I have been told twice now that the air filters for the engine and my cabin air filter are really dirty and need to be replaced. They're roughly $40 each and it seems totally unnecessary to completely replace them.

Can they just be rinsed out with water and dried or does this somehow ruin the functionality? Why would you HAVE to replace them?

  • 2
    It would help if you were more specific about which particular air filter you're asking about. Air intake filter for the engine? Cabin air filter for the ventilation system?
    – Bob Cross
    Feb 18, 2014 at 12:50
  • 1
    You can probably get one cheaper. The air filter business is competitive and they are very inexpensive to manufacture. If you replace often durability won't be an issue.
    – geoO
    May 9, 2015 at 17:47

3 Answers 3


Are you talking about the in-cabin air filter, or the engine air filter?

In either case, the answer is no. I mean you can do it, but the filter will not work like it is supposed to afterwards. The reason for this is they are made of paper. When you get them wet like you are suggesting, it destroys the element.

As to the why you have to change them, once they become completely full of dirt, they restrict air flow and can cause issues in engine performance. It can also push dirt through, negating even having an air filter in the first place.

For the engine air filter, you can mitigate this by purchasing a K&N air filter (or similar), which is washable, rechargeable, and reusable. They also have a million mile warranty. You need to buy recharge kits every 8-10 recharges, but it's by far cheaper in the long run. These types of filters are made of cotton and are backed by a wire mesh. They can also help to straighten out the airflow which can help improve performance (to a certain extent).

I have not heard of a reusable in-cabin air filter like the K&N I mentioned above, though they might exist.

  • I was going to mention K&N filters too. Might want to put a caveat RE improved performance limiting it to turbocharged vehicles. NA cars hardly ever see any improvement from less restrictive air filters. Feb 17, 2014 at 8:04
  • @JuannStrauss ... Which is why I stated, "to a certain extent" ... Agree, it won't give great performance gains in most situations, but this was really not the purpose of mentioning in the first place. Feb 17, 2014 at 21:32
  • I was just being a smartass. Feb 18, 2014 at 7:24
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    @JuannStrauss ... And I take things way to seriously ... No worries ;-) Feb 18, 2014 at 13:08
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    I am actually suffering from carburetor issues on my motorcycle because my K&N filters keep falling off (nothing wrong with the filters, the last guy just got the wrong size). Anyhow, crap gets sucked into the carbs and clogs the jets or stops the slides from moving bringing the massive bike to a chocking stop... all of which is to say, the air filter is there for a reason, even if it doesn't seem like it.
    – Matt
    Feb 22, 2014 at 2:14

If cost is the issue, there may be cheaper ways to purchase an OEM air filter (eg online). However, personally I would consider even a $40 filter a cheap investment, considering it is protecting the engine from an expensive rebuild.

You may be interested to read the following research about the reduced filtration provided by washable-type filters: - http://www.bobistheoilguy.com/airfilter/airtest3.htm - http://www.nicoclub.com/archives/kn-vs-oem-filter.html


I use paper elements and if in dusty conditions remove regularly (every day if seriously dusty) and clean out with an air hose from the inside out.They are so cheap regular replacement is cost effective

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