How to Clean AC Filter

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Updated February 3, 2023

Everyone has an opinion on what makes the best air conditioners top the list of available options. Often, it involves the routine maintenance required to keep the machine working at peak efficiency, much of which revolves around regular cleaning. HVAC system owners can usually carry out an air conditioner maintenance routine on their own, and the first step for most systems is knowing how to clean air conditioner filters.


  • Turn off the air conditioner and remove the front panel and filter.
  • If the filter is reusable, use a vacuum cleaner to remove most of the dirt or rinse it with clean water in your sink or bathtub; let it dry completely before replacing it.
  • Disposable filters do not need to be cleaned but are also more cost-intensive and wasteful than reusable filters.

Cleaning Your Unit’s Air Filter

All air conditioners have at least one filter. Knowing how to clean a dirty filter is integral for maintaining these units.

Insider Tip

Keep track of the owner’s manual when you buy a new appliance for quick reference later when doing cleaning or routine maintenance.


Turn off your air conditioner unit, especially before servicing your air conditioner. You don’t want to get electrocuted.


Always turn off an AC unit before performing any work on it. Failure to unplug the unit can lead to electric shock.


Use the screwdriver to remove any panels in the way of filter access, instructions for which can be located in your owner’s manual. If it is a washable filter, remove it from the unit and either vacuum clean with your vacuum’s soft-bristled brush or use your sink’s hose attachment to rinse the filter clean.


Let your filter dry completely. Then, return it to your AC unit and replace any panels back to their original locations.


If your filter is disposable, throw it away in a place where airborne particles will not affect your home’s air.


Following the instructions on the package, prepare a clean filter for use in the unit. Be sure it is the same size and thickness as the old filter, as thicker filters may not work as well in your unit. If it’s an air filter, you’ll want to know how to install an air filter into your A/C correctly. Finally, insert the filter and close up the air conditioner.

STAT: Within households, approximately 50% of total energy use is associated with space heating and cooling. (source)

Some have special requirements, however. People with a window air conditioning unit need to know how to clean a window air conditioner, for example. Window unit owners must also know how to clean air conditioner vents. Before they reach that step, however, they must get comfortable cleaning their reusable air filters.


Why should you clean your air filter?

Dirty filters block airflow and add pollutants to the air which may cause health issues. Cleaning a unit’s filters can also reduce wear on the unit and lower maintenance costs later on.

Is it safe to run AC without a filter?

Only for a short period. Skipping one entirely will increase energy costs over time, reduce air quality in your home, and may damage the unit.

Does cleaning the AC filter make it colder?

Only because cold air can pass more easily out of the machine through a clean air filter. A dirty filter traps the cold air inside the unit.

Should you clean your HVAC filter or just replace it?

A washable air filter should be cleaned once a month. If you have skipped a few months, you may want to replace it. Disposable air conditioner filters, on the other hand, should not be washed. Instead, replace them once a month.

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