Dirty Air Conditioner Filters: Causes, Effects and Solutions

dirty air filter from an heating and cooling system

Dirty air filters can seriously hinder the performance of your air conditioner, but why do they get so dirty so fast and what can you do to solve this issue? The reasons are actually simple, and while maintenance is always going to be a factor, you might be able to make it easier on yourself. In fact, you might find that regular filter maintenance helps everyone in your building feel better overall, particularly if they are allergy sufferers.

Why Filters Exist

If you have ever changed the filter in your air conditioner, then you’ve probably noticed that there is quite a buildup of dust, dirt and other particles. Without these filters, the particles would be sucked in through the return air vent, passed through the components of your air conditioner where they will build up, and then be blown back out into your building via the duct system. The filters are there for two purposes. First, they collect the debris before it can get into the system and cause issues. Second, they help remove harmful things from the air that you might otherwise be breathing.

Dirty air filterWhat’s In the Dirt?

If you’ve ever wondered what’s in the gunk you find in your air conditioner filter, the answer isn’t pretty. Depending upon several different factors, the brown stuff that ruins your filter once every few weeks is made up of stuff like dust (which is comprised mainly of the skin cells we shed on a regular basis), dust mites, pet hair, pet dander, and other particulates that are generally floating around in the air. Depending on the style of filter you use, there could even be bacteria somewhere in that mess. It’s important to change it regularly to ensure not only the efficiency of your unit, but also your health.

Choose a Filter

Most of the time, the manufacturer of your unit will recommend a filter type that works best. However, there are some aftermarket options that may work even better. You never want to downgrade your filter; upgrading to something that will catch even more of the harmful particles in the air can certainly help. There are some designed to fight allergens, some that can filter particulates as small as or smaller than one micron, and some that you can wash and reuse again and again as long as you do it properly. Be sure to review the instructions on your filter so you know how often it should be changed, and keep in mind that this varies from building to building, too.

Although it’s always a good idea to have your unit maintained by a professional, it generally is not necessary to place a service call for a filter change. As long as your unit is safely accessible and you have the know-how to get the job done, there’s no reason why you can’t do it on your own. Just be sure to get the right filter for your unit and your needs, and make sure that you check it every four to six weeks so you can replace it as necessary.