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Three Basic Types of Motorcycle Air Filters

Three Basic Types of Motorcycle Air Filters

A motorcycle air filter is one of the simplest parts but it has a significant impact on the motorcycle’s overall performance. They filter the dust and debris from the incoming airflow and let clean air enter the carburetor/fuel injectors to mix with the fuel. A clogged air filter not only fails to filter the air but also keeps air from passing through it, resulting in degraded engine performance. There are different types of motorcycle air filters based on material, including cotton, foam, and paper air filters. Read this article to learn about the three basic types of motorcycle air filters.

1. Three Basic Types of Motorcycle Air Filters

1.1 Cotton Filters

Cotton Filters
Photo Credit:  Two Step Performance

Cotton gauze filters are the premium type of motorcycle air filters as they are more expensive and difficult to clean than the other filters. Though costly, they last longer and encourage optimum airflow. The filtration quality of cotton gauze filters is also good. They are made of cotton gauze fabric, making them lightweight and rigid. Cotton gauze filters are oil-coated to trap dirt more effectively. They can also be cleaned and reused.

1.2 Foam Filters

Foam Filters
Photo Credit:  Fun Bikes

Foam filters are often found on most older motorcycles and a few dirt bikes. They can also be easily cleaned and reused. Foam filters are cheaper than cotton gauze air filters but are slightly more expensive than paper filters. However, the foam used is mostly dense which can reduce the breathability of the air filter and reduce airflow, which can get even worse if clogged. For this reason, foam filters require excessive cleaning. Due to performance issues, they are not as common as paper and cotton gauze filters. Unlike cotton-gauze filters, foam filters do not interfere with airflow sensors. They also last longer if maintained and cleaned properly.

1.3 Paper Filters

Paper filters are the most common air filters, being stock features found on most motorcycles. Most manufacturers prefer paper filters because they are easy to manufacture and economical. They are also the cheapest air filter. However, paper filters cannot be cleaned and reused. They must be replaced with new ones if no longer in good condition.


Paper filters use porous paper to filter air. The paper is folded into multiple layers to increase the surface area of the filter for better filtration. They are less effective in dusty conditions and get clogged more easily.

2. Pros and Cons of Cotton Filters

Pros of Cotton Filters Cons of Cotton Filters
Lasts longer Most expensive filters
Allows good airflow Complex cleaning procedure
High-quality filter Requires a cleaning kit
Good filtration The oil can interfere with the airflow sensors
Reusable  
Can be cleaned  
Uses oil to trap dust  
Can be re-oiled after cleaning  

3. Pros and Cons of Foam Filters

Pros of Foam Filters Cons of Foam Filters
Cheaper than cotton gauze filters Performance issues
Lasts longer Uses denser foam
Reusable Reduce breathability
Can be cleaned Reduced airflow
Do not interfere with airflow sensors Require excessive cleaning
  Gets clogged and dirty easily
  Low filtration

4. Pros and Cons of Paper Filters

Pros of Paper Filters Cons of Paper Filters
Cheapest Cannot be cleaned
Easy to manufacture Cannot be reused
Economical Must be replaced regularly
Most common air filter Not ideal in dusty conditions
  Low filtration
  Gets clogged and dirty easily

5. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

5.1 Why Clean Motorcycle Air Filters are Essential for Better Engine Performance?

A motorcycle engine uses a balanced mixture of air and fuel to generate power. For smooth engine performance, the motorcycle air filter must be cleaned as a clogged air filter does not let clean air pass through it, and the motorcycle will run on a rich air/fuel mixture. Less air in the carburetor/fuel injector system creates a vacuum that draws more fuel into the engine, resulting in the engine overheating and more fuel consumption. Just like constant fuel delivery is necessary for motorcycle engines to operate, constant and clean airflow is also essential for more power, good acceleration, and quicker throttle response.

5.2 What is the Most Common Type of Motorcycle Air Filter?

Paper pleat air filters, or paper filters, are the most common motorcycle air filters due to being cheap and easy to manufacture.

5.3 How Often Should You Change a Motorcycle Air Filter?

Motorcycle air filters should be changed every 12,000 miles of travel. However, if you are riding in dusty conditions, you should regularly check the condition of the air filter.

5.4 Which is Better: Cotton Gauze Filter, Foam Filter, or Paper Filter?

Paper filters are the most popular motorcycle air filters due to being cheaper. However, they are not ideal for heavy filtration and get clogged easily. Out of all the three basic air filter types, cotton gauze filters are highly effective and ensure good airflow for better combustion. Though the most expensive, they last longer and can be easily cleaned and reused.

6. Final Words

Motorcycle air filters have a simple structure, but they are essential for smooth engine performance as they filter the air entering the engine. Less air in the air/fuel mixture means less engine power. Hence, air filters should be cleaned and operational at all times. Clogged/dirty air filters can result in poor fuel economy, performance, and rough idling.


All three basic motorcycle air filter types have their advantages and disadvantages. It depends on how much you want to spend on an air filter and what the riding conditions are in your area. Despite being the most expensive of all, cotton gauze filters are the most effective and ensure better airflow and filtration. However, paper filters are the cheapest and more common.


If you want to improve your motorbike’s comfort on long-distance rides, Viking Bags offer several aftermarket parts, including sissy bars, handlebars, seats, and backrests. You can also find high-quality crash bars and fairings for your motorcycle’s safety. For a better touring experience, Viking Bags also has different luggage options, including handlebar bags, backpacks, and saddlebags.

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