K&N Airfilters: How To Clean And Maintain For Maximum Performance

K&N air filters are extremely popular, and many models can be cleaned and used over and over again.

But how exactly do you clean an air filter? 

Can you use soap and water, or do you need special chemicals designed for filter cleaning?

How do you clean and maintain K&N air filters?

K&N air filters can be cleaned using both dry and wet methods. The simplest way to clean an air filter is my blue and compressed air over and through it. You can also clean an air filter with dish soap and water, though the best method is with proprietary chemicals and a careful rinsing process.

But what is the proper way to clean an air filter using soap or cleaning chemicals? And how can you tell win your filter needs to be cleaned? 

There are several easy strategies you could use to keep up on filter maintenance, and the cleaning procedure is easy. 

We source the information used in this article directly from K&N and from individuals who have experience using reusable air filters.

Are K&N Air Filters Washable?

Yes, many K&N filters are washable. This applies to the exposed-type K&N Dryflow filters and traditional in-box filters.

The washing procedure varies between models and will cover this in detail. 

Reusable K&N filters are conspicuously labeled on the box, so they’re easy to spot. 

Why is Cleaning Air Filters Necessary?

Cleaning your filter is necessary if you have a reusable air filter. 

Over time, dust and debris get embedded in the filter material, which can restrict airflow to your engine. 

Dirty filters can reduce gas mileage and cause rough idle, along with many other automotive ailments.

How to Tell When to Clean a K&N Air Filter

Under normal driving conditions, you should clean your air filter once every 15,000 miles or so. However, regular inspections or highly recommend it. 

So how can you tell when to clean a K&N air filter?

An easy way to tell if an air filter is dirty is to remove it and hold it up to the light.

If you’re getting a good amount of light through and the color is barely consistent, then the filter is probably clean. 

However, if you can’t see any light through it or only a damn glow, the filter likely needs to be cleaned. 

Some filters get so dirty that they become completely clogged with filth. 

If the filter looks physically dirty, that’s a good sign it’s time to clean it.

Benefits of Reusable Air Filters

Reusable filters are typically higher quality than disposable filters. 

They flow better and are the only option for many high-performance applications. 

They are also more durable and can hold greater amounts of dirt before fouling. 

Reusable filters are designed to last much longer than disposable filters, though they require regular maintenance intervals.

Drawbacks of Reusable Air Filters

There are a few notable drawbacks of using high-end air filters. 

The first and most obvious is the initial price, which can be double that of a disposable filter or more. 

However, the cost is offset over time as the filter doesn’t need to be replaced nearly as often.

Additionally, the higher quality leads to better performance.

Additionally, reusable filters require additional maintenance. 

Unlike a disposable filter, which can simply be thrown out at regular intervals, reusable filters need to be carefully cleaned.

Quick oil change shops typically don’t offer filter cleaning services, so you’ll have to do it yourself. 

But for many people, especially those with performance cars, this is an acceptable trade-off.

Is K&N Filter Maintenance Different?

The maintenance of K&N filters isn’t fundamentally different from other brands.

There are some differences between filter models, which we’ll cover in-depth in this article.

All standard reusable K&N air filters have the same cleaning process, though Dryflow filters have a slightly different procedure.

Air Filter Maintenance

What kind of maintenance is required to keep a reusable air filter in good shape? Regular inspection and occasional cleaning is the best method to maximize the life and effectiveness of your filter.

Typically, an automotive air filter should be cleaned about once every 15,000 miles

However, removing the filter and dusting it off more frequently is recommended for pest flow and dusty environments. 

You should inspect your filter every time you get an oil change, or about once every 3000 to 5000 miles.

Maintenance may include vacuuming out the dust around the edges of your filter before removing it. 

This will keep dust from falling behind the filter and into the clean inside of the airbox.

How to Clean a K&N Air Filter

There are several ways to clean a K&N air filter. 

Both dry and wet cleaning methods have been successfully used by owners, though the company recommends using its proprietary cleaning chemicals and a wet cleaning method. 

Most owners would agree that wet cleaning is the most effective way to maintain a high-quality automotive air filter. 

Here are three of the most effective ways to clean your reusable K&N air filter.

Dry Cleaning Methods

There are several ways to clean a K&N air filter that do not involve water or soap. 

The simplest method is to remove the filter and tap it against a clean surface, which will loosen the larger dust particles and clear out some of the membrane.

However, simply cleaning the filter like an area rug may not be sufficient, especially if the filter is clogged with finer particles of dust and dirt. 

A more thorough method is to use compressed air.

Compressed air should first be blown across the top of the filter or the side that faces the outside air. 

Blow across the length of the filter instead of directly down at it, as this can large particles deeper into the material.

Then, blow compressed air directly at the back of the filter or the clean side. 

This will blow out embedded particles and substantially improve the cleanliness of your filter.

Wet Cleaning Methods

When filters are too dirty to dry clean, what cleaning methods can be utilized. 

Not all filters can be washed with water, so it’s important to check the directions on the box to ensure you have a model that won’t be ruined by moisture.

If you have a filter that can be reused, there are a couple of ways to clean it. 

K&N recommends using their specialized filter cleaning solution, though customers have success with many combinations of chemicals.

Soap and Water

The simplest way to clean a reusable air filter is with the soap and water method. 

First, shake or blow off any loose dust. 

An excessive amount of loose particles will essentially create mud when you wash it, which is an unnecessary and easily avoidable hassle.

Once the lease particles have been removed, use low-pressure water to rinse both sides of the filter. 

Then, apply a conservative amount of standard dish soap to both sides of the filter. 

Place the filter in the pocket of water and gently shake it around until the water becomes sudsy. 

Continue washing the filter but avoid scrubbing it, as this can damage the material. After a few minutes, rinse the filter several times in the sink until soap bubbles no longer form. 

If the filter feels greasy when you touch it, there’s still too much soap on the material

It’s important to make sure all of the soap is removed, as soap can harden or become sticky and attract dirt.

Once rinsing is complete, allow the filter to dry naturally. 

Do not install a wet filter in your car, as the flow rate will be reduced, and you may get water in the engine.

K&N Recommended Method 

If you want to filter according to the directions, you’ll need a bottle of special cleaning solution provided by K&N.

The solution is essentially soap, but it’s designed specifically for use on delicate automotive air filters. 

This solution is available in a standard spray bottle or as a refill, and aerosol cleaners are also made by K&N.

The first step in the manufacturer’s recommended process is to apply hey substantial amount of Power Kleen filter cleaner on both sides of the dirty filter. 

Allow the cleaner to soak into the material for 10 minutes.

Once the cleaning solution is thoroughly soaked into the material, run the filter under a low-pressure hose or faucet until all of the solution is removed. 

You may have to repeat this process several times, though that is typical.

Allow the filter to dry after rinsing is complete.

To expedite drying, hang the filter in the air or prop it up against the wall. 

Once the filter is completely dry, K&N recommends applying special filter oil to preserve the material. 

This filter oil can help the filter last longer and prevent it from disintegrating early or becoming packed with dirt excessively. 

Filter oil is available from K&N in a 12.25-ounce aerosol can.

K&N Dryflow Filter Cleaning

Before soaking your filter and liquid, it’s essential to determine if you have a Dryflow or a standard air filter. 

Dryflow filters require a synthetic air filter cleaner, which is supplied by the company. 

They also need to be rinsed with warm water instead of cold water. 

Unlike other K&N air filters, these do not require oiling after the drying process is complete.

Are Reusable K&N Filters Worth It?

Reusable air filters are absolutely worth it for many automotive applications. 

This is especially true if you use an aftermarket cold air intake or if you own a performance engine. 

The primary benefit of these filters is their quality, and not necessarily the fact that you can clean them.

High-quality air filters have better flow rates than disposable models, and they also do a better job trapping fine particles. 

Additionally, they are available and a wide range of shapes and sizes which fit most performance applications. 

They may be the only option available for certain cold air intake modifications.

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