How to Clean Furnace Filters

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It is the time of year when the holidays are just around the corner and you know that you have to clean down your home in preparation for company. The curtains get washed, the pillows freshened and the rugs get a good vacuuming with a little bit of fabric spray to add a light, fresh smell to the foyer. But after a couple of days, there is a film of dust on each surface and you swore that certain items were clean only yesterday.

What could be causing this? Easy – it is time to clean your furnace filters. People don’t normally think about cleaning their furnace filters or if they do, it isn’t at the frequency of which it should happen. This is because as long as there is heat running through the ducts and chasing away the crisp chill of winter, things are copasetic.

Can You Clean a Furnace Filter?

Furnace filters need to be cleaned as well though for multiple reasons, especially during the colder months when the furnace is being used each day or multiple times a day. Whether you burn wood, oil, propane or purely electric heat, the filters trap all the dust, dirt, and debris that is commonly found in a home. Once these filters are full? Well, all of the trapped particles have nowhere to go but back into the air of the home.

Furnace Filter

You don’t need a fancy cleaning service and unless there are problems with the performance of the furnace (no heat, not cutting in when scheduled, etc.), you won’t need to call for technical service because today, we are going to learn how to clean the furnace filters ourselves.

Yes, You Need to Clean or Change Your Furnace Filter

When it comes to changing your furnace filter, it is definitely best to go by the manufacturer’s instructions but when it comes to cleaning it – well that’s a different story.

The first thing you need to check is if your furnace filter is washable and reusable or if is the type that has to be changed or if it’s a permanent/electronic one or electrostatic. Because with some, water can damage its abilities to trap particles of allergens and dust. If you can clean your furnace filter, you should definitely do it at least once every three months or more frequently if you are using the furnace multiple times a day.

Front View of A Dirty Furnace Filter Taken Out Of A Customer's Furnace

The main reasons for cleaning your furnace filter are:

  • A build-up of dust, allergens, and debris can cause the filter to stop working and instead send out contaminated heated air into the home to be breathed by the occupants and pets, causing potential health issues, such as allergy flare-ups.
  • A build-up of dust, allergens, and debris can cause parts of the furnace to overheat and potentially burst into flames.
  • A build-up of dust, allergens, and debris can cause parts of the furnace to go into “overdrive” and burn out, causing significant damage to the furnace and expensive repair/replacement issues.
  • A build-up of dust, allergens, and debris can cause the operating system of the furnace to work harder, using more electricity or energy and increasing the costs of your monthly utility bills.

What You Will Need to Clean it

To clean your furnace filter right at home, you won’t need fancy supplies or expensive equipment but instead, things that can be purchased at your local hardware or department store. The items you should have on hand when tackling the task of cleaning your furnace filters are:

Materials For Cleaning

    • An open space with a consistent water source such as a garage or even the driveway, weather permitting
    • A large basin or laundry tub
    • A vacuum cleaner with a tube attachment
    • A mild cleaning solution, preferably anti-bacterial such as detergent or Lysol
    • Only if desired – some people prefer just water with vinegar.
  • An old sheet or towel to lay the filter on once rinsed for drying purposes

Step-By-Step: How You Can Clean a Furnace Filter

Now that all the supplies that are required to safely and efficiently clean your furnace filter are assembled, it is time to begin!

Step One

The first and most important step when it comes to cleaning your furnace filters is the removal of the filter itself from the inside of the holding chamber. Always remove the power source of your furnace from the outlet by either turning off the fuse that runs the furnace in the panel box or by turning off the shutoff switch that should be located near the unit itself.

Step Two

Once the power has been removed from the furnace, locate the furnace filter. This should be just within the first chamber of the furnace or in the air vent, which is marked either with signage or a handle.

Step Three

Remove the filter from the furnace, taking note of how it was installed for when it is time to put the now-clean filter back in. A filter should easily slide out of place using just your fingers and if it doesn’t? Then it could mean that something is jamming it in place and you might need a service technician. Most filters have arrows or markings indicating which side should be facing you when the filter is in place.

Taking out a dirty furnace filter in a customers older gas furnace.

Step Four

Take the filter to the wide-open space you have set up for cleaning and use the vacuum cleaner with the hose attachment to remove any visible clumps of dust and debris. Run the hose over the filter on a lower setting in a gentle up-and-down motion to avoid ruining the delicate fibers that trap the allergens, hair, and dust.

Step Five

Once the vacuuming is complete, you simply fill a large basin with lukewarm water or water right the garden hose and throw in a small amount (capful) of cleaning solution if desired.

Step Six

Submerge the filter into the water and gently swish it around to remove any debris that wasn’t removed from the vacuuming.

Step Seven

Repeat this step until all sides of the furnace filter is clean and you are satisfied with the visual look of the filter. A clean filter should be almost transparent, regardless of the color, without any debris clogging the spaces between the woven fibers.

Step Eight

Once the filter has been cleaned with the water, simply rinse the filter under fresh running water with no solution added to remove any bubbles or lather. This step is only if you have added a cleaning solution to the water. If you didn’t, you can just swish the filter into the basin of clean water.

Step Nine

Place your now washed filter on the old sheet or towel in an upright position for drying. Choose a location where airflow is frequent, either by a window or in an open space.

Step Ten

Once the filter is completely dry, simply replace the filter back in the furnace using the markings on the sides of the filter and the directions located on the furnace itself.

Note: Never replace the filter while it is still wet as it can damage the internal parts of the furnace or become clogged with debris faster as it will stick and clump on the damp fibers of the filter.

Male arm and hand placing disposable air filter in residential air furnace.

Step Eleven

Restore the power to your furnace once the filter is replaced and begin to breathe in the clean warm air all winter long!

Conclusion

From Honeywell to Walgreens, we’ve just discovered how easy it is to clean and change your furnace filters safely and efficiently right at home, so why not block out some time on your next free day and complete this task on your to-do list?

A clean air filter can also improve the effects of those nasty viruses that seem to run rampant throughout the winter as there won’t be an abundance of dust and allergens to irritate those clogged noses and scratchy throats further.

Winter is hard enough on most people, so why let something like a clogged furnace filter make it even harder? You shouldn’t, so add the cleaning of furnace filters to your monthly cleaning tasks today!

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