The air filter on your dirt bike or ATV is one of the most crucial components to maintaining the engine life of your machine.

The air filter prevents sand, dirt, pebbles, and small sticks - really just about anything that the air intake sucks in as you ride along - from entering the engine. A dirty air filter not only inhibits the rush of air to help cool your engine down but it can no longer adequately stop dirt and debris from getting into your 2-stroke and 4-stroke engine.

The air filter on your dirt bike or ATV doesn't have to be cleaned or replaced after every ride, though if you ride in the dunes or other sandy conditions, an after-every-ride cleaning is a very good idea. (Also a good idea in sandy conditions is using a filterskin.) Check the owner's manual of your ride for the standard interval in hours for when to clean the air filter. You'll need to log your riding hours and using an hour meter can help. It's also advisable to check the air filter as part of your regular maintenance routine. If you race, the cleaner the air filter the better. Failing to clean the air filter can damage the piston and block up the carburetor if you're riding one.

Cleaning the air filter is actually quite easy. If you're new to riding and about ready to clean the air filter for the first time or you're looking for perhaps an easier method than what you've been doing, MotoSport can help.

First, do you know where it's at? If so, jump ahead. If not, the air filter is located under your seat on a dirt bike and the same place on an ATV. It's probably a foam filter though you might have a paper filter like a K&N.

When cleaning paper air filters only use water and a cleaning solvent. Don't use abrasive brushes, harsh cleaning or forced air drying like a compressor. This can cause unseen damage to the filter and harm your motor. Air dry thoroughly.

The foam filter requires a bit more work. First, wash it by hand. Use gloves to prevent unnecessary exposure to toxins and other carcinogens. Fill a bucket with water and the appropriate cleaning solution. Some soaps and detergents can ruin the filter so ensure you're using a safe cleanser. Keep in mind some filter cleaners may work for one filter but not another. We'd suggest the No Toil Filter Maintenance Kit or the Maxima Air Filter Kit. Yes, it'll cost a bit more than a tablespoon or two of existing dish soap in your kitchen, however everything you need to get back on the trails or track is in this kit. Plus, you don't have to worry about the efficacy or safety of unknown cleaners. Just buy the kit - it's only $18! But make sure the kit you use is compatible with the filter in your ride.

Once you've decided on a cleaner (like the one in the kit) get scrubbing. Actually don't! Consider the air filter like your mom's Thanksgiving linens. Hand wash it well but don't wring or rub overly hard. Let the cleanser work for you. You can squeeze excess water out but that's about it. Rinse it well. Once you've cleaned the air filter let it air dry COMPLETELY. Don't put in the laundry dryer or use a heat gun or hair dryer. This means you can't clean the air filter a few hours before riding.

On to the air box. If the air filter needs cleaning so does the air box. Clean out residual dust and any pebbles, sticks or other debris the air filter caught. Use a solvent to remove residual grease or oil in the airbox. It'll be sticky in there and a bit hard to clean. Investing in an airbox cover is advisable which is nice to have anyway when cleaning and washing your dirt bike or ATV. An airbox cover prevents water, cleaner and left-over debris from getting into your engine through the air intake.

How To Oil Air Filter

Now that the air filter is COMPLETELY dry it's time to oil it. If you took our advice and bought the No Toil or Maxima kit then you already have air filter oil. Many methods to oiling an air filter exist. You can massage the oil around using your gloved hands. Another less messy option and probably more thorough is combining some oil along with the filter inside a plastic bag and rolling/squishing/massaging the filter around until it's completely covered in oil. Make sure the oil is spread evenly without heavily oiled spots.

Squeeze out excess oil and let air dry for 30 minutes or when it gets tacky. You'll need some rim grease which you already have since you bought the air filter kit or use an air filter gasket. Apply rim grease around the rim of the filter and pop it back on to your dirt bike or ATV.

If you'd rather not deal with the grease, oil and clean-up mess, buy a pre-oiled air filter. It's ready to go once the air box is clean. Throw out the old, install the new. Some riders prefer this to buying the cleaning kit and for the efficiency.

One final note since we're talking air filters. If you race or just like equipping your dirt bike or ATV with higher end parts then check out the No Toil Super Flow Air Filter Kit when you buy the maintenance kit we suggested earlier. The Super Flow kit replaces the stock filter and cage assembly and allows the maximum amount of air through the intake while maintaining the highest in engine protection. It includes a two-stage, flame resistant foam air filter too.

Additional tips:

  • Plan ahead and take your time
  • Buy multiple air filters and have them oiled in a bag and ready to use
  • During installation ensure filter is seated correctly and firmly mated to airbox surface
  • Consider an air filter bolt for easier install