How To Clean Your ATV Air Filter

Rick Sosebee
by Rick Sosebee
Dirty ATV Air Filter

If your air filter looks like this, you aren’t doing your engine any favors. Time to get cleaning!

Keep clean air flowing and your engine will thank you

It takes many components to keep your ATV or Side-by-Side engine running in peak form. One of the most important is how your air filter keeps clean air flowing to the heart of your machine.

Most likely your ATV was equipped from the factory with a foam air filter with multiple layers, though some still use a paper filter. It makes no difference which you use, but it does matter how you care for it. The foam filter can be washed out by hand (using gloves of course) but may require some chemical form to break down the oil on the filter without destroying the glue that holds it together. The paper filter, however, is simply brushed off and hit with a light blast of compressed air to get rid of most of the debris.

Many different companies are looking to get your attention when you come looking for a new filter. Some will tout high horsepower gains and this is where I start to get really leery of incredible feats that the filtration device will bring to the game. Great gains in horsepower are not normally achieved through the perforations in an air filter alone. To get more clean air through you have to let more debris pass the block as well. In my opinion, high performance filters are good for a few rides and then your engine will suffer.

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While cleaning a paper filter is a fairly simple process, a foam filter is a little different. Foam filters need to be oiled in order to be at their very best when protecting the engine. Here are a few easy steps to getting your foam air filter working its best.

Twin Air Filter Cleaning Kit

A clean work area is important for a job like this. We picked up an air filter cleaning kit from Twin Air to help us get the job done.

1. A clean work area always makes for a successful filter service. You need a cleaning tub or bucket of some kind and if there are sensitive things lying around that do not need a dose of cruddy filter oil on them well you better move those too. We love our Twin Air Filter cleaning kit (, which comes with two tubs (one for oiling and one for cleaning) and stands for drying the filter through the two stages of cleaning. This kit also comes with Twin Air filter oil, filter cleaner, rubber gloves and contact cleaner for the air box.

Air Filter Cleaning Solution

Wash away the grime with some cleaning solution, but be gentle.

2. Pour a moderate amount of cleaning solution (make sure you use a cleaning solution that will not damage the filter) into a clean bucket and gently massage the filter in the solution. Do not pinch pull or twist the foam filter too hard as you will likely destroy it. This should begin to break down the filter oil and dirt from the filter. As you squeeze the filter and roll it in the cleaning solution look for any separations in the filter seams or tears in the material.

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ATV Air Filter Inspection

Once the filter is clean, look it over carefully for any damage.

Caution: Do not use gasoline or other highly flammable chemicals to clean your foam filter as it can and will break down the glue that holds the filter together..

ATV Air Filter Oiling

Oiling the air filter is what allows it to catch incoming dust and debris before it gets to your engine.

3. Once you have cleaned the filter and allowed it to dry out its time to oil the fresh foam again for a return to the air box. We poured our Twin Air filter oil over the filter and again, gently worked the oil into the filter. Make sure you get oil on every surface and in between layers if you use a multistage filter such as this Twin Air product.

ATV Air Box Cleaning

It makes no sense putting clean air filter in a dirty air box. While your filter is drying, give the air box a good once over.

4. After you have oiled the filter and pressed out any excess oil you’ll need to let it air dry for a couple of hours. This can be done in the air box of the machine but you should allow time for the oil to become tacky before riding the machine. While the filter was tacking up we took the time to clean out the air box itself. Using the Twin Air contact cleaner we carefully sprayed out the air box. Be sure to remove the plug in the bottom of the box and add a pan or small bucket below to catch the residue.

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Caution: Be careful when spraying anything into the air box as you do not want to get trash or debris up into the throat /intake of the box that might find its way into your motor. Typically we would stuff a clean shop rag in the hole.

ATV Air Filter Grease Application

A little waterproof grease will help keep contaminants out of your engine.

5. The filter is almost ready to go back into the air box, but first you apply a thin layer of waterproof grease to the sealing edge of the filter to keep it from allowing any contaminants in unexpectedly.

Clean ATV Air Filter

The finished product!

Cleaning your air filter is very important to the life and performance of your ATV or Side-by-Side. Do not let this one part go unnoticed or you may find yourself buying a pricey motor instead of a simple filter!

Rick Sosebee
Rick Sosebee

Whether he is in Mexico covering the Baja 1000, building ATVs for local racers, or out enjoying the trails, Rick’s passion shows in his stories. Learning to wrench his own machines from his grandfather, Rick also has an undying appreciation for the mechanics of off-road vehicles. Do not let the dirt and mud fool you, though, as Rick also has a deep love for street cars.

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