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How to Clean an RC Air Filter In 5 Steps

Keeping your RC’s air filter clean is imperative to the performance of the engine and ensuring the longest life possible for the RC and vehicle components. How exactly you go about cleaning is a strong influencer on the efficiency with which your engine runs. Here we’ll lay out five steps you need to follow to clean and oil your RC air filter.

How do you clean an RC air filter? To clean your RC air filter, follow these 5 steps:

  1. Remove dirt and debris from around the throttle
  2. Remove the filter(s) from the holding piece
  3. Wash the filter with soap and warm water
  4. Thoroughly dry the filter
  5. Apply air filter oil and reattach to the carburetor.

When cleaning your RC air filter, you need to cover all of your bases: check that the filter is not only clean, but in good physical condition, check that the filter containment piece is also in good condition, thoroughly dry and oil your filter, and match the frequency of your cleaning routine to the frequency and intensity with which you use your RC.

How to Clean Your RC Car Air Filter

It is important to keep your RC’s air filter clean to allow the optimal performance of the engine and to extend the life of the engine by reducing the risk of damage by any dirt and other debris that may get caught up in the filter.

Remember that when you clean your RC air filter you need to oil the filter afterward. The primary purpose behind the use of oil in the cleaning process is to protect your filter from rust and to increase the ease with which your engine performs between cleanings. (Look for an oil that is specialized for automotive – or even better, RC-specific – uses, as something like WD-40 is too thin in nature).

Step 1: Remove Dirt and Debris From Near the Throttle

You need to ensure that you do not have too much dirt or other potentially damaging particles (i.e., debris, dust) from near the throttle and on the body of the RC in general. You can choose to remove these particles with your hands by blowing on the RC body or using compressed air as a duster. 

You can use compressed air in a can or even use a small air compressor but be sure that the compressed air you use isn’t too powerful that it will damage the filter or other parts of your RC vehicle. 

Step 2: Remove The Filter and Wash If Needed

Once the debris has been removed, you are ready to remove the sponge or foam air filter element from the carburetor. Depending on the design of your filter, there may be one or more foam elements present in the rubber containment piece.

When you remove these foam elements, give them an inspection both visually and physically. If there is oil remaining on the filter – especially for those secondary pieces that may be positioned underneath another filter – you do not have to apply any additional oil.

The purpose of the oil is partially to assist in catching dirt and dust particles, and overdoing the amount of oil may end up contradicting this purpose and clogging the filter instead.

You also need to make sure that the filter is still in generally good shape: If the foam is beginning to disintegrate, it is time to replace that piece, as a compromised filter is unable to efficiently do its job, no matter how well you clean it!

If the Foam Filter is Dirty…

For the foam elements that are dirty upon removal, you need to take them aside and wash them with soap and warm water. Many owners of RCs have found that dishwashing liquid works best for this step.

When cleaning the foam piece, it is imperative that you have the element positioned in such a way that it will not work against your efforts to clean it. Do this by positioning the dirty side (there should be a distinction between the “dirty” and “clean” sides of the foam piece, if not, simply choose the darker end of the gradient as the “dirty” side) down toward the ground.

This is simply to ensure that the debris you are rinsing and washing out of the foam is not being pushed further into the foam.

Step 3: Apply Air Filter Oil to the Filter

You do not have to be particular with the type of air filter oil you use for your filter. In fact, you can find usable air filter oil at hardware stores, hobby shops, or automotive shops. (It’s especially easy to find at stores such as Lowe’s or Home Depot that sell lawn care equipment or other appliances that would need air filter oil.)

When applying the oil, you need to place an even amount of oil over the surface of the foam (it doesn’t matter which side, since both sides should be clean at this point). Squeeze the foam filter to allow the oil to work itself into the piece and make sure that it is thoroughly absorbed into every bit. Once complete, your foam piece should be completely coated, but not drenched by the oil.

You can do this step by hand while wearing gloves or, after applying the oil to the surface of the foam filter, you can simply pop the filter into a plastic bag and massage the oil into the piece.

Note that your foam filter MUST BE DRY before moving onto this step! We all know that oil and water do not mix, so any oil that you apply to a wet foam piece will simply trickle out of the foam and will do nothing for the performance of the filter.

See the instructions of the oil you’re using for the recommended amount for application. Some hobbyists recommend Marvel’s Mystery Oil, while others swear by Traxxas. Depending on the brand and intended use, the ideal application amount may vary.

Step 4: Reinsert the Filter Into the Rubber Base

Now you are ready to place the filter back into the rubber base. Before placing the filter into the rubber base, you need to clean any debris that may be remaining in the housing itself. For this, you can use the compressed air you used earlier.

When doing so, you need to make sure that, if there are any additional elements in place alongside the foam piece you washed, that there is no gap between the multiple filter elements. If there are any gaps left between the pieces, this may leave room for dust and debris to flow through, thus making your filter inefficient.

Additionally, you want to make sure that the foam filter is properly fitted into the rubber base. This is another way by which you can tell whether your filter has begun to disintegrate or not. A proper fit into the rubber base would entail a firm seal around the entire filter. There should be no gaps between the foam piece itself and the walls of the rubber base.

Any gaps left here would allow even more debris to get through than if there was only a gap between multiple foam elements.

Step 5: Reattach the Air Filter Onto the RC Engine

Now that your filter is properly cleaned and oiled, you are ready to reattach it to the carburetor. This is another point at which you can inspect the rubber base of the filter and determine whether it has warped or deformed in any way, as you want the rubber piece to fit snugly into the carburetor.

If it is deformed or damaged this is a good point to replace the rubber base or the filter entirely. You want the filter to be an exact fit and the small price to replace the rubber or filter entirely is far cheaper than allowing the other parts of the engine to be damaged. 

How Often Should I Clean My RC Air Filter?

The frequency with which you need to clean your RC air filter depends on the intensity with which you use your vehicle, the frequency with which you use it, and the conditions you use it in. Some people recommend cleaning your air filter after every hour of use, while others suggest cleaning after every thirty minutes of use. 

To decide how often you need to clean your air filter, take into consideration the three aforementioned aspects. If you use your vehicle in more desert-like conditions – with lots of sand, wind, and general exposure to natural elements – then you will need to clean your air filter more often. On the other hand, if you find yourself using your RC car on pavement more often, you can pull back on the cleaning routine and clean a little less often. 

If you still aren’t quite sure how to properly clean your filter you can check out the video below.

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Ultimately it is better to clean your filter more often than necessary than to let it go too long between cleanings. The small amount of time invested in cleaning your filter regularly is well worth it to extend the life of your RC engine.