An important part of car maintenance that you might be overlooking is keeping a clean cabin air filter. The best cabin air filters help remove harmful pollutants like pollen, dust, smog, and even viruses from the air entering your cabin. These critical components aren’t simply accessories that make your car’s interior smell nice; they provide a crucial service in the cleanliness of the very air you breathe, which is especially crucial in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Though a cabin air filter alone can’t protect you from the coronavirus, it is a big component in your car’s air filtration system, helping to filter the air that is entering your cabin. For added protection against the coronavirus, you need to make sure you are regularly sanitizing your car’s surfaces, especially high touch surfaces like door handles and the steering wheel.
Not all cars come equipped with an air cabin filter, and many people don’t know anything about their cabin air filter, let alone how to replace one that’s clogged or old. That’s where this guide comes in. We’ve outlined the 10 best cabin air filters for your needs.
What Does a Cabin Air Filter Do?
Have you ever wondered how the air inside your car stays fresh and cool when the air outside the car is filled with dust, dirt, pollen, and the exhaust fumes of all the other vehicles on the road? If all of that air pollution made it into your cabin, you’d have a pretty hard time keeping the interior of your car clean and maintaining good health.
That’s where car cabin air filters come in. The best car cabin air filters trap debris or harmful airborne substances before they reach the interior of your car. The result is purified air that is safe to breathe. However, because they are constantly filtering out all these pollutants, cabin air filters need to be frequently replaced or cleaned to ensure proper function and optimal results.
Do I Need a Cabin Air Filter?
Cabin air filters are really a good option for everyone, but they are especially necessary for anyone who has severe allergies to dust or pollen. They’re also important for people who frequently sit in traffic or are often on busy roads. Car exhaust is largely made up of carbon monoxide and other harmful carcinogens that you definitely want to filter out.
You may also run into other issues from a malfunctioning or dirty cabin air filter. For example, your windows may fog up if your cabin air filter stops working. In this case, pollutants will be collecting on the inside of your windows when your AC or heater runs without a good filter. Both of those systems may experience decreases in efficiency or effectiveness as a result of a dirty air cabin filter as well.
Hopefully, you’ll agree with us that having one of the best cabin air filters is a necessity, not an option. Thankfully, we’ve made finding the right cabin air filters easy for you with our comprehensive guide to the best cabin air filters on the market.
This activated charcoal filter is layered in a honeycomb pattern to both improve the filter lifespan and assist it in its odor-trapping efforts. It’s particularly effective at getting rid of road debris and exhaust fumes thanks to its three-stage filtration system. It possesses a dust filter specifically for bigger elements and an antimicrobial filter to get rid of allergens.
Despite this complexity, it’s very easy to install, and it fits a wide variety of vehicles. It’s two times heavier than most cabin filters thanks to its industrial-strength electrostatic material that uses for its filtering performance. Spearhead claims it lasts up to 25% longer than most competitor filters so you should get close to 15,000 miles before it needs replacement.
This K&N eco-friendly air filter is washable and reusable. It uses an electrostatic charge to capture mold and mildew. This filter captures a lot of common airborne germs and allergens and is great at trapping pollen as well.
This filter also comes with a 10 year or 100,000-mile limited warranty that covers any manufacturer defects. Not that you should have to worry about defects as the filter is made of a durable polyurethane frame. The synthetic filter material excels at trapping harmful materials while freshening the air of your car at the same time.
The filter is designed to be easily installed in place of your original cabin air filter. Check the product listing to make sure it fits your vehicle before purchasing.
This cabin air filter has an activated carbon coating on the filter surface. This activated carbon material helps to neutralize harmful pollutants or stinky odors and protects you from any noxious gases. It also has baking soda for even better odor neutralizing capabilities compared to competitor products.
The filter has a recommended lifespan of 12 months or 12,000 miles before you need to replace it. It fits many Toyota, Lexus, Scion, Land Rover, and Subaru models as well as a few Jaguars and Pontiacs. Check the product listing for the complete list of compatible vehicles.
4. Mann Filter CUK 29 005 Carbon Activated Cabin Air Filter
This Mann filter is an easy-to-install product with a thick activated charcoal (or carbon) layer. This layer absorbs any harmful gases and other airborne materials, preventing them from seeping into your cabin. It’s combined with an effective particle layer that can capture anything larger particles, like pollen or dust.
The filter is made of non-woven media for added durability even after a lot of use. Mann rates its lifespan of about 15,000 km before it needs to be replaced. Remember that this filter can’t be cleaned and will need to be thrown away.
This Fram filter is so effective that it can block up to 98% of common contaminants, including dust and pollen. In addition to this, it also has the odor-fighting power of Arm & Hammer baking soda. The baking soda combines with activated carbon to totally annihilate bad odors and help block out noxious fumes.
The filter’s particle and activated carbon segments work in tandem to increase airflow for the AC unit. This is a great air filter option if you live in a hot climate and frequently run your AC.
Installing this air filter is a breeze thanks to the detailed installation instructions included in the box. There are also QR codes that come with the purchase, for additional installation videos if you are more of a visual learner.
This affordable cabin air filter utilized activated carbon in order to neutralize harmful pollutants or smelly odors and gases. The filter also has baking soda to help further reduce the effect of negative odors.
Designed to last for 12 months or 12,000 miles of fresh cabin air, this filter is suitable for most Honda and Acura vehicles. The disposable filter is designed to be easy to remove and replace whenever you need to change your cabin air filter.
7. ACDelco CF188 GM Original Equipment Cabin Air Filter
This filter is equipped with long filter media for maximum area coverage. This design allows it to capture a higher amount of particulates and harmful matter than other particle type filters of its class.
The filter system is made of three layers. The first layer handles all large airborne particles, the middle gets anything smaller than that, and the third and final layer provides added stability and strength for the other two. Naturally, this boosts the lifespan of the filter.
It’s designed to fit with most GM vehicles, although you should still check the dimensions and compare them to your original filter before purchasing. The filter comes with a 24-month/unlimited mile warranty that can cover you for defects from the manufacturing process. This is a nice bonus even with the low asking price.
This K&N cabin air filter is washable so you should get many years of use out of the product. Cleaning the air filter is simple. Warm water and mild soap should do the trick, and the filter parts are sturdy enough to handle some scrubbing without falling apart.
The premium filter helps protect against outside contaminants and odors. Great for drivers who spend a lot of time in wet and cold climates, the filter has an electrostatic charge to capture most mold and mildew so your car should never smell musty.
This filter is designed to be easily installed in place of your stock cabin air filter. Refer to the product page for a list of compatible makes and models before purchasing this filter to make sure it will fit your vehicle.
This FRAM filter utilizes Arm & Hammer baking soda in conjunction with activated carbon for top results. The filter will eliminate odors and stop noxious gases, dirt, and other pollutants from getting into your cabin.
This filter fits up to 80% of the vehicles built since 2000 making it one of the closest filters you can find to a “universal” product. The filter is designed to improve the flow of your AC system. Along with the filter, you also get detailed installation instructions. Overall, this is filter gives you great value at an affordable price.
This EPAuto product cabin air filter has baking soda and activated carbon to freshen the air and neutralize harmful gases and odors. It fits most Audi or Volkswagen vehicles and should last up to 12 months or 12,000 miles.
This affordable filter is easy to install thanks to its compact shape and east-to-follow instructions. This is not a replacement filter and is designed to be thrown away once its filter materials have been filled with dirt or debris.
What to Look for in the Best Cabin Air Filters
Above, we’ve listed some of the best cabin air filters for a variety of different cars and filtration systems. But if these aren’t quite what you’re looking for, here are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for a cabin air filter for your vehicle.
First and foremost, you’ll want to purchase a cabin air filter that is compatible with your vehicle’s filtration system. To determine whether or not your vehicle can accept a particular type of cabin air filter, check the user manual or investigate what cabin air filter is currently installed. When in doubt, you can always purchase a replacement cabin air filter of the same make and model that your car used previously.
If you’ve already thrown away the old filter, consider contacting the manufacturer and asking about the preferred filter size for your model of vehicle. They should be able to provide at least a starting point. In addition, many filter manufacturers will list the kinds of vehicles that their products are guaranteed to work with.
Particle or Activated Carbon
These are the two main types of cabin air filters — particle and activated carbon.
Particle cabin air filters are designed to trap microscopic dust, pollen, and toxin particles. The size of these particles typically measures in the micron, which is a very small unit that is completely invisible to the naked eye. To give you an idea of how small we are talking, imagine an air filter with tiny holes that are smaller than the diameter of the standard human hair. Now that’s small!
Particle cabin air filters work well to block physical contaminants or harmful substances. Most pollen and dust particles are larger than these holes and should be trapped relatively easily in a working particle cabin air filter.
Activated carbon cabin air filters are designed to filter out harmful chemicals as well as physical contaminants. The activated carbon will trap bad odors and harmful gases like the carbon monoxide that comes out of the exhaust pipes of most motor vehicles.
These types of air filters work by spreading an active carbon substance over a large surface area. The activated carbon binds to the harmful molecules and elements of various noxious gases to trap them before they can reach the interior of your vehicle. As a result, many activated carbon air filters require more surface area or space, in general, to operate efficiently. This limits the kinds of vehicles that can accept them.
In addition, activated carbon cabin air filters are frequently a little more expensive than particle cabin air filters since they do more work and provide more holistic defense against harmful substances entering your cabin. Activated carbon air filters are sometimes called activated charcoal air filters.
Overall, having either type of cabin air filter will be better than having none at all. If your car can fit it, an activated carbon cabin air filter is the superior choice, but you shouldn’t avoid purchasing a particle air filter if that’s the best option to fit your vehicle.
Frequently Asked Questions
How often should you change your cabin air fitler?
This answer depends on the model of cabin air filter you purchased and/or your driving environment.
For instance, if you most frequently drive country roads with clean air and little dust, your cabin air filter won’t get dirty as quickly.
On the other hand, drivers who spend all their time in cities or in climates with a lot of dust, pollution, or other airborne pollutants will need to change their cabin air filters more frequently.
Most standard cabin air filters have a recommended lifespan from the manufacturer of between 12,000 and 15,000 miles presuming regular atmospheric conditions. Most Americans drive around 15,000 miles in a year, so you are likely looking at changing or cleaning your cabin air filter about once every 12 months.
How can I know when my cabin air filter needs to be changed?
Pay attention to your air conditioning or heating systems. The air coming from your heater or AC first gets filtered through the cabin air filter. If the filter is blocked up with pollutants, you may experience a drastic decrease in airflow from either system.
Regular checkups for your air filter are also recommended if you live in a pollutant heavy city or environment. If on visual inspection, you see a lot of dust coating the surface of your air filter, it’s probably a good time to replace or clean it.
Where is the cabin air filter in my car?
Most cabin air filters are located either beneath the windshield of your car or behind the glove compartment. In either scenario, you should see a hatch or small opening that is usually secured with screws.
Both of these covers are normally hidden. In the event you can’t find the cabin air filter, you can always check your owner’s manual to determine the location of your cabin air filter. This may be the best course of action if you have a rare or luxury vehicle with a unique interior setup.
Do all cars have a cabin air filter?
Most vehicles manufactured since 2000 should have a cabin air filter.
How do you install a cabin air filter in a car?
The exact method of air filter replacement or installation depends on your car’s make and model. In general, remove the screws from your cabin air filter cover. Then pull down the cover and slide out the old filter. Be careful not to spill a bunch of dust and debris onto the seat or the rest of your car.
Either dispose or clean the cabin air filter depending on the unit. Then place the clean or new cabin air filter back in the same slot. If you’ve chosen the correct filter, it should slide in without trouble. You should be able to close the cover back over the top without having to squeeze or shove the filter inside.
How do you clean a washable cabin air fitler?
If you’ve purchased a reusable or washable cabin air filter, you can clean the filter in a few easy steps.
Use a hose with low-pressure water to rinse the filter from top to bottom, allowing gravity to wash away the dirt. After you’ve rinsed the filter, fill a bucket or bin with soapy water, and totally submerge the filter for about 10 minutes. This gives the soap enough time to break down any tougher components and bacterial growths that may have gathered on the filter surface.
After it has soaked, rinse the filter with low-pressure water once again, making sure to get rid of any soapy remnants. If any soap dries on the filter, you may smell it for a little while once you have reinstalled it. Allow the filter to air dry before you reinstall it.
Does a cabin air filter affect my AC?
A dirty cabin air filter can reduce the airflow and efficiency of your car’s AC (and heat). If you notice a reduced airflow, it might be time to replace your cabin air filter.
Kristen is a writer and editor based in Colorado. She came to motorsports by way of her husband's passion for track days, autocross, and fast cars and is now the proud co-driver of two E36 325s and an overland-in-the-making Lexus GX470. She is a volunteer driving instructor with the BMW CCA Rocky Mountain Chapter and enjoys any event that involves getting behind the wheel or navigating from the passenger's seat.