What Is A Good Substitute For Air Filter Oil?

Performance air filters use a bit of a lubricant to help give them a seal when it's seated in place. But what if you aren't able to locate any of this oil? We researched lubricants from multiple professional sources so that you'll know what you can substitute.

If you are out of air filter oil, you can use regular motor oil in its place. The lubricating quality of motor oil and its similar consistency to air filter oil make it a worthy substitute.

Now that you can substitute regular motor oil for air filter oil, we'll examine why you need to lubricate the air filter. You might also want to know if you can use WD40 in place of air filter oil or if you can use an air filter without oil. For the answers to these questions and more, read ahead in this post and see what our research has uncovered.

Why you need to lubricate your air filter

Replacing an air filter in a car, What Is A Good Substitute For Air Filter Oil?

For an internal combustion engine to work, it needs three things; a spark, fuel, and oxygen. An engine's intake sucks plenty of the latter element into its air chamber for that purpose. The filter's job is to separate all the debris from the air that might harm the engine.

The air filter will need a small amount of lubricant to be properly seeded into place. You'll find that a little bit of this oil will go a long way in helping the air filter keep bugs, dirt, and other particles from entering the engine. The filter itself does most of the work, but the lubricant makes it even more effective.

The air filter oil will work to trap bugs before they hit the filter. It also will keep moisture from entering the chamber. Though the filter is crucial, it needs the oil to work its best.

Can you use WD40 to lubricate your vehicle's air filter?

When you cannot use traditional air filter oil, we pointed out that motor oil will also do the trick. In a pinch, there are several other lubricants that you might consider using as well. Many of these could be found in your home's garage.

You might think of using WD40 as an alternative to air filter oil. This spray-on lubricant will be a suitable substitute, though it doesn't have the same consistency as motor oil or air filter oil. This will mean that it might not last as long.

But if you're in a bind, WD40 will work. It's not the top substitute for air filter oil, but it will still do the job.

penetrating oil and water-displacing spray WD-40

What happens if you use an air filter without oil?

If you're out of air filter oil, you might be tempted just to slap the filter into the chamber and move on. But we discovered that this opens up the possibility of damage to your engine. At the very least, it will hinder the performance of your vehicle.

Performance air filters require lubrication to maximize the engine's output. This style of filter lets in a significant amount of oxygen. The more air that is let in, the greater the chance of debris entering as well.

Having the performance filter firmly in place is crucial. Here are two essential items to consider.

A lack of lubrication will mean more particles enter the engine

Without lubrication, the performance air filter will not stay in place. Dirt and bugs can be sucked into the tiniest gaps, and lubrication will work to trap them before they can enter the engine.

Think of air filter oil as a protective barrier. This barrier will shield the engine from the smallest invaders. Doing without it takes away an engine's needed protection.

A performance-style air filter needs to be re-lubricated from time to time

This style of air filter can be cleaned and reused. It's essential to be sure that the filter is cleaned regularly and that the lubrication is still functioning. The lubrication will trap a lot of things over time, more so if you drive a lot on dirt roads.

Routinely inspecting the air filter and applying a fresh coat of lubricant is recommended. This will keep the protective layer of oil in place and ensure that the filter stays where it's supposed to.

comparison between new and used air filter for car, automotive spare part

Can I clean my air filter with soap and water?

The paper air filters many drivers use are disposable. Once they are dirty, they cannot be washed and reused, as they'd fall apart. But a performance air filter is meant to be used repeatedly. But they will need to be cleaned routinely so that they can still do their job.

It's not difficult to clean a performance air filter, and it only takes less than 15 minutes. All you need is a little dish soap, warm water, and a wash basin or tub.

Soap and warm water will take some time to do the job, but it's worth it.

Let the air filter sit in a solution of soap and warm water for five minutes. This will give the soap time to work through most of the buildup. Then, remove it from the basin and let it sit for an additional five minutes.

You will not need to use a brush to do this, either. Some brushes might damage the filter, so we suggest avoiding them altogether.

Gently rinse the air filter out under running warm water. This will remove the soap, and any other debris left behind. 

Never use a strong stream of water to rinse the air filter

Be sure you keep the water at no more than a medium stream. Do NOT use a power sprayer or anything that might give a strong jet of water. This will cause tears in the air filter, making it unusable.

Let the filter air dry. Then, you'll be ready to apply air filter oil and reinstall it.

Plates and foam in the kitchen sink, green ceramic tile

Can you drive without an air filter?

Earlier in this post, we covered why lubricating the air filter is important. And though you know you should never drive without an air filter, maybe you're curious about what would happen if you did. A failure to use this vital filter will do an amount of damage to your engine over time that might surprise you.

You might be able to imagine the volume of debris that will get sucked into an engine if air filter oil isn't used. But taking the filter out of the equation dramatically increases what gets sucked into the engine. The dirt and bugs will quickly accumulate inside the engine, doing great harm.

Car running on a highway road

The climate control on board won't work the same way

If you don't have an air filter, you will notice that the heating and air conditioning are not working correctly. But the lack of climate control is going to be the least of your concerns.

Say goodbye to your great fuel economy.

The vehicle's fuel economy will significantly diminish over time. The dirtier the engine, the harder it will need to work. And the harder an engine works, the more fuel it will need to consume. An engine without an air filter will get pretty dirty in a hurry, making it even more important to secure this piece.

Rapidly building dirt inside an engine makes it more difficult for engine oil to lubricate the many moving parts. This not only decreases the engine's performance but will also cause these parts to wear prematurely. Your engine can misfire or overheat as well.

Final thoughts

Replacing an air filter in a car

A performance air filter needs oil to work as designed. There are several substitutes for this oil that you can use in a pinch, the best one being traditional motor oil. Be sure to keep this type of air filter clean and oiled for the best performance. Drive safe!

We hope this post on air filter oil answers all of your questions. For more helpful information, we suggest reading the following posts:

11 Toyota Camry Cabin Air Filters That Will Make Your Car Smell Fresh

Car Sounds Like Air Escaping? Here's What Hissing Sounds Could Mean

Air Filter Fell Off Intake – Why And What To Do?

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