I can already hear many of you saying, “Change my what?” Of course, there are plenty of motorists who’ve never even heard of a pollen filter, never mind thought about changing one. But for many, it’s a regular action that adds extra pleasure to the driving experience.

You might have heard it called a ‘cabin filter’, yet whatever label or name it takes, its job is just the same.

So, what does a pollen filter actually do?

You’d be forgiven for thinking it only filters out pollen from the atmosphere. However, despite that being one—and a pretty important part—of its jobs, it protects drivers and passengers from irritating air bound particles that would, without the filter, work their way into your car.

So, if not merely pollen, what else?

  • Dust
  • Dirt
  • Leaves and twigs
  • Exhaust fumes
  • Pollutants
  • Allergens

If any of your family—or any other passenger, for that matter—suffers from conditions such as asthma, hay fever, or other respiratory problem, your pollen filter is responsible for removing the harmful or irritating elements that trigger their symptoms.

As you can imagine, it’s a must for them to have a clean and efficient filter in action and a nice healthy car cabin. For everyone else, it keeps the inside of your car smelling clean and fresh and protected from a host of harmful elements.

Working hard in the city and the country

Your pollen filter works pretty hard around towns and cities with heavy traffic. I don’t think anyone would be surprised to hear how many poisonous fumes come from our car exhausts.

If you’re sandwiched in motorway tailbacks and congestion or regularly sat in town traffic—whether queued up at the lights or in the slow-moving parade of the school run—your pollen filter is continually catching all those nasty fumes and saving your lungs from a battering.

Another prime example is the hard work a pollen filter does to protect passengers out in the country. “What?” I hear you say, “In all that fresh air and clean countryside goodness?”

Well, you’d be surprised. For many off-road adventurers or working motorists, regular travel along country tracks and dusty roads throws up masses of tiny dirt and dust particles, leaves, twigs, and insects.

And guess what’s there to catch it all and stop it from infiltrating your car? That’s right—your pollen filter.

Why do I need to change my pollen filter?

Given the many different types of dirt, dust, fumes, and contaminants your pollen or cabin filter catches, why you should regularly change it should seem obvious.

It’s there to protect you, and if it’s clogged full of contaminants, it can’t do its job anywhere near as well as it should. But, there’s more to it than that.

Nobody needs a musty smelling car

Stale and fusty smells are one thing, but when they’re irritating your passengers with health issues, you need to sort it out right away.

It can affect your air conditioning

When your pollen filter is full of gunk and debris, your air conditioning has to work harder to deliver the cold air you expect from it.

When your AC is working harder than it should, you might notice unusual noises, and it’ll be using more energy than it should, bumping up its usual economic performance.

A choked-up cabin filter prevents demisting in the cabin

The components that affect your car’s air conditioning and the heaters in your vehicle can disrupt their performance. A clogged up, filthy pollen filter is no exception.

Each part of your vehicle’s HVAC system (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) is dependent on the free flow of air into the car. You can even save money by protecting the HVAC system, preserving it, and extending its lifespan.

With reduced HVAC performance, your windows will take longer to clear, or you may notice them misting up far more often than usual.

How often should you change your pollen filter?

Sadly, pollen filters have a relatively short lifespan compared to many other components. Depending on your usual travelling environment, they’ll probably only last a couple of years.

Manufacturers’ recommendations suggest replacing every 12 to 15k miles on average. Of course, each manufacturer has its own unique specifications, so it’s always worth checking your owner manual for your make and model.

Symptoms of a failing or clogged pollen filter

  • Your car’s cabin starts to smell musty or mouldy, especially from the vents. You might notice it more when the AC or heater fans are turned on.
  • The flow from your Air Conditioning isn’t as powerful as it normally is.
  • Passengers with allergies or breathing issues show increased symptoms while in the vehicle.
  • Windows fogging more often than usual.

Changing your pollen filter

Again, you’ll have to consult your owner’s manual to find out where your pollen filter is located, but once you know where it is, it’s often a fairly straightforward job to pop a new one in place. They’re usually sat behind the glove compartment, underneath the bonnet, or behind the dashboard, so a basic level of DIY mechanic skills can come in handy.

If you’re not keen on stripping out panels or getting your hands dirty, ask your mechanic to add it to your service items, or if it’s particularly musty in the cabin, it’s probably worth booking your car in for a quick change over.

Can you clean a pollen filter?

You can, but it’s far from ideal, and it won’t provide the same kind of protection as a new filter. Given the materials a pollen filter is constructed of, you can’t wash them, only vacuum the worst of the dust and debris from it. It might work as a temporary solution to the worst-case clogged filters, but ultimately you should have it replaced as recommended.