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Is air filter cleaning right for your business?

Like many other air filter manufacturers, Cummins Filtration do not recommend the cleaning of air filters. However, some equipment owners and maintenance supervisors believe that cleaning and reusing heavy-duty air filters can lower operating costs. Before you decide to clean your filters, please consider the following facts:

  • Proper use of a quality air filter restriction gauge and adherence to OEM recommended air filter change guidelines will provide the maximum life out of the air filter element and the engine/equipment that the filter is protecting. 
  • Cleaning air filters will reduce dust holding capacity compared to that of a new air filter. Dust capacity can drop up to 25% after the first cleaning, with additional loss after each subsequent cleaning. This leads to more frequent servicing and potential complications such as mis-service or accidental dust ingestion.
  • On-highway air filters should never be cleaned since the contamination encountered over the road (fine particles and soot materials) is very difficult to remove from the air filter media. The retained contaminant causes discolouration, even after cleaning, and marked reductions in dust capacity compared to a new air filter. Cleaning to a “like new” appearance will most likely damage the air filter media. 
  • Secondary air filters should never be cleaned since they are the last barrier to contaminants before reaching your engine/equipment. A secondary air filter should be replaced after three changes of the primary air filter or one year of continuous service, whichever occurs first. 
  • Extra handling of air filters could inadvertently cause damage.
  • Proper inspection of cleaned elements is of vital importance for the proper operation of the air cleaner system.
  • Generally, the commercial air filter cleaning businesses do not want to clean air filters that have been used to the OEM recommended change point (20-30" H2O or 4.9 – 7.4 kPa filter restriction). This encourages more frequent filter service and leads to the problems associated with too frequent opening and closing of the air filtration system. Utilising the maximum life of the air filter is your best practice for gaining the maximum, cost-effective engine/equipment protection.

If you do decide to clean your air filters:

  • Remember, the cleaning of air filters involves risk. It is important to know that any type of cleaning is only as good as the care and handling techniques used.
  • Do-it-yourself cleaning techniques and improvised cleaning tools are risky and should be avoided. Commercially available air filter cleaning services are most likely better equipped and have more reliable techniques for cleaning air filters than most maintenance shops. However, you should always research an air filter cleaning business.
  • Air filter cleaning businesses may employ one or several of the techniques listed below to clean your air filter. Regardless of the method, the watch-outs still apply! Air filter cleaning is only as good as the people, handling, method, tools and inspections used in the process.
  • Select a reputable commercial cleaning service that uses cleaning and handling practices proven to be effective for your filters and applications. It is recommended that this business offer a warranty, since Cummins Filtration and most other air filter manufacturers will not warranty a cleaned air filter.
  • Before any type of cleaning, visually inspect the filter. If there is any damage to the filter body, gaskets or endplates, do not clean or reuse; the filter should be discarded. Always clean filters in a clean environment, observe strict inspection procedures and re-package filters immediately after the cleaning process with appropriate materials.
  • Observe proper safety precautions and dispose of waste materials in an environmentally-compliant manner.

Absolutely do not:

  • Strike the element with a tool or hit the element against a hard surface to loosen the accumulated contaminant
  • Scrape the contaminant from the surface of the media
  • Disassemble the element to clean

Some typical air filter cleaning techniques

There are generally four methods used for cleaning air filter elements, some of which may be used in combination:

Air under pressure, with or without vacuum assist

  • Always use clean, dry air on a dry filter. The pressure should not exceed 40PSI (276kPa) at a distance of no closer than 50mm (2 inches).
  • Direct the compressed air through the filter from the clean side, running the nozzle up and down the filter pleats while directing the vacuum source opposite the air nozzle, pulling out dirt and collecting it with the vacuum.
  • Do not bring either nozzle in contact with the filter media as damage is likely to occur.
  • A variation of this method leaves out the vacuum process.
  • Note: It is virtually impossible to avoid the entry of dust into the clean side of the air filter unless the open end of the air filter is sealed. This precaution is highly desirable but difficult to implement.

Water under pressure

  • Use normal outlet pressure (40 PSI or 276 kPa max) without a nozzle.
  • Direct the water to the clean side of the filter first, running the water up and down the filter pleats.
  • Repeat this process on the dirty side of the filter.
  • Allow to air dry (160°F or 70°C max) thoroughly.
  • This type of cleaning should be done no more than six times because of eventual damage to the filter media.
  • This process will result in wavy pleats, which are acceptable.
Cleaning Methods Contaminants
Air under pressure Dust
Water under pressure Dust
Vacuum Dust
Soak with non-sudusing detergent Dust or light soot


  • Use a standard shop-vacuum or central vacuum supply. Move the vacuum nozzle slowly up and down the pleats on the dirty side of the filter only.
  • Do not bring the nozzle in contact with the filter media at any time.

Soak with non-sudsing detergent

  • Filters should first be cleaned with air, vacuum or water.
  • The filter should be placed open end up in a suitable tank filled with warm water (100-140°F or 37-60°C) and any commercial non-sudsing detergent.
  • Allow to soak for 15-30 minutes, agitate the filter in the solution with a gentle swaying/rotating motion, and allow to soak an additional 10 minutes.
  • Rinse the filter with clean water from the clean side until the water runs clear. Allow to air dry (160°F or 70°C max) thoroughly.
  • This type of cleaning should be done no more than six times because of eventual damage to the filter media.
  • This process will result in wavy pleats, which are acceptable.
  • Do not fully immerse the filter in the cleaning solution.
  • Care must be taken to avoid contact of the clean side of the filter with the contaminated wash water in the tank.
  • Do not reuse cleaning solution.

After cleaning:

  • In a well-lit area, inspect the gasket(s) for continuous adhesion and the absence of tears and cracks. In a darkened room, inspect the filter by placing a 60 watt light bulb inside the filter. Slowly rotate the filter while visually inspecting for weak spots or holes in the media, identified by bright pin-holes of light. Discard if defects are detected.
  • After cleaning and inspecting, permanently mark the filter with the cleaning method, the number of cleanings and the date.
  • To prevent damage to the filter during storage and to keep the filter clean, wrap the filter element in a suitable poly-bag and place in a carton that is clearly marked with the element part number and application.