How to Clean a HEPA Filter so You Can Breathe Easy

Keep the air in your home pure by making sure your HEPA filters are clean and running properly.

Published January 30, 2023
Man hold old dust filter of Air purifier

HEPA filters work wonders for scubbing your air - but only if they're clean. If your air seems a little...musty, it might be time to check yours to see how dirty it is. But before you throw it in the sink, learn the dos and don'ts of HEPA filter cleaning. You might not be able to clean it at all!

How to Know if Your HEPA Filter Can Be Cleaned

When a HEPA filter gets dirty, whether you need to clean or replace it depends on its type. Check its label or user's manual. If it says washable or permanent (these are two different types of filters and aren't interchangeable), you can clean it. If your HEPA filter isn't washable or permanent, then you should replace it. If your filter is labeled permanent, you'll need to vacuum it. If it's washable, you can rinse it with water.

Rinse Your Washable HEPA Filter With Water

If you have a washable filter, it's super easy to clean. Unplug the appliance, remove the filter, and tap loose dirt into the garbage can. Then, run it under cold water, gently brushing away any remaining dirt. Shake out excess water and air dry for 24 hours before putting it back in the machine.

Vacuum Your Permanent HEPA Filter

While you can't wash a permanent filter in water, you can clean it with a vacuum using a brush attachment. If you accidentally get a permanent filter wet, you'll need to replace it. You'll typically find this type of filter in air purifiers.

To clean a permanent HEPA filter, unplug the appliance and remove the filter. Run the vacuum brush attachment (with the vacuum turned on) over the filter horizontally. Don't push the brush into any of the grooves.

Woman vacuuming dirty air purifier HEPA filter

Clean Your Pre-Filter

When you were pulling apart your air purifier, you might have noticed another filter caked with dirt. This is your pre-filter, and it gets downright disgusting. Pre-filters are good because they catch all the big stuff, so your HEPA filter lasts longer. Plus, pre-filters are washable. Whoop, whoop!

Cleaning your pre-filter is easy peasy. Run the pre-filter under water, using an old toothbrush to clean out the fibers. Scrub and rinse until the water runs clear. Dry for 24 hours before putting it back in the machine.

Some appliances might also have an activated charcoal filter that you can clean with a vacuum.

How to Know If Your HEPA Filter Needs Cleaning or Replaced

HEPA filter replacement and cleaning schedules are all over the board. So, your best bet is to check your manual. If you're like me and misplace every manual you own, pop it open and take a look at the HEPA filter. If it has heavy clumps of dirt and a black ring, it might be time to replace.

Replacing or cleaning your HEPA filter every 6-12 months is a safe bet if you use the appliance daily. If not, you might drag it out a little longer. It also goes the other way. If you're a smoker, replace or clean the filter more often.

How to Clean a HEPA Filter

Manufacturers and scientists are all over the board when it comes to cleaning a HEPA filter. While some will tell you to replace everything, washable or permanent HEPA filters can generally be cleaned with a vacuum or water. Just read your manual to make sure you don't destroy your stuff.

How to Clean a HEPA Filter so You Can Breathe Easy