Will Mower Run Without Air Filter?

Last summer a customer came into my shop with a non running mower, I noticed it didn't have an air filter fitted. I enquired, and what he told me, made me fear the worst for his little mower. He said “the air filter fell off about two seasons ago”.

A mower engine will run without an air filter, however prolonged use without the air filter risks damaging the piston and cylinder.

By the end of this post you’ll understand why running your mower without an air filter is a costly mistake in the making.

Mower air filter

Tool less Filter Access

Mower Air Filter Function

Sure your mower will run without the filter and if your old filter is clogged with grass and debris, the mower will run even sweeter without the filter.


The main function of the air filter is obvious, it prevents grass, dust and grit entering the engine. The filter also settles and uniforms airflow over the carburetor mouth. Even steady airflow makes for a smoother running, more powerful and efficient engine.

Dirty mower air filter

Silica Dust

Risks Of No Air Filter

It is very tempting to run a mower without the filter, especially as it may run great without it, but it comes with real risks.


Problem is, fine rock particulars known as silica are ever present in the air. Prolonged mower use without a filter will cause the silica particulars to erode the carburetor, valves, piston and cylinder.


Silica acts like a sand blasting media, eroding everything it comes in contact with. Problems won’t arise initially but will eventually take its toll, how much damage and how long it lasts depends on silica levels and how much and often you mow.

Engine tractor mower

Engine Wear

How Often Should I Clean Mower Air Filter

A paper filter should be cleaned every 50 hours of operation and more often if conditions are dusty. Replace the filter every 100 hours of operation.


Clean a sponge filter every 50 hours of operation and more often in dusty conditions. No need to replace a sponge filter unless it’s torn or disintegrating. Sponge filters usually last years.


Check out my post on mower tune-up, it covers everything you need to know to take care of your own tune-up.


Or if you need video help check out the video library, it covers all the common mower repairs and maintenance chores.

Checking mower air filter

Cleaning Paper Filter

Can I Clean Mower Air Filter

Accessing  air filters is easy, all modern mowers use tool less access. The most common type are fasteners are the plastic push tabs at the top of the air filter cover.


Air filters come in two main flavors, sponge or pleated paper. The sponge type filters may be washed in fresh gas, rinsed and allowed dry out. Sponge type filters are often oiled to help trap dust and grit.


Not all sponge filters are treated in this way, refer to your mower manufacturer recommendations.


Sponge mower air filter

Sponge Air Filter

Paper mower air filter

Pleated Air Filter

Pleated paper filters may not be washed in gas or water. Washing this type filter will prevent airflow through the filter, even after allowing it dry out.


The best way to clean a pleated paper filter is with compressed air, tapping it on a solid surface also helps knock heavy debris loose.

A clean paint brush also helps remove grit.


Some mowers that use pleated paper filters may also use a pre filter. The pre filter traps larger particles and helps keep the main paper filter cleaner, for longer.


Not to confuse issues, the pre filter is usually made from foam and so it (pre filter) may be washed in gas and allowed to dry out.


Mower pre air filter

Pre Filter

Pre filters are sponge and may be washed in gas. Pleated main filters may not be soaked with water or gas.

Should I Oil Mower Air Filter?

Oiling the air filter using engine oil helps trap finer dust particulars, but not all filters may be oiled. Never oil a pleated paper air filter. Oiling this type filter will destroy the filter and stall the mower possibly causing the engine to flood with gas.


Oiling a sponge type filter is generally acceptable but check with your mower manufacturer first. 


Fitting A Mower Filter

Fitting a mower filter is easy, the filter housing is located on the side of the mower nearly always on the opposite side to the muffler. Most modern mowers use tool less air filter covers, pressing the cover tabs releases the cover.


Remove the old filter and using a clean rag wipe the cover clean and the housing. Replace the filter and fit the pre filter if applicable. 


Mower air filter cover

Air Filter Opposite The Muffler


Auto Technician and Writer at | Website

John Cunningham is an Automotive Technician and writer on Lawnmowerfixed.com. I've been a mechanic for over twenty years, I use my knowledge and experience to write "How to" articles that help fellow gear-heads with all aspects of mechanical repairs, from lawn mowers to classic cars.