Clean air filter next to a dirty air filter.

How to Clean an HVAC Filter

Your HVAC unit needs a little TLC to work at peak performance. One of the most important things you can do for your system is to schedule preventive maintenance in the spring and fall, ahead of seasons where you’ll depend on your central air system for round-the-clock comfort.

Between maintenance visits, however, you need to be diligent about changing or cleaning the filter. Here’s how:

How to Clean Your HVAC Filters

Follow these steps to clean your reusable air filter:

  1. Turn off your HVAC unit.

  2. Look for the service panel on your unit to find the filter (some units may have multiple filters, so make sure you’ve checked all vents).

  3. Place the filter on the ground facing up and vacuum as much of the dust and debris as possible. This should remove most of the dust and loose debris. If your filter has grime buildup, move on to step 4.

  4. If you need a deeper clean, fill your sink with one part vinegar and one part warm water, then let your filter soak for an hour. If your filter is only mildly dirty, place the filter in a sink or bathtub and rinse thoroughly with warm running water. You can also use an outdoor hose on your filter—just make sure that you aren’t using any pressurized settings as this could damage your filter. Use your hands or a soft brush to rub away any remaining debris.

  5. Let the filter dry thoroughly before reinserting.

Even if you have a reusable air filter, they need to be replaced when showing signs of wear and tear. Make sure to check your filter for excessive grime, tears, holes, or other signs of damage.

Why Air Filters Matter

The filter within your HVAC unit removes harmful contaminants from the air and protects the system from dust and debris that can hinder operation. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 1.6 million people die each year because of indoor air pollution. An HVAC filter works to stop dust, dirt, pollen, viruses, bacteria, and contaminants from circulating throughout your home.

Replacing your HVAC filter improves your home’s air quality. This protects everyone’s health, extends the lifespan of your HVAC system, and improves its performance.

What Are the Different Kinds of Air Filters?

There are a few main kinds of filters your HVAC system might use:

  • Pleated filters: The pleats make for a larger surface area to trap more contaminates.

  • Fiberglass filters: Basic, disposable fiberglass filters are mainly designed to protect your HVAC system. They do little to improve your air quality.

  • Electrostatic filters: These filters use an electrostatic charge to attract airborne particles and dust.

  • HEPA filters: This kind of filter is exceptionally good at screening out contaminants, which is why they are ideal for people who suffer from respiratory issues.

  • Washable filters: While these filters may cost a little more, you can save money in the long run because they can be easily removed and cleaned.

  • UV filters: A UV filter can kill viruses and bacteria circulating through your central air system.

When cleaning any equipment, always follow the manufacturer’s directions on your unit. Even reusable filters need to be replaced when they show signs of wear and tear—keeping your air filter clean will ensure you’re getting the best air quality possible in your home.

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