How to Clean an AC Filter

by | Jan 25, 2023 | AC Maintenance

Though you may not often take the time to give your air conditioner some love, the fact remains that it’s a very important member of your household. Without air conditioning, your family would be hotter, moister, less healthy, and substantially grumpier.

For that last reason alone, it’s imperative to keep your AC unit in good working order! But jokes aside, while regular professional maintenance is strongly recommended, there are also some tasks you can take on yourself to ensure tip-top home AC performance.

One of the simplest and most important? Cleaning the filter.

AC filter cleaning is a straightforward task that can pack a major punch in terms of rewards. Let’s take a look:

Note: Not all AC filters can be cleaned; some require replacement instead. Before maintaining your AC’s filter, it is a good idea to double-check what the manufacturer recommends (your AC’s user manual or the internet are both good references). Replaceable AC filters are often surrounded with cardboard and can be purchased at your local hardware store.

The Benefits of Cleaning Your Air Conditioner Filter

Though often overlooked, a clean air conditioner filter can have positive impacts in many different ways.

  • Improved Performance – When your AC can draw in air at maximum capacity, you’ll notice cooler, cleaner air circulating through your home at every hour of the day and night.
  • Energy Saver – A clogged filter means that your AC system has to work extra hard—which requires extra energy. Cleaning it out increases efficiency, saves you money, and is better for the environment.
  • Extend the Life of Your Unit – Your AC system will last longer when it isn’t working double time. A dirty filter can stress many components of your unit. This can easily be avoided with regular cleaning.
  • Improved Air Quality – A clean filter means cleaner air—and a healthier home environment for you and your loved ones. Don’t compromise when it comes to the air you’re breathing; just take the time to clean your AC filter.
  • Easier Overall Maintenance – Regular filter cleaning keeps your AC system from building up to a major meltdown. Regular maintenance is quick and easy. Don’t wait until the situation is dire!

When You Should Clean Your Air Conditioner Filter

While every AC model and manufacturer will have its own recommendations for how often to clean the filter, there’s nothing like good common sense to ensure that you’re getting premium function from your AC without straining the system.

A good rule of thumb is to check your AC filters every month or two, at a minimum. Small units should be cleaned every few weeks, while larger units might be able to make it several months, depending on usage.

The bottom line? If you notice warning signs, such as visible build-up or compromised airflow, it’s time to take action. Units that are used full-time will require more frequent maintenance, as will units located in dusty environments. It never hurts to take a peek.

But how exactly do you clean an air conditioner filter? The details will depend on your AC’s exact specifications, but here are some good guidelines to get you started:

Step 1: Turn the Air Conditioning Unit off

Yes. You read that right. Though it may go without saying, we’ll say it loudly anyway. You cannot open up your AC unit and reach into it to remove the filter while the AC is running! Whether there’s an off button, a plug to disconnect, or a breaker to flip, take the proper precautions before damaging yourself or your air conditioner.

Step 2: Remove the Filter & Vacuum It

Once your air conditioning has been turned off, it’s time to locate the filter.

Once again, a user manual can be helpful in this endeavor. In general, AC filters for central systems are found near the cold air return (often in the basement). For smaller units, they’re often located within intake slots. Usually, it’s pretty straightforward to find and identify an AC filter, but occasionally it may require the removal of a screen or grate.

Once you’ve got the filter out of your AC unit, take a moment to gently clean its housing with your fingers or a dry cloth. Also, remove any large debris from the filter itself and do a quick visual scan to ensure the rest of the visible components are clear and free of obstructions.

Next, it’s time to vacuum. Use a handheld vacuum or a hose attachment on a medium setting to gently remove visible dust and particles.

Step 3: Soak the Filter in a Cleaning Solution

Once you’ve dealt with visible build-up, it’s time to remove any invisible film or grime that requires a bit of a deeper clean. Fill up a tub or basin with lukewarm water (the size of the filter will determine the size of the basin you’ll need) and fully submerge the filter.

You won’t require any specialized cleaning products for this task; just a bit of mild detergent should do the trick. Air conditioning filters can be delicate, so avoid aggressive scraping or scrubbing. Simply leave the filter to soak for about fifteen minutes, gently swishing it from side to side at regular intervals. You’re bound to see dirt particles floating in the water when you’re done, so finish off with a rinse.

To conclude a deep clean of your air conditioner filter, you can pour a mix of vinegar and water over it to kill any remaining germs and microbes that may have accumulated over time.

Step 4: Allow the Filter To Dry

Now that your AC filter is sparkling clean, it’s time to let it dry completely before returning it to its place. While it might feel frustrating to have to leave your AC off for a few hours, don’t be tempted to put a damp filter back into your AC unit, as this can cause damage to other components. To avoid discomfort, consider cleaning air filters on a cooler day or in the evening when they can dry overnight while you enjoy cooler temperatures.

Complete drying can take up to ten hours. To speed up the process, you can lay your AC’s filter in direct sunlight or put it near a fan. A hair dryer turned to the cool setting can also do the trick, but remember to handle delicate filters with care.

Step 5: Reinstall the Filter

Once you’re sure the filter is completely dry, it’s time to reinstall it into your air conditioning unit. Once again, consult your manual to ensure you have it facing the right way and that it’s properly secured.

Once this is done, you can restore power to your air conditioner and go grab your calendar to pencil in your next regular filter cleaning.

So, there you have it. All the basics of AC filter cleaning! Even for the least technical among us, it should be a manageable task.


Air conditioner filter cleaning is an often overlooked but essential element of proper HVAC maintenance. Good for the environment, your pocketbook, and your comfort, it can be completed in a few simple steps without any specialized equipment.

About The Author

John Magninat

John Magninat

Owner John Magninat is a third generation air conditioning repair man. Classic Services Air Conditioning & Heating is a family company with family values and our customers are our top priority.

Check Out Our “Summer Ready” Promotions

See What Our Customers Are Saying!

Read Reviews