One of the most important, but often overlooked parts of a car is the cabin air filter. This filter purifies the air that circulates inside your car. Most modern cars already have air filters installed, but some are of an undesirably low quality.
The best car air filters will capture dust, pollen and other pollutants while removing odors. Some effective filters will even remove harmful gases and exhaust fumes. Therefore, choosing the right one is crucial.
Why You Need a Car Air Filter
The closed space of a car is often more polluted than the outside. This is due to the impurities the HVAC system brings inside. Studies show most of the pollutants found inside a car are from the vehicles in front of you (1).
So what is found in car exhaust? Here are a few potentially harmful pollutants:
- Ozone: This is a colorless, odorless gas that’s harmful when at ground level. Sunlight reacts with the nitrogen oxide a car emits, and VOCs found in the air, and creates ozone (2).
- Nitrogen dioxide: A pungent-smelling gas that can cause respiratory issues such as lung irritation and breathing problems (3).
- Sulfur dioxide: This gas can cause respiratory issues such as shortness of breath. It can also cause chest pain and permanent damage to the lungs (4).
- Carbon monoxide: Is an odorless, colorless gas that’s highly poisonous. It can cause dizziness, confusion and fatigue when inhaled (5).
If that isn’t enough, there’s also dust, pollen and other allergens that could find their way into your vehicle.
Bad odors are another common complaint within a car. These could be caused by leftover food debris, pet messes, children’s messes or even mold. Due to the enclosed space of a car cabin, odors seem to build up quicker and linger for longer.
Installing a good-quality air filter is an excellent way to keep most pollutants at bay. Now, we say “most” because what the filter will remove depends on the quality. Some filters will effectively capture and remove odors, allergens and fumes. Others, on the other hand, will only take care of larger particles such as dust, leaves and pollen.
Another effective tool is an air purifier. These are normally used within our homes to improve indoor air quality. However, air purifiers are becoming more and more popular for car use as well.
Finding the Best Car Air Filters
There’s a wide choice available on the market when it comes to air filters for your car. It can get overwhelming, but knowing what to look for can make it easier.
If you’re struggling to remove bad odors from your car, a filter with carbon and baking soda is efficient. These filters have baking soda and activated carbon woven into the pleats. As air passes through the filter, the baking soda absorbs odors while carbon absorbs fumes and gases.
Dust and Allergen Removal
A thick filter will help to capture finer particles of dust and pollen as well as some allergens. Where you live also plays a significant role in what filter you need. People living in polluted cities will need a more thorough filter. For people living in remote areas, though, a dust filter should be sufficient.
The Best Car Air Filters of 2021
In our quest to find the best car air filters, we took affordability and value for money into consideration. We also scoured the internet for customer reviews and combed through product specifications to assess efficiency. After looking through car air filters recommended by experts, we found our top seven.
ACDelco CF188 Cabin Air Filter
The ACDelco cabin air filter consists of a three-layer media that promises to filter out pollutants such as dust and pollen. It’s a non-woven filter that captures more particles while increasing airflow within the car’s AC.
The three layers work effectively together to capture both large and small particles. Larger pollutant particles will be caught in the first layer, while the middle layer captures small particles. Fumes and unpleasant odors will also be removed to give you and your passengers a pleasant ride.
Because of the different layers, the filter separates the pollutants and contains them much better, so nothing escapes. This filter was made to fit General Motors (GM) vehicles, so before buying, make sure it will fit your car.
You get great value for money since the filter is durable and works very efficiently. Most customers were pleased with how easy it was to install, even for those who claimed not to be as knowledgeable.
- Keeps pollutants separated.
- Consists of three layers.
- Removes fumes and odors.
- Easy to install.
- Only compatible with GM vehicles.
- Might fit loosely in certain models.
|Size||10.4 x 9.8 x 1.3 inches|
EPAuto Premium Cabin Air Filter CP285
The CP285 is an excellent filter if you want fresh air within your car. It uses a carbon and baking soda filter to enhance the air quality and remove unpleasant odors and fumes.
Both carbon and baking soda are highly effective at absorbing odors. It’s often recommended to place an open box of baking soda inside your car to absorb bad odors. Here, it’s inside the air system of your car, removing any odor before it makes its way into the cabin.
One of the best things about this filter is that it fits a variety of cars and models. It’s easy to install and lasts a long time. Replacing the filter is also inexpensive as it’s highly affordable and offers great value for money.
EPAuto recommends that the filter is changed every 12 months or 12,000 miles. Depending on how much it’s used, replacing it once a year is easily done without taking a huge chunk out of your wallet.
There has been a bit of confusion going around due to the “up” arrows on the filter. Many users confused this with an indication of airflow. However, when installing, the arrows should be pointing up.
- Contains baking soda.
- Removes bad odors.
- Lasts a long time.
- Affordable in the long run.
- It doesn’t come with any instructions.
Kootek Car Cabin Air Filter CF10285
The Kootek CF10285 filter was made to capture pollutants such as pollen and dust. The tightly packed pleats capture particles ranging in size between 5 and 100 microns.
Within the pleats, you will find carbon and baking soda. These will effectively absorb bad odors before they enter your car cabin. The filter will also help to enhance the HVAC performance in your car.
It fits a range of different cars including Toyota, Lexus, Pontiac, Scion and Subaru. Installation is a breeze, and you get full instructions on how to complete the job correctly.
This filter is recommended to be replaced every 12 months or 12,000 miles. Although it’s slightly higher-priced compared to the previous ones on our list, it’s still affordable in the long run.
A common problem with this filter is restricted airflow. A few customers noticed that they had to turn their AC up slightly higher to get the same flow as usual.
- 28 pleats.
- Contains carbon and baking soda.
- Removes a variety of large particles.
- Might restrict airflow.
|Instructions Included||Online instructions|
|Size||8.46 x 7.56 x 1.10 inches|
EcoGard XC36080 Premium Air Filter
If you want a very thorough filter, this is it. The EcoGard Premium Cabin Air Filter effectively captures and removes up to 99.5 percent of pollutants. This includes dust, pollen, allergens, pet dander and other contaminants, which makes this an excellent choice for family cars.
It helps to promote good airflow within your car’s HVAC system, and it can help to prevent premature wear. Unlike other filters with a limited life, this one is recommended to be used until airflow is compromised. However, the manufacturer recommends that you change the filter once in spring and once in fall.
The price is highly affordable, and the easy installation makes it very user-friendly. It was specifically made and tested for Honda Original Equipment.
Honda owners have complimented the filter for providing excellent airflow while removing musty odors.
- Removes up to 99.5 percent of pollutants.
- Improves your car’s HVAC system.
- Removes unpleasant odors.
- Fits only Honda models.
|Mileage||12.000 to 15.000 miles|
|Size||10.9 x 9.5 x 2.1 inches|
Spearhead Premium Breathe Easy Filter
The Breathe Easy filter uses a honeycombed charcoal weave that is thick and traps even the tiniest particles. The three-stage filtration system effectively removes road debris, fumes and allergens, creating a safe space inside the car for you and your family.
Due to the thickness of this filter, it performs slightly better compared to others. This is especially true when it comes to gases, odors and fumes. Within the filter, there’s also an antimicrobial stage that blocks allergens.
The filter is long-lasting and doesn’t need replacing until 15,000 miles. It’s super simple to install and you get full instructions on how to do it correctly.
It offers great value for money and is affordable to keep replacing in the long run. If you’re not happy, the manufacturer offers a guaranteed money-back.
Customers praised this filter for its thickness, and many said it was a huge improvement from their previous filter.
- Three-stage filtration.
- Thick and durable.
- Removes odors and allergens.
- Excellent for families.
- Money-back guarantee.
- The thickness reduces the airflow significantly.
|Size||8.46 x 7.64 x 1.14 inches|
Fram FreshBreeze CF10134 Air Filter
The Fram FreshBreeze filter is the go-to for musty-smelling cars. It uses a combination of carbon and Arm & Hammer baking soda to remove bad odors before they enter the cabin.
This filter is an excellent choice for families since it captures up to 98 percent of pollen, dust and other pollutants. It provides improved airflow and helps to prevent harmful particles from ruining the HVAC system and engine.
Installation is a breeze since you get full instructions to complete the job correctly. You even receive QR codes to videos that will show you exactly how to install the filter.
Restricted airflow is generally a sign of a needed filter replacement. Otherwise, the manufacturer recommends that the FreshBreeze filter is changed every 15,000 miles or once a year.
Customers have praised the filter for its easy installation, saying it fits well in most car models. Other compliments are its low noise level, as some air filters create a sound when the AC is on.
A common issue with this filter, however, is loose carbon. If not removed, this will come flying out the vents when the air conditioning is turned on. So make sure you give it a tap or a quick vacuum before installing it.
- Easy to install.
- Instructions and visual guidance are provided.
- Good value for money.
- A significant amount of loose carbon is present on the filter.
|Size||10 x 2 x 10 inches|
Pure Car Air Purifier With HEPA Filter
Air purifiers are commonly used within our homes to clean our air, but they can also be useful in cars. This purifier easily connects to the USB outlet in the car and effectively removes bad odors.
It uses a combination of a HEPA filter and an ionizer to remove allergens, viruses, bacteria and mold. The unique design features LED lights that add a nice touch to the car’s interior.
This purifier is especially popular among pet owners. Many complain about bad odors caused by pet urine or wet fur. This purifier removed most odors.
Because it uses an ionizer to kill bacteria and odors, it does produce small amounts of ozone. However, the manufacturer claims it’s only very small amounts at a safe level and isn’t a concern.
Still, if you’re not happy with the air purifier, Pure offers a full refund and money-back guarantee.
- Effectively removes bad odors; doesn’t just cover them up.
- Removes allergens and kills viruses and bacteria.
- Connects easily with a phone charger.
- Available in three different colors.
- Produces ozone.
|Instructions Included||Not specified|
Detailed Comparison Chart
|ACDelco CF188 Cabin Air Filter||Overall||12,000 mi||No||10.4 x 9.8 x 1.3″||N/A|
|EPAuto Premium Cabin Air Filter CP285||Premium Filter||12.000 mi||No||N/A||N/A|
|Kootek Car Cabin Air Filter CF10285||Woven Filter||12,000 mi||Online instructions||8.46 x 7.56 x 1.10″||N/A|
|EcoGard XC36080 Premium Air Filter||For Honda||12.000 – 15.000 mi||Yes||10.9 x 9.5 x 2.1″||99.5 percent|
|Spearhead Premium Breathe Easy Filter||Long-Lasting Filter||15,000 mi||Yes||8.46 x 7.64 x 1.14″||N/A|
|Fram FreshBreeze CF10134 Air Filter||Pet Families||15,000 mi||Yes||10 x 2 x 10″||98 percent|
|Pure Car Air Purifier||Air Purifier||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A|
Improving Your Car
Car air filters are often overlooked, which is a shame. These are easily installed and replaced when needed, and help to keep dust, odors and allergens out of the cabin.
When searching for the best car air filters, consider what your biggest issues are. Is it odors? Dust or allergens? Another thing to consider is where you live since big cities are more polluted than remote areas.