LAST UPDATED: April 30, 2019
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
The Review Team
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PUBLISHED ON April 30, 2019
Cabin air filters clean the air that gets into a vehicle’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 perfect for people who hate to deal with the smell of dust, dirt, and exhaust fumes in their cars. The downside is that they get clogged over 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.
Its multi-layer construction traps more particles than other filters. The third layer reinforces the filter and makes it durable and reusable. It increases the airflow in your vehicle.
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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 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 vehicle and help alleviate symptoms of motion sickness in some passengers.
- Reduce allergic reactions. If you are constantly sneezing, coughing, or wheezing when you are on a long drive, then you need a new cabin 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 filter out large and small particles and use coal as a special ingredient to get rid of terrible odors. The coal deposit can tackle 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 also control bad odors.
FRAM has been in the automotive business 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 is 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 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 2020
The FRAM CF10134 is our top pick because it keeps the cabin smelling better and fresher for a longer period of time. 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.
This filter uses carbon and Arm & Hammer baking soda to absorb odors that slip 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.
The EPAuto CP285 traps harmful contaminants that pass through your ventilation system and make you cough, sneeze, or cause your car to 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 formula, the filter contains activated carbon and baking soda, which all absorb funny odors from the ventilation system and promotes optimal airflow. The filter is simple 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.
The 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, and the construction consists of 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 simple 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.
The Spearhead cabin air filter is an extremely durable product designed to provide excellent performance and comfort. With the three-stage filtration system, the item efficiently filters debris, exhaust fumes, and allergens. You'll notice the improvement from your old air filter right after installation and enjoy fresh air.
There are three filters in this product: a dust filter, an antimicrobial filter, and an absorption filter. This kind of system ensures you don't experience any unpleasant reactions to polluted air, such as allergy responses. It also removes odors. Thanks to the thick materials, the filter catches all the tiny particles, preventing them from entering the cabin.
Another great thing about this product is its durability. The honeycombed charcoal weaves can last up to 15,000 miles. They also come with a mileage box you can use to keep track of the installed filters.
What can be an issue with this product is the installation. A lot of buyers had difficulties fitting the filter into the outlet. The edges might be a little bulky, and the included instructions are not very helpful. You'll probably have to look for some online videos to guide you through the process.
The Bosch Automotive filter is designed to collect microscopic pollutants such as pollen, mold, and allergens, allowing you to breathe fresh air in your car or truck. The filter fits a wide range of vehicles, including different models of Chevrolet, Hyundai, Kia, and Saturn vehicles.
This filter is very efficient in trapping small particles. It has a melt-blown electrostatic layer and an extra static cotton layer that ensures excellent results. Furthermore, structural ribs are added to make the filter more stable and durable.
Overall, this air filter will prevent dirt and dust from entering your vehicle and provide clean airflow. It meets HEPA standards and installs in a breeze. The manufacturer also provides an accurate chart you can use to see whether the filter fits your vehicle.
However, there are a few things to keep in mind before purchasing. Due to the enhanced trapping abilities, the filter might reduce airflow. It's quite noticeable, especially at medium and high speed. Also, the instructions are a little confusing about which side goes up, so make sure to double-check it before installation.
Ecogard offers a versatile and inexpensive air filter to help guard against harmful particles. It's super efficient in preventing dust, pollen, allergens, and other contaminants from entering the vehicle. With it, you'll enjoy fresh and clean air on every ride.
This item is compatible with a wide range of vehicles, starting with Acura and Honda. The installation is quite simple, and the item is very durable. Once installed, the filter works to prevent air contamination and premature HVAC wear. With a quality filter like this, your air conditioning system will have good airflow and last longer.
Keep in mind, however, that the item might require some modifications. A lot of buyers complained about it being too large to fit the frame, so they had to trim and squeeze the edges. Also, make sure to position it properly. The arrow that indicates the direction might be positioned in the wrong way and make the process harder.
The ACDelco air filter is a reliable and affordable option suitable for all those who need to replace their old and worn out filters. It's well made, durable, and incredibly versatile. It fits most vehicle types, and the manufacturer provides a handy chart you can use to make sure it will fit your vehicle.
The air filter features advanced technology that traps even the smallest particles, preventing them from entering the cabin. That allows for more comfort during every ride, especially for those who suffer from respiratory conditions and allergies. The filter removes allergens and keeps bacteria and mold away from passengers. Additionally, the filter is easy to install, and it comes at an attractive price. It's an ideal option for those who are on a limited budget.
The filter is not very efficient in reducing odors, however. It does make the air cleaner, but you still might experience strong smells. Also, several users complain about having to replace the filter sooner than expected. The thin layer tends to wear off quickly.
This is a well-made filter designed to capture all kinds of harmful particles, including dirt, dust, soot, and pollen. It prevents unhealthy bacteria and mold from growing in the vehicle, keeping passengers safe and making rides more comfortable.
The Purolator air filter doesn't only ensure you breathe clean air; it controls odors as well. You'll live through a new experience while breathing fresh and fragrance-free air in your vehicle. Also, the Purolator cabin air filter doesn't reduce the airflow and allows for your HVAC system to work flawlessly.
You can install the filter in almost all popular vehicle models. It's a simple process that won't take a lot of your time. The manufacturer offers a chart you can use to double-check its compatibility with your vehicle.
The main drawback of the Purolator air filter is the price. The product is more expensive than other regular filters available on the market. Some other issues regard the overall filter design. Make sure to ask the manufacturer about its correct dimensions, because the filter might be smaller or bigger than the frame.
Here, we have another filter from EPAuto that’s worthy of your attention. This one fits Hyundai, Chevrolet, GMC, KIA, and Saturn vehicles. Of course, just like with the other model on our list, you get to use the provided chart to check the filter's compatibility with your particular vehicle.
When it comes to the overall filter design, EPAuto doesn't disappoint. The filter is well-made and very efficient. It even contains soda and carbon to reduce odors and provide fresh airflow. Buyers also like that it enhances HVAC performance and doesn't reduce airflow. Lastly, the installation is pretty straightforward, and you shouldn't have any issues there.
However, you might want to check twice before putting the filter into the frame. The item might be marked incorrectly, causing you to install it upside-down. Also, the filter comes in charcoal gray, making it difficult to see when it gets dirty and needs replacement.
- 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 buy 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 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.