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5 Ways to Solve Noisy Air Filter Problems

5 Ways to Solve Noisy Air Filter Problems
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noisy furnace filter

Does Your Noisy Air Filter Keep You Up At Night?

Air filter noise is a very common problem in residential heating and air conditioning equipment and there are many causes. Although the noise gets your attention, it may only be a symptom of a much bigger problem.

Common Causes of Noisy Air Flow

Undersized return grills and return ducts are unfortunately very common. They can also be the most difficult and costly problems to correct. However, there some other solutions you can try. Although they won’t fix the real problem that causes of the noise, they may eliminate the noise.

The most common air filters used in residential heating and air conditioning systems are pleated filters and they often don’t fit well into the return grill or air handler. Return air, like electricity and water, takes the path of least resistance and the path of least resistance is often around the air filter instead of through it.

Unfortunately when air passes through these narrow spaces between the filter and the filter housing, it can cause whistling or even hissing noises that quickly become very annoying.

Before You Call A Contractor

Here are 5 Easy Solutions to Whistling and Hissing Noises that Don’t Require a Contractor:

  1. Ensure your air filter is the proper size for the application. This often means you have to buy custom sized filters instead of the common sizes supplied at hardware stores but the better the fit, the less likely it is that air will pass around the filter.
  2. In the return grill or the filter rack, which is often difficult to reach, you can install foam tape, which will act as a gasket, around the section where the filter sits. This helps to create a tighter fit.
  3. However, an easier alternative may be to add foam weather stripping tape to each new air filter you install. Foam tape can often be found at your local hardware store in 1/4 inch or 1/2 thicknesses. There are also many more options available at Amazon or FoamTapes.net
  4. Use less efficient filters. Pleated filters have MERV Ratings and the higher the number is the greater the resistance to air flow. Unfortunately, filters with lower MERV ratings won’t clean the air as well as filters with higher ratings.
  5. Change your filter more often. If you only begin hearing air noises after the filter has been installed for some time, you may not be changing your filter often enough. As dirt builds up on the filter air flow resistance increases and this can result in air going around the filter instead of through it.

 Here’s a Bonus Tip For a Less Common Problem

Often when return grills are mounted in the ceiling and the filter is loose it gets sucked up against the duct opening causing a thud every time the fan starts.

This can be corrected by building up the inner surface that the filter hits against so that the filter fits firmly into place and there is no space between the filter and the duct opening for the filter to move (as listed in number 2 above).

A better solution is to install a return air filter which is designed specifically to be installed in return air grills.

This is certainly not every potential problem that may cause your filters to be noisy but these tips will help you to solve some of the most common problems you may encounter.



p.s. I hope you found the information in this article helpful. If so, please hit the like button and share it with your friends.

About the author: Don has been working in the HVAC industry for more than 25 years and shares his experience and knowledge on this site. If you find the information presented here helpful please share with your friends.

{ 8 comments… add one }

  • doris winer

    Bless you ! I hope we find a solution: I”m off my mind with the noise! Are there filters which are made for a most quiet situation ? Doris P.S. in So. FLORIDA big time use , of course . the bit of winter we had was a blessing a.c.noise wise.

  • DonaldT

    I am not aware of any filters designed specifically for that kind of problem. I know it can be a difficult problem to solve but there is almost always a solution.

  • Karson

    Hi Don, I just had the HVAC guy clean my furnace and replace the filter today… and only now does the return vent sound loud a definite humming… it’s was quiet up until this point. Was my filter that dirty before… and now it’s free and clear to be noisy again? Any input you have, I’d greatly appreciate. I don’t wanna be that guy that calls back the serviceman with a panic about nothing.Thanx


  • DonaldT

    Hi Karson,
    It sounds like air is being drawn in around the filter. This sometimes causes the filter to vibrate and results in a fluttering or humming sound.
    Often these sounds can be eliminated by adjusting the way the filter sits in the filter rack or return grill. Try adjusting the way the filter is sitting first to see if the noise stops. There is usually room to make a small adjustment.
    There are a couple of other possible causes but they are more complicated to solve and if the problem is new it’s not likely the cause of your problem. If you would like more information check out the youtube videos below.

  • thegirlbilly

    THANK YOU so much for this page & post. After a week of NO SLEEP and being not so friendly from lack of sleep endless amounts of frozen reeses cups and bowls of ice cream all hours of the night because of not sleeping. I am going out to buy new cheap filters just spent more thinking it would make the air better. The filter is in the hall right outside my bedroom you’ve saved my sanity (or whats left of it haha)

  • Don Munn

    You’re very welcome. I’m glad you found the article helpful and more important, your sanity is still intact. I know those noises when trying to sleep can drive a person mad. We have a Shih Tzu and the little guy drives me nuts some nights. In the middle of the night he sometimes starts licking himself and it isn’t even that loud but the continuous smacking noise wakes me from a deep sleep. Lucky for him he’s part of the family and we put up with it.

  • Lin

    Had air of for three day(flordia fall) and now when I put air on there’s a thump sound. When I take air filter out it doesn’t make noise but when I’m looking at it the filter is not moving. Any suggestions

    • Don Munn

      It’s difficult to say without looking at the equipment but the first thing I would do is look to see if the duct is moving when the fan starts. If a filter becomes dirty enough or something else has changed, a vacuum can be created when the fan starts and it can cause the sides of the duct system to be sucked in causing a thump or popping sound. Something could be going on with the motor causing it to shift every time it starts. Also, check for loose access panels and anything else that could move when the unit starts.

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