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How to Clean an Air Filter in 7 Steps

K&N Silverado Drop-In Replacement Air Filter

The purpose of a car air filter is to allow clean air into your engine to combine with the atomized fuel and produce power. As your air filter gets used, it becomes clogged with dust, dirt and other airborne particles. When this happens, it’s necessary to change or clean your air filter in order to maintain vehicle performance and MPG.

Oiled vs. Dry Filters

The biggest and most obvious difference between the two types of air filters is that one is coated with oil and one isn’t. This translates to the cleaning process — oiled air filters require an extra step, due to re-oiling. Dry air filters—generally made of cotton gauze or paper—are denser and more restrictive than their oiled counterparts. To maximize airflow, oiled air filters comprise several loose layers that are coated in sticky oil to catch debris. While dry filters clog faster than oiled filters—which have less-restricted flow—they’re also faster to clean.

Cleaning Your Car Air Filter

Whether you want to learn how to clean a K&N Air Filter or one from a different brand, these are helpful tips to keep in mind. Remember that each car’s set-up may vary, especially if you have done modifications to your engine.

  1. Open your hood and remove your current air filter from its housing on the top of your engine. The housing will look like a rectangular or round box, depending on your filter’s shape.
  2. For a dry filter, use the hose attachment of a vacuum to absorb the dust and dirt that has collected. Do a quick vacuum of the filter housing as well. Skip to step #7.
  3. For an aftermarket oiled filter, such as a K&N Air Filter or AEM Filter, spray the filter with a cleanser from a recharging or cleaning kit. Allow it to soak for 10 minutes (don’t allow the cleanser to dry on the filter). Suggested cleaning supplies include the K&N Filter Recharger Kit or the AEM Air Filter Cleaning Kit — both include either an aerosol can or squeeze bottle.
  4. Rinse the cleaning solution off with low-pressure water. Move the filter up and down in the water stream to loosen and remove all debris.
  5. Gently shake off any excess water and allow the air filter to dry naturally. Wait until the air filter is completely dry to apply oil.
  6. Using the filter oil from your cleaning kit (this is different from the cleanser in your kit), apply the oil all over the filter. Wipe up any extra oil and let it sit to absorb.
  7. Return your air filter to its housing and secure all locks or clamps.

Choosing the Best Air Filter

The type of air filter you choose and use is solely up to your discretion, what you use your car for and other modifications you may have in place, like an air intake system. Rest assured that, whether you have a K&N Air Filter or Spectre Air Filter, you have a quality product that’s designed to last for the long haul. Order one today and benefit from AT’s Free Shipping and 1-Year, Lower Price Guarantee with each purchase.


Regularly cleaning your car's air filter is essential for maintaining optimal vehicle performance and fuel efficiency. Whether you have an oiled or dry filter, following these steps will help ensure that your engine receives clean, unrestricted airflow. Remember to choose the best air filter suited for your specific needs and enjoy the benefits of a well-maintained air intake system.