It's time to clean the grimy filters you've been avoiding | Popular Science
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It's time to clean the grimy filters you've been avoiding

Your appliances will thank you for it.

dirty air filter

Look how much dirt accumulated on this automobile air filter.

When an appliance starts acting up, check whether it has a filter. If the answer is yes, then the next question is: When's the last time you cleaned that thing? From your air conditioner to your vacuum, everything works better with a clean filter.

Air conditioners

You bought a new window AC unit only last year, but when you switch it on these days, it just doesn't fight the heat as well as it once did. That's probably because you've let debris build up on its filter, making it harder for air to force its way through. Even if you cleaned the whole window unit at the beginning of summer, you probably need to do it again. In fact, some suggest you should scrub your air conditioner filter as often as twice a month.

Turn off your AC, pop open the plastic front panel, and gently pull out its filter. First, get rid of loose dirt by shaking it over a trash can or vacuuming it. Next, rinse it or carefully wipe it with a cloth soaked in mildly soapy water. If you're feeling particularly thorough, then let it soak in a mixture of water and vinegar for a couple hours. Rinse it again, dab off the droplets with paper towels, and then let it sit until it dries completely. Finally, put it back into the air conditioner. Only then should you switch your unit back on. Now the air should flow nicely.

If you don't own a window unit, you probably still rely on some sort of ventilation—and even HVAC systems include filters. Read your manual to find that filter, and make sure to clean (or replace) it regularly.

Range hood

When you cook, you rely on your stove's exhaust fan to yank smoke out of the air, pulling it into the range hood and away from your lungs. But this appliance's performance tanks as grease builds up on its filter. To help it chug along, try to clean it once a month.

To melt the fatty, hydrophobic grease, you'll need boiling water. And to protect your tender mitts from scalding, you'll need to wear gloves and use a scrub brush whose handle you can grab. First, soak the filter in a sink filled with boiling water, a dash of dish soap, and a quarter-cup of baking soda. After about 10 minutes, start scrubbing. When the filter starts to look pretty clean, rinse it, pat it dry with paper towels, and then let it sit until it dries completely. Reinstall and leave it alone until the next month rolls around. At that point, if it doesn't look too grubby, you should be able to toss it in the dishwasher and let the machine take care of cleaning it.

Dryer

Sure, everyone knows you need to regularly clear out your dryer's lint trap. Otherwise, the moist air from your wet clothes has a harder time escaping the machine, and the drying process will take longer. Even if you scrape off the lint after every load of laundry though, the fine mesh of that screen can still clog up with waxy dryer-sheet residue over time.

You don't need to scrub the lint screen every time you run the machine, but once every couple months, give it a more thorough cleaning. It shouldn't take much—rub it with a cloth soaked in warm, soapy water, rinse it, and let it dry. Or grab a vacuum and run the brush attachment over the screen before sliding it back into your dryer.

Vacuum

Ah, the vacuum—the one tool you want to suck. Same story: It can't do its job with a dust-filled filter. Many of these are disposable, so if your vacuum has a bag, make sure to replace it before it fills completely. However, others are more flexible.

This will depend on your specific type of vacuum. If it has a cartridge filter or reusable bag, then tap out the dust after each use and wipe it down with a dry cloth. This cleaning method won't work as well as it does for the sturdier filters in the other appliances we've discussed. Still, it may allow you to keep using your dirty, but not completely worn-out, filter for longer.

Coffee filter

Okay, so you shouldn't try to scrub every filter. Please throw away your paper coffee filters when you're done brewing. (If you have reusable ones...well, you know the drill. Either way, do remember to sanitize your coffee maker once in a while.) Same goes for the filters in your Brita pitchers and Keurig machines—you need to replace them regularly.

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