How to Clean a Car Air Filter in Just 8 Quick & Easy Steps

Written by

Bruce Sonnier


Marcus Dutton

how to clean a car air filter

Clean car air filters are every car owner’s dream. But who says they cannot be a reality? Cleaning car air filters is easier than you may think. You can even do it by yourself at home. Yes, you read that right!

Just read through this detailed article on how to clean a car air filter and follow along. We will take you through the materials you need and the steps to take.

  • Get access to the air filters
  • Remove as much loose filth as possible
  • Vacuum away all the finer filth
  • Apply the air filter cleaner
  • Scrub the cleaning solution with a brush
  • Rinse the cleaning solution off with water
  • Dump out the water and let them drip dry
  • Put the filters back and reassemble the setup

These are the eight basic steps. But obviously, there is more to know. All the details will be revealed as you continue to read. So, what are you waiting for? Read on to pocket the best way to clean air filters.

8 Simple Steps to Clean Air Filter Car


If you do not clean your car air filters, you will have to face a lot of troublesome consequences, such as:

  • Low performing engine and lack of acceleration
  • Strange noise-making engine
  • Black smoke emitting tailpipe
  • Falling gas and fuel mileages
  • Petrol smelling exhaust

For these reasons, it is recommended that car owners regularly check up on their vehicle’s air filters and give them a clean every now and then.

The filters can collect filth and become clogged, leading to more serious issues that eventually become irrevocable. Thus, to keep this from ever happening, read the following sections closely.

What You Will Need to Have Ready

Here is a list of the materials that you will have to prepare:

  • Protective gears (Gloves, Goggles, Face Mask)
  • Basic hand tools (Screwdriver, Wrench)
  • Plastic-covered work surface
  • Trash can or trash bag
  • Handheld vacuum
  • Air filter cleaner
  • Or water, laundry detergent/dish soap, and a spray bottle
  • Soft-bristle brush
  • Garden hose or faucet
  • Specialty oil (Optional)

Among these materials, be more attentive in choosing an air filter cleaner and specialty oil. For both, it is very important not to just pick up any product but instead, make an informed decision backed up by careful research.

Invest time and effort into getting a quality air filter cleaner. It should have a safe formula, even better if it is eco-friendly and biodegradable. Moreover, it should come as an ergonomically designed spray bottle for optimal ease of application. Do not forget to think about price and brand as well.

To help you in your search, here are a few reliable options that you can consider: AEM 1-1000 Air Filter Cleaner and K&N Air Filter Aerosol Cleaner.

The same goes for selecting specialty oil. Give thought to all these factors: formula, compatibility, ease of application, price, and brand. The best one should converge the ideals of the factors. Be picky with your selection. After all, your precious car deserves the best of the best!

Some quality specialty oil products available in the market for you to look into are K&N Car Air Filter Oil, Traxxas Oil Air Filter, and FRAM Ultra Synthetic Protection Oil Filter.

Once you have all the materials listed above, you can proceed to the next section.

What You Will Need to Do


Prior Preparations

Before you get your hands dirty, check that the engine on the car is cool to touch. Only then should you proceed with washing the car air filter. Put on your protective gears, which include but are not limited to: a pair of gloves, goggles, and a face mask.

Next, locate the air filters. Typically, it is rectangular and placed on top of the engine to one side. Determine if there are any outer casing or housing and prepare the necessary tools for removal.

Step 1: Get access to the air filters

If the air filter is encased in an outer housing, remove it with basic hand tools like a screwdriver and wrench, and set it aside. Once you have access to the filter, take it out of the compartment. During this step, be extra careful; do not shake off loose dust, dirt, or debris into the nearby intake or airbox. Place the filter on a flat, plastic-covered surface. The cover should make cleaning easier for you later on.

Step 2: Remove as much loose filth as possible

Now, remove as much of the loose dust, dirt, or debris as possible. Hold in over a trash can and shake, or shake right into a trash bag that can be thrown out conveniently later.

Step 3: Vacuum away all the finer filth

Next, use a vacuum to suck away any finer filth still left in the nooks and crannies. It is an easy and effective approach to getting rid of unwanted contaminants on the filters. Run it through the air filter thoroughly. For this, you will want a handheld, cordless vacuum that is small and light since it will be easier to maneuver and will not cause hand fatigue. It is also fairly inexpensive and easy to find, both online and offline.

Step 4: Apply the air filter cleaner

Apply the air filter cleaner that you have prepared. Follow the instructions printed on the product’s packaging.

Alternatively, you can make a DIY cleaning solution. In a bucket or container, mix water and mild laundry detergent with a 2:1 ratio. You can also substitute the detergent with dish soap. After you have made the solution, transfer it into a spray bottle and cap it tightly. Shake it well to ensure that everything is mixed.

Spritz it onto the air filter at about a hand’s length distance. Let it settle for one to two minutes, then move onto the next step.

Step 5: Scrub the cleaning solution with a brush

Scrub the air filter with a soft-bristle brush in side-to-side motions. Use moderate force; pressing down too harshly can damage the filters. Then, you will have to shell out a lot of money for additional repairs and/or replacements. Take time to do this meticulously. The more attentive you are in this step, the less work you will have in later steps.

Top Tip: You can use a toothbrush to scrub the crevices of the air filters.

Step 6: Rinse the cleaning solution off with water

Now, rinse. Use a garden hose or a faucet with running water and wash from the interior to the exterior carefully. Make sure that the water pressure is not too high. Otherwise, the air filters can be damaged. Only continue once you are sure that the cleaning solution is gone. It is a good idea to double-check that no residue is left before proceeding.

Step 7: Dump out the water and let them drip dry

Shake the air filter to dump our excess water. Then, hold in one hand upside-down to drip dry. This can be a bit time-consuming but it is very necessary. Do not try to speed up the process by applying heat sources like a hairdryer.

Step 8: Put the filters back and reassemble the setup

Return the filters to their original setup. Do not forget about the housing that was set aside in the first step! Again, use your hand tools for this. Check that everything is back in its place and secured.

Additional Step – Only if you have oil-coated filters

This is an extra step that goes in between steps 7 and 8 if you have oil-coated filters. Coat the filters with a layer of specialty oil to saturate. Make sure that you do this evenly and avoid over-oiling. Then, let the filters sit for at least five minutes before completing the process with step 8.

So there you have it! Now that you know all the steps to wash an air filter, you do not have to worry about dust, dirt, debris, grease, and grime interfering with the performance of your vehicle’s air filters.


With that, you have gone through everything you need to know about how to clean a car air filter. As long as you follow what you have read, you should no longer have trouble with handling dirty car air filters.

You can bookmark this article for future reference. If you have thoughts or questions on this topic that you want to share, please leave a comment. We always welcome our readers!

Also, feel free to share this article’s content with your fellow car owner friends so that they can enjoy clean car air filters too.

Related: The Detailed Process of Cleaning a Reusable K&N Air Filter

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