Project Guide

How to Clean an Air Conditioner Filter

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Turn Off the AC Unit
A woman shuts off an A/C unit.

The first thing to do when determining how to clean an AC filter, is to turn your air conditioner off. Leaving it on while removing and cleaning the filter can cause unfiltered air to circulate through your home.

  • Turn off your air conditioner. 
  • Use a screwdriver to open the unit and remove the filter. 
  • Some units will have multiples vents, so make sure you inspect inside the unit to be sure you removed all filters. 
  • Now inspect the filter.

Tip: Be sure you can clean your filter. Some are meant to be cleaned while some air conditioner filters should be replaced each time. 

Vacuum the Filter
A person uses a hand-held vacuum to clean an air filter.
  • If you see any build up or dust, it's time to clean it. 
  • If your central air filter shows no signs of grime buildup, you can use the hose attachment from your vacuum cleaner or use a handheld vacuum to remove any debris. 
  • If the vacuum hose doesn’t remove the buildup, you will need to wash it. 
Wash the Filter
A person uses a garden hose to clean an air filter.
  • For a deeper cleaning, fill a sink with one part water and one part white vinegar, and then allow your HVAC filter to soak in the solution for one hour.
  • Rinse it off with fresh water and let it fully dry before returning it to your AC unit.
  • If the filter is too large to fit in your sink, you can also wash it with a garden hose outside. Do not use a pressurized setting on your hose so you don’t accidentally damage the filter.
Replace the Filter
A man installs a new A/C filter.
  • Air conditioner filters become worn or damaged over time and need to be replaced.
  • To check for signs of damage, turn your unit off and remove the central AC filter while wearing your rubber gloves.
  • If your air filter shows signs of damage, like tears, holes or excessive grime, it’s time to replace.
  • When you replace an AC filter, read the packaging carefully to see how long the manufacturer guarantees its effectiveness. Make a note on your calendar to change the filter again according to the manufacturer’s specifications.
Air Conditioner Filter Cleaning Tips
A dusty air conditioner filter.

There are a few things to keep in mind when cleaning air conditioner filters. Here are a few easy tips to follow when learning how to clean air conditioner filters:

  • Clean your AC filter monthly for optimal efficiency. Be sure not to do this before 100-degree summer days or below freezing winter days, if you can. 
  • If taking an air filter out to be washed, be sure to let it air dry for about 20-30 minutes before replacing. This will help you avoid any mold issues. 
  • The method you choose for cleaning the filter depends on the type of filter you have. For instance a wall air conditioner may have different filter needs than a standard HVAC unit. Review the manufacturer instructions to confirm the best technique.
  • Check to see if you have an electrostatic air filter and make sure it’s washable. If not, you will need to replace it when it wears out. 
  • Many disposable air conditioner filters should be replaced rather than cleaned as cleaning with water can lead to possible mold issues.
  • Also make sure to regularly clean the coils and fan using a canister of condensed air to blow away dust and buildup.

Learning how to clean an AC filter can help you save on energy as well as help keep your air conditioner's workload. Whether cleaning air conditioner filters with a vacuum or with water, we have the tools to help. The Home Depot offers a subscription service for replacement air filters. Check to see if your air conditioner uses subscription-eligible air filters.