Reviews

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.

Best Overall
FRAM CF10134
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Summary
Summary
This 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.
Pros
Pros
  • 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
Cons
Cons
  • 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
Best Overall
FRAM CF10134
Best Value
EPAuto CP285
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Summary
Summary
This 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.
Pros
Pros
  • 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
Cons
Cons
  • Fewer pleats than other models
  • Baking soda loses its functionality after a few months
  • Thick filter that somewhat limits airflow
Best Value
EPAuto CP285
Honorable Mention
ACDelco CF188
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Summary
Summary
This is a reusable cabin filter with three layers that go above and beyond in trapping allergens, and preventing the buildup of bacteria and mold in your vehicle’s ventilation system.
Pros
Pros
  • 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
Cons
Cons
  • Not a carbon filter
  • Not strong against bad odors
  • Doesn’t fit all brands advertised by the manufacturer
Honorable Mention
ACDelco CF188

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.

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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 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.

Electrostatic Filters

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.

Top Brands

FRAM

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

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

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

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.

Key Features

Compatibility

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.

Protection Capabilities

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.

Other Considerations

  • 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

Best Overall
FRAM CF10134

This is one of the most popular and praised cabin air filters on the market. FRAM offers efficiency every step of the way, allowing its users to breathe fresh and clean air. With the well-designed and durable filter, you can protect yourself from up to 98 percent of dust, pollen, and other contaminants.


The filter doesn't only keep the particles from entering the vehicle—it also allows for more airflow. It keeps the air clean without influencing the performance of the ventilation system. Overall, the filter provides an enjoyable driving experience. What makes it even more special is the mixture of baking soda and carbon. The applied combination cleans the air and allows for fresh airflow that's free from strong and unpleasant odors. 


One drawback is the size of the filter. It's large and thick, which means you'll probably need to bend and squeeze it into the frame. Another minor inconvenience for some users is the smell. Some complained about the filter not delivering a fresh fragrance as stated in the product description

Best Value
EPAuto CP285

EPAuto CP285 is a cabin air filter that traps harmful contaminants that pass through your ventilation and make you cough or sneeze and make your car smell musty. It removes dust, soot, pollen, 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's durable and can last you for 12 months without compromising on its performance.


The filter contains activated carbon and baking soda, which absorb odors from the ventilation system and promote 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. This model is compatible with Lexus, Subaru, Scion, and Toyota cars.


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.

Best for GM Vehicles
ACDelco CF188

ACDelco CF188 is one of the best aftermarket air filters that traps 100 percent of large airborne particles. The product features advanced filter media technology, with 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'll 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 Buicks, Cadillacs, GMCs, and Chevrolets.

Best Lifespan
Spearhead Breathe Easy Cabin Filter

The Spearhead cabin air filter is an extremely durable item designed to provide excellent performance and more 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 finally enjoy fresh air. 


There are three filters in the product: a dust filter, an antimicrobial filter, and an absorption filter. This kind of system ensures you don't experience any unpleasant or allergic reactions to polluted air. It also removes odors. Thanks to the thick materials, the filter catches even tiny particles, preventing them from entering the cabin.  


Another great thing about this product is its overall 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. Some buyers had difficulties fitting the filter into the outlet. The edges might be a little bulky, and the included instructions aren't very helpful. You may have to look for some online videos to guide you through the process.

Honorable Mention
Bosch Automotive 6057C Cabin Air Filter

The Bosch Automotive filter is designed to collect microscopic pollutants such as pollen, mold, and allergens, allowing you to breathe fresh air in your vehicle. It fits a wide range of vehicles, including different models from Chevrolet, Hyundai, Kia, and Saturn. 


The filter is highly efficient at trapping small particles. It has a melt-blown electrostatic layer and an extra static cotton layer to ensure 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 allow for 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, 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.

Honorable Mention
EcoGard XC36080 Cabin Air Filter

EcoGard offers a versatile and inexpensive air filter to help you protect yourself from harmful particles. It's super-efficient at preventing dust, pollen, allergens, and other contaminants from entering the vehicle. You'll enjoy fresh and clean air during every ride. 


The 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 that the item might require some modifications. Some 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 the wrong way and could make the process harder. 

Honorable Mention
ACDelco CF1179CF Professional Cabin Air Filter

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 versatile. It fits most vehicle types, and the manufacturer provides a handy chart you can use to make sure it will fit yours. 


The air filter features advanced technology that helps with trapping even the smallest particles, preventing them from entering the cabin. This 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 far away from passengers. It's easy to install and comes at an attractive price, so it's an ideal option for those on a limited budget.


The filter does make the air cleaner, but you still might experience strong smells. Also, some buyers complained about having to replace the filter sooner than expected. The thin layer tends to wear off quickly.

Honorable Mention
Purolator PBC35667 Cabin Air Filter

This is a well-made filter designed to capture all kinds of harmful particles, starting with 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, but it controls odors as well. You'll breathe fresh and fragrance-free air in your vehicle. 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 types. 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. Make sure to ask the manufacturer about its correct dimensions, because the filter might be smaller or bigger than the frame.

Honorable Mention
EPAuto CP819 Cabin Air Filter

Here's 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 previous model on our list, you'll 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. The installation is pretty straightforward. 


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.

Tips

  • 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.

Final Thoughts

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.