Have you changed the air filters in your home in the last one, two or three months? If not, it’s time to do so. Regularly replacing your air filters helps improve your home’s air quality, minimize your energy bills and extend the life of your HVAC systems. Whether you have a central HVAC setup, a window or wall unit, a freestanding air purifier or some other solution, there’s probably at least one filter that needs regular maintenance to work its best. Here’s how to change or clean your home air filters.

PREPARE

Begin by turning off the device you’ll be working on. If you’re unable to do so directly, shut off its breaker.

Remove the current filter or filters, which should be found inside the unit itself or in the air return vents. Refer to the device’s manual if you’re having difficulty locating or removing the filters. An arrow on the filter should indicate the direction of the airflow. Consider marking this direction nearby for future reference with a marker, piece of tape or label.

REPLACE OR CLEAN

If the filter has a plastic frame, it’s typically reusable. This type of filter should be regularly cleaned by vacuuming it with an attachment (from the side where dust collects) and then rinsing the filter with water (from the opposite side where dust collects). Allow the filter to fully dry before reinstalling it.

If the filter has a cardboard frame, it’s disposable. Make note of the filter size, which should be printed on the side of the frame.

You can purchase replacement filters at hardware stores, home improvement centers or online. Prices typically run from $20-80 per filter. Choose filters that match the size of the ones you’re replacing or the size recommended by the device’s manual. Improperly sized filters may not fit or work correctly in your system. Purchasing a pack of filters is usually the best value and the most convenient long-term option.

There are a few important terms to know when shopping for air filters:

  • MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value): Higher numbers indicate finer filtration, with top performers typically boasting a MERV above 10.
  • MPR (Micro-Particle Performance Rating): Rates the ability to trap airborne particles smaller than 1 micron, with the best filters often scoring between 1500 and 1900.
  • FPR (Filter Performance Rating): A scale from 1 to 10, with higher numbers indicating better filtering.
  • HEPA (high-efficiency particulate-arresting): An electrostatic filter technology suited to removing dust from airflow.

INSTALL

Install your new or cleaned filter. Refer to the markings on the filter to determine the direction it should face. Installing a filter backward may reduce the airflow and increase your energy bill. Make sure the filter slides all the way into place, then replace any covers or items you removed to access the filter.

CONCLUSION

Keep a record of your filter replacement dates, such as on a note posted nearby. Mark your calendar or set a digital reminder to replace the filter again every one to three months. If you have pets or a large family, replacing your filter more often is recommended. With a regular replacement schedule for your filters, you and everyone in your home can literally breathe easier.