Best Cabin Air Filters: Keep Musty Odors and Dust at Bay
Our top picks for the best cabin air filter will ensure that you constantly breathe fresh air in your car
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PUBLISHED ON April 30, 2019
Cabin air filters are devices that clean the air that gets into a car’s cabin. They are placed in a vehicle’s ventilation system and trap particles of dust, moisture, soot, and even bugs. Cabin air filters are real lifesavers for people who hate to deal with the smell of dust, dirt, and exhaust fumes in their car. The downside is that they get clogged with time and you need to replace them. Our review will show you some of the best cabin filters on the market that are decent replacements for your clogged-up cabin filter.
- Best OverallFRAM CF10134SummarySummaryThis baking soda/carbon-activated filter filters out 98 percent of dust, pollen, and other contaminants. It keeps the air fresh for longer and prevents bad odors.ProsProsHigh-quality construction. No musty odors. Prevents damaging debris from entering the engine. Easy to install. Available for a variety of vehicles. Good for 30,000 miles.ConsConsMore expensive than other cabin filters. Not so great at filtering out exhaust fumes. Gray color makes it difficult to inspect for dirt.
- Best ValueEPAuto CP285SummarySummaryThis is an affordable carbon-activated cabin air filter that keeps the air fresh for the driver and passengers. It filters out dust, soot, debris, and other airborne air pollutants.ProsProsYou get odorless fresh air all day. Made of quality materials. Good for 12 months or 12,000 miles. Easy to install. Promotes enhanced AC performance. Fits many vehicle models.ConsConsFewer pleats than other models. The baking soda loses its functionality after a few months. Thick filter that somewhat limits airflow.
- Honorable MentionACDelco CF188SummarySummaryThis is a reusable cabin filter with three layers that go above and beyond in trapping allergens and preventing the build-up of bacteria and mold in your vehicle’s ventilation system.ProsPros
Its multi-layer construction traps more particles than other filters. The third layer reinforces the filter and makes it durable and reusable.
Increases the airflow in your vehicle.ConsConsNot a carbon filter. Not strong against bad odors. Doesn’t fit all brands advertised by the manufacturer.
Why Trust Us
All of our reviews are based on market research, expert input, and practical experience with each product we include. This way, we offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Benefits of Cabin Air Filters
- Improve HVAC performance. If you have never replaced your factory cabin air filter, then chances are that it’s clogged-up and your HVAC system is not supplying enough air to your car. The HVAC system may also be noisy. Consider buying a new cabin air filter to unclog your HVAC system and improve the life of its vital components.
- Get rid of bad odors. Do you get a musty smell coming out of your ventilation system every time you turn it on? You should consider getting a cabin air filter replacement that has activated carbon or charcoal that absorbs bad odors. It can improve the air quality in your car and help alleviate symptoms of motion sickness in some passengers.
- Reduce allergic reactions. If you are constantly sneezing, coughing, or wheezing whenever you are in a long drive, then you need new carbon air filters to take care of those allergies. The carbon air filter will trap dust, pollen, and other allergens that may affect your health.
Types of Cabin Air Filters
Charcoal cabin air filters filter out large and small particles and have coal as a special ingredient to get rid of terrible odors. The coal deposit can contain cigarette smoke that’s within a car and prevent exhaust fumes from reaching the driver.
Activated Carbon Cabin Filters
Activated carbon filters typically work the same way as charcoal filters but have activated carbon as the special ingredient. Activated carbon absorbs harmful gases like carbon monoxide and other airborne contaminants that pass through the ventilation system.
Particle Cabin Filters
Particle cabin filters trap tiny particles that are as small as 0.3 microns before they enter your car. They are the best filters for filtering out pollen, dust, smoke, mold spores, bugs, strands of human hair, and other tiny debris.
The layers of the filter are electrostatically charged so that they can attract and hold ultra-fine particles. Electrostatic filters are good at filtering out cigarette smoke, exhaust fumes, spores, mold, bacteria, fungus, mildew, and diesel carbon. They are also good at controlling bad odors.
FRAM has been in the automotive market making top-notch products since 1932. It manufactures oil filters, PVC valves, fuel filters, and some of the best car interior air filters on the market. Its headquarters are in Lake Forest, Ill. Some of its top products are the FRAM CF10134 and FRAM CF10285.
EPAuto is a well-known manufacturer of top-quality panel air filters, cabin air filters, automotive tools, and automotive accessories. Its cabin air filters promote cleaner airflow, and you will find the EPAuto CP285 and EPAuto CP134 to be worth every penny.
ACDelco is a subsidiary brand of General Motors and is headquartered in Michigan. ACDelco has been in the automotive industry since 1916. It manufactures car batteries, oil filters, wiper blades, alternators, starters, air conditioning units, and air filters. One of its best-selling cabin air filters is the ACDelco CF188.
K&N is a renowned brand that manufactures oil filters, cold air intake systems, and washable cabin air filters that can last you up to 10 years. Its headquartered in Riverside, Calif. and has other operating facilities in Netherlands, England, and China. One of its best-selling products is the K&N VF2005 Washable & Reusable Cabin Air Filter.
Cabin Air Filter Pricing
- Under $10: Most cabin air filters at this price range are good quality; the fact that they are cheap doesn’t mean they are not durable. You will find some decent filters with activated carbon, charcoal, or electrostatic elements, and most are good for at least 12,000 miles.
- Above $10: This is the common price range for most cabin air filters, but the price barely shoots to more than $20 unless you are getting a pack of two or more. The filters are durable and made of high-quality materials. Just like the cheaper versions, the filters here come in all types including particle cabin filters with no special ingredients.
Cabin air filters are tailor-made to be a perfect fit for specific vehicles. Some brands claim to make universal fits, but different vehicle models have HVAC systems of different sizes, and the universal filter is just not practical. Therefore, you need to ensure that a filter is compatible with your vehicle's model, make, and the year before you commit to buying one.
Look into the level of protection that the cabin air filter offers and see if it suits your needs. If you simply want to get rid of your allergies, then a particle filter will do just fine. However, if you are tired of all the bad odors from your AC unit, then you need something stronger that can absorb all the bad odors and leave your vehicle smelling fresh.
- Longevity: The average life of a cabin air filter is about one year or 12,000 miles. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t get a quality product that pushes over that limit. Some filters have a lifespan of 30,000 miles and some are strong enough to be reusable once you give them a good wash.
- Driving Conditions: The filter you go for will largely depend on your driving conditions. If you regularly drive through polluted urban environments, you need a cabin air filter that can get rid of musty odors and exhaust fumes. If you are in a rural environment and your main problem is dust, you could get a less complicated cabin air filter that only filters out dust and other allergens.
Best Cabin Air Filter Reviews & Recommendations 2019
Best Overall: FRAM CF10134
The FRAM CF10134 is our best pick as it keeps the cabin smelling better and fresher for longer. It filters out 98 percent of pollen, dust, and other air contaminants to prevent allergen-induced respiratory disorders. The filter also traps large and small particles that may damage critical parts of the engine. Within the first few weeks of use, you will notice improved airflow in your cabin and your car will smell and feel fresher.
The filter uses carbon and Arm & Hammer baking soda to absorb odors that sip through the ventilation system. It’s easy to install the filter, and you may find it to be sturdier than your original OEM filter. Moreover, this filter will give you up to 30,000 miles of wear life, and it’s a solid choice for people living in rural and urban environments.
The main drawback of the FRAM CF10134 is that it’s not good at filtering out exhaust fumes. It’s more efficient in trapping particles than filtering gases. The filter’s gray color also makes it difficult to clean, as it’s hard to spot dirt particles. It is also more expensive than other cabin air filters.
Best Value: EPAuto CP285
EPAuto CP285 is a car air conditioner filter that traps harmful contaminants that pass through your ventilation and make you cough, sneeze, or make your car smell musty. It removes dust, soot, pollen, fur, moisture, and other contaminants from the air and keeps it fresh for the driver and passengers. The filter is made of a quality material that is durable and can last you for 12 months without compromising on its performance.
When it comes to its formulation, the filter contains activated carbon and baking soda, which all absorb funny odors from the ventilation system and promotes optimal airflow. The filter is easy to install and fits perfectly in its holding unit without leaving any gaps on the side. It also prevents premature wear of the vehicle’s HVAC system.
However, the filter has fewer folds (pleats) than other cabin air filters, meaning that it can’t filter as much air as other models. The filter is also thick, which restricts airflow from the vents. The baking soda becomes useless after a few months, and you may start to notice the musty odors. This model is compatible with Lexus, Subaru, Scion, and Toyota cars.
Honorable Mention: ACDelco CF188
ACDelco CF188 is one of the best aftermarket air filters that trap 100 percent of large airborne particles. The product features advanced filter media technology, where the construction entails three layers of non-woven material that keeps pollen, dust, smoke and other pollutants from penetrating your HVAC system. The outer layer captures the large particles, the middle layer traps the small particles, and the final layer reinforces the filter to make it stable and durable.
With this product, your car will always smell fresh, and you will be protected from harmful air pollutants. It also reduces deposits on the fan and prevents bacteria and mold from growing in the vents. The filter is easy to install and has an arrow pointing in the direction of airflow; you won’t have to worry about installing it backward.
One disadvantage of this ACDelco model is that it’s not a carbon air filter and therefore doesn’t effectively prevent bad smells. It also doesn’t fit some of the vehicles advertised by the manufacturer. This product is a recommended OEM replacement for GM vehicles and can fit in a Buick, Cadillac, GMC, and a Chevrolet.
- Clean your vents at least once a month and more so, during the cold seasons. When cold air flows through a hot engine, moisture droplets form in areas that receive little ventilation and promotes the growth of mold. That’s how you get the musty smell coming from your HVAC system.
- Remember to replace your filters at least after every 15,000 miles. The longer your filters are in use, the more dirt they accumulate. Eventually, they will wear out. Old filters are not effective in preventing bad odors; they limit airflow in your vents and lead to window fogging.
- When replacing an old filter, always put cardboard underneath it before sliding it out. All the dirt from the old filter will fall on the cardboard, and you will avoid the extra work of having to clean the dirt off your ventilation system.
Q: I have noticed that the level of airflow from my ventilation system reduces with time. What could be the problem?
A: Your cabin air filters are probably full of dirt and need to be cleaned or replaced. Cabin air filters accumulate a lot of dust and dirt with time and the airflow automatically gets blocked. Clean the air filter if it’s not worn out or consider buying a new filter if your old one is falling apart.
Q: How often should I change my cabin air filter?
A: Most manufacturers recommend that you change your cabin air filter after every 15,000 miles. You should also change it when you start to notice bad odors that won’t go away or insufficient airflow from your vents even after you wash the filter.
Q: I can’t seem to locate my cabin air filter. Do all cars come with a factory cabin filter?
A: Most cars built after the year 2000 have a cabin air filter. Some European luxury cars from 1980 were also built with a cabin air filter. An average car typically has only one cabin filter, but luxury models have up to three filters. The cabin air filter is located beneath the base of your vehicle’s windshield or behind the glove box.
We went for the FRAM CF10134 as our top pick because it’s the best filter to keep your vehicle smelling fresh and it gets rid of 98 percent of pollutants that cause allergic reactions.
Our budget-friendly pick is the EPAuto CP285 since it’s a decently priced carbon filter that improves the HVAC performance.