How to Clean Your Motorcycle’s Air Filter In 5 Minutes!

cleaning the air filter

Keeping a motorcycle’s engine supplied with fresh air is crucial to it running smoothly and at its full potential. Unfortunately, many new riders don’t know the importance of keeping their air filter in good condition or how to clean it.

If you don’t know how to clean your motorcycle’s air filter, then you’ve come to the right place. Using the best motorcycle air filters can have a huge impact on how your bike runs, but even a top-of-the-line model can cause problems if it’s dirty or clogged.

The Importance of Regular Maintenance

Air filter maintenance is one of the most challenging parts of regular bike maintenance but it’s just as essential as changing motorcycle chain and sprockets. However, if you want to keep your bike running smoothly, then taking care of your air filter should be at the top of your list. The filter is considered the gatekeeper between the fresh air and your engine and it needs to burn fuel and create power.

A dirty filter may choke off some of the airflow which can rob your engine of power. In serious cases, if the air filter is broken and damaged it can let particles into an engine’s combustion chambers. Taking care of the air filter is a very important job and one you can’t slack off on.

Filter Types

There are a few different types of air filters to choose from:

  • Cotton
  • Foam
  • Paper


This type of basic filter works well as a stock replacement. Most types of street bikes will come with paper filters. Many people prefer paper filters because they are affordable and disposable. This means there’s no maintenance or cleaning involved. In fact, you can’t clean them because it will damage them and breakdown the material, making the filter useless.

When paper filters are dirty you can simply toss them out and replace them with a new one. However, while they do a decent job of filtering the air, some riders believe that paper filters don’t do well when it comes to actually removing a significant level of particles from the air. These riders often prefer using filters that offer a higher performance, such as cotton or foam filters.


Foam filters can commonly be found in off-road bikes. Unlike their paper counterparts that are disposable, foam filters have to be cleaned. These reusable filters are affordable and offer a significantly longer lifespan compared to paper filters.

While paper filters have a bad rap for not blocking enough particles, foam models have been said to not allow enough airflow. This is especially true when they are dirty. Foam models are much denser than paper filters, which means they do not allow in as much air; however, they provide more effective filtration, especially when you’re riding around in dirtier, dustier environments.


Cotton filters are the priciest filters on the market. However, they allow in more air and offer a better performance, compared to foam. They can also be cleaned and reused for thousands of miles. If cotton filters are maintained properly, it can even outlast your bike’s engine.

Cleaning a cotton filter is a little more complex compared to foam and requires the use of a special type of cleaning fluid and oil. Most cotton filter manufacturers have kits that include all the proper cleaning supplies for this purpose.

Cleaning Motorcycle Air Filters

Mechanic holding dirty air filter

When you change your motorcycle oil, it’s always a good habit to check your air filter as well. You should also check it after a dirty off-road ride to determine if it needs to be replaced or simply requires a good scrubbing. As I mentioned earlier, paper filters can be tossed and replaced when needed, but cotton or foam models can be washed and re-oiled.

It’s important to stay on top of air filter maintenance if you’re using a reusable model since leaving it dirty can risk damaging it.

Foam Filter Cleaning

If you have a foam filter that needs a deep clean, begin by removing it from its housing. Once the filter has been removed, block the air inlet with something to prevent any debris from entering your engine.

To clean your foam filter properly you need to use the right chemicals. If you use a chemical that’s corrosive it can break down the glue that holds the filter together. Soaps that leave behind residue can negatively impact airflow.

Most manufacturers have special kits that include all of the supplies you’ll need to clean a foam filter.

Remove the filter from the housing, apply the air filter cleaner, massaging it in well. Do not stretch or ring the filter out since this can damage or rip it. Gently kneading the material will work fine. Once the cleaner has had time to work its magic you can rinse the filter off from the inside out using warm tap water.

The next step is filling up a tub or bucket with warm water and using a mild dish soap. To remove any residual dirt after you’ve used the foam cleaner, wash the filter thoroughly. You may need to rinse it several times. This will help remove any remaining debris.

Once the filter has returned to its natural color you can gently squeeze out any excess water. Again, you must still avoid stretching or wringing out the filter since this can cause damage. The last step is setting the filter aside and allowing it to air dry.

Once the filter is completely dry, you’ll need to check to ensure the air box is clean. If it is, then you can saturate the filter using fresh oil. Make sure you saturate the entire filter including the lip and ceiling flange.

Next, you’ll squeeze out any excess oil since too much oil can make it difficult for air to flow through the filter. You should also apply a good amount of sealing grease to seal the flange before you put the filter back into its housing.

Cotton Filter Cleaning

To clear a cotton filter, you’ll begin by pulling the filter from the housing, removing any excess debris. Using a cotton filter cleaner, you’ll liberally apply the cleaning product and allow it to sit for a period of five to ten minutes based on the cleaning product’s instructions. Once the cleaner has had a chance to breakdown the dirt, rinse off the filter from the inside out in order to help remove the cleaning product and dirt from the many layers of the cotton fibers.

The next step is filling a wash tub or bucket up with warm soapy water and gently swishing the filter around to get it as clean as possible and to remove any remaining debris and dirt. You’ll rinse the filter out in warm tap water several times to ensure all of the dirt and grime has been removed.

Once the filter is free from dirt and grime you must let it air dry. Just like with the foam filter, you’ll need to give the cotton filter plenty of time to dry before you reinstall it. You don’t want to install the filter with any moisture trapped inside. Do not try to speed up the drying process by tossing the filter in a dryer or using compressed air since both methods can easily damage the filter.

When the filter is completely dry, you’ll need to add fresh filter oil. When doing so, make sure you use an oil that comes from an aerosol can instead of a squeeze bottle applicator to encourage even application. Wipe away any excess oil from the filter before placing it back in its housing.

Letting the Pros Take Over

If you don’t want to clean or swap out your air filter on your own, then the next time you take your bike in for some routine maintenance at your local shop, ask them to take a look at it. If you normally use paper filters, talk to one of the mechanics and see what type of filter they recommend for your specific bike, whether it’s foam or cotton. Fortunately, most shops don’t charge that much for this part of routine bike maintenance and it’s one less job you’ll have to worry about.

Final Thoughts

Learning how to clean your motorcycle air filter can ensure that your bike’s always running at top performance. Most new riders fail to realize how important an air filter is to a motorcycle’s engine, which is why this part of routine maintenance often gets overlooked.

Whenever you’re performing routine maintenance, or after a particularly dirty and dusty ride, make sure that you check your filter and clean as needed. Riding with a clean motorcycle air filter will allow your engine to rev faster, breathe easily, and perform at maximum power.