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As many know, with fall comes allergies, itchy eyes and runny noses. Fun! But experts stress, not all of these symptoms are caused by pollen. In fact, it could be the air quality indoors that's causing these annoying ailments. Did you know that the EPA says indoor air is generally more polluted than outdoor air?
Thankfully, cleaning the air isn't complicated. Here with the answers are environmental scientist Dr. Ted Myatt and indoor air quality expert Dr. Elliott Horner, who's with UL, an independent safety science company.
Before you run out and buy an air purifier, Dr. Horner explains that “In order for a room air cleaner to have a chance of reducing the levels of particulate matter (PM) in a room, all sources of PM that can be removed should be removed.”
13 easy ways to clean the air inside your home
1. Remove carpets, drapes and plush toys or anything with a fuzzy surface.
2. Dust frequently and minimize dust-gathering clutter.
3. Vacuum floors and carpets often, using a vac with a HEPA filter.
4. Vacuum mattresses every two weeks, use allergy-proof mattress covers, and wash all bedding in hot water every week.
5. If pet dander bothers you, keep pets out of the bedroom.
6. Limit the amount of burning candles and wood fires in the home.
7. The top air polluter in the home is cooking with natural gas or at high temperatures in the oven or range, says Dr. Horner, so always use exhaust fans that vent to the outside in the kitchen (also in the bath and laundry areas). No exhaust fan? Open a window and use a small fan to move air outdoors.
8. Don't smoke indoors.
9. Run the fan in the ‘auto’ mode when using the AC. Continuous ‘on’ operation of the fan will raise the humidity and may lead to mold growth.
10. Don't store chemicals, solvents, glues or pesticides near your living quarters.
11. Provide good ventilation by opening windows occasionally in rooms with electronic gadgets (TV, toaster, computer, etc.) According to Dr. Horner, the heat they generate reacts with adhesives and plastics inside the product and can release toxic chemicals.
12. Allow new foam pillows, mattresses or mattress toppers to off-gas in a well-ventilated room per manufacturer’s instructions. Upholstered furniture and carpet/rugs that are treated with a flame retardant also require extra ventilation.
13. Depending on one’s sensitivity to cleaning products, consider switching to certified low-emitting cleaners or make your own using non-toxic ingredients like vinegar, hydrogen peroxide and lemon juice. Another option is using steam vapor cleaners. They clean and disinfect using only water. (Make sure cleaned items are promptly and adequately dried.)
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After taking these proactive steps, you can use an air purifier to remove much of the remaining pollutants. Dr. Ted Myatt offers the following advice.
Who needs an air purifier?
Traditionally, they were for people with allergies and asthma. However, recent research shows they’re good for the rest of us, too. If there’s dust on the furniture, it’s also in the air you’re breathing. “The way I see it,” says Dr. Myatt, “it’s better to have an air purifier — and not your lungs — remove pollutants.”
How do air purifiers work?
“Air cleaners only capture particulate matter when it’s in the air,” explains Dr. Horner, not after it settles on a surface. “Cat allergen stays aloft long enough for an air cleaner to have a shot of capturing it. Pollen or dust mite/roach allergens settle too quickly for air cleaners to reduce the levels much.”
What options are there for air purifiers?
- Whole-House Air Purifiers work with the HVAC system to filter air. They range in cost from $1100 to several thousand dollars, depending on the size of the HVAC unit.
- HEPA filters in your home’s HVAC system is a less expensive but effective alternative. These should be replaced seasonally or when dirty. Filtrete HEPA filters run $20 each for a 20 X 20 filter on Amazon.
- Portable air purifiers are easy to move and weigh less than ten pounds. They target smaller areas of the house and should be size-appropriate for the room, says Dr. Myatt. Since they take an hour or so to be most effective in a room, it’s a good idea to keep them in rooms that are frequently used (bedrooms, office, TV room) and in rooms where pollutants are produced (kitchens, hobby rooms). For maximum effectiveness, close the door to the room, if possible.
Points to consider when buying a portable air purifier:
- Cost: Prices range from $50 - $850, depending on size and options like programmable timers, fragrance-added, oscillation and change filter indicators.
- CADR, or clean-air delivery rate, is a measure of the unit’s effectiveness. There are separate CADR numbers for tobacco smoke, pollen and dust. The CADR should equal 2/3 of the square footage of the room, explains Dr. Myatt. If the room has high ceilings, it needs a higher CADR.
- MERV, minimum efficiency reporting value, is another measurement method, with 7 or lower being least efficient and over 17 most efficient.
- Noise is a factor when using air purifiers. According to Dr. Myatt, most well-known brands of air purifiers, like Honeywell and Febreze, have addressed this issue. However, there are still significant differences between products. For rooms where noise level is important, instead of running a smaller unit on high, consider using a larger unit and running it on low speed.
- HEPA filters are the gold standard, says Dr. Myatt. There are permanent washable HEPA filters and replaceable HEPA filters. Replaceable filters can be expensive, so take that into consideration before buying a unit.
- Electronic filters are another washable alternative. While they do produce small amounts of ozone, Dr. Myatt states that these amounts are insignificant and not a cause for concern.
- Carbon pre-filters are used on units that help remove odors as well as particles from the air. They can be built-in to the regular filter or stand alone. Costs range from $8 - $20 per filter.
- Fragrance-added units, like Febreze air purifiers, come with adjustable fragrance and start at under $60.
For evaluations of individual portable air purifiers, check out Consumer Reports.