How to Clean Air Purifier Filters

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Keeping air filters clean can help protect your home from bad air quality from seasonal fires and allergies. Whether it's filters from an air purifier or vacuum, most can be cleaned in a jiffy.

How to clean air purifier filters

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1. How to clean a HEPA filter

HEPA filters are typically those cylinder filters you find in vacuum cleaners and some air purifiers. They can also be found in HVAC systems as flat filters. How do you clean a HEPA filter? Well, sometimes you don’t.

Before you start your dirty HEPA filter cleaning spree, make sure to check the owner's manual to see if you can clean your HEPA.

Some of these filters can’t be cleaned adequately and are designed to be thrown away and replaced. Go by the manufacturer’s recommendations, but generally disposable filters need to be tossed every 12 months or so.

If it can be cleaned, follow the tips below.

If it’s a washable filter

If it is washable, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. If you can’t find the instructions, you can soak the filter in warm water for a few hours to release all of the dust and then give it a rinse in cold water. If there is pet hair, use a soft brush (like an old toothbrush) to scrub the hair away. If there is caked-on dirt, you may want to do a pre-rinse.

Make sure the filter is completely dry before you reinstall it. A soggy filter can clog and block airflow. It can also be an ideal growing spot for mold. Nobody wants that.

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Don't forget other filters that could use a cleaning

Even if you don't have an air purifier, there are other filters that could use a little love:

  • HVAC filters should be swapped out every 30 to 90 days depending on the type of filter and environmental factors like lots of dust or wildfire smoke.
  • Dryer filters need more than the lint collected every time you toss in a new load. Once a month give your dryer filter a scrub with dish soap. Fabric softener and microplastics build up over time and block the air flow, causing a fire hazard. You'll know your dryer filter is clean when water runs right through it—if it beads up on top, keep scrubbing!

If it isn’t a washable filter

Even if your air filter isn’t washable, you can still get these non-disposable, permanent HEPA filters clean. If it’s an air purifier filter, suck off as much dust and debris as you can using the upholstery attachment on your vacuum cleaner.

If it’s a vacuum cleaner permanent filter, put it in a trash bag with a slightly damp rag. Close the bag and shake it to release the dust from the filter.

Most of the dust will stick to the damp cloth, but be careful when removing the non-washable HEPA filter from the bag. You don’t want a puff of dust to the face. Ensure the clean filter is completely dry before you put it back inside the vacuum cleaner. Toss the bag and the rag when you’re done.

You can also take the HEPA air filter outside and blow it clean with a can of compressed air. Wear a mask so you don’t inhale the flying dirt and dust particles.

Don’t worry about disposable filters

If your air filters are disposable, dispose of them. They aren’t meant to be cleaned or reused. Reusing them could put a strain on the motor of your air purifier or vacuum.

2. How to clean foam filters

Hand holding a filter under running water over a sink

Image: Alina Bradford, SafeWise

The foam filters you find in air purifiers and vacuums are called pre-filters. These washable filters basically trap larger airborne particles like pet dander before they get to the HEPA filter. These are a little more durable and can be cleaned in a snap.

  1. Rinse the filter with warm water.
  2. Add a drop or two of dish soap.
  3. Suds up the filter.
  4. Rinse it until the water runs clear, making sure to remove all the soap residue.
  5. Gently wring out excess water.
  6. Let the pre-filter air dry.
How often should you clean air purifier filter?
Make sure to clean your air filters every three months (or when it’s visibly dirty). To help, set up a reminder with Alexa or Google Assistant.


Sometimes. Some air purifier filters are washable and some are disposable. Check your owner’s manual to find out if you have a washable filter. If you tossed your manual, most can be found online.

Warm water is always best for air filters, but you can use dish soap on filters that are particularly dirty. Just be sure to rinse off all of the soap residue since it can restrict airflow.

Yep, soak air purifier filters in a mixture that’s 50% distilled water and 50% white vinegar for around an hour. Then, rinse the filter until the water runs clear.

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Alina Bradford
Written by
Alina Bradford
Alina is a safety and security expert that has contributed her insights to CNET, CBS, Digital Trends, MTV, Top Ten Reviews, and many others. Her goal is to make safety and security gadgets less mystifying one article at a time. In the early 2000s, Alina worked as a volunteer firefighter, earning her first responder certification and paving the way to her current career. Her activities aren’t nearly as dangerous today. Her hobbies include fixing up her 100-year-old house, doing artsy stuff, and going to the lake with her family.

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