Homeowner Articles Can I Run My AC Without a Filter Temporarily

We’ve all been there before.

It’s a boiling summer day in the middle of July, and you’re stuck inside a stuffy and uncomfortable home. You’re sweating like you can’t believe it, and you’ve already drunk five bottles of water today (or Sweet Tea if that’s more your taste).

You desperately want to turn on your AC, but you remember that you haven’t had your filter replaced yet. You know you’re meant to have one, but you’re not sure that you can wait another minute.

This leaves you wondering one thing: can you run your AC without a filter, just for a brief period?

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Can You Run Your AC Without an Air Filter Temporarily?

Yes, but only for a maximum of 8 hours.

However, this is certainly not ideal, and you must take caution; or face potentially damaging your ac system.

Read on to understand why AC filters are so vital to your AC unit and the potential consequences of running your AC without a filter.

How Does an Air Filter Work?

HVAC technician changing out an AC filter

Put simply, the air filter’s job is to maintain your home’s air quality.

When you run your air conditioner, it is constantly cycling all of your house’s indoor air. It takes in warm air, absorbs heat, and re-releases the cooled air back into your home.

While this is a simple process, it can be made difficult by other debris found in your home.

The air conditioning unit may inadvertently take in the dirt, dust, or pet dander, which can be cycled and re-released into your home with the rest of the heated or cooled air.

This is why an air filter (aka AC filter) is crucial for your air conditioning system. The air filter is made of a material with tiny gaps that trap dirt, dust, and pamper, only letting clean air pass through.

Are There Many Negative Effects To Not Using an Air Filter?

Central AC Breakdown

There’s a reason why any professional would advise you not to use your air conditioner without a filter for more than eight hours, if at all.

This is because even short-term air conditioner use without a filter can have serious negative effects on your ac unit, and your air quality and can even cause health problems.

Here are some of the potential issues.

Problems with your HVAC system

– Frozen Evaporator Coils

In your air conditioner, the refrigerant which gives you cool air is stored in a mechanism called the evaporator coils.

As warm air sucked up by the HVAC system passes over these evaporator coils, the cold refrigerant in the coils removes their heat. However, when too much dust is on the coils, the coils cannot absorb as much heat.

This is a serious problem, as the heat in your home’s air helps keep the temperature of the evaporator coils in balance.

Without enough heat, the evaporator coils can freeze, giving you less heat and potentially seriously damaging your system.

– Damaged freon tubes

The coils and the compressor in your AC system are connected by a series of copper tubes called freon tubes (also called refrigerant lines).

These tubes, named after the popular refrigerant Freon, carry the refrigerant around your air conditioner system, keeping everything running.

You can easily imagine if any problems with your compressor or coils can leave you with damaged freon tubing.

– Condensate Drain Problems

Using air conditioning without a filter will impact your refrigerant lines and your home’s system.

When your evaporator coils remove humidity from the air, they turn this moisture into water, like how rain forms in the atmosphere. This water is then drained into the condensate drain, which is taken away from the HVAC unit.

If there is too much dust and dirt on the coils, these will also go down the condensation drain. This can clog the condensation drain, leading to problems with your air conditioning system.

– Higher Energy Bills

Without a filter installed, you can also expect to pay more bills. Cooling your home with inefficient evaporator coils will take more time and more power.

That means even higher energy bills!

Air Quality Problems

dusty home

Running your AC without a filter can damage your air conditioner and seriously lower your home’s indoor air quality.

When your HVAC system cannot filter the indoor air, this causes the blower motor to re-emit low-quality air back into your home.

Remember the dirt, dust, and pet damper that your air conditioner sucks in?

Without a filter, all these substances (along with other contaminants like mold spores) will be blown back into your home’s air, giving you poor indoor air quality.

Potential Health Problems

All these problems caused by a lack of an air filter on your air conditioner can seriously impact your health.

We’ve seen that your AC filter directly impacts the indoor air quality of your home. It makes sense then that you will have very poor air quality without a filter.

This can seriously impact your health, as time indoors in unfiltered air has been linked to short-term effects like irritation and headaches and long-term health problems like respiratory issues, heart disease and even cancer.

How Often Do You Need to Replace Your AC filter?

Regular maintenance is necessary to prevent dirt from building up in your AC system and to maintain an ideal indoor environment.

Energy Star recommends changing your AC filter at least every 3 months, if not more frequently. If it looks like you have a dirty filter, don’t wait for more dust to collect.

Change it now!

Can You Clean Your AC Filter?

To properly care for your AC system, it is important that you swap out dirty filters regularly. However, if your unit takes reusable filters, you don’t always need to buy a replacement filter.

You can increase the life span of your reusable air filters by cleaning them every one or two months; best done by using a vacuum that can suck up everything that other methods can’t.

Cleaning air filters can also help you save money. With a clean AC filter installed, your air conditioner works 5 to 15% more efficiently than a dirty filter.

It goes without saying that it’s even more efficient than going without a filter altogether!

So not only will a clean filter help cool your conditioned air, but it will save you money on your bills: especially if going without one might have you calling up AC repair a few days later.

Final Thoughts on Running Your AC system Without a Filter

Happy AC technician after AC installation

Air filters are crucial to your health and your AC’s health.

AC filters stop dirt and dust from building up in your air conditioning unit, keeping your AC system functioning and your wallet happy.

Without a filter, unfiltered air blows out of your system covered in contaminants that can impact your health.

If you’re in Greenville or Spartanburg County and need professional assistance swapping out air filters, don’t hesitate to contact one of our two offices.

And if you want more information on HVAC systems, cooling services, and home maintenance, make sure to check out the rest of our home improvement blog.

This article was written by Morgan Loch

Owner of Upstate Home Maintenance Services LLC and Local HVAC Guru

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