Dryers that don’t dry, vacuum cleaners that don’t clean, and air conditioners that don’t cool might be plagued by the same problem: a clogged or dirty filter.
To keep many appliances in tip-top shape, you have to clean or replace a filter. In fact, that’s the first thing to check when something seems awry.
It’s not always an easy task. When Consumer Reports tests vacuums, air conditioners, dishwashers, and other appliances, filter replacement is one of the things we consider as part of our ease-of-use score.
Ultimately, any appliance with a filter that cleans air or water needs attention. How often depends on how much you use the appliance and what the manufacturer recommends to get optimal performance.
“Some of your appliances are so essential to keeping your home clean that it’s easy to forget that cleaning your appliances should also be part of the annual springtime ritual of scrubbing, polishing, and purging,” the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers says. Here’s our advice on the filters you should change or replace, and how often.
If you have a water dispenser or an icemaker in your refrigerator, you’ll need a filter to remove small particles or contaminants, such as lead and chlorine, and impurities that cause bad tastes or odors. The filters have to be replaced whirlpool filter 1 periodically following the guidelines in your owner’s manual, often twice per year. If your refrigerator’s water-supply line uses a filter, replace that, too.
For more on refrigerators, see our refrigerator ratings and buying guide.
Dishwashers are equipped with either an automatic filter that grinds food particles so that they wash away with the wastewater or a manual filter that you need to clean yourself. The grinders can be noisy, so quiet dishwashers often have manual filters. They should be cleaned at least every three to six months depending on how often you use your dishwasher. Some manufacturers recommend cleaning the filter every two or three weeks, so check the owner’s manual.
“Dirty filters won’t damage a dishwasher but will affect its performance,” says Larry Ciufo, who tests dishwashers for Consumer Reports. Be sure the heating element has cooled down before you reach into the machine.
For more on dishwashers, see our dishwasher ratings and buying guide.
Water filters have different life spans depending on the type. Typically, the filter in a carafe water filter is good for 40 gallons. It’s up to you to keep track because few carafe water filters indicate when it’s time to change the filter.
Failing to periodically change the filter can result in water that’s dirtier than before you filtered it. Our water filter ratings include the yearly filter-replacement cost for each model; it ranges from $30 to $180 annually.
Some water filters connect to your water line under the sink or mount on your faucet to filter out sediment, lead, and other contaminants. The filters should be changed periodically, usually after 100 gallons, or about four months. Some have built-in indicators that let you know when it’s time. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for your model’s recommended maintenance schedule. The replacement filters range from $40 to $400.
For more on water filters, see our water filter ratings and buying guide.
Most air purifiers have a filter indicator (often a light) that alerts you when the filter should be checked and possibly replaced. Though you can simply wipe down most prefilters, the main HEPA filter should be replaced about every six to 12 months, or as your manual advises. We factor this expense—new filters can cost between $50 and $100 or more annually—into the annual costs listed in our air purifier ratings.
Keep in mind that some newer air purifiers will notify you when it’s time to change a filter based on how much you’ve used the unit, and others base their alert on a set number of hours.
“So if you run your purifier less often, you should inspect the filter before tossing it to keep from replacing it unnecessarily,” says CR’s Dave Trezza, who oversees our air purifier tests.
For more on air purifiers, see our air purifier ratings and buying guide.
Some models have filter maintenance lights; if not, check and clean this filter every one to three months, or more often if you cook frequently. Slide the filter out of the range hood and into a sink filled with hot water and a good degreasing soap. Let it soak for at least 10 minutes. Use a sponge to carefully remove any remaining grease or debris. Then air-dry and reinstall. If a good cleaning doesn’t get the grime off, you’ll need a replacement, which usually costs about $10 to $15.
For more on ranges, see our range ratings and buying guide.
Over-the-range microwaves also have filters that need attention (unlike countertop units, which don’t). A filter with grease buildup results in a fan that can’t exhaust properly or capture cooking fumes, leaving a sticky film on appliances and kitchen walls. To keep it clean, wash the filter in warm, soapy water at least twice a year, more often if you cook at home most nights. Some microwaves have dishwasher-safe filters.
For more on OTR microwaves, see our microwave ratings and buying guide.
A dirty lint filter can extend drying time and lead to lint buildup in the dryer’s cabinet and duct. So in addition to cleaning the lint filter between loads of laundry, also inspect the duct and cabinet every few months to check for lint buildup, which poses a fire hazard. Some newer dryers have blocked vent sensors that detect reduced airflow, but not all the sensors performed well in our clothes dryer tests, making a visual inspection the safest bet.
For more on dryers, see our dryer ratings and buying guide.
Failing to change the filters in your vacuum cleaner may cause it to lose suction or worse, spew dust back into the air. Changing the filters regularly, especially on bagless models, saves work and aggravation. Frank Rizzi, who tests vacuums for Consumer Reports, says that every model is different, so consult the owner’s manual to see how often the filter should be changed and whether it can just be washed instead.