The best way to clean an AC filter

If it seems like your AC unit has been struggling lately to cool your home effectively, it might be time to take a look at that filter. Cleaning the filter is a key, though often overlooked, aspect of proper air conditioner maintenance. While it isn’t a complex task, there are some critical dos and don’ts to ensure the air conditioner isn’t damaged in the process.

In this guide, we cover everything you need to know to clean your AC filter the right way, including recommendations for how often you should do it.

Shop this article: Flexzilla Garden HoseKlein Tools Multi-Bit Screwdriver and 5-Gallon Bucket

Why you need to clean your air conditioner filter

Air conditioners require good airflow to operate. Filters clogged with dust, hair and other particles hinder airflow and the air conditioner’s ability to cool a home. While some units may still bring the house down to a comfortable temperature with a dirty filter, it will have to work considerably harder to do so. The result is a high monthly utility bill that could have been avoided with a bit of maintenance.

It’s not just about efficiency, though. It’s also about wear and tear. Air conditioners that are constantly working in overdrive will wear out and break down quicker, potentially leading to costly repairs. They may also freeze up, putting the AC unit out of commission for a few hours, something users won’t want to experience in the middle of summer.

Signs your AC filter needs to be cleaned

Recommendations generally say to clean the AC filter every 30 days. However, some filters can go longer between cleanings than others, so make sure to read the manufacturer’s guidelines on a particular filter to see the recommended cleaning intervals.

Besides adhering to a monthly cleaning schedule, pay attention to how the air conditioner operates and check the filter any time it shows signs that it may need it. If users live in a very dusty or high pollution location, they may find the AC operates best when cleaning the filter every three weeks. Here are some common signs the filter needs cleaning:

  • The air conditioner is constantly cycling on and off.
  • The air quality in the house seems to be worsening.
  • The home is not getting sufficiently cool.
  • The electric bill is notably higher, but the household hasn’t changed any regular home activities.
  • The coils are constantly freezing up.

How to clean your AC filter

Start by turning off the AC unit to ensure it won’t cycle on and start sucking up the air during this process. Next, head over to the intake vent and open the grate. In some homes, users may need a screwdriver to do this. Once the filter is accessible, remove it and check to see if it is a washable and reusable filter or a disposable one. If the filter has a cardboard frame, this is a good indication that it is disposable and shouldn’t be washed.

On both types of filters, uses can utilize the hose on the home vacuum cleaner to gently suck off the dust and hairs. If there is a brush attachment with soft bristles available, this often works best and has minimal chance of causing damage. Users should be more gentle on disposable filters than reusable ones.


Flexzilla Garden Hose

If the filter is washable and the vacuum hasn’t thoroughly removed all the dust, users spray it down with a hose. This can help dislodge stubborn dust and hairs deep within the filter. After hosing it off, soak it in a mixture of equal parts water and white vinegar for about an hour to remove any odors. 

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Once finished, make sure to let the filter completely dry before reinstalling it. Running an air conditioner with a wet filter can cause ice to form within the system, affecting its performance.

What you need to clean your AC filter

Most people already have all the equipment they need to clean their AC filter. Just in case users don’t have some of the items we mentioned in the guide, though, these are the ones we recommend.

Klein Tools Multi-Bit Screwdriver

Klein Tools Multi-Bit Screwdriver

If a screwdriver is needed to remove the filter’s grate, this is a strong one. It will come in handy in many other projects around the house, too, thanks to the inclusion of eight commonly used bits.

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Gibtool Soft Bristle Vacuum Attachment

Gibtool Soft Bristle Vacuum Attachment

If your vacuum available doesn’t have a brush attachment, simply order this replacement without spending too much money. It has a 1.25-inch connector and artificial bristles that will last a long time.

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5-Gallon Bucket

5-Gallon Bucket

This large bucket is an excellent alternative to soaking a filter in a tub. It has a rigid plastic construction and strong handle that make it suitable for a range of tasks around a home or workshop. 

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Honeywell Nuisance Disposable Dust Mask

Honeywell Nuisance Disposable Dust Mask

If your household deal with asthma, allergies or dust sensitivity, consider wearing a face mask when working with the AC filter. This Honeywell model is practical and comfortable to wear.

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Brett Dvoretz writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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