How to Clean a Cabin Air Filter (and Replacement Cost)

(Updated on October 20, 2022)

A vehicle’s HVAC system is essential for circulating fresh air inside the cabin of your vehicle. To ensure the interior doesn’t get filled with polluted air, the HVAC system has a filter known as a cabin filter which catches all the carbon, dirt particles, and other debris that would otherwise enter the vehicle.

The filter will not last forever, though, because this debris will eventually build up to the point where the filter gets clogged and can no longer do its job. On top of that, you’ll start noticing a musty odor through your vents. This means you need to either clean or replace the filter.

See Also: 5 Symptoms of a Bad Air Filter

5 Steps of Cleaning a Cabin Air Filter

Most quick lube establishments will recommend that you replace your cabin filter if it looks just a little bit clogged or dirty. What you need to understand is that filters do not get completely clogged right away.

It is a gradual process where the filter slowly gets clogged while less air is able to pass through. During this process, you can simply clean the filter instead of replacing it entirely. If you do this, then you can wait for 15,000 miles before replacing the filter.

Below are the steps for cleaning a car air conditioner filter.

1) Find the Filter

how to replace the cabin air filter

If you own a vehicle that was made after the year 2000, then your cabin filter should be located behind the glove box or in the driver’s foot well. It will be easy to recognize because it is housed in some sort of container, shelf, or bracket.

To open the container, there will be either clamps or a wing nut that you’ll need to remove. Once you do, the container can easily be taken off and the filter will be revealed underneath it.

If you still have trouble finding the filter, check your owner’s manual or look online to find a chart of where the cabin air filter is on your particular model vehicle.

2) Remove the Filter

After the cabin air filter is revealed, you just need to pull it out. There are no additional nuts or clamps holding the filter down. The canister was the only part that held the filter. Take the filter and place it down somewhere safe.

3) Clean the Filter

There are two ways you can clean the filter. You can either use a vacuum cleaner or you can use a bucket of soapy water. If you’re using the latter, you just put the filter into the soapy liquid and move it around in there until it is soaked thoroughly.

Take the filter out and shake it to get the extra soapy water out that remains. Leave the filter on a towel so that it can dry off. It may take several hours for this to happen.

If you’re using a vacuum cleaner, you just need to vacuum one side of the filter with it for one minute and then do the same on the other side.

4) Clean the Canister

Don’t forget to clean the canister too. This only requires you to use a soft paper towel or cloth to remove any debris still in there.

You can also wash it with water, but it needs to be thoroughly dried before you put it back over the filter. Otherwise, moisture could build up and damage the engine.

5) Reverse the Process

Now that you have cleaned all the necessary parts, you can now place them back into your vehicle. First, push the filter back into place and then reattach the canister over it.

Cabin Air Filter Replacement Cost

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The cost to replace a cabin air filter depends on whether you’re having it professionally done or not. If you are having a quick lube place, auto repair shop or dealership replace it, then it will cost you anywhere from $30 to $100 to replace it.

A cabin air filter itself will only be between $10 to $20 in most cases, but the labor costs will be between $20 and $60. You’d be better off replacing it yourself because it is not that hard for anyone to do.

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