3 Types Of Motorcycle Air Filters

Motorcycle Air filters of different shapes and sizes

Clogged air filters are the worst!

Makes you wonder if you should switch to a different type of air filter to avoid this frequent problem – which in turn makes you think what are the different air filter types available out there.

So, what are the different types of motorcycle air filters? There are mainly three types of air filters used in motorcycles.

  1. Paper pleat air filter
  2. Cotton gauze air filter
  3. Foam air filter

Let’s discuss each of these air filters with their pros and cons one by one.

#1: Paper Pleat Air Filter

Paper filters are the most common air filter type used across motorcycles.

Manufacturers prefer this type of air filter mainly because they are cheap and economical as well as ease of sourcing or manufacturing.

A paper pleat filter or simply, a paper filter is made up of thin porous paper material that filters the dirt and dust particles from the air entering into the engine. The paper material is pleated to increase the surface area of the filtering.

As a result, paper filters provide simple and efficient air filtering at a very low cost and hence, are preferred by most motorcycle OEMs.

On the flip side, paper air filters get clogged easily. As a result, they are not the best type of air filter in dusty conditions.

Another downside of paper filters is you cannot clean the paper pleats. Once they are clogged, you cannot clean and use them again. You must replace the paper filter with a new one.

Good thing they are cheap eh!


  • Low cost and economical filters
  • Widely used and hence easy to source


  • Gets clogged quickly
  • Need regular replacement (cannot be cleaned and reused)

Mainly Used

Most manufacturers use paper filters in their motorcycles. However, paper filters are most suitable for a cleaner climate and cannot be used in dusty conditions.

cheap, clogged quickly, need regular replacement

#2: Cotton Gauze Air Filter

While paper pleat air filter is the most common filter for OEMs, the most popular aftermarket filter, on the other hand, is a cotton gauze air filter.

Cotton gauze filters, as the name suggests, are made of cotton gauze fabric – a strong and lightweight material suitable for filtering dust particles.

These filters are coated with oil. Any dirt or dust particles in the air passing through will get stuck in the oil.

The presence of oil on the filter surface might sometimes cause problems by entering into the air flow sensor and interfering in the sensor’s functioning. However, such disruptions are quite minimal.

The good part of these air filters is that they can be cleaned and do not need frequent replacement.

Whenever the air filter is clogged, you can clean the filter and then reoil the filter surface. That would be sufficient and the filter will be good to go again.

Few cotton gauze filter manufacturers claim the filter can improve engine power. However, there are hardly any studies or evidence to back this claim up so far.


  • High performance air filtering
  • Does not need frequent replacement, can be cleaned and reoiled easily


  • Cotton gauze air filters are costly especially when compared to paper filters
  • The oil on the filter material might cause disruption in air flow sensor

Mainly Used

Cotton gauze air filters are mainly used in high-performance motorcycles. Owing to their high cost and strong filtering characteristics, they are preferred mainly in performance bikes and in dusty conditions.

#3: Foam Air Filter

Foam air filters were popular in the early days before paper filters took over the market.

Foam air filters, while don’t filter as well as paper or cotton gauze filters, they filter well enough to not find the difference. Only if you are traveling in dusty conditions will you start noticing the slightly under-par filtering capabilities of the foam filter.

However, unlike cotton gauze filters, foam filters don’t interfere with air flow sensors even though most foam filters are oiled up.

Another advantage over cotton gauze filters is that the foam filters are cheaper than them.

However, the performance is still an issue and these filters get clogged up easily even faster than paper pleat air filters.

Despite their lower performance, foam air filters still find a place in a few dirt bikes and some old motorcycle models.

The Foam air filters are mostly oiled and do not need frequent replacements. One can just clean the filter and reoil them.


  • Do not interfere with air flow sensor
  • Do not need frequent replacements


  • Low filtering capabilities when compared to paper and cotton gauze filters
  • Gets clogged up easily

Mainly Used

Foam air filters are not widely used. They are mostly found in dirt bikes and a few old motorcycle models.

Which air filter is best for motorcycles

There is no absolute best air filter for motorcycles.

If you are riding in dusty conditions, a cotton gauze air filter would work best for you. If you are riding in normal conditions and want what’s good for your bike even if it means a frequent replacement, a high-quality paper filter does the trick.

In the long run, it is not the air filters but its maintenance that will impact the most.

Your frequency of cleaning the filter, reoiling, and replacing it whenever the filter has gone bad will make a significant difference rather than what filter you are using. As long as you are buying a decent quality filter, things should be fine.

How often should you change air filter on a motorcycle

You should change the air filter on your motorcycle for every 12,000 miles (20,000 kilometers) of distance traveled.

For cotton gauze and foam air filters, the same frequency can be used to take out the filter, clean, and re-oil them.

Another good replacement frequency is to change the air filter for every alternate servicing of your motorcycle.

Also, you should get your air filter checked every time you take your motorcycle for servicing. If the filter is clogged early, you can replace or clean the filter accordingly.

For more detailed maintenance, here is our post on air filter change intervals.

What is the most common type of air filter

Paper air filters are the most commonly used air filters in motorcycles.

OEMs usually prefer paper pleat air filters owing to their simple design, low cost, and efficient filtering.

For aftermarket, both paper pleat air filters and cotton gauze air filters are widely used. Unlike paper filters, cotton gauze does not need frequent replacing, it can be cleaned, reoiled, and reused again.

Should you go for aftermarket air filters

The difference between different types of air filters is as such, minimal and hence, it does not make sense to remove the OEM filter and go for an aftermarket air filter.

Any claims that you see from aftermarket air filters showing improved engine power or performance are either unsubstantiated or the improvement is barely there.

Still, if you prefer to go for an aftermarket air filter, it is better when you are about to replace the current OEM filter.