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.

How Often Should You Replace The HEPA Filter?

When Should I Replace My HEPA Filter

As awesome as owning an air purifier is, you can’t just buy it, use it, and forget about it.

Like all appliances in the average modern-day household, air purifiers must be regularly maintained to operate at their best and serve their purpose for as long as possible.

When I bought my first HEPA filter air purifier, I had no idea it needed maintenance.

This meant any kind of cleaning or even replacing the filter itself.

Thankfully, a friend told me about it a few months into using it and that the HEPA filter needs to be replaced regularly.

I don’t even want to imagine what would have happened if I had never found out about this.

Because of my personal experience, I know that many air purifier owners also don’t know that their units must be maintained.

It needs to be cleaned, and the filter replaced to get the most out of it.

So, in today’s article, I will tell you everything you need to know about replacing your HEPA filter.

I will talk about when you need to do it, how to tell if it needs changing, how to do it, and more.

What is a HEPA Filter?

Before I tell you how often you should replace your HEPA filter, let’s start from the beginning.

That way, it will make sense when I tell you the answer.

HEPA filters are a specific type of high-quality air filtration filters that meet the HEPA filter standard.

For a HEPA filter to qualify to meet industry standards, it must be able to remove at least 99.97% of all solid particles in the air, including those as little as 0.3 microns in size.

Due to their extreme effectiveness in capturing solid particles from the air, they are the most popular type of filtration system in most modern-day air purifiers.

How Do HEPA Filters Work in Air Purifiers?

Before I get into how HEPA filters work, it’s first essential to understand how the air purifier works.

When you turn on your air purifier, the motor will start to spin the fan inside the air purifier.

This fan will then suck in air from your room, drive it through the HEPA filtration system, and release it back into your room.

Important to note that when air goes through the filtration system, 99.97% of the solid particles get stuck inside the unit, thanks to the HEPA filter.

As a result, all the air released back into the room is purified.

As for how the HEPA filter works, it doesn’t actually do anything.

It relies on the fan to drive air through it, and as I mentioned above, the solid particles get left behind during that process.

Why Does a HEPA Filter Need Changing?

Now that you know what a HEPA filter is and how it works, it’s pretty obvious why you need to change the filter regularly.

For more clarity, when the HEPA filter captures pollen, dust, hair, and other particles that are floating in the air over time, the HEPA filter will start to clog up.

This is when you need to clean your air purifier and make its life easier so it can serve you for longer.

When you regularly clean your HEPA filter, you will increase its life span, so you’ll have to replace it less often.

However, that doesn’t mean you don’t need to change it every once.

The ultra-thin fibers the HEPA filter is made of will get worn down and damaged over time.

As a result, the HEPA filter will become less effective than it once was.

Now, note that your air purifier will most likely still work as usual, except that it won’t be purifying the air as well as it once did.

If you don’t replace the filters or clean your air purifier often, it will damage the device or, worse, not turn on.

How Often Should You Change the HEPA Filter of Your Air Purifier?

I personally change the HEPA filter in my air purifier every 12 months.

That being said, I use my air purifier all the time.

It literally runs 24/7 as I enjoy breathing in clean air while I work from home and sleep during the night.

On top of that, I actively clean it, which prolongs its effectiveness.

I am fully aware that this isn’t the case for most people.

So how often you replace your HEPA filter depends on the maintenance level you conduct and how often you use your unit.

As a general rule of thumb, you should start thinking about replacing your HEPA filter after 8,000 hours.

Tracking the hours can be tricky, so the general advice if you use your air purifier daily is to change the HEPA filter every 12 to 18 months.

This is for the standard, non-washable HEPA filter.

Suppose you happen to have an air purifier with a washable HEPA filter.

In that case, you can easily use that filter for several years without worrying about replacing it.

That said, when I was in India, I bought the best air purifier for Delhi.

The air quality is some of the worst in the world, and over the 2 years I lived there, I had to change my washable HEPA filter 3 times.

How to Tell if Your HEPA Filter is Due For a Replacement?

You probably won’t be able to tell if the HEPA needs a replacement, even if you took the air purifier apart yourself.

Unless the HEPA filter is severely damaged, the naked eye can’t tell the difference between the quality of the fibers of a new and a used HEPA filter.

To tell if your HEPA filter is due for a replacement, I advise that you use a PM2.5 air quality monitor, which is also known as a particulate counter.

This device will be able to measure the quality of the air inside your home.

The best way to tell if your HEPA filter needs replacing is by measuring the air quality at different periods.

If you’re reading this and haven’t bought an air purifier, you can measure when you first get your air purifier vs. a couple of weeks later.

Or, if you already own a purifier, you can measure now and then a couple weeks from now.

That will give you a good indication of whether or not it’s time to get a new filter.

Some more complex and likely expensive air purifiers have quality control sensors.

So when your HEPA filter is due for a replacement, the air purifier will let you know.

How Do You Replace a HEPA Filter?

Unless you own a high-end model that can only be maintained by a professional, changing the HEPA filter inside your air purifier is simple.

Next, I’ll show you all the steps you should take to change the HEPA filter in your unit so you can continue reaping the benefits of your air purifier.

Get the Right Protective Gear

Before you do anything, you must ensure you have all the proper protective gear.

I recommend getting gloves (any type would work), protective goggles, and a mask.

This way, you will prevent any of the dust, hair, pollen, and mites from getting on your skin, in your eyes, or even being inhaled accidentally.

I never took these protective measures when I changed the first HEPA filter. 

And I accidentally dropped the HEPA filter on the floor.

I can’t tell you how much of the dust on the filter flew into the air and ended up in my lungs.

Take the Air Purifier Apart

I can’t exactly tell you how to take your air purifier apart since we all have different units built differently.

The best tip I can give you is to watch a YouTube video or follow the user manual that came with your air purifier when you bought it.

Most air purifiers are pretty simple in nature, so taking them apart takes a few minutes.

I currently own the Levoit Core 300, and to reach the HEPA filter, I flip it over, take off the bottom cover, and the HEPA filter is right there.

If you own a more complex unit, I would advise that you record yourself taking it apart.

That way, when the time comes to put back the air purifier, you can use the video if you get stuck.

I want to stress that your air purifier must be plugged off the wall before you start to take it apart.

Take the HEPA Filter Out and Replace It With the New One

Once you reach the HEPA filter inside your unit, pop the new one in.

The HEPA filters in most air purifiers are easy to put into place.

My HEPA filter clicks into place, and that’s how I know it’s installed correctly.

Some advanced air purifiers may have sensors that detect 

Put the Air Purifier Together

Once you’ve placed the new HEPA filter, it’s time to put everything back together.

Remember to use the user manual at all times, as that will help you take the unit apart and put it back together.

If you get stuck, refer to the recorded video of yourself taking the air purifier apart.

Conclusion

Depending on usage, you should ideally replace your HEPA filter every 12-18 months.

If you use your air purifier in a heavily polluted area around the clock, as I did, then replace your air purifier every 6 to 12 months.

As a general rule of thumb, you should change the HEPA filter in your unit after 8,000 hours of usage.

And remember, if you have a washable filter and take proper care of it, that can prolong its usefulness and result in you having to change it less frequently.