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How to Clean Motorcycle Air Filter

How to Clean Motorcycle Air Filter

The air filter helps keep your motorcycle’s engine in good condition by allowing clean air to enter the engine, mix with fuel, burn, and generate power. However, this airflow may become blocked over time due to the buildup of dirt, dust, stones, and other debris. A dirty air filter will result in your engine having to work hard to draw in the air or cool down. On the road, contaminants may be sucked into your engine through the air intake, potentially damaging the pistons and clogging the carburetor.

This article discusses the types of air filters, the symptoms of dirty air filters, and how to clean them safely.

infographic (How to Clean Motorcycle Air Filter)

1. Air Filters and How They Work

An air filter is essential for a motorcycle due to its smaller engine being exposed to more air. The air filter is especially essential when riding on harsh and muddy terrain. Most motorcycle air filters are easy to maintain since they are washable, reusable, and eco-friendly. The majority of air filters on motorcycles used for daily commutes last from 15,000 to 20,000 kilometers.

The air filter's main functions are to increase airflow, protect the engine from debris, improve acceleration, and increase horsepower.

The motorcycle engine must be able to take in air to initiate combustion. However, a lot of filth in the air can settle on the engine and reduce its efficiency over time. Lack of air intake will reduce the bike's power and speed, eventually causing the engine to fail. The air filter steps in because it cleans the air and shields the engine from a buildup of debris in this situation.

2. What Happens When Your Motorcycle Air Filter is Dirty?

Dirty air filters cause a variety of obvious damage to your motorcycle. The air filter allows the fresh oxygen to reach the motorcycle’s engine that it needs to correctly burn the fuel. It prevents the dirt from getting into the engine’s chambers. If the air filter is dirty or clogged with dust, it couldn’t supply proper air to the engine which will affect the engine’s power.

Dirty air filters can cause the engine to lose power or shut down. Dirty and damaged air filters can also throw debris into the combustion chamber. So to avoid this situation and keep your motorcycle working properly and safely, maintain regular air filter cleaning.

3. Types of Motorcycle Air Filters

3.1 Paper Air Filter

The paper air filter is the standard factory-made part and the most reliable type of motorcycle air filter. It’s made from porous paper and pleated to increase the surface area that catches particles. This is the simplest and cheapest type of air filter and can be easily replaced. Most street bikes come fitted with paper air filters. Because they are disposable, no cleaning or maintenance is required.

Pros Cons
Inexpensive Can’t be cleaned
Very effective in blocking small dirt particles Gets clogged easily
Readily available Doesn’t provide ideal airflow
Not suited for dirt/off-road bikes

3.2 Foam Air Filter

Foam air filters are commonly found on off-road and vintage motorcycles. These are a bit pricier than paper air filters, have a long lifespan, and are reusable. Foam air filters provide effective filtration as they are much denser than paper air filters. Cleaning foam air filters tends to be an easy task.

Pros Cons
Reusable Restricted breathability due to dense material
Long lifespan Clogs up faster
Readily available Doesn’t provide ideal airflow
Performs better in a dusty environment Frequent cleaning needed
Doesn’t interfere with the airflow sensor Some variants cause performance issues

3.3 Cotton Air Filter

Cotton air filters are the most expensive motorcycle air filters on the market. Cotton air filters can last for a long time if properly maintained.

Compared to foam filters, they offer better performance and allow for more airflow. Cotton filters can be cleaned and reused even after being used for thousands of miles. They can even outlast your motorcycle’s engine if maintained properly. However, cleaning a cotton filter is more complex than a foam filter since it requires using specific cleaning fluid and oil.

Pros Cons
Strong air filtration More expensive
Great for dusty riding conditions Difficult to clean and reapply oil
Can last a thousand miles Oil on the filter surface can enter into the airflow sensor and interfere with its function
Highly recommended when fitting your bike with a performance exhaust

4. Symptoms of a Bad Air Filter

A dirty air filter can quickly turn into a defective air filter if left untreated. Listed below are warning signs that you have a dirty air filter.

4.1 Poor Acceleration

A dirty air filter limits the amount of air that reaches the engine, which reduces your motorcycle’s horsepower and acceleration.

4.2 Strange Noises

If you hear strange noises coming from the motorcycle engine, such as coughing or popping, they are signs of a dirty air filter.

4.3 Vibration

Your motorcycle vibrating violently indicates the dirty air filter is damaging the spark plugs. It’s essential to clean or change the air filter immediately to stop further damage to the spark plugs.

4.4 Poor Engine Performance

A blocked or dirty air filter may cause your engine to overheat, have trouble starting, or have rough handling. All of these signs might indicate a blocked or filthy air filter. For your engine to start properly, it needs the right mixture of fuel and air. Too much gasoline in the engine will prevent ignition. Spark plugs become covered in soot due to the excess gasoline. The spark plugs' capacity to produce sparks required for combustion is hindered by the soot, which also damages the plugs.

5. How to Clean a Motorbike Air Filter?

5.1 Remove the Air Filter

Put on gloves before removing the air filter to prevent any loose dirt from getting into the intake. Be cautious when removing the air filter because there's a high probability that it will be coated with oil.

5.2 Eliminate Loose Dirt

After removing the air filter from your motorbike, sweep off any loose debris. As long as you can get to the hard-to-reach parts of the filter that need cleaning, it doesn't matter if you can't get all the dirt off.

5.3 Use Air Filter Cleaner

Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for air filter cleaners. Once you gently knead the cleaner into the filter, you'll find it easier to remove dirt and grime built up inside. Avoid using highly corrosive cleaning agents that might clog and damage the air filter. Additionally, you shouldn't squeeze or wring out your air filter since doing so might harm it, and you don't want that. Use your air filter cleaner carefully for many fantastic motorbike rides in the future.

5.4 Apply Turpentine

You can use turpentine to break down the oil stuck on the filter. After applying the turpentine, squeeze the air filter gently to remove any remaining oil. To get rid of as much oil as you can, you might need to repeat this process a few times.

5.5 Wash the Air Filter

Wash the air filter immediately after the turpentine cleaning. The best option is to use water and a dishwashing liquid or detergent since it will break down the oil. Fill a bucket with warm soapy water, using a few drops of dishwashing liquid, and dip the air filter in it for 30 minutes. Take the filter out and wash it off being careful not to damage or dent it.

5.6 Dry Thoroughly

It's crucial to completely dry out the air filter after washing it since any water trapped inside might affect your engine’s performance.

To accelerate the drying of a foam air filter, use an air compressor. For a cloth air filter, you can spin and toss it a few times in the air to make it dry more quickly.

5.7 Oil the Air Filter

Apply fresh oil to the air filter after it has dried completely. Put the filter inside a plastic bag, either one with a zip lock or one large enough to tie a knot. Add filter oil to the bag and stir it around until the filter is completely covered.

5.8 Grease the Air Filter

Apply some oil to the rim, cage, or edges before reinstalling the air filter to ensure a tight seal to prevent dirt from seeping through.

5.9 Reinstall the Air Filter

Reinstall the air filter after finishing applying grease. Start your bike up to hear how it sounds and functions after putting the filter back in place and replacing any covers.

6. Do’s and Don’ts of Air Filter Maintenance

6.1 Do’s

Clean the Air Filter Regularly

It's not always possible to tell whether your motorcycle's air filter is clean just by looking at it. The air filter foam may trap small particles deep inside. Be aware that riding in difficult road conditions, such as dirt or muddy trails, might require replacing the air filter after each ride.

To protect yourself from harmful chemicals, use solvent-safe gloves when cleaning air filters.

Use an Air Filter Specific Oil

Not all oils are made the same. Motor oil can’t be applied to air filters since their thin viscosity will cause the oil to pass through the air filter foam and drip onto the engine. Spray-on or bottle-based air filter oil enters the foam cells, evaporates, and leaves a sticky residue behind to catch foreign particles. Don't forget to liberally grease the filter. The oil is meant to block particles, but the filter will not perform as well if not enough oil is applied.

Clean the Air Box

You should clean the air box at the same time you clean the air filter. A clean air filter can be quickly contaminated by a filthy airbox, decreasing its efficiency. Purchase a plastic air intake cover to cover the airbox when cleaning it. You can clean the air box with a cloth and soapy water.

Inspect the Air Filter Regularly

The intake system's air filter is intended to prevent particles from entering, but it won't last forever. Check the foam for tears, take note of any foam degradation, and carefully examine the glue seams when cleaning your air filter. It is best to change the air filter if there is any sign of damage. As a precaution, it is best to consider keeping additional air filters on hand. Clean the air filters in batches and store any extras in sanitized storage bags.

6.2 Don'ts

Don’t Clean Air Filters With Gasoline

While gasoline can remove impurities and old oil residue from foam filters, it can also destroy the foam cells and glue holding the foam strips together. To effectively clean an air filter, we advise utilizing applications designed for air filters. When done, dispose of cleaning agents properly.

Don’t Twist Out the Air Filter

Never wring the air filter. The foam tears when the filter is treated roughly. After applying a generous amount of air filter oil, carefully squeeze out any extra oil.

Don’t Forget to Take Your Time

Allow the air filter to naturally dry after cleaning it with a filter-specific liquid. Be sure to wash the filter with warm water and soap after that.

The removal of all contaminants is guaranteed by this procedure. After finishing, let the air filter dry. Don't use a dryer since the continuous spinning can shred the filter foam and weaken the seam adhesive.

7. Last Words

The air filter is an important component that helps maintain your motorcycle’s engine. However, despite being a crucial component, air filters are sometimes neglected. Air filters must be regularly checked and maintained to ensure the engine functions properly and last a long time. If you want to improve the overall look of your motorcycle, you can install saddlebags, crash bars, sissy bars, fairings, sissy bar bags, and handlebars.

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