How to Clean a Cold Intake Filter

Cleaning cold intake filter

You have installed a cold air intake system on your vehicle and it has been performing as well as you had hoped. Increased airflow makes for better combustion and adds more horsepower and engine sound. But just like almost every other part of your vehicle, your cold air intake requires periodic maintenance. Because more air is entering the engine through the filter, dirt, and dust will build up on the system’s filter. When it’s time to clean your cold air intake filter, how should you go about it?

Signs It May Be Time for a Cleaning

Because more air is sucked into the filter, it also brings in more dust and grime. As the filter begins to clog, it’s understandable that your engine will begin to lose horsepower and fuel efficiency. Be aware of these signs:

  • Decreased fuel economy
  • Overall loss of performance
  • Reduced horsepower

How to clean a Dry Intake Filter

Remove the filter and gently shake it to remove as much dirt as possible. After this you can carefully use a shop-vac to vacuum even more dirt from between the filter’s pleats.

You could probably get by with using a mild dish soap as a cleaner but it would be a wiser choice to visit an auto parts store and purchase a cleaner specifically for intake filters. (Please be aware that some manufacturers tint their cleaners to match the color of their filters. You don’t want to use a red-tinted cleaner on a blue filter.) Liberally spray the cleaner on the filter and allow the cleaner to dwell for 15 minutes.

Use a garden hose with just a small amount of pressure and rinse the filter with water. Always rinse the water through the inside of the filter toward the outside. (Learn how to protect air intake from water here) This will prevent the lodging of any leftover dirt deeper into the filter. Continue rinsing until you see no more foam from the cleaner. If the filter is still dirty, you may need to repeat the cleaning process.

Once the water is running clear, you can shake the filter to help remove the water. If you have access to an air compressor, you could use it to help dry the filter. Use very light air pressure and again blow the filter from the inside out. (If your wife or girlfriend isn’t around, using their hairdryer can work really well to dry out your filter. Use it on a low, cool-air setting. But don’t get caught by them using it!) Allow the filter to dry completely before reinstalling it on your system. It usually takes a good 4-6 hours to dry, so a good time to do your cleaning is in the evening when you know that you will not be driving any time soon.

How to Clean Oiled Cold Intake Filter

It’s important to note that when you go to buy a cleaning kit for your oiled cold air intake filter, there are different colored oil kits available. Always buy the one that matches your filter’s color.

You should follow the instructions for cleaning dry filters above, with one added step. After the filter is completely dry, use the spray oil that is included in your cleaning kit to evenly coat the outside of your filter. Let the filter set for about another 15-20 minutes and it will be ready to reinstall.

Help Your Engine Take a Deep Breath

You went to all the time, effort, and expense to make your vehicle perform better by installing a cold air intake system. It just makes good sense to maintain a clean filter. If it hasn’t been cleaned, why have a filter at all. A dirty filter will prevent the engine from gathering in more air and that’s the only reason you installed the system to begin with.