How to Change Air Filters (2024)

Air filters trap bacteria, allergens, and pollutants, purifying the air inside your home. A clean filter ensures your system runs efficiently, improves your indoor air quality, and can even extend the life of your HVAC unit. Fortunately, changing your air filter is a simple process that doesn’t require any special skills or tools.

In a nutshell, all you need to do is locate your air filter, determine the right size replacement, remove the old filter, insert the new one, and dispose of the used filter properly. Learn how to change air filters and get other practical tips to improve and regulate indoor air quality.

How to Change Your HVAC Filter

Changing your HVAC filter is a straightforward process that only takes a few minutes. Here’s what you need to do:

Step 1: Locate Your Filter

The first step is to find where your HVAC filter is located. It’s usually in the blower compartment of your air handling unit or in a return air grille in a wall or ceiling.

Step 2: Determine the Filter Size

Check the size of your current filter, which should be printed on the frame. Common sizes are 16x20x1, 16x25x1, and 20x25x1 inches. Make sure to get the right size replacement.

Step 3: Remove the Old Filter

Turn off your HVAC system and remove the old filter from the housing. Note which direction the arrow on the filter is pointing — you need to install the new one the same way.

Step 4: Insert the New Filter

Open up the new filter and insert it into the housing, making sure the arrow is pointing in the correct direction for airflow. Secure it in place.

Step 5: Turn On and Check

Turn your HVAC system back on and check that it’s running properly. You should notice improved air flow and less dust.

When Should I Change My Air Filters?

It depends on the quality of the air filter. Filters are rated for one month, three months, or six months. At a minimum, you ought to replace your filters twice a year. Many factors contribute to how often you may need to replace your air filter, including the type of filter, the number of pets and occupants in your home, the quality of air in your area, availability of filters, and price. For maximum safety, plan to replace monthly. With a reusable filter, you may wish to wash and reinstall monthly.

Read more: Best home warranty.

Why You Should Regularly Change Your Air Filters

Regularly changing your air filters improves the air quality of your home. It also provides the following benefits:

  • Prolong the life of your HVAC system — A clean filter allows for ideal airflow throughout the home. It also prevents your system from overworking and frequently breaking down. This can prolong the life of your system and save you money on repairs and a possible replacement.
  • Lowers your monthly energy bill — Changing your air filter can improve the efficiency of your system by 5%–15%, resulting in lower monthly energy bills.
  • Reduces risk of contaminants — Clean filters trap more airborne contaminants, allowing quality air to circulate throughout your home. This reduces the risk of allergens and airborne illnesses from entering circulation in your house.

Where is My Air Filter?

Your air filter is a component of your HVAC system and is typically located on the side of the air handling unit—the device that regulates and circulates the air in your home. Changing your air filter is a DIY job and will require 10–15 minutes of your time and a replacement filter that’s a proper fit. You also may have air filters installed in ceiling ducts within your home—you may need a ladder to replace these filters.

To check the size of the air filter, locate your air handling unit or ceiling duct to identify the filter. A metal strip may cover your filter and have a release gauge to free it for replacement. Most air filters have their dimensions printed on multiple sides for easy reading. Write down the size you’ll need — or snap a photo—so you’ll have it on hand at the hardware store. Don’t remove the filter until you’ve purchased a replacement and are ready to replace it.

While most air filters are disposable, some are washable and reusable. Ask the hardware store clerk for guidance or assistance if you’re unsure about which type of filter is currently installed in your home.

Cover your air conditioner with Select Home Warranty.

How to Wash Reusable Air Filters

If you have a reusable air filter, follow these nine steps to properly clean and reinstall it:

  1. Turn off your system — Turn off the central air system as a safety precaution and to prevent unfiltered air from escaping.
  2. Locate and open the vent cover — Carefully remove the air filter and avoid dropping dust around the area.
  3. Clean area — Wipe away dust from the vent area and filter the frame with a damp fiber cloth or handheld vacuum.
  4. Clean filter — Take the filter outside and rinse it with a garden hose.
  5. Soak filter — Place the filter in a medium-sized tub of water. You may also use a solution of one part vinegar and one part water to eliminate bacteria and allergens. Soak for 1–4 hours.
  6. Remove filter — Remove your filter from the water solution and set it out to dry.
  7. Reinstall — To reinstall your filter, it must be completely dry. This could require you to dry the filter overnight, so plan accordingly, as you won’t be able to use your system without the filter installed. When reinstalling, follow the arrows on the filter that indicate which direction to insert it back into the vent.
  8. Turn on your system — Close the vent cover. Turn your unit back on and change the temperature on the thermostat by a few degrees until the system kicks on. Let the system run for 20–30 minutes to ensure it is functioning properly.
  9. Change temperature settings — Reset your thermostat to the desired temperature.

Which Air Filter Should I Buy?

There are multiple types of air filter replacement options — and even more variety within each category based on quality, manufacturer, and estimated replacement time. Here are the four common types of filters:

  1. Fiberglass—These inexpensive filters are very thin and have a simple flat panel surface for trapping air particles. They typically come in packs of four to five and need to be replaced every month.
  2. Pleated—Pleated filters last three to six months and remove up to 45% of the air pollutants from your home.
  3. Electrostatic—Energy-efficient, cost-effective, and reusable, these filters will cost more than any disposable filters on the market. However, since they’re reusable, they will last much longer.
  4. High efficiency particulate air (HEPA)HEPA filters are the most effective and efficient and filter at least 98% of air pollutants from your home.

Read more: Choice Home Warranty reviews

Tips for Maintaining Your HVAC System

To ensure your air conditioner functions properly throughout the year, schedule an annual maintenance visit with a professional HVAC service. During this appointment, a technician will check Freon levels, check for leaks in ductwork, measure airflow, inspect electrical terminals, check the accuracy of your thermostat, and perform relevant maintenance.

Here are some other ways to maintain your air conditioning system:

  • Check monthly — If you find that your air filter is dirty or full of grime, replace it as soon as possible.
  • Clean equipment — Keep the air conditioning unit free of dirt and grime to maintain high air quality and system efficiency. If there are bushes or hedges near your unit, make sure they are pruned or trimmed and don’t interfere with the intake fan.
  • Maintain the coils — The evaporator coils are located inside the air handler and can be cleaned by spraying a no-rinse coil cleaner. The condenser coil in your outdoor unit should be cleared of dirt and debris with a shop vac or by hand.
  • Clear debris — Insert a stiff wire into condensate drain channels to unclog them or use a wet/dry vac to suck out any mold or algae growing in larger drain lines.

Read more: American Home Shield review.

Final Thoughts

Changing your HVAC filter is an important part of home maintenance that homeowners can easily do themselves. Just find the filter housing, turn off your HVAC system, and swap out the old one with the new one. I recommend checking your filter monthly and replacing it when it looks dirty or according to the manufacturer’s guidelines. With regular filter changes, you’ll breathe cleaner air, cut down on dust in your home, and help your heating and cooling system operate at peak performance.

Frequently Asked Questions

How often should I change my air filter?

You should change your HVAC filter every month to six months, depending on its quality/type. Check monthly — if it is visibly dirty, change it.

What happens if I don’t change my air filter?

A clogged filter restricts airflow, making your system work harder and reducing its efficiency and lifespan. This can lead to expensive furnace or AC unit break-downs.

Can I clean and reuse my disposable filter?

No, disposable filters are designed to be replaced, not cleaned. Attempting to clean them can damage the filter material and make them less effective.

Article Update Log

Reviewed for accuracy, cost data, industry best practices, and expert advice by Jonathon Jachura.

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