When the temperature soars high and the sun becomes merciless, switching on the air conditioner becomes second nature as soon as we get home. Your air conditioner had been lying unused during the winter and there’s possibly a lot of dust accumulated inside.

To ensure that you get uninterrupted cold air on full blast, get your air conditioner back to its top shape. Before the summer arrives, make it a habit to clean the air conditioner filter and prepare it for the coming days. A well-maintained filter can not only improve the life span of your appliance but also conserve energy.

Cleaning an air conditioner is pretty simple and can be done in a few ways, but be prepared to spend an hour or two for the process. In this post, I have mentioned some of the best ways to clean the air conditioner filter by yourself at home.

Before You Start Cleaning Air Conditioner Filter

Before you begin the process, make sure you boot, run, and let the system take a complete cycle to ensure that it’s working fine and does not need any technical repair. Now, turn off the main switch supplying electricity to your air conditioner and unplug the unit.

You must never clean the filter while the air conditioner is still on because this will result in a gush of unfiltered air to get into your house. The evaporator coils and other internal parts of the AC may also collect dust due to this. Just follow the steps below and you will be good to go.

Step 1: Locate The Filter and Remove It

Depending on the type of air conditioner you have, you will need to determine whether or not you can clean your filter without professional help. There are some filters that can be cleaned with ease, while there are others that must be disposed of after a specific period of time.

Read your product’s instruction manual to find out if cleaning the filter is at all an option. If it is then going ahead – with the help of a screwdriver, remove the front grill, which serves as a cover for your unit. You will find the filter behind this plastic cover.

In case of the large centralized air conditioning units, it should be easier for you to locate the filter by simply looking at the length of the return duct. After removing a few screws, you should be able to access the filter.

In the small window air conditioning units, you will need to remove the front panel of the air conditioner with the help of a putty knife to access the filter. To access the filter in wall-mounted air conditioners, you will need to slide off the front panel to find the filter inside. If still in doubt, contact the customer care for directions on how to access the filter.

Step 2: Vacuum Clean The Filter

Once you are able to access the filter of your air conditioning unit, clean with a vacuum cleaner like these to get rid of the dust on surface. Take the filter out before using the vacuum cleaner to prevent dust from spreading. The tube extension on your vacuum cleaning unit should be able to suck all the dirt and grime.

Make sure you run the vacuum at low to medium speed. Move the tube up and down to cover the entire surface of the filter and suck out all stubborn dirt. Hold the filter in one hand as you clean but avoid pressing too hard or else you may damage the delicate filter by causing a dent.

If you have maintained your air conditioner well, you may not be able to see a lot of difference after vacuum cleaning, but be assured that the filter is cleaner than before.

If the filter is too dirty, you may not be able to remove all the grit and dust from the filter with just the vacuum. Just try to clean as much as you can. To keep your AC filter in the best condition, you must remember to vacuum clean regularly.

Step 3: Rinse The Filter

After you have dry-cleaned the filter with a vacuum cleaner, rinse it with water for a deep clean effect. Although not visible on the surface, the filter still has a lot of dust attached. To get rid of the dust, create a solution by mixing one part of water and one part of vinegar.

Let’s say, if you mix 5 cups of water with 5 cups of vinegar, prepare the solution in a large sink or tub that can easily accommodate the filter. Let the filter stay submerged in the mixture for about one hour. For a filter that is too grimy, leave the filter submerged for 2 hours or more.

Remove the filter from the solution and drain the liquid. Let the filter air dry completely before putting it back. You may use a hairdryer to speed up the process. Alternatively, you may use a mix of water and a small amount of liquid dish soap or detergent to clean the filter.

Step 4: Hose Down The Filter

If the filter is too large and the weather supports you, take it outside in the garden, let it lean against a wall and wash off the dirt with a hose. Spray water using the hose but make sure you do not use a lot of pressure or else you may end up damaging the product.

Instead of cleaning outside, you may also take the filter indoors and let the shower clean it. Just prop the filter against the wall in your shower and use the detachable shower head to spray water on the front and back to remove the most stubborn particles of dust. 

Step 5: Let Filter Dry Completely

After thoroughly cleaning the filter with a hose, let it air dry completely. If the filter is very dirty and you want it to sparkle like new, consider sprinkling some baking soda over it and let sit for a few minutes before washing down

Auto-Cleaning Function

Some modern air conditioning models come with an automatic cleaning function that can auto-clean the air filter for you. These appliances usually come with an internal brush device and cassette to dislodge the dust particles from the filter.

The debris and dirt are collected in a small chamber, from where they are purged out. Check your air conditioner model and it’s features to see if it has an auto-cleaning function. If it does, use it regularly to keep the filter clean.

Reasons For Air Conditioner Filter Getting Dirty Quickly

Does your AC filter keep clogging much faster than it should? There are several reasons that may lead to filters becoming dirty very often. Here are some of the potential causes:

1. You could be using the one-inch pleated filters

These type of one-inch pleated filters tend to accumulate dirt faster because they are designed in a way to capture more airborne contaminants. As these filters are as fine as fishnets, they can catch big to small dust particles with ease. If this bothers you, switch to cheaper disposable filter or get the thicker-pleated filters.

2. Fan mode is set ‘On’

If the fan setting of your thermostat is set to ‘On’, the indoor blower will run constantly and circulate air passing through the air filter. This results in your AC filter catching airborne more dust particles and contaminants. This will not only make the filter very dirty but also escalate the energy electricity bill because the blower is operating non-stop. To fix this, check thermostat fan setting and set it to ‘AUTO’ mode so that the blower runs only when the system is cooling or heating.

3. Leakage in air ducts

If there are leakages in the return ductwork, it can pull dust from the unconditioned spaces such as the crawl or attic space, and immediately clog the filter. In an average household, nearly 20-30 percent of the air moving within the duct system is lost due to leak in air ducts and holes. This results in high utility bills and the appliance work harder to keep the house comfortable.

4. Furry friends clogging up the filter

If you have an adorable Cooper or Missy at home, the pet dander and hair can quickly clog the filter, making it difficult for the system to work. You will need to clean your AC filter more frequently to keep it in good condition. 

Tips For Taking Care Of Your Air Conditioner

1. Clean filter regularly

The type of filter used in different air conditioners varies and their cleaning requirements may also differ accordingly. Most manufacturers recommend cleaning once a month, however, some filters that get very dirty may need cleaning in every two weeks.

I would recommend that you consult your manufacturer’s instructions on the manual on how frequently you should clean the filter. If you have allergies or pets at home, or in case you use the appliance regularly, you may need to clean more often.

2. Discard the filter when it wears out

No matter how much you take care of the filter, it will wear out eventually. If you notice any holes, tears, dent or damage in the filter, get a new one soon. You can get air conditioner filters at any appliances store or buy it online from Amazon.

3. Clean the condenser coils

The condenser coils may also accumulate dirt and dust over time. So, I recommend cleaning it often to make your appliance run more efficiently. For the window air conditioner, you will need to clean by blowing compressed air to the back of the unit.

For standard air conditioners, you may use a soft-bristled brush to remove the dirt and debris trapped in the coils, but be careful to not bend the coil fins. In order to clean the condenser coils of the large-sized centralized air conditioner, remove the external case and blow compressed air in short bursts. You may also use an industrial-strength vacuum cleaner to suck out the dust from between the coils.

4. Stay on a schedule

To get an uninterrupted flow of fresh and cool air, set up a reminder to clean and check the filter condition every month. If required, you may replace the filter at this time. If you live in a region with a warm climate or when it’s peak summertime, you may need to check the filter more than once a month. When you have figured out the pattern and rhythm in which your appliance gets cleaning, set a schedule and follow it closely.

Periodic Cleaning Requirements

If you want to increase the lifespan of your air conditioner, here’s a cleaning cheat-sheet you can follow to keep it in the best condition throughout the year.

Regular Cleaning

If you use the air conditioner extensively, consider cleaning it often. To do so, run the ‘dry out’ program (if your AC model has it). This will help in evaporating the moisture that has condensed within the unit and prevent the formation of mold and foul smell.

In case your air conditioner does not have ‘dry out’ program, use a vacuum cleaner to get rid of the dirt and dust particles on the filter and clean it with water once a week.

Bi-annual Cleaning

Deep clean the filter screens in the indoor unit of a split-AC and replace the filter if needed. Wipe the indoor unit with a soft and damp cloth. Perform cleaning as per the instructions for your ducted system. I would recommend you to replace the filter more frequently if you live in a very dusty environment or the appliance is always on.

Annual Cleaning

Clean the outdoor unit of your air conditioner to get rid of any vegetation, spider webs, and/ or any obstructions as required. I would recommend you to inspect the carbon filters or HEPA and replace them if needed.

Consequences Of Not Cleaning Air Filter

  • If for any reason, you neglect or forget to clean or replace the air conditioner filter regularly, your appliance has to work much harder to produce the same amount of clean and cool air.
  • Good ventilation is an essential requisite for a healthy home and dust-clogged filters make it difficult for air to circulate within the house with ease. A dirty filter will hinder smooth airflow and may even lead to burning out of air conditioner or furnace.
  • Many air conditions with HVAC systems come with flimsy and inexpensive filters that easily get covered with dirt and debris. It leads to a filter collapse, earlier than expected.
  • If the filter is neglected for months together, it may get so weighed down with dust that it may get sucked into the air conditioner duct.
  • When the filter has been neglected for too long, the stray filter may become the source for contamination and allergens. This happens because the filter sludge is distributed into the indoor air of your home.
  • Not getting routine clean up and replacement of AC filter can be hazardous for your respiratory health. The presence of dust and mold may cause breathing problems, chronic cough, wheezing, stuffiness, eye, and skin irritation.

Dos and Don’ts Of Cleaning Air Conditioner Filter

The filter is an important component of your air conditioner that needs to be handled with care when cleaning. Here are some of the dos and don’ts you must take care of:


  • You may use a dry cloth or a vacuum cleaner with the brush attachment to clean dust from outside of the filter.
  • The filter can be washed with warm water to remove the stubborn dirt and debris. For very dirty filter, you may mix a mild detergent in warm water.
  • If the filter emits a bad odor, you may sprinkle some baking soda on the filter before running water on it. This not only helps in cleaning better but also leaves a refreshing smell behind.


  • Don’t put the filter into the dishwasher or else it may get damaged permanently. Wash it only with hands or a soft toothbrush.
  • Don’t reinstall the filter while it’s wet. Let it dry completely before you put it back. If you are in a hurry, use a hairdryer to quicken the process.
  • Don’t switch on the air conditioner until you put back the filter. Also, wear rubber gloves when working on electrical appliances.

Related Questions

How to clean your air conditioner’s oscillating blades

Besides cleaning the AC filter, you may also want to clean the oscillating blades in your appliance to improve the performance. The blades direct the airflow and often get covered with dust. Use a vacuum cleaner (see reviews) or a dry cloth to clean the blades and the spaces between them.

How often should you clean the outdoor unit?

The outdoor unit may not need as frequent cleaning as the indoor unit, but you still need to clean it in every six months to a year to remove any surrounding plants, brush away dust, cobwebs, and leaves.

How often should I change the AC filter?

For a vacation home or houses with a single occupant and no pets, changing the filter once in every 6 to 12 months may be fine. The air conditioner filter in average suburban houses without any pets need to be cleaned in every 90 days, and if there are pets, you will need to clean it every 60 days.

How often should you get your air conditioner serviced?

While it’s good to take care of your air conditioner, you must also get it regularly serviced by a professional. The service personnel will check the gas level of the fridge, test the thermostat, and make sure that the internals are in good working condition. This will ensure that the unit stays good for several years to come.

There are some manufacturers who recommend that the AC unit should be serviced at least once every year. For other brands, you are good as long as you follow the instructions for cleaning and may not need service until there are any issues. When it doubt, check the manual for detailed instructions.

Can I run my air conditioner without a filter?

While it won’t harm to run your AC without a filter for one night, this is not recommended. It will pose the risk of serious air-borne diseases and poor indoor quality.

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