Unless you're a mechanic, what goes on under your car hood may be a complete mystery to you. However, just like you need to maintain your home and all the parts that keep it functioning, it's best to invest time and energy into your car's upkeep. There's a seemingly never ending list of parts required to keep a car running smoothly, and one that needs to be cleaned on a somewhat regular basis is your car's air filter.
While things like getting the oil changed, filling up your antifreeze, or replenishing your wiper fluid seem like simple, straightforward chores, something like cleaning your air filter can feel more intimidating. Truth is, it's almost as easy to do as those other tasks. It's also just as important. Champion Auto Parts warns that dirty or clogged air filters can lead to your car smoking, as well as consuming more fuel to run than usual. We know you'll be eager to find tips on how to easily and efficiently clean your car's air filter, so in an exclusive interview with House Digest, we asked William Baldwin, the founder of Auto Globes, for his expert advice and recommendations. Transmission Fluid Filter
Before cleaning your car air filter, make sure it doesn't need to be replaced. Some signs that indicate it's time to get a fresh filter include seeing black smoke or even flames coming out of the tailpipe, or smelling gas when you start up your car, according to Hansen Motor Co. Other less specific signs include having to fill up with gas more often than normal, having difficulty getting your car to speed up, or that the check engine light has come on. Per William Baldwin, "In general, it's recommended to replace car air filters every 12,000 to 15,000 miles. However, car owners can extend their car filter's lifespan by cleaning it from time to time."
There are two options for cleaning the filter — vacuuming or washing. Vacuuming is the quicker way to go, but washing is more effective. "To clean an air filter, remove it from its housing and immediately move it away from the engine to prevent insects and loose debris from transferring to it," explains Baldwin. "Use a hose attachment when vacuuming the filter. Make sure to vacuum all sides." As for washing, grab your cleaning solution and a bucket of water. "A nickel-sized dollop of liquid dish soap or laundry detergent in a pail or bucket of warm water will do. Soak and move the air filter around until it's completely clean. Dry the air filter thoroughly before putting it back in the car," he says.
Since the air filter is tucked away under your car's hood, there's a possibility it may be coated in oil when you pull it out. If this is the case, Baldwin warns against vacuuming and explains that neither dish soap nor detergent will get the job done. "You need an oil filter cleaning spray instead of a regular cleaning solution," he says. To clean an oil-coated car air filter, "Fully cover [it] with the oil filter cleaning spray and leave it for about 10 minutes to dislodge dirt and grime. Then, rinse off the solution and let the filter dry."
Before putting it back in your car, there's often one more step. "You may need to respray it with specialty oil to restore the air filter's oil coating," warns Baldwin. "Let the oil be absorbed before putting the air filter back in the car." Be careful not to damage the filter by improperly applying the oil, or choosing the wrong product, though. "The manufacturer would be the most informed about what goes best with their filters. So, use the filter manufacturer's recommended oil and cleaner," he advises.
As for when to re-oil, the expert notes that an obvious indicator will be an air filter that is visibly dusty or is covered in dried oil. "Some manufacturers, such as K&N, provide a step-by-step guide on maintaining and cleaning their air filters," he says.
As long as it's within the suggested mileage, there's no strict time schedule for cleaning your car air filter. However, just like with home air filters, there are certain times of year where it's more vital to have a clean air filter than others. For your car, William Baldwin says this time of year is spring. "You can clean your car air filters anytime," Baldwin says, "but never miss scheduling it for spring. Air filters work double time during spring to keep pollen at bay. Cleaning your air filters ensures that your car won't be filled with pollen that causes allergies and triggers asthma."
Engine Oil Filter Other spring car maintenance projects include checking and filling all fluids, including washer and brake fluid, antifreeze, and power steering fluid, as well as changing or getting the oil changed. It's also a good time to check the state of your wiper blades and to clean your car, notes Car Care Clinic. While you have the hood open to check out the air filter, clear out any debris in the engine, too.