Q: What procedure do you recommend for cleaning the inside of an electronic air cleaner? I've seen all sorts of recommendations, and a lot of them seem contradictory.

— James, Parsippany, NJ

A: Richard Trethewey replies: You can't go wrong by following the cleaning instructions spelled out in the owner's manual for your system. If you no longer have the manual, check the manufacturer's Web site for cleaning instructions or call them to get a replacement manual. Generally, though, you'll see variations on one or more of the following methods.

Option 1: Remove the air cleaner's "cells" — they contain the electrostatic plates that collect airborne dirt — and run them through your dishwasher, if they fit. Just don't use the heated-dry cycle, which can bake contaminants on the plates.

Option 2: Soak the cells in a large tub of hot, soapy water and rinse them with hot water; then soak them and rinse them again.

Option 3: Take your dirty cells to a do-it-yourself car wash with hand sprayers. There you can clean the cells just like you'd clean your car: soapy spray first, then a thorough rinsing. Just be sure to keep the wand at least two feet from the cells so you don't damage anything with the high-pressure spray.

Whichever option you choose, you'll also have to wipe off both sides of each collector plate using a damp rag when you're done. But if the best you can manage is to blast the cells with a garden hose now and then, that'll have to do. Even a little cleaning is better than no cleaning at all. And if anyone out there has discovered an easier washing method, let me know!
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