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What You Must Know Today Before Cleaning Your Motorcycle Air Filter

How To Clean A Motorcycle Air Filter

So, your bike suddenly started losing power, and after a quick research, you found out that the air filter needs cleaning. Regular maintenance should include cleaning or replacing the air filter. This is a thing that most beginners forget about. Some people prefer going to a mechanic for this but you can clean the air filter by yourself. I’ll show you how to do that. How to clean motorcycle air filters?

Motorcycles usually use three types of air filters: paper, foam, and cotton filters. Foam and cotton filters can be cleaned. Special air filter cleaners are used for these. Paper ones can’t be washed and should be replaced.

There’s a lot more to this, obviously. I just wanted to give you a little bit of info before we start. I bet people with paper filters are grateful now because they don’t need to read the whole guide. Let’s explain this thoroughly.

Why Bike Air Filters Need Cleaning

I know that you don’t like doing something blindly. So, the best place to start would be with: What does the filter do? A motorcycle engine, just like any combustion engine, needs air to function. The air helps with burning down the fuel.

But the engine is also very sensitive. The particles in the air can be harmful both to the fuel, oil, and engine. That is where the air filter comes in. It protects the engine from dirt particles.

The filter can’t get rid of all the dirt it has collected on its own though. It just collects the particles and keeps them from entering the engine. After some time, the dirt will pile up, and won’t function properly.

What Happens If I Ride With A Dirty Air Filter

Well, we already explained what the filter does. Although it seems like an unimportant part, the air filter serves a great purpose. Maintaining it in a good condition will keep your engine healthy.

What can a dirty filter do? It depends on how dirty it is. Usually, a dirty air filter will block off the fresh air intake. This will result in your bike losing power and not burning the fuel efficiently. Cases like these are not that serious if the filter is changed in time. The bike only loses in engine performance. Although ignoring the problem will result in damage.

All that piled-up dirt can damage the filter. And that’s when things get alarming. It’s one thing for the air intake to be poor. A damaged filter will let air in, but it will not block out the particles. This results in your engine getting damaged from the particles. That’s why cleaning your motorcycle filter is important, this goes for all types of filters, not just the fresh air filter.

Cleaning Motorcycle Air Filter

Cleaning Motorcycle Air Filter

As I mentioned in the introduction, there are three types of bike air filters. The cleaning process depends on the type of filter your bike has. So, let’s start with: How to check what type of filter I have?

The location of the filter depends on the model of your bike. I can’t really give you a straight answer to this. The filter should be close to the engine. Most of the time is located in an airbox under the rider’s seat.

Foam Filter

The foam filter is mostly used on a dirt bike. It’s praised for its particle blocking abilities but it’s been known to block the air flow. The name says it all, it’s a sponge. This filter can be cleaned. It’s replaced only when it’s damaged. When the material starts tearing apart. When it’s only dirty, you clean it. How to clean a foam filter?

  1. Remove the filter from the air filter housing.
    To do this, find where the airbox is. The filter is fixed in place by a lug nut or a wingnut, remove it. The foam should have a cage under it, remove the cage.
  2. Block the intake in the airbox to protect it while you are cleaning the filter.
  3. Apply foam air filter cleaner.
    You have to use the right chemical here. Check if the manufacturer recommends a product. Filter manufacturers often leave cleaning instructions. Use protective gloves.
  4. Gently massage the foam.
    Don’t be rough here. You should not wash this like you wash a towel or a rug. No twisting or rubbing. Gentle massaging motions will do. The solvent should do its job. It should get rid of that hard dirt.
  5. Rinse with warm water.
    Again, be gentle.
  6. Clean loose dirt with soapy water.
    Prepare a bucket of warm water and dish soap. Gently wash and then rinse the foam. You can repeat this process until you get the desired level of cleanliness. When you are done, gently get rid of that excess water. Don’t squeeze too hard though.
  7. Let the foam dry thoroughly.
  8. Cover the entire filter with air filter oil. 
    Keep in mind, don’t install the oil-covered foam if the airbox is not clean. The dirt will stick to the oil.

Cotton Filter

The cotton filter is my favorite, the perfect air filter. It lasts the longest, it can be cleaned, and it’s most effective. However, it’s the most expensive one. It doesn’t make a difference though, at least, in my opinion. In the long run, every filter will cost the same. It’s easier to wash too, no need to be that gentle. How to clean a cotton filter?

  1. Separate the cotton from the air filter housing. 
  2. Block the intake.
  3. Apply cotton filter solvent and let it sit.
    Again, make sure that you are using the right cleaning solution. Every cleaning solution has its application. Check with the manufacturer if you are not sure.
  4. Rinse with warm water.
    This is best done by rinsing from the inside out. This will help the solvent come out and get rid of those nasty
  5. Wash with soapy water.
    It’s the same process. Fill up a bucket with warm water and dish soap. Now, just make some swirls with the cotton. Hold it on one end, submerge it, and roll it around. When done, rinse thoroughly. You can repeat this.
  6. Let it dry.
    Don’t hurry with this. You should not touch the cotton until the drying process is completely done.
  7. Apply air filter oil.
    Use the right fresh filter oil. Make sure the airbox is clean, so you won’t attract any unwanted particles.

Paper Filter


There’s not much to explain here. Paper filters can’t be cleaned. Don’t even try, you’ll damage it. Paper air filter maintenance means replacing the filter. Fortunately, paper filters are not expensive, so you can stock them up if you want to be ready.

You will find paper filters on most street bikes. I don’t see anything wrong with these filters. Some people complain that it does not collect all the particles. In other words, it lets harmful particles into the engine.

Get The Cleaning Gear

Additional Tips

  • Be extra careful with foam filters. If you damage the glue that holds the foam together, the filter is not effective anymore.
  • While cleaning, always get rid of excess water and excess oil.
  • Always make sure that the filter is not damaged before cleaning.
  • If you are really inexperienced and can’t even find the airbox, ask a mechanic for help.
  • Make sure you are using a mild soap and not a strong one.
  • Get a filter cleaning kit, so you’ll be set for the future.

Related Questions And Other FAQs

How Much Does An Air Filter Cost

It depends on the type of filter the bike is using. Paper filters are the cheapest, cotton papers are the most expensive. Without the added cost of the mechanic, the filter ranges from 15$-40$.

How Long Does An Air Filter Last

Most air filters last for 12 000 – 16 000 miles. It all depends on the type of filter you have. Consult with the manual or the manufacturer. Filter manufacturers leave instructions on when to replace the filter.

When To Replace Motorcycle Air Filter

Foam and cotton filters are replaced when damaged, paper filters are replaced when dirty. Check your filter, if it’s damaged, you need to replace it. If you have a paper filter, replace it once it gets too dirty to function.

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