Window air conditioners are typically used in apartment buildings and older homes without central air. Most people install it in their window, plug it in, and forget it, but at some point that “filter reset” button comes on and you find yourself scratching your head on how to replace it.
According to Energy.gov, a dirty air filter uses 15% more energy than a clean one, so regular maintenance of your air filters can save money and extend the life of your AC. Here’s how to replace your window AC air filter when it comes times to swap ‘em out.
How often should you change your window AC filter?
When an AC air filter collects too much dust and dirt, it obstructs airflow and blows unwanted particles into your home. Eventually, the air won’t be able to flow through the filter, blowing it back inside the unit and clogging the air conditioner’s evaporator coil (the thing that makes the air cool). To avoid clogs, Frost King suggests cleaning or replacing your air filters every six to eight weeks. That’s probably on the ambitious side for most of us, so try for at least once or twice a summer, at least.
Signs that your AC filter needs replacing
There are a variety of AC air filters. In newer models, filters look similar to a window screen but are made of a plastic mesh surrounded by a plastic frame. Some are a sheet of fiber that can be thrown away and replaced; others are made of foam resembling a soft version of steep wool. Check your filter regularly to see if it could use a good cleaning, or seems too grimy and needs to be replaced altogether.
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Signs you need to replace your filter are pretty self-explanatory: If your filter seems dirty and no matter what you do, it’s time to replace it. Also, a disposable filter covered in dirt with no signs of its original color needs to be replaced. If you see any signs of holes, rips, or damaged parts, you’ll need to get a new one. These issues will hurt the performance of your machine.
Depending on the type of filter, replacing it is pretty cheap. A plastic mesh filter will cost just under $24, while the disposable foam filters are only $2 and $8 (based on the foam type).
How to replace your window AC filter
Most window ACs have a plastic grate face. Depending on the unit type, the front face can be removed to reveal the air filter directly behind it. Although it looks like the face is fused to the body of the unit, it unclicks from the sides and top. You’ll want to unclick the covering, remove the filter, and either clean it with a cloth or replace it with a fresh one if it’s beyond repair. The filter and front piece should click right into place once you’re done.
Other unit filters slide in and out from a top or side compartment. For any type of AC filter removal, you’ll want to look up the user manual for the specific make and model unit. Watch Part Select’s instructional video for detailed instructions on removing a front-loaded filter.
How to clean your window AC filter instead of replacing it
A thick layer of dust on your AC filter doesn’t necessarily mean you need to toss it. If it’s reusable, try cleaning it to remove as much dirt before deeming it beyond repair.
First, make sure your unit is off and or unplugged, then remove the filter as mentioned above. Once you’ve removed the filter, take a handheld vacuum or full-size vacuum with attachment to remove as much dust as possible. Vacuum in a well ventilated area or outside, if you can. Then, take the filter to your sink or tub and apply a small dollop of dish soap to a washrag. Using lukewarm water, wipe down the filter with the soapy rag removing any signs of dirt, and rinse. Use a microfiber towel, wipe the filter to remove excess water, then set it to dry. Let the filter dry completely before returning it to the AC unit.
I completed this process recently and it took all of five minutes. It is so easy; you’ll wonder why you were ignoring that “reset filter” light all this time.