How to Clean a HEPA Filter

Nearly all air purifiers on the market feature a HEPA filter as part of the filtration system.

And unlike UV air purifiers, those with a HEPA filter must be cleaned regularly to function properly.

When I first bought my air purifier, I had no idea what a HEPA filter even was, never mind that I needed to clean it.

So, if you’re wondering how to clean the HEPA filter in your air purifier, you are in the right place.

In this guide, I will show you step-by-step how to clean a HEPA filter safely, so you can prolong the filter’s lifespan and use it for longer.

On top of that, I’ll go over how often you should clean your HEPA filter, the risks of doing it, and other relevant information I wish I had known back in the day.

Before going into any details, I want to familiarize you with HEPA filters.

What Is a HEPA Filter?

HEPA stands for High-efficiency Particulate Air.

A HEPA filter is a mechanical filter that consists of an amazing fiberglass mesh designed to capture 99.97% of solid particles as small as 0.3 microns.

0.3 microns in size is practically invisible to the eye, so you can imagine how fine the fiberglass mesh is to capture such solid particles.

In this size bracket, you’ll find particles such as dust, pollen, mold, bacteria, and other airborne particles in the air.

The size of particles your particular HEPA filter can capture will depend on the HEPA filter itself.

This is because HEPA filters come in ratings between 1 and 16, with 1 being the worst and 16 being the best.

I recommend against going for any HEPA filters below H13, as they won’t be as effective.

In other words, the lower your filter’s HEPA rating, the larger particles it will let slip through.

Why am I telling you all this?

It’s nice to know and essential when cleaning the HEPA filter itself.

The fiberglass mesh is so fine that any damage caused by your cleaning can render the filter useless.

And before we go into the next section, there’s one more thing I need to tell you about.

It’s how to spot fake versus authentic HEPA filters.

Since HEPA filters are extremely popular amongst consumers, you can expect there to be a lot of fakes on the market.

Such filters are not only a waste of money but might lead you to believe air purifiers are useless when the filter is at fault.

So, when shopping for a HEPA filter, ensure it’s a “true HEPA filter.”

These filters have passed all the standards necessary and are guaranteed to do the job.

Types of Cleanable HEPA Filters

There are two types of cleanable HEPA filters: washable and permanent.

If you don’t see any of these descriptors on the packaging or manual of your air purifier, then don’t clean your HEPA filters.

Instead, it would help if you replace the HEPA filters after a couple of months to keep your air purifier running correctly.

But if you have a washable or permanent HEPA filter, here are the steps you should follow.

Cleaning a Washable HEPA Filter

This type of HEPA filter is washable.

To clean a washable HEPA filter, all you need to do is run it under cold water.

All these filters need is a quick rinse every couple of months, which will work wonders for their lifespan.

When doing this, avoid any cleaning agents you think might help.

Scrubbing or brushing the HEPA filter can significantly damage it as it can destroy the delicate fiberglass mesh used to capture different particles.

Once you’re done rinsing it, you must leave it out to dry before reinstalling it in the air purifier.

That’s all it takes to wash these filters, but you have to ensure it’s dry before reinstalling them.

You risk damaging the machine if you put it back in the air purifier when it’s wet.

Mold and mildew will develop inside the air purifier, which isn’t something you want.

If the weather is warm, 48 hours should be plenty; if not, leave it out for a few days until you’re confident it’s thoroughly dry.

Cleaning a Permanent HEPA Filter

You can only clean your HEPA filter with water if it explicitly states it’s washable.

If you have a permanent HEPA filter, you can also clean it, but you should not use water.

If you use water on these filters, you risk doing irreversible damage to the filter.

Instead, you should clean these filters carefully using a vacuum with a soft brush.

To clean a permanent HEPA filter, remove any significant chunks of dirt you can see using the vacuum.

Remember, these filters capture dirt and dust, so a little build-up is fine.

When cleaning a permanent HEPA filter, your goal should only be removing large dust clumps, as getting deep into the filter could damage the mesh.

This is also why you need to replace your HEPA filter with a new one after a few cleans.

How to Tell if I Should Clean or Replace My HEPA Filter

For best results, it’s always good to completely replace your HEPA after you’ve used it for 8-12 months.

If you have an air purifier for pets, and your furry animals shed a lot of fur, you should do it more often.

However, that’s unnecessary in most cases, as you can clean the filter and prolong its lifespan.

Determining whether your HEPA filter can do with one more clean before replacing it can be a tough call for the untrained eye.

There are two things to consider when making this decision.

You want to consider how long the filter has been used and how many times you’ve cleaned it already.

If you’ve cleaned the filter several times and have had the purifier for over a year, it’s safe to assume it’s time for a replacement filter.

How to Clean a HEPA Filter Safely and Effectively

There are definite risks that come with cleaning a HEPA filter, even if you have a washable or permanent model.

That said, there are still many benefits to cleaning your HEPA filter regularly, especially if you aren’t keen on replacing the filter every 6 months.

So, if you plan on cleaning your HEPA filter, the least you can do is ensure that you’re doing so safely.

I’ll go through some tips to remember when cleaning your HEPA filter to ensure that you are as safe as possible when cleaning your air purifier HEPA filter.

Take Your Air Purifier Outside

If the weather allows, there’s no better place to clean your HEPA filter than outside.

This is because the second you open your unit, dust, pollen, and other solid particles will start to fly out of it.

And if you’re inside, all the particles the unit has captured up to this date will end up in your indoor air, get stuck in the carpet, or cover surfaces nearby.

If that were to happen, it would have defeated the whole purpose of running your air purifier all that time.

Clear the Room (If Cleaning the Filter Inside)

While I highly suggest cleaning your HEPA filter outside, there are times when you have no choice but to clean it indoors.

When doing this, it’s best to make sure that the only person in the room is the one who will clean the air purifier.

That way, no one else is at unnecessary risk of inhaling harmful particles.

If there are people at home with respiratory conditions, they are the least viable to clean the filter.

So, I suggest asking anyone with respiratory conditions to exit the room when you clean the HEPA filter to keep the risks as low as possible.

Wear Gloves and a Mask

The last tip I can give you is to wear the appropriate protective gear when cleaning your HEPA filter.

When you do this, ensure that you don’t inhale or come into contact with harmful particles when cleaning the filter.

The best protective equipment to wear when cleaning a HEPA filter is gloves and a mask.

But if you can, I suggest wearing goggles, as getting dust and other harmful particles in your eyes are far from ideal.

Take Out the HEPA Filter

Once you’ve established a place where you’re going to clean the HEPA filter and have all the equipment ready, it’s time to take apart the air purifier.

The first thing you need to do is make sure it is off and unplugged from any power source.

Next up, you need to open up the casing of your air purifier.

This process can vary from model to model and brand to brand, so check out the user manual for more instructions.

I use the Levoit 300S, and all I have to do to access the filter is to rotate the unit’s base to the left until it opens up.

Once you’ve opened the casing, find and remove the HEPA filter.

Use a Vacuum Cleaner

Once out of the casing, a vacuum cleaner is the only way to clean it if you have a permanent HEPA filter.

Ideally, you want to use the gentlest setting on your vacuum cleaner and avoid using attachments that can damage the filter.

Additionally, it’s best to use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter so the harmful particles won’t end up floating around the air.

And if you own a permanent HEPA filter without a vacuum, consider cleaning it every now and then.

You should only clean permanent HEPA filters with a vacuum cleaner. 

If you don’t have one, you’re better off not cleaning it and just replacing it as necessary.

Are All HEPA Filters Cleaned the Same Way?

Generally speaking, yes, all HEPA filters are cleaned the same way.

This is because no matter how big or small, at the end of the day, they are the same, just different in size.

So, practice the advice I provided you above when cleaning your particular HEPA filter, and you should be fine.

And if you encounter any trouble, refer to your unit’s user manual or watch a video on YouTube.

That’s what I did when I had to clean my HEPA filter for the first time all those years ago.

How Often Should a HEPA Filter Be Cleaned?

As per the recommendations of experts, I use my air purifier 24/7.

And as a result of that, my air purifier will collect much more particles compared to someone using their unit for just 8 hours a day.

So, when it comes to the regularity between which you need to clean your HEPA filter, there are three things you need to consider.

How often you use your air purifier, how polluted the air in your area is, and how big your air purifier’s HEPA filter actually is.

The more often you use your unit, the more polluted your area is, and the smaller the HEPA filter, the more you need to clean it.

To give you a rule of thumb, I clean my HEPA filter every 2-4 weeks, use my unit all the time, and live in the city center in one of the biggest cities in the country.

How Many Times Can I Clean My HEPA Filter Before Replacing?

It’s not recommended that you clean your HEPA filter because you can’t clean it as well as needed to make it as clean as new.

Instead, manufacturers suggest that you replace your HEPA filter every 8-12 months.

With that in mind, as someone who wants to maximize their money, I decided to clean the HEPA filter myself and prolong its lifetime by at least another 50%.

And to be honest, it worked.

After taking proper and regular care of my HEPA filter, I replace my HEPA filter every 14-16 months.

Regarding the cleaning-to-changing ratio, that depends on how often you use your unit.

Risks to Cleaning a HEPA Filter

Even if there are certain HEPA filters that you can clean to extend their lifespan, it might not be the best idea.

I still recommend cleaning these filters every now and then so you won’t have to replace them often.

But before doing so, I suggest learning about the different risks and what you can do to mitigate them when cleaning your HEPA filter below.

You Might Damage the Filter

The most significant risk that you want to consider when using a HEPA filter is the damage you might cause to the actual filter.

Let me explain why.

As mentioned earlier, HEPA filters consist of a fine fiberglass mesh that captures tiny particles.

And when I say fine mesh, I mean it.

The mesh on the HEPA filters used for air purifiers is usually small enough to capture particles as small as 0.3 microns.

That means that the fiberglass mesh is very delicate.

When you clean your HEPA filter, you must be as gentle as possible, as even a light force can tear and damage the mesh.

Once you damage the mesh on a HEPA filter, larger particles can start escaping through the filter, so your air purifier won’t capture particles as effectively as before.

While this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t clean permanent or washable HEPA filters, it does mean that you have to take extra care when doing so.

You Will Release Harmful Airborne Particles 

When you clean the HEPA filter of your air purifier, you have to open up the appliance to reach the filter.

Opening an air purifier risks releasing all the dust and harmful airborne particles it has already captured into the air.

And while the dust that comes from the pre-filter isn’t something you should worry about, the dust inside the HEPA filter is much finer and hard to see.

When you remove the HEPA filter from your air purifier, you risk inhaling all the trapped particles.

This can be very dangerous, especially if you struggle with allergies and other respiratory conditions.

If you must clean your HEPA filter, I recommend doing so outdoors.

That way, the harmful particles trapped inside the filter are dispersed into the air.

If you do this indoors, the dust and other particles might circulate around the room or get on different surfaces.

This completely defeats the purpose of using an air purifier.

It’s also one of the reasons why some people don’t recommend cleaning your HEPA filter at all and just replacing it every 6-8 months.

Another thing you can do when cleaning your HEPA filter is to make sure you’re wearing a face mask and other PPE.

That way, any dust particles that try to enter your lungs won’t be able to, keeping you as safe as possible.

You Need a HEPA Filter to Clean a HEPA Filter

If you have a washable HEPA filter, this won’t be that much of an issue, as you can rinse the filter under cold water to clean it.

However, if you have a permanent HEPA filter, you can’t use just any vacuum to clean it up.

If your vacuum cleaner doesn’t have a HEPA filter, the whole cleaning process is pointless.

Cleaning a HEPA filter with a vacuum without a HEPA filter means various particles are released back into the air.

Vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters can capture dust particles and ensure they stay inside the bag or dust container.

That way, you can remove all the dust build-ups in your HEPA filter without worrying about the particles entering indoors.

What Happens If You Don’t Clean Your HEPA Filter?

The consequences of not cleaning your air purifier can be severe both for the filter and the appliance.

When I first bought my air purifier, I didn’t clean the HEPA filter for nearly 3 months until I found out it’s something I need to do much more often.

The results weren’t as devastating, but the filter was extremely clogged up, and I could tell the air purifier was struggling.

This is because when the filter clogs up with particles, it will have difficulty pushing the clean air past the filter, causing the unit to work harder.

If you don’t clean your HEPA filter, you’ll impact the effectiveness of your air purifier.

On top of that, you also risk tearing the filter or damaging the motor, at which point, you might as well buy a new air purifier.

So, to get the most out of your unit, keep an eye on it and conduct regular maintenance.

How To Clean A HEPA Filter: Conclusion

Cleaning your HEPA filter regularly is a fantastic way to ensure it serves its purpose for longer than intended.

For best results, clean your HEPA filter every 2-4 weeks, depending on how regularly you use your air purifier.

That said, keep in mind that only some HEPA filters can be cleaned, and you have to take care when cleaning them to ensure you don’t damage the filter.

So, before you open up your air purifier to clean the filter, make sure that you check whether or not the filter is cleanable.

Then when you finally get to cleaning the filter, make sure to follow my tips above to ensure you do it effectively and safely.