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Updated February 2022
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Buying guide for best cabin air filters

You take care of your car. You keep the tires properly inflated, change the oil, wash the exterior, and add fuel as needed so it drives safely and has a good, long life. But chances are you unintentionally neglect one aspect of car care that may impact your own health: changing the cabin air filter.

The cabin air filter is the part of your vehicle that provides you with clean, filtered air. A good one removes exhaust fumes, soot, and allergens from the air. The best cabin air filters can also help filter out offensive odors, so the air is not only fresher and safer to breathe but smells better, too.

Learn more about cabin air filters and when and how often they need to be changed.

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It’s a good idea to write down the date and the mileage whenever you replace your cabin air filter, so you know when it was last changed.

Key considerations


When shopping for a cabin air filter, you must first note the make, model, and year of your vehicle because different manufacturers make cabin air filters of different sizes. If you purchase a cabin air filter that is designed for a 2017 Volkswagen Beetle, for example, it isn’t going to fit in your 2014 Ford Escape.

Particulate vs. combination

The other primary consideration is which type of filter you want to purchase. There are two general types: particulate and odor/particulate combination filters.

Particulate filters: All cabin air filters are particulate filters. These remove airborne particles such as dust, pollen, soot, smoke, and even oil. The effectiveness of particulate filters is measured in micrometers (μm), sometimes called microns. A mold spore can be as small as 3 μm or less but is typically 10 to 30 μm. If your cabin air filter can only filter down to 100 μm, mold spores will not be filtered out.

Odor/particulate combination filters

Most cabin air filters that cost more than $8 or $10, also feature some form of odor elimination. An activated carbon filter, for instance, will not only remove offensive odors from the air but also filter out harmful gases. Baking soda is another item that may be found in cabin air filters that helps reduce odors.

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Did you know?
Changing your cabin air filter is one of the easier DIY maintenance tasks that you can perform on your vehicle.

Cabin air filter features

Once you've chosen the right cabin air filter for your particular vehicle and picked particulate or combination, there are a few other features to consider.

Multistage filtering: As noted above, there are different types of filters. Some cabin air filters have multiple filters so they can remove different types of unwanted elements from the air you breathe.

Reusable: Although most cabin air filters are disposable, you can find units that are durable enough to be removed, rinsed, and replaced. If this is appealing to you, look for a reusable cabin air filter.

Airflow: Ideally, you want a cabin air filter that can remove the greatest amount of particulates and odors from the air with the least loss of airflow. Some lower-end models have better airflow because they don’t filter as well, but you can find specially designed filters with a greater airflow that still do a good job of removing unwanted elements from the air inside your car.

"When it comes to air quality and your health, it’s better to have a little more protection than it is to save a few dollars."

Cabin air filter prices

When considering which cabin air filter to buy, it’s important to point out that the make and model of your vehicle play a large role in the cost of the filter.

Inexpensive: In general, you can find budget cabin air filters for as low as $4.

Mid-range: A better price range is from $8 to $14. This is where you’ll start to see better models that also feature activated carbon that eliminates offensive odors.

Expensive: Between $14 and $18, you’ll find name-brand filters with name-brand features, such as a Fram filter with odor-absorbing Arm & Hammer baking soda.

Premium: Above $18 is where you’ll find high-end models with more rigid construction and multistage filters.


Because the air that enters your car through the vents passes through the cabin air filter, it’s pretty easy to determine when it’s time to change the filter. Here are a few tips that help you know when the time is right for a change.

  • Funky smells: If your car has a persistent musty or funky smell, a dirty cabin air filter may be the culprit.
  • No breeze: If you need to turn on the blower fan to max in order to determine if there’s air coming out of the vents, a dirty cabin air filter could be the reason for the decreased airflow.
  • Temperature issues: If you find it hard to heat or cool your car, a dirty cabin air filter could be preventing the warmer or cooler air from reaching you.
  • No defrost: If you can't get your windows to defrost, a dirty cabin air filter could be diminishing the airflow.
  • Whistling noise: If you hear a whistling sound that intensifies as you turn up the blower fan in your car, a dirty cabin air filter could be the reason for that noise.
  • Hazy windows: The grime in the unfiltered air can make your windows dirty on the inside. To diminish that, change your cabin air filter.
  • Sneezing fits: If you sneeze every time you get in your car, it could mean that allergens are getting through your cabin air filter and it's time to get a new one.
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The air inside a typical vehicle is far more polluted than the air outside. Some sources claim it’s 8 to 15 times more polluted.


Q. How do I know if my car has a cabin air filter?
Cabin air filters started appearing in vehicles in the 2000s. Although not all cars have one, if you have a car made in this century, there's a good chance that you have a cabin air filter. If you’re just finding this out now, there's a good chance that the cabin air filter needs to be changed.

Q. Where is my cabin air filter located?
Most cabin air filters are located somewhere around the glove compartment. They can either be behind the glove compartment or under the glove compartment. Additionally, some are located under the hood near the glove compartment. The quickest way to discover the exact location of yours is to check your owner's manual.

Q. When should I change my cabin air filter?
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed in the "When to change your cabin air filter" section above, the answer is you should change your filter now. Otherwise, the general rule of thumb is to change your filter once each year or every 12,000 miles.

Q. What happens if I don't change my cabin air filter?
The most noticeable problems will likely be a musty odor (which can eventually turn much worse than "musty") or a failure of your heating and cooling system to function properly. You could also experience allergy attacks every time you get in your car. Since your car's HVAC system is powered by your car's engine, and a dirty cabin filter will make that engine work harder, it’s possible that you could experience a negligible decrease in fuel efficiency, but you probably wouldn’t notice the difference.

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