How To Clean The Filter On Your Central AC

Cleaning the filter of your central air conditioner is an important part of your AC maintenance regimen. But if it's your first time owning a central AC, you may be wondering how to clean its filter. We've done our research on this topic and we've provided a step-by-step guide to help you do this successfully. 

Follow these steps to clean the filter of your central air conditioner:

  1. Turn the AC off. 
  2. Locate the filter and remove it. 
  3. Use a vacuum cleaner to remove dust and debris from the filter. 
  4. Wash the filter or soak it in a cleaning solution. 
  5. Put the filter back into place. 

Keep reading as we discuss each step of the AC filter cleaning process in-depth. We'll also give you more helpful tips and information on why you need to clean your filter regularly, how often it needs changing, and how to keep it from getting dirty - so stay tuned!

Removing Dirty Air filter for home central air conditioning system - How To Clean The Filter On Your Central AC

Steps to Clean Your Central AC Filter

The filter of your central air conditioner plays a significant role in keeping your indoor air clean and fresh. As its name suggests, it filters out dust, mold, pet hair and dander, pollen, debris, and other particles in the air and traps these harmful pollutants to keep you from inhaling them. 

Over time, dirt and debris build up on the filter, preventing it from doing its job and blocking proper airflow. This will compromise the quality of the indoor air in your home and the overall function of your air conditioner. 

This is why it's important to clean and change your filter regularly! Better yet, cleaning your AC filter is a fairly easy and straightforward task that won't take up too much of your time. 

Man opening ceiling air vent to replace dirty HVAC air filter. Home air duct system maintenance for clean air.

Here are the steps to clean your central air conditioner filter: 

1. Turn the AC off

This step ensures your safety and prevents injuries such as burns or electric shocks. It will also keep your AC from circulating unfiltered air around your home. You can turn the power off and also shut off the circuit breaker connected to the AC as an extra precaution. 

2. Locate the filter and remove it

The filter of central air conditioners is typically located along the length of the return duct since it filters the air from your home before returning it to the air conditioning unit.

However, the location of the filter may vary from model to model and home to home. Some filters are in the ceiling or the walls, while others can be found inside the unit itself. If you can't find the filter, you would need to consult your owner's manual or seek out the help of your AC's manufacturer. 

Once you've located the AC filter, use a screwdriver to get access to it. Then, remove the filter. If you live in a larger home, it's likely that you have multiple vents - which means that you may have more than one filter. Make sure to remove all the filters of your central AC. 

3. Use a vacuum cleaner to remove dust and debris from the filter

Even if you clean or change your filter regularly, it's inevitable that dust and debris will accumulate on it. This is why it's best to let the vacuum suck all the dirt out of it to ensure thorough cleaning.

Use the medium setting on your vacuum, and be sure to avoid damaging the filter itself. You can also use your hands to remove large debris. 

Top tip: a handheld vacuum might be easier to control and direct towards certain areas that need more cleaning, so it's ideal for this particular task. 

See this cordless handheld vacuum on Amazon.

4. Wash the filter or soak it in a cleaning solution

At this point, you can wash the filter to completely remove all the dust and debris. You can use your faucet to do this, but it's best to use your garden hose and wash the filter outside.  

See this garden hose on Amazon.

However, if you find that your filter is still dirty or has stubborn debris stuck to it, you may want to soak it in a cleaning solution for a deeper clean. This will also help kill germs and microbes that may have accumulated on the filter. 

Mix one part vinegar and one part water to make the cleaning solution. Detergent is also an effective cleaning agent for AC filters if you don't want to use vinegar. You can fill up your sink or your tub with this mixture or pour it into a large container such as a flat bin.

Then, leave the filter to soak in the solution for at least one hour. 

5. Put the filter back into place

After soaking the filter, rinse it with water. Take note never to use a pressure washer or a pressurized hose to do this, as the filter is too delicate to handle high pressure. Instead, use your faucet, showerhead,  or garden hose. You can also sprinkle baking soda over the filter before hosing it down to clean it further.

Now leave it to dry for at least 10 hours under the sun. Remember not to put it back while it's wet; doing so may damage the unit. 

Once it's dry, put the filter back into place. 

Want to see how to clean your central air conditioner filter in action? Watch this video below:

Reasons to Clean Your Central AC Filter

Why is it important to clean your filter? There are plenty of benefits to cleaning your AC filter! Conversely, there are a lot of consequences that may occur when you don't clean it regularly. 

cleen out dust from air conditioner filter

Here are a few reasons to clean your AC filter: 

Clean & healthy indoor air

When your AC filter is clean, you can rest assured that only clean, filtered air circulates around your home. On the other hand, not cleaning your AC filter will increase the amount of dust, dirt, and allergens around your home. This may lead to allergic reactions and compromise your and your family's health. 

In addition, condensation can form inside the unit when the filter is dirty, allowing mold and mildew to grow. Cleaning your air filter will not only prevent odors from mold but also protect you against the health risks it poses. 

Lower energy bills

A dirty AC filter will block proper airflow, making your air conditioner work twice as hard to produce cool air. If you've noticed that your energy bills have been higher than usual recently, cleaning your AC filter can help solve the issue and allow you to cut down on your monthly expenses.

More efficient cooling

Cleaning your AC filter will help prevent frost from building up on the coils, allowing your unit to generate cool air more efficiently. 

Increased longevity

Regular cleaning allows your air conditioner to function more efficiently and prevents it from having to overwork. As a result, there's less wear and tear on the unit, which means it's more likely to last longer. 

Why does my AC filter get dirty so fast?

AC filters getting dirty is part and parcel of their job. But if you notice that your AC filter needs more cleaning than expected, there may be a few reasons for this, such as:

  • Using a 1-inch pleated filter instead of a fiberglass filter or a filter with thicker 3-inch to 6-inch pleats
  • Having pets in the house
  • Having leaky air ducts
  • Undergoing home remodeling projects
  • Setting your thermostat's fan to "On" instead of "Auto"  

Removing Dirty Air filter for home central air conditioning system

How often should you change central air conditioner filter?

Experts recommend that your air conditioner filter be changed every 3 to 6 months, depending on how much you use the appliance. However, you may need to change it more frequently - at least every 2 to 3 months - if you have pets, children, or a family member with allergies at home. 

Can I clean an AC filter instead of replacing it?

This depends on the type of filter your AC has. If your unit has a disposable filter, it's not advisable to reuse it. Instead, you would need to replace it on a regular basis. 

See this air conditioner replacement filter on Amazon. 

If your central AC has a permanent or washable filter, such as a fiberglass filter, you can reuse the filter as long as you clean it once every 2 to 6 months.

Keep in mind, though, that a permanent filter will also need a replacement eventually. If your filter starts to show signs of damage or wear and tear, it's best to replace it right away. 

The Wrap-Up

cleaning air conditioner filter

Cleaning your central air conditioner's filter helps the unit produce cool air consistently and keep the air in your home fresh and healthy. Remember to do this regularly to ensure your air conditioner stays at peak efficiency, so you can avoid inconveniences and enjoy your AC's cooling to the fullest. 

Learn more about cleaning other parts of your central air conditioner by checking out these related posts: 

How To Clean Central Air Conditioner Vents And Ducts

How To Clean Evaporator Coils On Central Air Conditioner

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