Ways to achieve better indoor air quality.

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Home Improvement

How to Use Household Machines for Better Air Quality

Specific machines can also help us breathe easier indoors, but having an air filter doesn't mean your home's air quality will be perfect. Mold, dust, and other allergens can accumulate in your air conditioner, humidifier, and air filter and pollute your air. Here's what you need to know to keep these devices clean, efficient, and effective. (Note: In desert regions, mold is typically not an issue because of the already-low humidity.)

Air Conditioners

What they do: As anyone who lives in a warm-weather climate knows, air-conditioning is a must-have summertime comfort. Besides cooling the air inside your home, air conditioners also remove moisture so you feel less hot and sticky.

How to use them effectively: Central air-conditioning is usually the most effective way to cool down the entire house. However, Be aware that when temperatures are mild, your air conditioner might not be running enough to remove moisture from the air. Additionally, a central air conditioner that's too powerful for the size of the house will cool the air down quickly but won't have a chance to remove moisture adequately. If you want to cool a single room, a less-expensive option is a window-mounted air conditioner.

Safety alert: Because water condenses on an air conditioner's cooling coils, it can be a potential source of mold.

Upkeep tips: Whether you have central air-conditioning or a window unit, air conditioners should be serviced at the beginning of each season by a heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning professional who can clean the coils and ensure they're not contaminated.

Opening a window allows for air exchange, but it does nothing to filter out the air and other harmful allergens or asthma triggers that could intrude into your home.

Air Filters

What they do: Air filters remove irritants such as mold spores, pet dander, candle and cigarette soot, and even skin cells from the air, making it easier to breathe, especially for people with allergies. "Simply opening up a window allows for air exchange, but keep in mind it does nothing to filter out the air and other harmful allergens or asthma triggers that could intrude into your home," Van Deventer says. A filtered ventilator is the best way to bring fresh air in and expel polluted air outside.

How to use them effectively: High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters generally cost more than ionic filters, but HEPA filters are more efficient at removing all of the airborne particles, says Jay Portnoy, M.D., chief of pediatric allergy & immunology, telemedicine at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri. The best way to filter air for the whole house is with a filter that's placed in the furnace, he says. (In desert regions, the filter may be attached to the air conditioner as part of an electric heat pump.) Be sure to leave the system's fan running even if the heat is not on to allow the filter to do its job.

Safety alert: "Some air filters produce ozone," Portnoy says. "The ozone oxidizes the chemicals that produce smells and makes the air smell fresh, but doesn't remove them." Because ozone itself can be an irritant, he recommends steering clear of ozone-producing devices (most are labeled on the package).

Upkeep tips: Over time, HEPA filters clog up and need replacing. How often you need to change them will depend on how contaminated the air is. Electrostatic filters should be cleaned according to the manufacturer's directions (some have parts that can be hosed off or wiped down, while others use disposable filters).

Additional advice: Don't bet on your air filter to protect you from mold allergens. "Where there's water, there's going to be mold," Portnoy says. The best remedy is to get rid of the source of the mold (such as a leak or damaged drywall) and use a diluted bleach solution to remove the mold spores.

Air Purifiers

What they do: Like air filters, air purifiers sanitize the air by removing contaminants that may cause odors or make us sick. These stand-alone devices include a filter to capture dust and other allergens and a fan to push clean air back into the room. Some also use ultraviolet light to help trap and kill airborne pathogens such as bacteria and mold.

How to use them effectively: Air purifiers work best in small, closed rooms and are generally impractical for improving air quality across a home.

Safety alert: Before purchasing an air purifier, check the packaging to ensure it does not produce ozone, which can harm your health.

Upkeep tips: As with air filters, you should regularly clean or replace your air purifier's filter according to the manufacturer's instructions.


What they do: Does walking on your carpet give you an electric shock? Those sparks indicate that your home's humidity level is too low. A humidifier can counteract this by adding moisture to the air.

How to use them effectively: Most people rely on stand-alone humidifiers to add moisture in individual rooms, which is fine if you can't attach a unit to the furnace. However, according to Portnoy, the most effective way to humidify the whole house is usually with an evaporative model that can be placed in your central furnace. You may need to leave the fan running even when the heat is off to give the humidifier enough time to work effectively.

Safety alert: Humidifiers can shoot bacteria and mold into the air without regular cleaning. Follow the proper instructions for cleaning a humidifier and fill it with fresh water daily.

Upkeep tips: A diluted bleach solution is the best way to disinfect and deep-clean humidifiers. For more information, refer to the manufacturer's instructions.

Additional advice: The optimal humidity level for your home is between 30% and 50%. "Mold, dust mites, and other air pollutants tend to thrive outside of that range, and our bodies' natural immune systems can be compromised when the air gets too dry," Van Deventer says. A simple way to measure indoor humidity levels is with a digital humidity meter, which can be purchased inexpensively at most home improvement stores.

More on this article can be found at:  Better Homes & Gardens