Motorcycle Air Filters: What Are They And What Do They Do?

Having good motorcycle air filters is essential if you want your bike to perform at its best.

If you aren’t familiar with them, they essentially serve as barriers between your engine and any dust and dirt particles. They allow your bike to “breathe” easily. Without them, performance will be affected and make the whole biking experience take a downward turn.

This is why maintaining a clean air filter is crucial. Knowing what it does, when to replace it, and what to replace it with is your job as an owner. So, how do you do it? Here’s what you need to know.

What Do Motorcycle Air Filters Do?

Air filters are essential parts of motorcycles because they catch any dust or dirt particles that may enter your engine. Unwanted particles can easily wear down your piston rings and cylinder walls in no time without air filters.

This makes them a very effective way of making sure that your engine performs optimally. They come in oiled gauze, oiled foam, and paper varieties.

Where are Motorcycle Air Filters Located?

You can easily find your air filter by removing the air filter cover on the side of your engine.

If you’re struggling to locate it, simply check your user’s manual for help. Meanwhile, in case you lost the manual, check online by using the make, model, and year of the bike.

How Often Should I Clean or Replace Motorcycle Air Filters?

When air filters are full of dirt and grime, clean air will have a hard time entering your engine. This can lead to reduced performance and poor fuel efficiency.

Depending on where and how you ride, you should clean air filters either after every ride or every 10,000 miles. For example, you must clean the air filters on dirt bikes at least every other ride while others can go longer.

For other types of bikes, check the filter every 10 rides or so to see how quickly it gets dirty. This will give an idea of how quickly the grime builds up so you can work out a cleaning schedule.

Additionally, you should check air filters during every motorcycle servicing period. Make sure to check and inspect the air filter every 3,000 miles.

What Kinds of Motorcycle Air Filters are There?

You can divide motorcycle air filters into three categories. They are the following:

Paper Filters

Paper filters can easily be mistaken as coffee filters at first glance. They’re pleated like an accordion to increase their surface area and improve their ability to trap dirt.

However, while effective at catching dirt, these filters are poor in terms of enhancing airflow. Another disadvantage is that they’re disposable—any attempt to clean them will only break them down and render them useless. Once they get dirty, you have to replace them at about $40 a pop.

Still, their design and efficiency ensure a longer lifespan than normal.

Oiled Gauze Filters

These filters replace the paper membrane of paper filters with thin layers of oil-coated fabric. A thin wire mesh frame also usually separates the layers.

Oiled gauze filters look similar to paper filters. But, since gauze is more porous than paper, they provide superior airflow. The oil coating also makes sure that any dirt or grime is easily trapped.

Plus, since they can hold a large amount of dirt, you can get more miles as compared to paper filters. They’re ideal if you’re looking to fit an exhaust or remap your bike to improve its peak torque and horsepower.

Just remember, though, that a filter alone isn’t enough to increase the power. You need other modifications, like fine-tuning your fuelling, installing cams, etc., to see improvements.

Other than that, oiled gauze filters are perfect if you want a highly-efficient filter that won’t end up in the landfill. This is because compared to the disposable paper type, you can simply wash and re-oil them before refitting.

Yes, they’re more expensive than paper filters (around 50-100% more plus about $20 for a cleaning and re-oiling kit.) But, you’ll end up saving more in the long run simply because you can clean them rather than replace them.

Oiled Foam Filters

Oiled foam filters work like oiled gauze filters, but they’re much thicker. They’re usually an inch thick, making them excellent at catching any grime particles in the air.

Moreover, they can work even when wet and can hold a lot of dirt while still allowing good airflow. Paper and oiled gauze filters struggle with this, which is why foam filters are a favorite among off-road riders.

The downside is that you have to wash and re-oil them more frequently (sometimes as often as every ride.) This may not be an issue if you have a dirt bike or quad with an accessible airbox. However, it’s going to be such a big hassle to put up with if you’re a regular street rider.

How Do I Clean Motorcycle Air Filters?

Cleaning air filters is quite easy and you can do it on your own even without special training. Simply pull out the air filter, wash it clean, and put it back once it dries. But, for a disposable paper filter, just throw the old one out and replace it with a new one.

How you clean your air filter depends on the type that comes with your bike. Let’s now look at how to clean each kind:

Paper Filters

As mentioned, you cannot clean paper filters and should be disposed of. Cleaning them will only damage them and make them completely useless.

If they seem unsatisfactory and need frequent replacements, consider spending a little more on gauze and foam filters.

Foam Filters

These filters are more expensive than paper filters but are still fairly inexpensive. Although you can only clean them a few times, they’re certainly more long-lasting than paper filters. Cleaning foam filters is easy, but we still recommend reading the manual since there may be small differences per manufacturer.

Generally, you start by removing the filter from its housing. Make sure to carefully knock out as much dirt as possible from the filter.

Next, wash it with the chemicals included in cleaning kits and follow the instructions on how to use them. Apply the air filter cleaner thoroughly and gently massage it to loosen all the dirt. Remember to wear gloves during this step so your hands won’t come in contact with the chemicals.

Submerge the filter in a mild soap and water solution to get rid of any residual grime. You can use a gentle dishwashing soap for this step. Repeat this process two to three times to get rid of any dirt. Lastly, set the filter aside to dry. Once it’s dry, saturate it with fresh filter oil and put it back into your motorcycle.

Just remember to never scrub, pull, or twist foam filters. Plus, make sure they’re completely dry before reinstalling them. If you notice any tears or loose foam, it’s best to buy a new one.

Gauze Filters

These are by far the most expensive of the three. However, if maintained properly, these can work without any glitches for a long time.

Cleaning gauze filters is very similar to cleaning foam filters. Remove any excess dirt, use the right chemicals, and follow the cleaning kit instructions. Wash and rinse the filter at least three times and let it dry.

However, the drying part is a rather fun and interesting process. Toss the filter in the air and constantly spin it to remove the excess water from the inner layers. Never use a compressor to squeeze the water out as it will damage the filter beyond repair. Once you’re satisfied with the tossing, set the filter aside to dry completely before fitting it back in its housing.

Motorcycle Air Filters Do’s and Don’ts

  • Never puncture holes in your old and dirty filters.
  • You can use most OEM or manufacturer-approved air filters in street motorcycles for 15,000 to 20,000 kilometers.
  • Check your air filter periodically to ensure a longer engine life if you normally bike in dusty conditions.
  • Always choose to invest in OEM air filters. Never buy cheaper or inferior products and brands.
  • Only apply air filter modifications that experts recommend.
  • For off-roading enthusiasts, have an extra set of air filters for emergency sojourns. This will help save time and ensure that your engine stays in its best shape.
  • If riding in the rain or flooded areas, make sure to always kill the engine to prevent water from entering. A thorough check and clean-up are also necessary. Moreover, check and replace the engine oil even if you just recently changed it.


Motorcycle air filters are an important yet often neglected part of your bike. You must monitor them regularly to ensure your engine’s life and performance.

We hope this post explained how essential air filters are. Make sure to focus on them as well to always have that “best ride of my life” feel.

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