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Should I Clean or Replace My AC Air Filter?

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Here at Reimer HVAC, it’s not uncommon for us to hear our customers asking, 

“Should I clean or replace my AC air filter?”

And our answer is always this: It depends. 

There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to AC maintenance and tune-ups. Certain factors can influence whether you need to clean or replace your AC filter. 

Understanding your AC’s needs can not only save you money but also ensure a healthier and more comfortable indoor environment.

Today, let’s take a deep dive into the types of AC air filters and the factors that affect their cleanliness levels. We’ll also discuss the pros and cons of cleaning vs replacing your AC air filter, so you can make an informed decision. 

Types of AC Air Filters

There’s a wide range of AC air filters on the market. Each one is designed to suit different environments and user needs. 

Knowing what type of filter your AC uses is the first step to making an informed decision about its maintenance.

  • HEPA filters: These highly efficient filters trap the tiniest particles, improving your indoor air quality.
  • UV light filters: These utilize ultraviolet light to kill bacteria and other airborne pathogens.
  • Electrostatic filters: They use static electricity to attract and capture dust and other particles.
  • Washable filters: As the name suggests, these filters can be cleaned and reused multiple times.
  • Media filters: These are thicker and more effective at trapping particles compared to traditional filters.
  • Spun glass filters: These are inexpensive but need to be replaced more frequently.
  • Pleated filters: These have a greater surface area to catch more particles and allergens.

Factors That Affect AC Air Filter Cleanliness

Filter cleanliness is influenced by several factors, which in turn, may affect your decision to clean or replace them: 

#1: Environment

Urban areas or regions with high pollution levels will cause filters to get dirty faster. Living near construction sites or areas with heavy dust can also clog filters rapidly.

#2: Usage Frequency

The more you use the AC, the faster the filter accumulates dust and debris. If your AC is running around the clock due to extreme weather, expect the filters to need attention more often.

#3: Pets

Pets can significantly contribute to the dirt and hair collected by the air filter, especially if they shed frequently. This pet dander can quickly clog filters, so you may need more frequent maintenance to keep your air filters clean.

#4: Household Size

Larger households or those with children can generate more dust and pollutants—from regular activities such as cooking and cleaning—that the AC filter has to trap.

#5: AC Model and Specifications

Some AC units have specific maintenance requirements or are compatible only with certain filter types. Always consult your AC manual or a professional for advice.

#6: Filter Type

Certain types of filters accumulate dust much faster than others. Filters such as spun glass filters, which usually have a lower MERV rating (between 1 and 4), will accumulate dust faster and require more frequent replacement or cleaning. 

Remember, these factors aren’t standalone; they interact in complex ways. For instance, high-frequency usage in a dusty environment can clog even the most robust filter quickly. That’s why it’s crucial to be mindful of these factors and regularly check whether your AC is working optimally.

Should You Clean or Replace AC Air Filters?

Deciding between cleaning or replacing your AC air filter isn’t always a clear-cut choice. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each method.

Cleaning: Pros and Cons


  • Cost-effective: Cleaning your filter can save you money over time as you aren’t purchasing new filters regularly.
  • Eco-friendly: Cleaning and reusing filters contribute less to landfill waste.
  • Immediate Solution: If you need a quick fix and have a washable filter, cleaning can be an immediate solution.


  • Time-consuming: Cleaning filters require time and effort.
  • Not as Effective: Over time, cleaning may not remove all particles, reducing the filter’s efficiency.
  • Not Suitable for All: Some filter types, like spun glass and pleated filters, cannot be cleaned.

Replacing: Pros and Cons


  • Efficiency: A new filter guarantees optimal efficiency in trapping particles and maintaining air quality.
  • Time-saving: Replacing a filter takes less time and effort than cleaning.
  • Versatility: All filter types can be replaced.


  • Cost: Regular replacement can be more expensive than cleaning reusable filters.
  • Environment Impact: Disposing of old filters can contribute to waste.
  • Availability: You need to have a new filter on hand or be able to purchase one quickly.

When in doubt, it’s always best to trust the experts in the industry. Reimer HVAC offers professional heating, air conditioning, and plumbing services to Buffalo residents.

Book our reliable AC tune-up and maintenance services today by calling (716) 272-2371!

Signs Your AC Air Filter Needs Cleaning

To keep your air conditioning unit functioning optimally, it’s vital to regularly check your filter for signs that it may need cleaning. Here are five common indications:

Visible Dust

The most obvious sign is visible dust build-up. When you pull out your filter and hold it up to the light, if you see a thick layer of dust obstructing the view, it’s time to clean. An overaccumulation of dust not only affects your AC’s performance but can also impact your indoor air quality.

Decreased AC Performance

Another sign that your AC filter might need cleaning is decreased performance. If your AC isn’t cooling your space as effectively as it once did, or if the airflow seems weaker, a dirty filter could be the culprit. Cleaning it could bring back your AC’s cooling power.

Increased Energy Consumption

A dirty filter forces your AC system to work harder to maintain a cool temperature, leading to an increase in energy consumption. If your utility bills have spiked without any apparent reason, a thorough cleaning of your filter might be all it takes to rectify the issue.

Unusual AC Noise

An AC unit operating with a dirty filter may produce strange sounds due to the strain placed on the motor. Listen for unusual noises like humming or rattling. If such sounds persist, it might be an indication that your air filter is overdue for a clean-up.

Unpleasant Odors

If you notice a musty or stale smell when your AC is running, it might be due to a dirty filter. Over time, filters can collect damp debris and bacteria, which can cause unpleasant odors.

Signs Your AC Air Filter Needs Replacement

Certain conditions warrant a full replacement of your AC air filter. Below are five crucial signs that a new filter is necessary:

Damage or Wear

Over time, air filters can wear out and become damaged, losing their effectiveness. If your filter is visibly torn, bent, or deteriorated, it needs to be replaced immediately to maintain optimal AC function and air quality.

Persistent Bad Odors

If unpleasant smells persist even after cleaning your filter, it’s a sign that you should consider a replacement. These lingering odors may indicate that the filter is saturated with accumulated debris and contaminants that can’t be removed through cleaning.

Continuous Poor Performance

If cleaning the filter doesn’t improve your AC’s performance, it could be a sign that the filter is no longer efficient and needs replacing. A new filter can restore your AC’s functionality and efficiency.

Frequent Cleaning Required

If your filter needs cleaning more frequently than the standard recommendation — typically every one to three months, depending on the type — a replacement could be more efficient. Excessive cleaning might indicate the filter’s efficiency is waning.

After Sickness

If someone in your home has been ill, especially with a contagious disease like flu or COVID-19, it’s wise to replace the filter. This helps to eliminate any pathogens trapped in the filter, ensuring a healthier indoor environment.

Expert AC Maintenance and Tune-Up Services in Buffalo, NY

While homeowners can perform some basic upkeep tasks, certain technical aspects of AC maintenance require a professional touch.

Professional maintenance includes inspecting the entire HVAC system, diagnosing potential issues, and fixing them before they escalate into expensive repairs or full system replacements. 

From checking refrigerant levels and calibrating thermostats to cleaning evaporator coils and air filters, experts understand the intricacies of AC systems. 

Regular professional tune-ups help ensure your AC is running at peak efficiency, which prolongs its life, improves air quality, and saves on energy costs.

In Western New York, Reimer HVAC is a name you can trust for all your air conditioning maintenance needs. 

Our team of highly skilled professionals is dedicated to providing superior tune-up services. We thoroughly inspect and service your AC system to ensure it continues to provide the comfort you need, especially during those hot summer months.

Ensure Your Family’s Comfort with Reimer HVAC!

At Reimer HVAC, we don’t just repair and maintain AC systems; we deliver comfort, peace of mind, and healthy living environments. Your family’s comfort and health are our top priorities.

Whether it’s time to clean or replace your AC’s air filter, or your entire system needs a full AC tune-up, trust our experienced and dedicated team to provide top-notch services. Experience the Reimer difference and breathe easy knowing you’re in good hands.

What Our Clients Say

Chris and Kevin were excellent! The issue involved plumbing. Accomplished all that was needed at the time. They are returning for additional work as well. The annual contract has great value , and gives homeowner piece of mind when problems arise! I just signed up for mine!

-Kitty Testa

Chris L. Is a wonderful man. Put my mind at ease immediately when he looked at the problems which turned out not to be as bad as we thought. I will definitely use them again. Great service!

-Janice Kaled

Chris Reimer was at my home and did a great job was very nice guy to have work in my home and gave me no run arounds. I would for sure use again thank you very much!!

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