What are the Different Kinds of Automotive Air Filters?

There are several types of air filters available on the market. Each has its benefits and cons. This page should help you understand the different air filter types and which one you should pick, based on your situation.

Paper Air Filters

These are the traditional air filter type. Paper air filters are economical and disposable. They filter dirt and debris relatively well, but they don’t allow for very good airflow. Paper filters block debris and dirt by capturing particles on the paper media. This process is called surface loading. When the surface is covered, the filter struggles to let air into the engine, and it’s time to toss the filter. If you’re looking to increase vehicle performance, these are not the air filters you’re looking for. Another thing to keep in mind, paper air filters aren’t meant to last long; they cannot be reused. They’re cheap and easy to replace. However, over time, they can end up costing a lot of money. Because you’re disposing of these air filters, consider where they might end up. Although some of these paper air filters get recycled, most of them end up sitting in dumps and landfills for years until they break down. There are currently around 253 million cars on the road in the US alone. Imagine the average air filter is replaced just once a year and you can see why this is a growing problem. Paper air filters are good for people who just want to maintain their vehicle at the minimal acceptable levels, as well as for those who would like to purchase a performance air filter, but can’t for the moment. Although, if you are considering a performance air filter but haven’t yet decided, you should keep reading.

Performance air filters are designed to actually increase the performance of your vehicle. The benefits of each type are unique.

Cotton Gauze Media Air Filters

Air filters that are made with cotton gauze filter media are among the best when it comes to both air flow and filtration. They are constructed with layers of cotton gauze sandwiched between wire mesh. The result is a sturdy air filter that can be washed and reused. To increase their filtration efficiency, a specially formulated filter oil is applied to the gauze. This makes the microscopic strands of the cotton tacky, or sticky, so that when debris and dust flows through the filter, even the tiniest specks stick to the oil and are pulled inside the cotton strands. This is a process called depth loading. Because the dirt is absorbed into the strands, unlike with a paper air filter, air can flow through the cotton media without hindrance. That means not only is the air entering your vehicle’s engine better filtered, but it also means more air is getting into the engine than with a paper filter. When a cotton media air filter needs to be serviced, all you have to do is wash it and re-oil it. So, although cotton media air filters cost more up-front, they’re more effective, over time you’re saving money, and you’re not throwing the filter away to contribute to the already massive waste problem. Cotton media air filters are perfect for people who want to increase the performance of their vehicle with superior airflow while providing exceptional engine protection.

    Key brands: K&N

Synthetic Media Air Filters

Another type of air filter available is the synthetic media filter. Synthetic filter media can also provide your vehicle with much better performance than paper air filters. Synthetic filter media is available in two types.

Dry Synthetic Filter Media

Dry synthetic filter media is a synthetic gauze-like material that does not require oiling. Dry synthetic media air filters provide great air flow and give increased protection versus stock air filters. Synthetic fibers achieve this by being much thicker than paper, therefore allowing the media to hold more dirt and flow more air. That increases the amount of time you have between servicing the air filter. Eventually, the surface of the synthetic filter media does get clogged with dirt and requires servicing. Dry synthetic media air filters are sturdy enough to be washed and reused, and because they don’t require oil, all you have to do is wash and reinstall. Dry synthetic media air filters are great for people who want to increase the service interval on their air filter, but don’t want to worry about oil.

    Key brands: AEM, AIRAID

Oiled Synthetic Filter Media

Oiled synthetic filter media is a gauze-like material that is a combination of cotton and synthetic fibers. This media blend provides some of the added benefits you’d normally only find in oiled cotton gauze media air filters. That means the oil causes dirt and debris to stick to the media, while allowing air to pass through unhindered. In these filters, you find a combination of surface and depth loading, meaning you get longer service intervals and better filtration. In this way, these oiled synthetic media filters are like a half-step between dry synthetic media air filters and cotton gauze media air filters. If you’ll be driving dusty and dry conditions, then an oiled synthetic media air filter is a great choice. Oiled synthetic media is also durable, so these air filters can be washed and reused. Oiled synthetic media air filters are a solid choice for those who need a long service interval on their air filter, but want some of the added protection oiled filtered media can provide.

    Key brands: Spectre, AIRAID