Consult your manufacturer’s directions for information about how often you should clean your filter.

You should clean your filter more frequently if you have pets or allergies, or if you’re using your air conditioner regularly.

Discard Your Filter If Necessary

Despite your careful and regular cleaning, your filter will eventually wear out. If you notice any tears, holes, or damage to your filter, replace it with a new one.

Clean the Condenser Coils

Cleaning the condenser coils can make your air conditioner more efficient and improve its lifetime. If you have a window-mounted air conditioner, you’ll need to blow compressed air in short bursts at the back end of the unit (the part of the air conditioner that sticks out the window).

Alternately, use a soft-bristled brush to scrub between the grating of the air conditioner’s intake. Be careful not to bend any of the coil fins.

If you want to clean the condenser coils of your large central air conditioner unit outside, remove its outer case, then blow compressed air across its surface in short bursts. You could also choose to use an industrial-strength vacuum fitted with a soft-bristle brush attachment to suck the grime and dirt from where it has collected between the coils.


  • Cleaning or replacing your filter can improve your air conditioner’s efficiency by 5% to 15%.
  • Wear a disposable face mask when cleaning air filters. This will prevent you from breathing in harmful dust particles that may carry bacteria.
  • If you have central air conditioning, be sure to use a high-quality filter and change it out at least every three months to keep your energy bill down, your home cooler, and to reduce the amount of dust, dander, and allergens in the air.
  • Filter removal and location varies depending on the individual model. Please consult the Owner’s manual for more information.

A Great Cleaning Routine For Your Air Conditioner

Every Use

Run the ‘dry out’ program if your air conditioner has it. This evaporates the moisture that’s condensed on the heat exchanger, preventing mold and foul odors.


Clean and/or replace filter screens in the indoor unit of a split-system, or as per the instructions for your ducted system. (Do this more often if your air conditioner is always on, you live in a very dusty environment or you experience a noticeable drop in performance).

Wipe down the indoor unit or any ducts or vents with a soft damp cloth.


Clean the outdoor unit and remove vegetation/obstructions/spiders as necessary.

Inspect HEPA or carbon filters and replace as necessary.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Sound an Issue For Heating and Air Conditioning?

Yes. Heating and cooling units that make a lot of noise increase sound pollution. Although no cost savings are tied to less sound in your home, the sound rating of a cooling system can have a serious effect on the comfort and enjoyment of your North American home. The sound level of an air conditioner or heat pump depends on a number of things, such as the unit, and the degree to which the compressor is insulated can increase the amount of noise it makes.

Although most heating and cooling systems manufactured today are quieter than ever before, it’s a safe idea to compare sound ratings when assessing a new air conditioner or heat pump, particularly if the equipment location is near bedrooms or living rooms.

When I Turn On My Air Conditioner It Smells Musty and Dirty. Why?

A smelly air conditioner is an air conditioner that requires cleaning and treatments.

What Are the Human Symptoms of a Contaminated Air Conditioner?

  • Asthma attacks
  • Allergies
  • Hay fever
  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Sore, dry eyes
  • Respiratory problems
  • Headaches
  • Tightness of chest
  • Frequent colds
  • Flu or flu-like symptoms

Will A Clean Air Conditioner Save Me Money?

A clogged-up AC with dirt and dust will cut efficiency by up to 50%. A regular clean can save you a whopping 30% in energy costs.

Do Medical Experts Recognize Contamination in Home Air Conditioning Units As A Health Hazard?

Organisations ranging from the World Health Organization to the US Environmental Protection Agency recognize the dangers associated with poor indoor air quality. In Australia, the CSIRO says that Australia faces a significant air quality challenge largely because of indoor rather than outdoor pollutants.

What Temperature Should I Set My Air Conditioner?

23-24 degrees is the temperature at which an air conditioning unit runs most efficiently and economically. Every 1°C lower can increase running costs by up to 15%

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