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How Often Should You Clean an AC Filter? Reasons, Factors, & FAQ

technician is cleaning the filter of AC

Typically, you should clean out your air conditioning filter (or filters) every month or two while the system is in use. The more you use your cooling system, the more you should change your filter. You may need to change it more frequently if you live in a hotter climate and have your filter on almost 24/7.

Furthermore, if you live in a dustier area, you should expect to change your filter more often. The dust tends to get sucked into the filters, which will clog them and prove them inefficient sooner. The same goes for households with hairy pets, as the pet hair will get caught in the filter, as well.

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How Do You Know When to Clean Your AC Filter?

Figuring out when to change your AC filter can be challenging. However, you can typically look at the filter to determine if it needs changing. If your filter is dusty and very dirty throughout each filter panel, then it probably needs to be changed.

When in doubt, it is usually better to change the filter than not. Changing your filter more often will result in improved air quality. Therefore, you should change it more often than you may believe you need to.

Furthermore, not changing your air filter can result in higher energy costs, as your machine will need to use more energy to get the air flowing. Your cooking system may not be efficient at all if you aren’t changing your AC filter properly.

If you take a look at your filter and notice dirt and dust build-up, then you should likely change it. It does work sometimes to have a newer filter to compare. Occasionally, it can be difficult to determine if a filter is dirty or not without having a clean filter to compare it to.

window airconditioner
Photo Credit By: Kamran Younus, Shutterstock

What Happens If You Don’t Clean Your AC Filter?

Not changing your AC filter regularly isn’t a huge deal—in the beginning. However, over time, this can cause some serious problems. Several potential problems may crop up.

Firstly, the dust and dirt may jam up your system. The air filter is made to clean the air for a reason. With so many fans and other moving parts inside the machine, if your AC filter doesn’t clean it out, then the machine may become damaged.

Therefore, if you don’t clean out your filter, you may end up with a damaged machine.

Secondly, if you don’t change or replace the filter in a while, your air conditioner won’t be able to move the air effectively. Sometimes, this can lead to the system freezing up. Ice crystals can form on the coils, typically requiring a technician to fix them.

Thirdly, your home’s air quality will suffer. If you have allergies or asthma, a dirty filter may make the problem much worse. The clogged filters will cause the allergens to pass through the system, releasing them into the air each time you breathe.

These problems can seriously affect your machine’s efficiency and lead to expensive repairs. Changing your air filter regularly is vital to ensure that your whole cooling system functions properly.

Can I Just Clean My AC Filter?

You can clean your filter instead of completely changing it. However, this requires a bit of work, which is why most people recommend changing them instead of cleaning them. Plus, not all filters are made to be cleaned. If these filters are scrubbed or soaked in water, the filter can become damaged. In the end, this might lead to them not filtering much.

Disposable air filters cannot be cleaned for this reason. However, you can clean washable and permanent air filters.

Cleaning an AC filter is pretty straightforward. First, you’ll need to ensure that your AC is turned off. Otherwise, your system will suck in dirty air, damaging it. Next, remove the filter. Be sure you remove all the filters if you have more than one.

Start by vacuuming the filter. This will remove a lot of the dust build-up. Using a hand vacuum is the easiest option, but you can technically use any of them. Just be sure to do it gently to reduce the chance that you’ll damage the filter.

Next, you’ll need a deep sink (or an outdoor hose). Rinse the filter well, and then allow it to dry completely. Sometimes, you’ll have to soak the filter in white vinegar and water to help break up the dirt and dust inside.

You shouldn’t use a pressurized cleaner on a filter, as they are too delicate. The pressurized filter will break under the force of the hose.

Finally, assuming the filter isn’t damaged and is still in working order, you can reinstall the filter. Some filters have expiration dates, so be sure to check the filter for this information before reinstalling.

man using airconditining remote
Photo Credit By: Tomislav-Pinter, Shutterstock

Does AC Work Better with a Clean Filter?

Yes, the AC will work better with a clean filter. Without a clogged filter, your AC will be able to move air more easily. Therefore, cool air will get around the house faster if your filter is cleaned. Any sort of clog in the filter will make your AC work harder.

Eventually, without any filter changes, your AC may freeze up. This is often an expensive repair, as a technician is required to remove the ice from the coils in some cases. Other times, you’ll have to wait for the AC to dethaw, but this often means a long time without your AC.

Ultimately, not changing your AC leads to a shortened lifespan. Unless you want to buy a new AC unit, we recommend changing the filter regularly.

Can I Run My AC without a Filter?

You can run an AC without a filter for a very short period of time, such as an hour or so. The filter is there for a reason, however. The filter is made to remove dust and debris that may hurt the AC unit. There are a lot of moving parts in the AC system and without the filter, this dust may enter the unit and damage it.

We do not recommend running your AC for longer than 6 hours without a filter. Running it for much longer is seriously risking the unit, as the odds of dust getting into tiny, moving parts is high. Furthermore, it will also seriously lower the quality of your home’s air.

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When you own your own home, there is plenty of home maintenance involved. One of these is changing the air filter. While the air filter is usually hidden and easy to forget, changing it once a month or so is necessary to ensure an efficient (and functioning) AC system.

If you have a reusable filter, you can clean it instead of changing it. However, many homes come with disposable filters, which cannot be cleaned. These filters are not made to be reused. Cleaning them can often damage them, so you must change them instead.

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Featured Image Credit: Fire-n, Shutterstock


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