Air Filter Maintenance Do's and Don'ts

February 6, 2018 / by John Basher

Air filter maintenance may seem like a simple, small task, but it's level of importance for the health and performance of your machine is high. Follow these do's and don'ts to make sure you engine is breathing clean air.

Oxygen is essential for internal combustion. The purpose of your motorcycle’s intake system is to feed air into the engine. However, harmful particles can hamper engine performance and, in extreme cases, prevent the engine from running at all. Fortunately, a well-built air filter traps contaminants while allowing air to pass through the intake system. An air filter is the first and last line of defense in the battle between the harsh elements and your engine’s vital components.

Air filtration has come a long way in the past few decades. Advancements in foam manufacturing processes, dual-stage filtration, thick sealing rings, and oil quality have resulted in outstanding protection and performance, usually even at a fair price. ProX air filters are a great example of a quality, performance air filter you should find in the airbox of a modern dirt bike.

Modern air filters have dual-stage filtration and thick sealing rings, such as these ProX air filters.

Find ProX air filters for your application here.

Having said that, not a single air filter can stand up to the rigors of the outside world if neglected. Learning how to properly maintain an air filter is necessary for every motorcycle rider. Follow our quick guide of do’s and don’ts to ensure that your intake system is functioning properly.

DO – CLEAN YOUR FILTER REGULARLY

A visual check of your motorcycle’s air filter isn’t always an accurate indicator that your air filter is clean. Small particles can be trapped deep within the air filter foam. Err on the side of caution by cleaning the filter. Beware that riding in especially grueling conditions, such as sand and silt beds, may require a filter replacement following every ride. Use your best judgement. Please wear solvent gloves when cleaning air filters for protection against harsh chemicals.

When cleaning your air filter, be sure your using foam-filter specific cleaner. Spray your filter thoroughly, and let the cleaner do its thing, following instructions on your cleaner can. After applying, thoroughly rinse out your filter with clean water, being sure to flush out all the cleaner and dirt particles. Squeeze the filter out after rinsing, DO NOT wring it out.

DON’T – CLEAN YOUR AIR FILTER WITH GASOLINE

There are mechanics who swear by using gasoline to clean air filters. While it strips foam filters of old oil residue and contaminants, gasoline also breaks down the foam cells and glue that bonds the foam strips together. We suggest using air filter-specific applications to properly clean an air filter. Properly dispose of cleaning chemicals when done.

DO – USE AN AIR FILTER-SPECIFIC OIL

Not all oils are created equally. Motor oil is not formulated for the job. Its light viscosity causes the oil to bleed through the air filter foam and potentially reach the engine. Air filter oil – whether spray-on or out of a bottle – is designed to penetrate the foam cells and evaporate, leaving a sticky residue to trap foreign particles. Remember to liberally apply oil to the filter. The oil’s purpose is to prevent dirt and debris from passing through. Failing to use enough oil is counterproductive to the filter’s job.

Make you're using application specific cleaner and oil for your air filters. Once the filter has dried properly, apply your air filter oil, covering, but not soaking, the entire filter, and massaging in to ensure complete coverage.

DON’T – WRING OUT THE AIR FILTER

Wringing (twisting) out the air filter is a cardinal sin of air filter maintenance. Subjecting the filter to such abuse causes the foam to tear. We recommend squeezing excess oil out with a firm grip after applying a healthy dose of air filter oil. We repeat – do not wring out the air filter.

Be sure to clean any dirt and sand out of your airbox before placing your freshly cleaned filter back in the bike. Be careful not get any dirt inside the intake when cleaning!

DO – CLEAN THE AIRBOX

Failing to clean the airbox when changing the air filter is the equivalent of not flossing after brushing your teeth. There’s no good reason why you should do one without the other. A dirty airbox can quickly contaminate a new air filter, thus reducing its effectiveness. Invest in a plastic air intake cover and use it when cleaning the airbox. Soapy water and a rag will do the trick.

DON’T – FORGET TO TAKE YOUR TIME

There’s no substitute for time. After cleaning the air filter with kerosene or a filter-specific application, let it dry naturally. Following that step, be sure to wash the filter with soap and warm water. This process ensures that all contaminants have been removed. Once complete, let the air filter dry. We do not recommend the use of a clothing dryer, as the repeated tumbling can tear the filter foam and break down the seam glue. 

Letting your filter air dry is the safest method of drying.

DO – INSPECT YOUR AIR FILTER OFTEN

An air filter is designed to stop particles from passing through the intake system, but it won’t last forever. When cleaning your air filter be sure to check for tearing in the foam, notice if the foam is breaking down, and inspect the glue seams. If any of these areas are suspect we suggest replacing the air filter. Avid motorcyclists should consider having several air filters on hand in preparation for the next ride. Simply batch-clean the air filters and keep the extras in clean, air-tight storage bags.  

Consistently check your air filter for damage and wear, such as tears and deterioration. If you see signs like these, replace your air filter.

Like we mentioned in the beginning, it’s important to start with a high-quality air filter. Fit your bike with an air filter you trust, and follow the proper do’s and don’ts of maintenance to protect your engine and bolster performance.

Topics: Powersports, featured

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Written by John Basher

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