First Timers

How to Clean Your Home Air Filter

Owning a home comes with a host of new responsibilities. If you lived in an apartment previously, you probably didn’t have to worry about the upkeep and maintenance of your air conditioner.

However, routine maintenance is essential to keeping your air conditioner working at peak performance. During the hot summer months, the last thing you want is an air conditioner that doesn’t cool your air.

The air filter in your home air conditioning system is a key part of keeping things running smoothly. This filter needs to be cleaned regularly to make sure that the air in your home stays clean and safe.

A dirty filter can lead to poor air quality in your home, which may make you sick. It can also cost you thousands of dollars in air conditioner repairs.

Never cleaned a home air filter before?

Don’t worry — it’s easier than you think! We’ve broken the process down into six simple steps to help you become familiar with the reusable air filters in your new home.

Why Do I Need to Clean My Home Air Filter?

Air filters are responsible for catching the contaminants that may be in the air and preventing them from clogging up your HVAC system or other air conditioning unit.

Even air that seems clean and clear to you may contain pollen, pet dander, cooking debris, and other impurities that can’t be seen with the naked eye.

You would be surprised at just how much dirt and grime you will find trapped inside your air filter!


Poor Air Quality


Dust and dander are not the only things that your air filter keeps out of the air you breathe. The leftover chemicals from aerosol sprays, paints, cleaners, and pesticides used inside your home can also affect the air quality in your home. If your air filter is not regularly cleaned, it will become clogged, and these contaminants will remain circulating throughout your home.

Poor air quality in the home is linked to many unwanted health problems. Homeowners who suffer from asthma or other respiratory issues are at especially high risk of developing complications due to poor air quality in the home.

Some of the symptoms that can be caused by poor air quality include:

  • Headaches
  • Eye irritation
  • Congestion
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea


Increased Energy and Repair Costs


A dirty air filter can also cause problems with your air conditioner. A clogged air filter won’t be able to properly filter the air in your home, which will allow dust and other contaminants to get inside your air conditioning unit. This can cause the moving parts of your air conditioner, such as valves and fan motors, to jam.

This restricts the airflow inside the unit, causing a strain on the system, and could permanently damage your air conditioner. If your air conditioner shuts off suddenly for no apparent reason, it may be due to your dirty filter.

Even if your air conditioner appears to be working, you may be paying extra in energy costs due to your dirty filter. Filters that are clogged with dirt and debris greatly reduce the amount of air flowing through the system, making it less efficient in cooling your home.

According to, a dirty filter can increase your unit’s energy consumption by up to 15%.


Related: AC Repair: Your Step-By-Step Troubleshooting Guide for Fixing AC Issues


What Kind of Air Filter Does Your Home Use?

close-up of hands taking down a dirty air filter in a home

Every home is different. As a new homeowner, the air filters in your new home might not be the same as in the previous place you lived. If you are unsure, it’s actually very easy to determine what kind of air filter your home uses.

Some homes use disposable air filters. These are lightweight, inexpensive filters made primarily of paper pleats or tangled fibers that are designed to be discarded after use. Many newer homes use disposable paper filters, as they are easy to replace and relatively inexpensive.

To check whether or not your home uses these types of filters, look for air intake vents located in the walls or ceiling of your home. In older homes, you may need a screwdriver to open these intakes, although the intake vents in newer homes often open with a simple latching mechanism.

Here, you will find your home’s disposable air filters. They come in a variety of sizes, but the filter will usually have the size printed somewhere on the side. If not, you can easily measure the filter with measuring tape to determine what size you will need to buy. Replacing your disposable air filter is as easy as pulling out the old one and replacing it with a fresh one every few months.

Cleaning excess dust and dander from the vent with a damp cloth is usually the extent of the cleaning you will have to do if your home uses these kinds of filters. You can dispose of the old filter in your regular trash.


Wondering about those pesky items you can’t put in your regular trash? Read: How to Store and Dispose of Paint (+ Other Hard to Manage Items)


What Will I Need to Clean a Washable Air Filter?

You won’t need to buy any special equipment or cleaning kits to clean your washable air filter. The process uses everyday, inexpensive items that you likely already have around your home.

Here’s what you will need:

  • A screwdriver
  • A vacuum cleaner with a brush attachment
  • Access to a sink, garden hose, or a large water bucket
  • Distilled white vinegar


How Do I Clean My Air Filter?

Once you have located your home’s washable air conditioning filter and collected the necessary supplies, follow these six easy steps to get your air filter cleaner:


1. Turn Off Your Air Conditioning


If you leave your air conditioning system running while in the process of cleaning your filter, it will draw excess dust into the fan and motor. It will also cause unfiltered air to circulate around your home.

To prevent this from happening, turn off your air conditioner for a few minutes while completing the task.


2. Open the Intake Vent and Remove the Filter


Open the cover to the air filter using the latches located near the edge of the vent. If your vent is secured with screws, use a screwdriver to unscrew the screws and then put them in a secure place.

In many homes, the vent cover may be located on the ceiling. Use a stepladder or a sturdy chair to reach the vent, if needed.

If it has been more than six months since you cleaned your air filter, odds are it will be coated with dust, dirt, and grime. That’s how you know it’s ready to be cleaned! If you are sensitive or allergic to dust, pollen, or pet dander, you might want to wear a mask over your nose and mouth during this step.


3. Vacuum the Dust Out of the Filter


If there is a lot of excess dust on the filter, take it outside or into another well-ventilated area. Shake the filter into a garbage can or trash bag to get rid of all the dust on the outside of the filter. This will help make the filter easier to vacuum.

Once this is done, use the brush attachment on your vacuum cleaner to suck the solid debris from your air filter. Be sure to use the brush attachment rather than just using the hose, which may damage the filter. Use the bristles on the brush attachment to gently brush away any debris that may be stuck in the filter.


4. Use a Cleaning Solution of Vinegar and Water


In your sink or a large bucket, mix a solution of one part distilled white vinegar to one part warm water. Place your filter into the mixture and let it soak for about one hour. This will help to remove any remaining particles from the filter.

After an hour of soaking, rinse the filter until the water runs clear. Use clean, low-pressure water when rinsing to avoid damaging the paper filter.

If your filter wasn’t very dirty, it is okay to skip this step.


5. Completely Dry Your Filter


A dry filter is much more important than you might think. All excess water must be evaporated, and your filter must be completely dry before putting it back into the vent.

Dust and debris from the air in your home will stick to a damp filter. This can cause the filter to become clogged. A damp filter may also lead to mold and mildew buildup, which can pose a serious health risk. Letting the filter air dry in the sun or in front of a fan will help it to dry more quickly.


6. Replace Your Filter


Replacing your air filter is the last step. After your air filter is completely dry, simply place it back into the vent and close it. Be sure to replace any screws you may have removed before cleaning.

Once the filter is secure, you can turn your air conditioning unit back on and enjoy your clean, cool, and safe air.


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What if My Home Uses Window Unit Air Conditioning?

If your home does not have central air conditioning, then it probably uses window unit air conditioning. These small air conditioners work in a very similar way, just on a much smaller scale. They also have filters that should be regularly cleaned to keep them in good condition.

Most window units have a plastic grate on the front that can be opened without the need for a screwdriver. This grate might be located on the top or sides of the unit. If you are unsure of where to look, check the owner’s manual that came with your window unit.

The air filter in your unit should be located directly behind the grate. Simply remove the filter, and clean off the dirt and dust with a damp cloth. If the filter is in poor condition or shows signs of mold or mildew, you’ll know that it is time to replace it.


When Should I Call an Expert?

Man replacing an air filter in a home

While you should now be a pro when it comes to cleaning the air filter in your home, some things are still best left to a professional. If you notice any of the following when you go to clean your air filter, it might be time to call for a technician:


There is Little to No Airflow Coming From the Vent


When you go to your air conditioning vent, place your hand over the grate. You should feel the airflow through the vent, letting you know that your air conditioner is working. If you feel very little air or none at all, it is often a sign of a problem that may require a technician to fix.


The Air Conditioner is Blowing Warm Air


If your air conditioner is blowing air that isn’t cooled, it is often a sign that the unit is low on refrigerant. It could also be a sign of other problems, such as a compressor that isn’t working.


There is an Unpleasant Odor Coming From the Vent


If you notice a strong smell coming from your vent when you remove the filter, such as a burning or metallic odor, you should contact a technician right away. Smells like these are usually a sign that there is something wrong with the wiring in your unit. This could potentially be a fire hazard. It is best to stop and keep your air conditioner turned off until a technician arrives.

A musty smell could be a sign that there is mold or mildew buildup somewhere in your system. This poses a significant health risk, so it is best to call a professional right away to have the unit inspected and thoroughly cleaned.




Remember to clean your air filter regularly.

During the warm months, experts suggest that you clean your home air filter every two months.

For homes that keep their air conditioner running constantly or who have pets in the house who shed fur and dander, changing the filter once per month is recommended to ensure the best air quality in your home.

Keeping the air safe, clean, and cool in your home is an important responsibility for new homeowners. Hopefully, with the knowledge and tools to do it yourself, this DIY task may seem a little less daunting now.