Best Cabin Air Filters: Keep Musty Odors and Dust at Bay
Our top picks for the best cabin air filters will ensure that you consistently breathe fresh air in your car.
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BY Jonathon Klein / LAST UPDATED ON September 30, 2021
Cabin air filters clean the air that gets into a car’s cabin. They're placed in a vehicle’s ventilation system and trap 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 over time and you need to replace them. Our review will show you some of the best products on the market that can replace your clogged-up cabin filter.
- High-quality construction
- No musty odors
- Prevents damaging debris from entering the engine
- Easy to install
- Keeps air clean without affecting the ventilation system's performance
- Large-size filter may need to be bent or squeezed into the frame
- Some users complained that the filter didn't deliver a fresh fragrance as described
- You 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
- Fewer pleats than other models
- Baking soda loses its functionality after a few months
- Thick filter that somewhat limits airflow
- Its multi-layer construction traps more particles than other filters
- Third layer reinforces the filter and makes it durable and reusable
- Increases the airflow in your vehicle
- Not a carbon filter
- Not strong against bad odors
- Doesn’t fit all brands advertised by the manufacturer
Why Trust Us
Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Benefits of Cabin Air Filters
- Improve HVAC performance. If you've never replaced your factory cabin air filter, 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 to absorb 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're constantly sneezing, coughing, or wheezing whenever you're on a long drive, you need a new carbon air filter 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 eliminate large and small particles and have coal as a special ingredient to get rid of terrible odors. The coal deposit can filter out cigarette smoke and prevent exhaust fumes from reaching the driver.
Activated Carbon 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're the best 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 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're also good at controlling bad odors.
FRAM has been making top-notch products in the automotive market since 1932. It manufactures oil filters, PVC valves, fuel filters, and some of the best interior air filters on the market. Its headquarters are in Lake Forest, Illinois. 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, tools, and automotive accessories. Its cabin air filters promote cleaner airflow, and you'll find the EPAuto CP285 and EPAuto CP819 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. It's headquartered in Riverside, Calif., and has other operating facilities in the 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're inexpensive doesn’t mean they aren't durable. You'll find some decent filters with activated carbon, charcoal, or electrostatic elements, and most are good for at least 12,000 miles.
- $10 and up: This is the common price range for most cabin air filters, but the price barely shoots to more than $20 unless you're getting a pack of two or more. The filters are durable and made of high-quality materials. Just like the cheaper versions, the filters in this range 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 just isn't practical. Therefore, you need to ensure that a filter is compatible with your vehicle's model, make, and 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 ward off your allergies, a particle filter will do just fine. However, if you're tired of all the bad odors from your AC unit, 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 you can’t get a quality product that pushes over that limit. Some filters have a life span of 30,000 miles, and some are strong enough to be reused 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're in a rural environment and your main problem is dust, you could get a less complicated cabin filter that only filters out dust and other allergens.
Best Cabin Air Filters Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- Clean your vents at least once a month, and more frequently during cold weather. When cold air flows through a hot engine, moisture droplets form in areas that receive little ventilation, promoting mold growth. That’s how you get the musty smell coming from your HVAC system.
- Remember to replace your filters at least every 15,000 miles. The longer your filters are in use, the more dirt they accumulate. Eventually, they wear out. Old filters aren't 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'll avoid the extra work of having to clean the dirt off your ventilation system.
FAQs on Cabin Air Filters
You've got questions. The Drive has answers.
Q: I've noticed that the level of airflow from my ventilation system reduces with time. What could be the problem?
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 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?
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?
Most cars built after the year 2000 have a cabin air filter. Some European luxury cars from 1980 were also built with a cabin filter. An average car typically has only one, but luxury models have up to three filters. The cabin 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, a reasonably priced carbon filter that improves the HVAC performance.