How to Choose the Right Cabin Air Filter

Keep pollen and dust out of your car's cabin with a fresh filter.


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Cabin air filters are among the most overlooked automotive maintenance items. These simple paper filters are a key part of a vehicle's heating and cooling system, working to prevent contaminants and allergens from reaching the passenger compartment.

Since cabin air filters are often positioned in out-of-the-way places (stuffed under the dash or squeezed into the engine compartment), it's easy to forget to change them regularly the way you do your engine air filter. Like any other filters, they can get clogged over time and lose their effectiveness. Clogged filters reduce the efficiency of your vehicle's climate control features and can even create a dusty atmosphere inside your vehicle. They can also accumulate mold and mildew, introducing a foul smell to your daily commuter.

Here's what you need to know about choosing a replacement cabin air filter.

What Is a Cabin Air Filter Made of?

Cabin air filters are fairly basic in their construction. Most consist of a plastic frame surrounding a pleated material that is thin enough for air to pass through but dense enough to strain out dust and other pollutants. This material is often similar to what is used in engine air filters, a mix of paper, cotton, and artificially created membrane materials.

Sometimes you'll come across filters that go the extra mile to keep cabin air fresh. Fram offers a line of cabin filters that employ activated carbon impregnated with baking soda to better absorb odors, while others stick to just the carbon element. Some filters also advertise the use of static electricity or charcoal to help clean the air.

What Size Cabin Air Filter Should I Buy?

Cabin air filters are available in many shapes and sizes. The easiest way to know which size is right for your vehicle is to check your owner's manual, which will often include a specific part number.

If your owner's manual is missing, you can search online for a digital version or use a reputable parts supplier's website to find the part number. You can also remove your existing filter and either measure it or take it with you to the parts counter for an exact match.

Is There a Difference Among Filter Brands?

Unlike engine air filters, there are no true performance gains to be found when moving from one brand of cabin air filter to another. Keeping your climate control system clean is a relatively simple job, and a basic filter typically gets the job done.

In general, a cabin air filter will cost you between $10 and $20. While you can pay for add-ons such as baking soda, keep in mind that the benefits could wane before the useful life of the filter has been used up, making it only a temporary upgrade over a traditional filter.

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Benjamin Hunting
Benjamin Hunting is a writer and podcast host who contributes to a number of newspapers, automotive magazines, and online publications. More than a decade into his career, he enjoys keeping the shiny side up during track days and always has one too many classic vehicle projects partially disassembled in his garage at any given time. Remember, if it's not leaking, it's probably empty.