, , ,

Ewwww, What’s that Smell – Replace Your Car’s Cabin Filter in Minutes

Sharing is caring!


Driving two boys and a dog in the Handymobile several times a day can lead to some truly funky odors. The other day I found myself wondering what the latest funk could be attributed to. Was it the stinky socks and shoes left behind from water day at school?

stinky_shoes Or was it the countless remnants and crumbs that tumbled out of the kids’ mouths? snack_crumbs Or was it just a bad case of dog breath? doggie_breath There really is no telling exactly what causes the funk in my car. But, I can tell you that there could be one more culprit: very-dirty_cabin_air_filter That would be a filthy cabin air filter! This month I learned that it is easy to replace your car’s air filters. And just like you need to replace your home’s filters regularly, you should replace your car filters too! I’m embarrassed to say that I never changed my cabin filter. I just assumed the garage did it when they changed my oil four times a year. Well, I was sorely mistaken. I literally just had my oil changed this month and asked the mechanic if they automatically changed the air filter too. He answered, “Yes, ma’am. But, only if it needs it.” See, I figured I was fine. But, then I was contacted by Blogher and asked if I wanted to write a post about changing my car’s cabin air filter using a FRAM Fresh Breeze® cabin air filter. I was intrigued. And after watching the installation video on the FRAM Fresh Breeze website, I was confident knowing how to find the air filter. Okay, are you ready for this? This is the instructions for replacing your air filter on a 2003 Honda CRV. But, you can look up the instructions for your car here. Changing the cabin air filters was super simply! I can tell you that this took me under 10 minutes to do. And probably would have taken under 5 minutes if I hadn’t photographed every step. Here’s the pictorial how to guide, but you might want to look up the video tutorial for your specific car on FRAM’s website. Tools:

  • Two hands
  • Maybe a flat head screwdriver

Instructions: Open your glove compartment and empty it of all the squished granola bars, unused fast food napkins and salt packets, and that key that you were looking for 5 years ago! What, no gloves in my glove box? Whoever named it a glove compartment didn’t live in the south? open_glove_compartment Locate the stops (or glove compartment release levers) inside your glove compartment. stops_in_glove_compartment Pry the stops out and then remove them from the glove box. pull_stop_out Peek inside and look for the cabin filter cover. You might have to get down on all fours and look up into the dashboard. cabin_filter_housing Press the release lever and remove the cover. remove_air_filter_door Pull the first cabin filter out (your car may only have one filter, my car has two.) remove_old_filter Slide the tab for the second filter over to the left and remove it next. slide_remove_2nd_cabin_filter Hold your nose lest you sneeze your pollen-bombed head off: very-dirty_cabin_air_filter Yuck!!! Seriously, what constitutes “when needed” in the mechanics eyes! No wonder I sneezed every time I turned on the A/C in my car! We were breathing all that pollen, tree debris, dust and who knows what else. Bleck! close_up_dirty_auto-filter To remove the filter, pry up the old one and insert the new one in making sure the arrows are pointing down. remove_old_filter_replace Be sure to install the filters with the two tabs close together. line_up_tabs Re-insert the new filters by reversing the process of removing them. 1. Insert the first filter and slide it to the right. 2. Insert the second filter. 3. Replace the cabin filter housing door. 4. Press it firmly to lock in place. re-install_cabin_air_filters Lift the glove box back up and re-insert the stops. Press the stops in firmly to lock in place. insert_glove_compartment_stopsI can certainly breathe easier knowing that the new filters I installed are clean and will filter 98% of dust, dirt, and allergens. And the Arm & Hammer® Baking soda and charcoal filter will remove odors from the air entering our car. Sayonara cigarette smoke and exhaust fumes.

You might like to follow FRAM Fresh Breeze on Facebook and Twitter for tips and discounts on cabin filters!

*UPDATE: I’ve been driving around for a few days now and I can honestly say that the air in my car smells better and I haven’t sneezed once when turning on the air. PHGFancySign Disclosure: This is a sponsored post for FRAM via Blogher. I was sent two complimentary FRAM FreshBreeze Cabin Filters and compensation for my time. All images and copy are my own. I will always alert you when I am writing a sponsored post.

221 replies
  1. Jodi Blackmon
    Jodi Blackmon says:

    We just got a new Trane AC for our home last year and I am loving the ionized filter. I just have to take it out every few months and blow it with the air compressor. It also sucks all of the humidity and allergies out of the air. With a shedding dog and cat, I’m noticing less dust than before.

  2. Sharon Mochtyak
    Sharon Mochtyak says:

    Gosh, I had no idea that there even was such a filter. I am going to do that asap. I have been keeping a jar candle in my cup holder to make my car smell nice. Would much rather have a clean filter to clean the air instead of trying to hide it. Thanks for the tip.

  3. Suzanne T
    Suzanne T says:

    We always change our indoor air filters on the first day of the month. It makes it easy to remember. I’ve never changed my car’s air filter though. I’m getting grossed out just thinking about what’s in there!

  4. Deidre Miles
    Deidre Miles says:

    Thanks for this post! I never had thought about there being an A/C filter, but it totally makes sense! As far as the air filter that the mechanic checks when you get your oil changed, that would be your engine’s air filter. That filter is under the hood of your car and is easily changed as well. Changing the engine’s air filter yourself will save you $10-$20 at the mechanic when you get your oil change. I don’t think they ever check your A/C air filter unless you specifically ask them to. Now I’m off to check mine out! 🙂

  5. Kendi
    Kendi says:

    Just want to second the comment about the engine air filter vs the cabin filter! The engine air filter is usually much bigger, so they’re easy to tell apart. Anyway, I have an air purifier but I’m going to look into a plugin ionized filter too!

  6. Beth
    Beth says:

    Last fall I bought my first new to me car since my youngest was in diapers(she is almost done with high school). My rule is no dog(s) and no one eats in my “new” car. So far, so good!

  7. Christy H
    Christy H says:

    I keep wipes in my vehicle so while I’m going through the car wash, I wipe down all the surfaces I can reach!

  8. Sheila B.
    Sheila B. says:

    WOW! I never knew! Well, I knew there was an engine air filter…but a cabin one? I’m on it! 😀 Thank you so much! At home I keep the air as fresh as possible by replacing the furnace filter at regular (if not sooner) intervals through the year. Kansas gets pretty dusty so that is a critical element. But, my favorite, which is one I am implementing today in this gloriously tolerable 80 degree weather is to open windows to create a cross breeze. It really takes any musty smells and drives them out! 🙂

  9. Cassie
    Cassie says:

    Slightly embarrassed to admit it but I had no idea there was a filter to change. Oops. Definitely going to try this out, my car has been smelling less than fresh lately. I suppose I should do the same with our house too. Thanks!

  10. Heather
    Heather says:

    Great information – I will definitely be downloading that rebate and getting a new filter ASAP! Our car stinks – now I think I know why! LOL! I use baking soda when we have spills, but it still never smells very fresh!

  11. Kelly D
    Kelly D says:

    I open the windows as much as possible to let fresh air in and I try to use natural cleaning products to keep the air my family breathes healthy and fresh

  12. Colleen Taylor
    Colleen Taylor says:

    I’d love to do this, however, I’m afraid it might void my warranty or something crazy like that. I had mine changed some time ago by the dealer & it didn’t help one bit & it was quite expensive. I’d love to but am thinking I better not. Great advice though, Thanks

    • Brittany Bailey
      Brittany Bailey says:

      Colleen, I’d ask a few dealers or a garage mechanic about that. Your warranty isn’t voided if you change your oil filter, so I doubt changing your air filter would void the warranty. Besides, how would they know? 😉

  13. Lora W.
    Lora W. says:

    Well, apparently I’m not keeping the air clean in my car. Thanks for the great info! We each have an air purifier in our bedrooms that we run at night.

  14. Erika Jones
    Erika Jones says:

    I keep a reusable trash bag in my car and empty it very time I get gas. I also keep a tub of baby wipes in the car for all those grubby hands and occasional spills.

  15. Shelley
    Shelley says:

    We change the air filter in our house once a month. I had no idea cars had cabin air filters. I can’t wait to go check mine out to see how dirty it is. Thanks for a great giveaway!

  16. toni
    toni says:

    I like to keep Yankee candle air fresheners in the car. I had NO idea there was an air filter other than under the hood! I cant wait to replace mine! You are awesome with these handy fixes… I Love You!

  17. Patti
    Patti says:

    Holy Cow! My husband bought a truck that has an unpleasant smell in it. We’ve been buying air fresheners to keep it under control. I had no idea that maybe the filter needed changing. I had no idea there WAS a filter! Thanks for this great tip!

  18. Dorothea
    Dorothea says:

    I buy filters for my heating and cooling system that are good for a year, but as an easy reminder, I replace the old filter with a new one when the seasons change – in June when the air conditioner needs to be turned on, I put in a new filter, and again when the furnace needs to be turned on in November.

  19. Debbie C in MN
    Debbie C in MN says:

    I am doing this today! Up till now I just opened windows which of course is good but now I want to see what my cabin filter looks like! Thanks!

  20. DianeB
    DianeB says:

    Let me say, I had absolutely NO IDEA you could change a filter! How could I not know this? I try to keep all garbage OUT of the car, and since my Boston rides with me almost everywhere, I make sure to vacuum often and keep an air freshener in the car at all times!

    • Evelina Micall
      Evelina Micall says:

      Me too, DianeB! I don’t have any idea how to change the filter. This site has taught me so much. This is a perfect site to learn how to become handy at all times. Thanks a lot! 🙂

  21. Lisa Kubin
    Lisa Kubin says:

    I did not even know that there was a cabin air filter in my car. Running out to buy a Fram filter! My car is relatively new but always smells bad I have tried all kinds of air fresheners. Hope this solves my problem. Thanks for sharing and the chance to win!
    Lisa K.

  22. GG
    GG says:

    I am so glad I happened upon your blog. Thank you for your clear instructions as well as the photos. It make me feel that the project is ‘do-able’.
    For our house, my husband vacuums out the vents that a/c & heat flow through. We got a type of filter that has some extra properties. ( Wish I knew the official name!). He takes them outside and cleans them well. After they completely dry, he puts them back. He says he notices a difference in the air right away.
    We have an air cleaner in one room also. I don’t know about his car filter. He has a Honda accord 2004. So I will show him your instructions!

  23. Mary
    Mary says:

    I did not even know this was a thing! I just use the febreze air fresheners and try to dust when i notice it. The pollen is so bad where I live I always sneeze turning on my car in spring. My filter is probably disgusting!

  24. Cindy C.
    Cindy C. says:

    I have a 2006 Chrysler van. This will definitely be a project for this weekend.
    Two teenage boys and all their friends I cart around to and from football, weightlifting etc. plus a 65 pound dog can add up to SMELL.

    A few years ago, I found the greatest sanitizing, germicidal product. Admittedly, it is initially expensive; but it’s worth it’s weight in gold.


  25. Susan Smith
    Susan Smith says:

    I didn’t know my car had an air filter. I keep my car fresh by using an air freshner and keeping the garbage out of my car.

  26. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    I love to open my windows whenever the weather permits…..just love fresh air. Another clean air feature is that my husband does regularly change the furnace filters. That’s not only good for the furnace but for our health, too.

    Thanks, Brittany for the opportunity!

  27. Nataly Carbonell
    Nataly Carbonell says:

    I try to keep both my car and home clean and humid free and smelling fresh, I spray air fresheners and lit up candles. I also turn on the air purifiers sometimes.

  28. maria
    maria says:

    Took your advice and bought a new car air filter today to swap out the old one. I can’t remember when the last time it was replaced. Guess what, it’s missing from my car! I have to go back and look in my repair files to see when it was supposed to be done. Took all of ten minutes, start to finish and I stopped to stamp my feet over the missing one from the car.


  29. Jessie C.
    Jessie C. says:

    I mix lemon juice and water in the spray bottle and spray around our home and car once a week to help.
    tcarolinep at gmail dot com

  30. pam in illinois
    pam in illinois says:

    I am so glad for this post! I had a terrible smell coming from my air conditioner. I didn’t even know there was a filter in my car! Unfortunately, I can not find the filter for my car anywhere. There isn’t even a slot for it in the store.
    I guess I will have to try and find one on line but some of the places I looked said it wasn’t available. There is one for my car but not in stores .
    So my hunt is on!

  31. Renae
    Renae says:

    Clean ceiling fans often, it’s amazing how much dust and grime they accumulate and consequently spit around the room when they are on.

  32. Starr Greenwell
    Starr Greenwell says:

    I have my air conditioner filter in my car changed regularly and I have a large filter on my air/furnace at home and change it in spring and fall.

  33. Margaret Smith
    Margaret Smith says:

    we like to open our home and car windows when possible. We also like to use air freshners and light scented candles at home.
    Thanks so much.

  34. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    I change the house air filters twice a year and have the a/c units checked and cleaned annually. I also try to open the house up to fresh air as much as I can when the weather cooperates!

  35. Angela Kinder
    Angela Kinder says:

    We change the window AC air filter and make sure that all the fans are clean. We probably need to change the car’s air filter.

  36. Wild Orchid
    Wild Orchid says:

    We always have the windows open when the weather is pleasant to let the fresh air inside.

    Thanks for the chance to win!
    wildorchid985 at gmail dot com

  37. Margot C
    Margot C says:

    I don’t do much. In the house I open the windows. what I NEVER do is add so-called “air fresheners” – blech! Now I will change that car filter thingy though; that looks doable. Thanks!

  38. mickeyfan
    mickeyfan says:

    We recently had our home’s air ducts cleaned. Now THAT was gross–seeing what came out. And this filter in the car? Who knew there even was one?

  39. Anastasia
    Anastasia says:

    I try to keep the air fresh by keeping it circulating Open windows to let in an outside breeze. Use fans to spread that breeze around, pushing new air in and old air out

  40. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    We change our furnace filter monthly, even the expensive kind. With 4 animals and 3 humans in our house any dust and dander we can get that way, helps.

  41. Heather S
    Heather S says:

    I keep my windows(with screens) open often to naturally air out my house. Nothing replaces fresh air. I also have my car cleaned out and detailed once a year, vents and all!

  42. Lani
    Lani says:

    I roll the windows down whenever we drive home (lots of trees). Hopefully that fresh air pulls the stink from the back seat where my 2 boys sit! (sometimes it even works)

  43. Andrea
    Andrea says:

    Thanks! I didn’t know there was such a thing. I found out my car doesn’t have a cabin filter but there is an easy mod. No more spring mildew smell!
    -Andrea, RealPracticalHousewives.com

  44. Norma
    Norma says:

    I never even thought about the car air filters! I usually use car air fresheners, but I’ll have to have my daughter look up the filter instructions!

  45. Amy Tong
    Amy Tong says:

    my favorite tricks for keeping air clean and healthy in my home is changing the air con filer often. Wow, totally didn’t think of my car’s filter need to change at all until your post. Great tips and step by step in using the FRAM! Now, I better get one quick! Appreciate your post!

    amy [at] utry [dot] it

  46. Average Jane
    Average Jane says:

    That had never crossed my mind, but my car desperately needs that filter replaced! I’ll look into this weekend.

    Clean air in my house is a combination of replacing the a/c filter often, keeping the ceiling fan blades clean, and scooping the cat boxes daily.

  47. April V.
    April V. says:

    We keep the house full of plants – they’re the best air filter there is. Sadly, I’ve never changed the cabin filter in my car. I’ve changed an air filter on an old car but that was in the engine and I believe a different part altogether. I’m going to look into this!

  48. ky2here
    ky2here says:

    Do extra cleaning – treat the problem, not the symptom. You don’t need lots of aromas if you’ve removed the source of the odor.

  49. Samantha Daleo
    Samantha Daleo says:

    I try to keep my car fresh by cleaning it and wiping the seats down. I also make sure the air filter is changed on every oil change. As far as my home, so far all I am doing is vacuuming and dusting but I am enjoying all of the tips and ideas from your blog post as well as your readers comments.

  50. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    as a single mom, I am always crunched for time, especially in the mornings, so this looks like a great way to treat myself and not lose time!

  51. Liberty Boblett
    Liberty Boblett says:

    My trick for keeping the air clean in my home is keeping the air filter changed, making sure I dust and vacuum a couple of times a week, and running the hepa filter on my Rainbow vacuum.

  52. Becky Richied
    Becky Richied says:

    I am constantly going around and cleaning filters in the house, it’s amazing how quick they collect dust.

  53. Peter G
    Peter G says:

    I get the vents and dryer vent cleaned professionally once a year. I change all the filters and have an air purifier in the house.

  54. angie lilly
    angie lilly says:

    The biggest thing I do to keep my home air clean is to not use conventional cleaners for home or body, and that includes avoiding typical air fresheners too. I buy all green everything.

  55. Betty C
    Betty C says:

    I don’t have a cabin filter in my car but I sure would like to have one. I rely on open windows when the weather permits.

  56. Christine D
    Christine D says:

    In my car, I keep my windows down while the car is in the garage. In my house, if the weather is nice, the windows and sliding glass doors are opened. Otherwise, I use fragrant candles. Mop my floor with a nicely scented cleaner. In the bathroom, I use pretty stick diffusers

  57. Jack
    Jack says:

    I know it’s counter-intuitive, but the slightly-dirty air filter actually does a better job at catching pollen and dirt than a clean one.

    The filter is a bunch of fibers in a sheet that all the air gets sucked through. If there’s a little bit of dirt in the filter, that actually makes it better at trapping particles than if it’s just the filter paper/cloth/foam. (The new dirt gets stuck in clumps with the dirt that’s already there.)

    Think about a dirty sink strainer–are you worried about it letting more food bits into your drain when it gets clogged? No. It just stops draining eventually. The problem with dirty air filters is likewise: if there’s too much dirt in the filter, it’s harder and harder for your HVAC blower to pull air through. twigs and leaves are definitely a problem–but they won’t necessarily make your car smelly and they don’t make it dusty.

    If there’s a bunch of stuff in the filter that’s growing even tinier particles–like mold–that doesn’t get stopped by the filter anyhow, replace the filter ASAP. In that case, you’re just giving yourself a fresh blast of mold spores every time you turn on the fan. That’s not something that should normally happen, though–unless your air filter is getting wet and not drying out for some reason.

    In industrial applications, they use a restriction gauge to tell you how much air is getting through the filter–when it’s too difficult for the fan to pull air through, you replace the filter. Passenger cars don’t typically have that sort of indicator, but it’s not hard to tell if your HVAC system is having a hard time blowing at full capacity. If the filter is mostly clean except for twigs and leaves, and doesn’t have anything growing on it, you can safely shake it off and re-install it. If there’s a thick, caked-on layer of dust, it’s probably clogged enough to make replacement worthwhile (unless you really feel like vacuuming it out for some reason.)

    Another case that gets me to replace a filter right away is rodents. Feces and urine can foster viri and bacteria that won’t get stopped by the filter, so if you notice a rodent problem anywhere else in your car, definitely check the cabin air filter.

  58. Mitaka
    Mitaka says:

    When your mechanic says he changed your air filter he means the one that filters air entering your engine that’s used for fuel combustion. Cabin filter also known as polen filter or inner space filter is something most mechanics are not really concerned about since it doesn’t affect your car performance. Your best bet is to chance it yourself which in most models shouldn’t cost you more than 20 dollars and 5 minutes of your time. It’s best to change it every 15-20k miles or more often if you drive in dusty conditions (pretty much the same as the air filter).


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] 8. Change the Air Filters – Keep the car smelling great and help your HVAC system run more efficiently by changing your air filter with every 1-2 oil changes. This is an easy DIY job, learn how to change your air filters here. […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.