The diesel particulate filter, or DPF, on a catalytic converter, is an essential component that helps scrub the exhaust of tiny particles that can cause damage to the human lungs and the surrounding environment. While many DPFs are self-cleaning to an extent, no reaction is ever 100% efficient.

That’s why DPF filter cleaning is an essential process that can extend the life of your diesel engine. But how often should a DPF filter be cleaned? What do you use to do it, and how often should it be performed? The answer to these questions and more can be found below.

What is a DPF?

For starters, it is important that you fully understand what a DPF filter is and what function it serves as part of a diesel engine. The DPF filter is a component of the catalytic converter which captures microscopic particles from the engine exhaust and traps them, keeping them from entering the air.

If you look at a DPF, it resembles a honeycomb pattern, which is an essential shape in order to properly capture exhaust material. The filter also collects soot that is created from burned fuel. DPFs first came into use in the 1980s as people started to notice the health and environmental effects of diesel engines. Since that time, they have become mandated in the use of all modern catalytic converters, playing an essential role in keeping the air we breathe clean.

Is a DPF Self-Cleaning?

One of the reasons that many people who own diesel engines choose to avoid the DPF cleaning market is because they believe that the component is self-cleaning. While this is true, it is not an absolute truth.

A DPF collects soot and particulates before it leaves the engine exhaust, and then uses the high temperature of the operating engine to re-burn those elements, breaking them down further and rendering them relatively harmless. In general, this means that operating the engine at a higher temperature, such as by driving faster, can burn more particulates and keep the DPF cleaner.

However, even doing that won’t keep you from paying a DPF cleaning cost forever. The burning process doesn’t get all particulates, and the filter can eventually get clogged from soot. This results in a dirtier exhaust and a less efficient engine. When you notice your engine efficiency dropping, it may be time to get the DPF cleaned.

Cleaning a DPF

In terms of what is used in cleaning a DPF filter, heat serves as the primary source. A DPF cleans itself through a process called regeneration. Passive regeneration occurs when an engine runs at a normal temperature, in which case some particulates burn off but soot may build up.

Active regeneration happens when an engine runs at a higher temperature, such as when a truck carries a heavy load, a vehicle travels at a faster than normal speed or heavy equipment functions at its most intense setting.

Finally, some engines have a parked regeneration feature, which allows the engine to generate intense heat while not fully active. This form of regeneration is best done under the supervision of a professional, as it runs the risk of causing damage to combustible surroundings and may cause injury to those who attempt it without training.

Cost of DPF Cleaning

Getting a DPF cleaned professionally does have an associated cost. The exact cost depends on the model of your engine and the amount of time needed to fully clean it. Usually, this runs anywhere from $300 to $1,000 dollars. That may seem expensive, but the cost of actually replacing the DPF is significantly higher—anywhere from twice as expensive as cleaning to ten times that amount.

Clearly, it is worth your while to pay for cleaning rather than a replacement. The trick is to find an experienced professional who can handle the cleaning properly in an efficient and trustworthy manner. To accomplish this, rely on customer reviews, local reputation, and an initial meeting with the professional to make your final decision.

You simply cannot run a diesel engine efficiently if you do not have a properly functioning diesel particulate filter. Buying a catalytic converter with a well-crafted DPF is only part of the solution—you need to remain aware of the function and efficiency of your engine so you can spot potential problems. With the information above in mind, you can better identify when your DPF needs to be cleaned and the proper way to do it. A clean DPF can save you money and improve the life of your engine.