Tricks of the Trade: How to Clean a Small Engine Air Filter

Here are a couple of tips to help extend the life of your air filters:

Compressed air

paper air filter

If you have a paper core small engine air filter, a can of compressed air from your local computer store will provide enough short term air pressure to knock the dust loose from your air filter.

I recommend keeping one in the shed or garage. When you’re putting the trimmer or the mower away, take out the air filter, give it a blast and set it to the side. That way you have to put your hands on it every time you use the machine, which gets you in the habit of checking it frequently. See, that’s called a conditioned response –


Remember, contaminates are trapped as air flows inward.

air filter dust

When blowing the filter clean, reverse the air flow direction.

air filter air flow

Shop Vac

With most air filters, using a shop vac (or vacuum with a hose attachment) will pull the dust right out of there. Once again, remember to use the vacuum on the outside of the filter.


no brush

Never use a brush to clean your air filter. The bristles will only push the particles further into the filter fibers.

Hand Washing

foam air filters

Foam air filters and pre-filters generally come in two types: dry or oiled but both can be cleaned with a little warm water and some Dawn dish washing liquid.

Submerge the filter, give it a few squeezes to push the dirt and dust out.

Rinse it off in cold water, gently squeeze the excess out then allow it to completely air dry.

Duh Moment: If the filter is coming apart in your hands, give us a call and we’ll help you find a new one. Make sure to have your engine model number handy.

Now…if your filter was pre-oiled, you can pick up a bottle of air filter oil at your local automotive store or a light coating of bar/chain oil will work in a pinch.

Apply the oil to your hands like lotion, then just rub it onto the air filter. Don’t squeeze- we don’t want it dripping. Just a light coating on the surface of the foam will do.

Duh Moment: Don’t wash paper filament air filters. It’s paper. So, you can’t wash it.

Dishwasher Safe

Stens 050-790 Washable Air Filter

A few, higher end air filters are actually “dish washer safe”. This is normally noted on the filter. Once washed, take them out and allow them to air dry completely before installing. recommends cleaning your air filter every time you use your machine.

If you’ve got any “Tricks of the Trade“, shoot em to us. We’d love to feature them in the blog.

If you have any questions or comments about how to clean an air filter please contact us via phone, email or the comments section below.


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Bill Brown

Bill is the head of content creation for the LawnMowerPros Blog and DIY section. He’s been in the Outdoor Power Equipment Industry for years and he’s still learning new things everyday. You can often find him creating featured articles, DIY guides, videos, graphics and much more.