What Happens if an Air Filter Gets Wet?

If you’re riding out in heavy rain or out on the mud and it’s splashing into your powersports vehicle’s intake, what happens if the air filter gets wet? That depends on how wet the air filter gets.

How a wet air filter affects a powersports engine

How soaked an air filter gets is going to determine whether it’s going to affect the performance of your powersports vehicle’s engine. The air intake is basically a vacuum, and it pulls in whatever is light enough to get picked up: dust, dirt, leaves and water.

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Will Using a Wet Air Filter Hurt My Vehicle’s Engine?

If your motorcycle, ATV or side-by-side is running like it should and you’re riding it like you should, the air filter probably won’t get wet enough to make a difference. 

What happens if an air filter gets wet?

When the engine runs, it gets hot. The heat coupled with all of the air moving through the filter should quickly dry out any water that gets on the filter. However, if the air filter gets soaked, that water starts to displace and close off all of the pathways that air takes through the filter and into the engine. This cuts the airflow and causes the engine to run rich. Or it can cause performance to drop off. If the air filter is completely soaked and your unit has an airflow sensor, the sensor can be damaged by the water.

How et air filter could affect an engine

Symptoms of a Wet Air Filter

There are a few telltale signs that might indicate your powersports vehicle’s air filter is wet. 

  • Engine sputtering or misfiring
  • Rough idling
  • Hard starts
  • Gasoline smell from rich-running engine

Can You Wash an Air Filter With Water?

If you’re using a disposable paper air filter, sorry, you can’t wash and reuse it. All that’ll do is break down the paper filter media and make the filter useless. 

Motorcycle air filter washing

On the other hand, you can clean a reusable air filter. How it’s done correctly depends on what type of air filter it is. A foam air filter can be removed from its frame, sprayed with foam filter cleaner, rinsed in water, dried and then reused. The time it takes to clean a foam air filter depends on how long it takes to dry thoroughly after washing it, then treating it with a foam filter oil before installing it.

The process is the same for a fabric air filter. Use a fabric air filter cleaning kit that comes with both the cleaner and treatment oil. It’s important to use the correct oil for the type of filter you’re treating. Fabric filter oil and foam oil aren't interchangeable, and using the wrong kind on your air filter can ruin it. 



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