During wildfire season, many people in areas affected by smoke use air cleaners (sometimes called air purifiers) to improve the air quality in their homes.
How an air cleaner is maintained and operated can affect its performance. If you are using an air cleaner to manage wildfire smoke, take these steps to ensure that your air cleaner continues to operate at a high level:
Change the filter regularly: Your air cleaner’s use and care manual will recommend how often to change your air cleaner’s filter. These recommendations are based on the manufacturer’s testing, but can vary depending on how often you use the filter and the level of pollutants in the air. An air cleaner that is used frequently in an area affected by wildfire smoke may require more frequent filter changes. If the filter is changing color or if the level of air coming out of the air cleaner drops, it could mean the filter should be changed. Keep extra filters on hand, especially during wildfire season.
Some air cleaners do not require filters, relying instead on an electrostatic precipitator (ESP), which charges particles and attracts them to a plate. Clean the plates regularly. Check your use and care manual for specific cleaning instructions.
Clean the outside: Some manufacturers recommend using a vacuum to remove dust from the outside of the air cleaner. Vacuum or gently clean the dust from the outside of the air cleaner when you notice a buildup. An air cleaner that is dirty on the outside is likely dirty on the inside, so make this part of the process when you are replacing or cleaning the filter.
Vacuum regularly: Air cleaners are only part of the equation if you are seeking cleaner indoor air. Do a thorough cleaning of the area and use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to remove particles that have settled so they are not kicked back into the air you breathe.
Change your furnace filter: If you change your furnace filter regularly, you might not have to change the filter in your air cleaner as often. However, a furnace filter is not a substitute for an air cleaner because it is designed to trap large particles. In addition, it is common for particles to miss the furnace filter and end up inside the home.
Give your air cleaner room to breathe: It might be more convenient to place an air cleaner against a wall and in a corner, but that will restrict airflow and reduce performance. Move the air cleaner toward the center of the room and operate it on high in an area free of obstructions. The more air that goes through the air cleaner, the more pollutants it will remove.
An air cleaner with a HEPA filter and activated carbon filter can also help reduce the smell of smoke in your home. Run your air cleaner until the smell subsides and change the filter as recommended. This post from University of Colorado Boulder researchers offers more tips on how to reduce smoke odors.
Are you shopping for an air cleaner? Here is how to make the right choice
If you are shopping for an air cleaner, you will likely come across models that use different types of technologies to clear the air. More important than the method the air cleaner uses is whether the air cleaner is appropriate for the size of the room in which it will be used. Look for the AHAM Verifide® Mark and the air cleaner’s Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) on the air cleaner packaging. The mark means the air cleaner has been independently tested for its ability to remove tobacco smoke, pollen and dust and meets CARB ozone limits. The suggested room size for the air cleaner will be noted prominently on the label. Under normal circumstances, you could choose an air cleaner with a smoke CADR two-thirds the size of the room in which you will use the air cleaner. However, those in areas heavily affected by wildfire smoke should select an air cleaner with a smoke CADR that matches the room size. For example, an air cleaner with a smoke CADR of 200 would be appropriate for a 200 square-foot room in an area affected by smoke.
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