If you smell musty mildew in your car, then it may be time for an air cabin filter change.

Tesla recommends changing the Tesla model 3/Y air filters every 2 years. For me, I changed my cabin air filters in 1 year because when I ran the AC, it smelled very bad. 

Because I set my climate to “auto, ”the AC is always running which results in moisture buildup.  Over time, I smell something musty, which is the smell of the evaporator and AC drain, when it doesn’t have enough time to dry. 

Note, this blog post is for the older (before July 2021) Tesla Model 3/Ys that do not have the Biodefense mode. The newer Tesla model 3/Ys (July 2021 and after) use a HEPA air filter instead. I actually ended up adding a HEPA air filter to mine that I created a Youtube video about if you’re interested. 

I also created a Youtube video going over replacing the Tesla cabin air filter, so if you want to see it all in action, check it out.

how to change air filter tesla

Items Needed for Cabin filter replacement

kool it evaporator cleaner
Evaporator & Heater Foam Cleaner
trim tool
Trim Tool to Remove Center Console Side Wall
tesla cabin air filter
Tesla Pleated Air Filter (Left) & Xtechnor Air Filter (Right)

Step by Step Guide to Change the Cabin Air filter

This is how I replaced my cabin air filters in my Tesla model Y (March 2021 build).  Note that Tesla often changes parts or design, so yours may be slightly different.

Part 1: Access and Remove the Air Filters

Step 1: Turn off climate control via the Tesla screen

Step 2: Remove the push clips that secure the front passenger footwell cover  

  • My Tesla Model Y has 4 tabs in the front passenger seat 
  • I was able to use my hands for this part, you can also use a clip pry tool
front passenger footwell cover
Remove Front Passenger Footwell Cover

Step 3: If the 2 wires (speaker and light) are in the way, you can disconnect them. 

wires in tesla
Unplug 2 Wires

Step 4: Remove the right side panel from center console 

  • Use trim tool to help 
  • Work from top to bottom 
right side panel from center console tesla
Remove Side Panel
Remove the right side panel from center console
Side Panel Held in by Clips

Step 5: Remove the cover over air cabin filter

  •  Use T20 Screwdriver or socket wrench to remove 
  • The screw is easy to lose, so make sure to hold onto it tightly!
air filter cover
Remove Cover over Air Cabin Filter

Step 6: Remove air cabin filters (using the tabs

  • Note arrows point towards the center console

Part 2: Clean AC Evaporator

For this part, I decided to park my car outside in the driveway because I had a lot of fluid that came out from the car, making the floors messy.

Step 1: Using the Kool It Evaporator Foam cleaner, attach tubing to foam cleaner

Step 2: Place the tube all the way into the hole where the cabin filters previously were

Step 3: Shake the cannon and fill the hole

Step 4: Wait ~15 minutes 

  • You’ll see it fluid drain from the bottom of the car 

Step 5: Turn on the fan at speed 1 for ~10 minutes 

  • This helps to clean everything out
clean tesla hvac
Place tubing into where the air cabin filters were previously

Part 3: Place New Cabin Filters

Step 1: Place in the 2 new cabin air filters, one at a time (stacks vertically) 

  • Ensure that the arrows on the new air filters point towards the rear of the vehicle
tesla air cabin filter
Arrows point towards rear of vehicle

Step 2: Put air filter cover back on with screw

Step 3: Re-insert center console side wall (make sure the clips are aligned properly) 

Step 4: Reconnect 2 wires for speaker and light (if unplugged in part 1) 

Step 5: Align and replace front passenger footwell cover. Secure clips by pressing on them.


To prevent that stinky AC mildew smell, it helps to make sure the AC unit and evaporator are dry. One way to do that is 1-2 minutes before arriving home, I do a few things: 

  1. Turn off the AC.
  2. Turn off the re-circulating air. 
  3. Max the air speed to 10. 

This can help dry the moisture that the AC unit may have caused.

I hope that helps! Stay goodbye to stinky mildew smells. 

Disclaimer: I am not a car mechanic, and this is not professional advice. This is for entertainment purposes only. The opinions and views expressed on this blog are solely personal, Everyday Chris.  Everyday Chris is not affiliated with or endorsed by Tesla. It is neither inferred nor implied that products recommended by Everyday Chris nor recommendations given by Everyday Chris are authorized by or in any way connected to Tesla. This post contains affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you. Please read full Terms & Conditions for more information.

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