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Changing AC Air Filters

Updated on July 24, 2013

Change the Air Filter on Your Air Conditioner

Do you realize the importance of changing AC air filters, or furnace filters for that matter? In the grand scheme of things, okay, it's not going to save the world, but it will save you money in the long run and help your air conditioner and furnace work more efficiently and last longer.

And the air you breathe will be cleaner and healthier if the air filter isn't clogged with dirt and pet hair.

Air conditioners have to work hard. Here in Arizona from May to October (or April to November), that's especially true. Our high temperature today, June 1? 111 degrees Fahrenheit. Ugh. At least it's dry here, but that simply means lots of dust gets filtered through the air filter.

And in humid climates, air conditioners work to cool and dry out the air. So, keeping your air filters changed is key to staying comfortable all summer.

Here's a photo of a new AC air filter (the white one on the left) and the old dirty air filter (on the right) that I just removed.

Photo Credit: Peggy Hazelwood

This air filter is full of dust, dirt, and pet hair, which is not good for your air conditioner.
This air filter is full of dust, dirt, and pet hair, which is not good for your air conditioner.

Change Your Home Air Filter

When Should You Change It?

When your air conditioner is being used pretty much nonstop, it's important to change your air filter regularly.

An HVAC guy once told me, "When you get your utility bill, change your air filter." This makes sense since the power bill comes once a month and that's how often air filters should be changed during constant use, I think. Of course, to contradict me, the AC filter package that's sitting on my desk from the air filter I just changed says my new filter is good for 90 days. But I try not to let mine go that long.

Of course if you don't use your air conditioner constantly but only sporadically, you may not need to change the air filter as often. Maybe every six weeks or every other month or even every 90 days will work for you.

But if you have pets, you may need to change your air filter more often. I have a cat and she sheds. If you have more than one critter roaming the house, check your air filter. You may need to change your air filter every three weeks. If it is so clogged with dust and hair that nothing is getting through it, your air conditioner has to work harder to pull the air through the air return where your air filter sits.

Which leads me to buying the best air filter for the right price, so keep reading.

Photo of a filthy, dirty air filter.

Photo Credit: Peggy Hazelwood

Once A Month

Change your air filter each time you get

your utility bill in the mail.

Choose the right air filter for your air conditioner.
Choose the right air filter for your air conditioner.

Buy the Right AC Air Filter

Don't Waste Money on the Wrong Filters

Okay, so now that you know you need to change your air filter, it's also important to buy the right one. The HVAC guy gave me these recommendations:

Greater Filter Surface Area

~ Do buy a pleated air filter. The pleats provide more surface area for the dust, lint, pollen, dust mites, and pet hair and dander to collect.

~ Do NOT buy flat air filters that get clogged quicker because, well, they're flat. What you see is what gets clogged, and when it's clogged, it's clogged.

Airflow Resistance

~ Do buy a medium-range air filter. Air filters that are rated Good are good. My air filter package calls the ability of air to flow through the filter as airflow resistance. What you want with an air filter is minimal airflow resistance.

~ Do NOT buy the best air filters. The mesh and weave in these high-rated filters are too dense and air has trouble traveling through them, i.e., big ol' airflow resistance. This makes your air conditioner work harder. So, in this case, Best is not best.

Photo Credit: Peggy Hazelwood

AC Air Filters - for sale on Amazon

An easy way to keep air filters on hand is to buy them in bulk. Afterall, you'll need at least 8 to 12 a year if you change them often enough (every month or 6 weeks).

Know Your Filter Size

Jot your air filter dimensions

(mine are 14 X 25 X 1) somewhere handy:

~ on your Smartphone

~ on your calendar in your purse

~ on a scrap of paper you tuck

behind your driver's license

Ceiling air filter.
Ceiling air filter.

Removing Your Air Filter

There is a right way and a wrong way to install your AC air filter. It's not hard, but like anything else, you just need to know how to do it. But first you need to remove the old air filter.

First, locate where your air filter lives. This is going to be different depending on your house. Trust me. I've lived in many houses and condos, and I've seen the air filter in these places:

~ in furnace (yes, the air conditioning often uses the furnace duct work so the furnace filter and air conditioning filter were one and the same)

~ in the ceiling, as shown here

~ in the wall

Some air filters slide in and others sit flat. If you're moving into a new home or apartment, ask the home inspector or landlord to show you where the air filter is located and how to remove the grate. It's almost always easy once you know how!

Next, remove the grate that is in front of the air filter. You may need a screwdriver. Mine has those large screw thingies that can be turned with my fingers. I've always had to use a screwdriver everywhere else I've lived though. Then set the grate aside, or in my case, it is hinged and just hangs there.

Remove the old air filter. If it's really dirty, it's a good idea to have a large bag handy to put the old filter into. You don't want all that dust to come flying out and get in the air or on your floor.

While I have the grate open, I like to wipe the grate inside and out as well as the inside part of the filter area and duct with a damp rag. There is always plenty of dust laying on the edges where my filter sits. If you are ambitious, you can vacuum the grate and inside area. I'm not usually that ambitious.

Photo Credit: Peggy Hazelwood

The arrow points in.
The arrow points in.

Installing New Air Filters

Now it's time to install the new air filter. Remember how the old one came out. The new one will go in the same way.

Locate the arrow and the words that appear next to it, which usually say "air flow." The main thing to remember is that the arrow on the filter frame should point in or up.

To check air flow on anything (a ceiling fan, a heating or cooling register, or an air return), get a tissue and place it under or beside the fan or register while the fan is running. If the tissue is sucked up, that means the air flow is up (or into the grate). If the tissue floats to the floor, the air is flowing down or out of the register.

Air filters are situated in air returns generally, which suck air in, therefore, the air flow arrow on the air filter should point in or up (depending on if your air return is in the wall or in the ceiling).

Photo Credit: Peggy Hazelwood

Arrows Point Up or In

Install air filters with the arrow pointing in or up.

Air Purifiers - Clean the Air and Help Your Air Conditioner Function Better

If you or someone in your home has allergies, an air purifier might help you breathe easier. Many compact air purifiers come with a HEPA-type filter that catches particles from smoke, dust, pet dander, mold, and pollen.

HVAC -- For When You Want to Know - How Your Air Conditioner Works

Affiliate Disclosure

This author, Peggy Hazelwood, participates in Amazon, eBay, All Posters, and other affiliate advertising programs. When you click an advertising link on this page and make a purchase, I receive a small percent of the sale. Thank you for reading this far!

If you love your air conditioner, please let us know.

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    • BestRatedStuff profile image

      BestRatedStuff 5 years ago

      Relay useful information,put in a very easy way to retain. Like the little tips and the things to keep in mind.

    • piedromolinero profile image

      piedromolinero 5 years ago

      I never knew so much about the air filter from our ac as I know now. Thank you for shedding some light on it.

    • Frischy profile image

      Frischy 5 years ago from Kentucky, USA

      I loved my central air, but now that it has died I love my window unit with a passion.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      @gottaloveit2: Really? You don't have AC? Oh no!

    • gottaloveit2 profile image

      gottaloveit2 5 years ago

      HA! Who has AC??? I'm in a 160 year old house! Great tips though, as always.