Can You Clean Home Air Filters Or Should You Replace Them?

The air filter in your HVAC system can accumulate dirt and debris over time. But the question is, should you clean your home's air filters, or is it better to replace them? We researched the answer to this question, and here's what we found.

Clean your home’s air filters frequently. But replace the HVAC filters at least once per year or when they accumulate a significant amount of dirt.

Continue reading as we talk about the choice between cleaning and replacing home air filters in greater detail. We’ll also tackle the procedures to clean and replace a house’s filters to help you with those tasks.

Air conditioner with filter full of unhygienic and health hazard trapped dust, Can You Clean Home Air Filters Or Should You Replace Them?

Can You Clean An Air Filter Instead Of Replacing?

Soft Focus to Filter of Air handing Unit, Technician checking a Pre-filter of air handling unit for replacement a new filter - HVAC maintenance Thank you This photo has been successfully downloaded. (Look for it in your Downloads folder or the last place you saved a file.) Having issues? Download again Credit:Sucharas wongpeth Stock photo ID:1211073867 Upload date:March 30, 2020 Categories:Stock Photos | Filtration Photos from same series

You can clean an HVAC air filter instead of replacing it. But the decision to clean or replace your home’s filter may also depend if the item acquired cracks, gaps, holes, or other types of disfiguration.

Take note that cracks or holes found in filters can result in additional dirt and filth entering homes. It might also consume less time and money to replace the filter than attempting a successful repair job on it.

However, remind yourself to replace your home’s HVAC filters at least once per year. Air filters may lose their efficiency over time, and cleaning them might only be a short-term solution to keeping your house spotless.

Don’t forget to clean each filter in your HVAC system. Cleaning or replacing one or a few filters in your home may only give you a slight improvement in experiencing clean indoor air. Read our post on how many air filters does a house have to learn the details on this matter.

Check out these replacement HVAC filters on Amazon.

How Do I Clean A Dirty Air Filter At Home?

Air conditioner cooling coil that half comparison between thick dust and clean

Keep in mind that each home generally has a different HVAC system setup. Still, the steps to clean dirty air filters around houses should be relatively similar regardless of the design of the HVAC system.

But before you start cleaning your home’s dirty filters, make sure to prepare yourself for the upcoming task. For starters, wear gloves to avoid direct skin contact with the dirt. Also, wear a respirator or face mask to avoid breathing the airborne dust, which would otherwise put you at risk of contracting respiratory problems.

After you have finished the necessary preparations, here are the general steps to clean your home’s dirty air filters:

What You’ll Need

  • Screwdriver
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Garden hose
  • Liquid detergent
  • Scrub brush

Step #1: Turn Off The HVAC System

Dirt and other unclean particulates can enter your home if the HVAC system is active and you remove its filters. So, locate the power source connected to the system and turn it to the off position.

Step #2: Vacuum The Loose Dirt

Unscrew the vent covers that might be encasing some of the filters. Then, use your vacuum cleaner (preferably with a soft brush attachment) and suck up the loose dirt surrounding the filters.

You can stop at this step and return the vent covers if the filters don’t have significant dirt buildup. Otherwise, proceed to the next step.

Step #3: Wash The Filters

Bring the removed air filters outside and rinse them with lukewarm water from the garden hose. Use the scrub brush dipped in mild liquid detergent on the filters that still have leftover filth on them.

Let the filters air dry. Ensure that you set them in a location that won’t attract dirt. Then, reinstall them once they’re dry.

Aside from following these steps, you can watch the video below for an alternate method to clean your home’s air filters:

How Do I Change The Air Filter In My HVAC System?

Side by side comparison of a dirty home air filter next to a clean white one; Filter replacement will maintain a good indoor air quality

Replacing air filters in a home’s HVAC system is usually easier than cleaning them. But you need to buy the filters that have the same dimensions as the previous units. That way, you shouldn’t run into significant problems in trying to fit the new filters into their respective locations.

Once you have your new filters, follow these steps to complete the replacement process:

Step-by-Step Guide

  1. Turn off the HVAC system from the thermostat, the circuit breaker, or the mains.
  2. Remove the clamps that generally hold and secure the air filter covers. Take out the covers afterward and set them aside.
  3. Carefully slide out the filter from its container.
  4. Install the new air filters into the opening while paying attention to the correct orientation.
  5. Cover the filters and turn on the HVAC system.

Check out these replacement air filters on Amazon.

You can also watch the video below to learn how to replace HVAC filters in the wall and ceiling:

You might also find it interesting to learn about how to replace the air filter on a Lennox air conditioner. If so, we have a post on that topic you can check out to know the procedure.

Does Cleaning The Home Filters Make A Difference?

Cleaning the home’s filters can provide different benefits, including (but aren’t limited to) the following:

Prolongs The HVAC System’s Serviceable Life

Generally, the typical HVAC system will last about 15 to 25 years. Strict adherence to regular HVAC filter cleaning may help extend the life of the system beyond the 25-year mark. Otherwise, prepare to spend about $7,000 on a new HVAC system.

Improves Indoor Air Quality

Cleaning the home’s filters helps ensure that household members and guests breathe clean air. Ensuring that the filters remain as spotless as possible can also help encourage other advantages like:

  • Improved sleep quality
  • Reduced risks of allergy attacks
  • Eliminate foul smells
  • Easy breathing throughout the day and night

Also, sustaining the cleanliness of the HVAC’s filters helps reduce the amount of dust buildup in the house. It can also lead to appliances and other electronics not becoming overworked, which would otherwise be the reasons for skyrocketing energy bills.

Reduces The Need For Expensive Repairs

Failure to clean HVAC filters regularly may result in a higher-than-usual risk of malfunctions and breakdowns in the system. If so, expect to pay an average of $319 to repair some parts of the system. Significant HVAC repair jobs can even have costs that can go as high as $2,900.

Are Reusable Air Filters Better Than Disposable Ones?

air conditioner cleaning

Both reusable and disposable air filters have their unique advantages and shortcomings. So that means that one option isn’t the best in all aspects than the other.

Take a look at the differences between these home filter choices to help you with your purchasing decision:


Disposable filters might be a better choice than buying a pack of washable filters. It’s because the non-reusable variants generally cost about $35 to $90, making them ideal for households following strict budgets. In comparison, a pack of reusable HVAC filters often has prices that range from $60 to $120.

Still, it’s important to mention the average lifespan of these filters. Disposable air filters usually only last for about 3 months before they need replacements. On the other hand, reusable filters may last a year, or perhaps even more, before you need to change them.

Efficiency Ratings

Each filter has its minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV), which is a measurement that shows the proficiency of the item in blocking unwanted particulates. Typically, a filter blocks dirt and other filth better than others if it has a low MERV coefficient.

Disposable home filters usually have a MERV rate ranging from 4 to 12. On the other hand, reusable filters generally have MERV ratings from 1 to 4, making these options better choices for capturing microscopic particles.

What Type Of Air Filter Is Best For Home?

Take note that home air filters typically fall under seven different types, which are:

  • Electrostatic
  • HEPA
  • Media
  • Pleated
  • Spun
  • UV
  • Washable

Each filter class has its unique pros and cons. That means that a single HVAC air filter isn’t the best option for all home setups.

However, some filters excel in certain departments more than others. For example, HEPA filters usually do better in purifying indoor air than the other types. On the other hand, UV filters typically do a superior job than other variants in preventing indoor access to mold and germs.

Final Words

Cleaning Air Conditioning system at home by hand technician.

It’s often better to clean home air filters instead of replacing them as long as they’re still in good working order. But you need to change them for new models if they acquired any form of damage. If not, your household might be prone to issues, such as significant dirt buildup and allergy attacks.

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