How to clean your air conditioner filter
Coming home to a cold environment on a hot summer's day is a great feeling, but when the air conditioner starts failing, the experience isn't cool enough — literally.
Of all the household "how to's" and maintenance requirements, cleaning your AC filter is a must if you want to keep your energy bill low and air quality good. In fact, according to conEdison, adjusting the thermostat to the highest comfortable temperature will reduce your cooling costs by 6%.
Shop TODAY talked to experts to learn how to take care of your AC unit and when it's time to change your filter.
How often should you clean your air conditioner or filter? | Do's and don'ts | Do you have to wait to use it after cleaning? | Is there a cost-effective way to clean AC units? | Cleaning products to shop | Best AC filters | Meet the experts
“The best way to keep your air conditioning unit clean is by cleaning your AC filter,” summarizes Tracy Hollon and Viviane Essex from Home Depot.
Essex and Hollon recommend checking your air filters “at least every three months” and then determining if it needs to be replaced or thoroughly cleaned from there. If your air filter has grime that cannot be cleaned or has tears or holes in it, it should be replaced rather than cleaned.
They also note that dirty air filters cost more to run, potentially spiking up the cost of your monthly energy bill. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, replacing dirty filters decreases the amount of energy consumption of your air conditioner — basically how hard your air conditioner has to work — by 5% to 15%. Meanwhile, dirty filters cause your unit to work harder, skyrocketing your energy bill.
Not only should you be cleaning or replacing the air filter regularly, but you should also be checking the outside of the unit for any debris.
“Remove any foliage (such as plants and leaves) to clear the way for proper air circulation,” the pair notes for outdoor units, adding that if your air conditioning unit isn’t regularly cleaned, “it can collect dust, grime, bacteria, mildew and mold. This can enter your home and compromise the overall air quality.”
Do: Use a damp, lint-free cloth and soap when cleaning the outside of your air conditioning unit.
Do: Clean the coils and fan of the AC regularly “using a canister of condensed air to blow away dust and buildup,” suggests Essex and Hollon.
Do: Unplug portable air conditioning units, recommends JMATEK North America LLC representative Janice Poon.
Do: Have professionals perform maintenance that cannot be done on your own at least twice per year, once before the warm season and once before the cool season. “A seasonal maintenance call could save you major out-of-pocket expenses by identifying potential issues before they become a bigger problem,” says Hollon and Essex. "Seasonal tune-ups include checking CO levels to make sure they pass safety requirements, tightening, adjusting and lubricating important components and checking measurements on critical mechanical and electrical components. The technician will also check the air flow and overall performance of your system," adds Hollon.
Don’t: Remove your window unit in order to give it a thorough clean. Simply wipe down the exterior and dust the coils.
Don’t: Insert the filters when they’re still wet. Ensure that they are dry before placing them back in the unit to "help you avoid any mold issues when turning it back on,” according to Hollon and Essex. “Many disposable air conditioner filters should be replaced rather than cleaned, as cleaning with water can lead to possible mold issues," adds Hollon.
Don’t: Use products with harsh chemicals to clean your unit or filter as this could damage the appliance.
If you’re simply replacing a filter, there’s no wait time before you can start using your air conditioner again, according to Hollon and Essex. However, if you’re thoroughly cleaning it, waiting between 20 minutes to two hours is ideal “to let the internal chemical refrigerant stabilize before starting to cool again,” says Poon.
Learning how to replace and clean your unit and filter rather than having professionals do it saves costs. Hollon and Essex recommend buying filters in bulk. That way, you always have one on hand in case it needs replacing.
Basic maintenance, like replacing the filter or maintaining its appearance by wiping it down, can be tackled on your own, while mechanical and technical issues would need to be resolved by a professional.
Wipe off all the grime from your air filter with these reusable and washable cloths. These are versatile and efficient at cleaning most household items, furniture and appliances.
Microfiber cloths can be used to clean many things. From your laptop screen to your car, these are great for home appliances and air filters. Customers say these cloths are super soft and usually wash up well after use.
Spray and wipe your products with this easy dish spray made with biodegradable ingredients. Whether you clean your dishes or need some soap to wipe the dust off your air filter, this formula has a nice lemon scent to clean most surfaces.
Give your AC a bit of maintenance with this air duster cleaner. The product is efficient at cleaning the dust off many surfaces and according to customers it has the "best blast strength".
This one provides a potent dust-removing power to remove all the grime from your air filter. With over 6,000 positive reviews, customers agree this tool gets the dust off efficiently.
"Using this thing is like using a power washing machine. So satisfying to see dust gets blown off. Makes me want to open up all my electronics and clean them," said one Amazon buyer.
Prevent dirt and buildup with this budget-friendly air conditioner filer. It comes in different sizes and a pack of four to keep in handy when you need to change it.
With over 15,000 reviews, this air filter pack is a great option to keep your unit working properly. This filter is designed to capture airborne particles, dust, pollen and more. One customer said it provides ease for installation and it comes with "clearly marked arrows that indicate the correct direction of airflow, making it foolproof to install them correctly."
Give your furnace, ceiling vent or air conditioner an upgrade when you use this pleated air filer. This one lasts up to three months and will trap most air contaminants.
This air filter can be used along with the Filtrete smart app to schedule a reminder for your replacement. While this one has glowing reviews, one customer recommends changing the filter once a month since this one is not for people with allergies. However, the affordable price keeps up with the low energy bills.
If you live with smokers, this air filter is great to keep your household clean. This one will help with unpleasant odors and other bacteria roaming in the air. Also, it's very easy to install and remove.
Jannely is the SEO Writer for Shop TODAY.
Sierra is an editorial assistant for Shop TODAY.How often should you clean your air conditioner or filter? | Do's and don'ts | Do you have to wait to use it after cleaning? | Is there a cost-effective way to clean AC units? | Cleaning products to shop | Best AC filters | Meet the expertsHow often should you clean your air conditioner/filter? Do’s and don’ts of cleaning your air conditionerDo:Do:Do:Do: Don’t: Don’t: “Don’t: How long should one wait to use their AC unit after cleaning it? How can individuals clean their AC unit in a cost-effective way?The Home Depot Fiberglass FPR 1 Air FilterSimply by MervFilters Air FiltersJanice PoonViviane EssexTracy Hollon