An air conditioner filter works much like those found in your furnace.
As the air passes through them, airborne dirt and debris are trapped, preventing them from circulating through your home. Many HVAC units have high efficiency HEPA filters. HEPA filters are designed to improve air quality by eliminating micro particles that can eventually lead to allergies, illness and chronic upper respiratory conditions.
Proper maintenance of your air conditioner, including regular cleaning of the air filters, can prevent health concerns from becoming an issue. It also improves the air quality in your home and reduces dust build up on furniture.
What Exactly Makes Up A/C Lint?
Lint is comprised of many different things. Some people have the mistaken impression that lint collectors only trap household dust. To the contrary, air conditioner and furnace filters trap micro particles that include mold spores, bacteria, fibers, dust, micro-particles of dirt, pollen and airborne chemical contaminants.
Molds normally begin to grow in the basement or any area where moisture is allowed to collect for long periods of time. Pollens can come from both indoor and outdoor plants. Every time someone opens a door leading outside, an influx of pollen and debris enters your home.
Black molds especially can begin to grow in bathrooms and under sinks, or anywhere that water is allowed to stand. When homes are being treated for molds, the level of airborne contaminants dramatically increases. Once the mold is gone, the risk of airborne contamination decreases.
Bacteria and micro-organisms that we carry when we catch a cold or virus can also become airborne causing others in the home to get sick. A HEPA air conditioning/furnace filter traps those particles preventing them from re-circulating through your home.
Bacteria is also abundant in the bathroom or in areas where food is present. Keeping these surfaces clean at all times is important to prevent bacteria from spreading. Anti-bacterial cleaners can be used that kill bacteria on contact preventing them from spreading to other areas.
Fibers, dust and other airborne contaminants make up the majority of lint found in HVAC filters. Minute fibers from carpeting, furniture upholstery and clothing can become airborne every time we move or touch something. Chemicals used to manufacture carpeting, furniture or other household materials can also become airborne and travel throughout the home. Running a vacuum or dusting can cause particles to become airborne and circulate through the house.
Is It Harmful?
While the majority of airborne contaminants are harmless, others can cause significant health problems including upper respiratory distress, bronchitis and asthma. Black molds are known to be quite dangerous when it comes to chronic illnesses associated with the upper respiratory system. In some cases, prolonged exposure can lead to chronic bouts of bronchitis and asthma.
Pollen and other allergens, such as cat or dog dander, can cause allergies to worsen. Fibers from furniture and carpet that have been treated with fire retardant chemicals and formaldehyde can also irritate existing upper respiratory conditions.
One way to determine if allergies and upper respiratory problems are associated with your heating and air conditioning system is to monitor when you have your attacks. If they seem worse whenever your system runs, you may want to get it checked out or at least change your filters. Before you turn your system on for the season, it would be beneficial to have the entire system checked by a professional.
Clean Your Filter Often
Monthly cleaning of your a/c and furnace filter can eliminate repairs and many of the irritants that can build up within them. Many companies offer re-usable filters that can be washed and reinstalled. Other HEPA filters are disposable. Regular maintenance will make your HVAC unit operate more effectively and allows filters to do the job they were designed for.
Keeping them clean makes your unit more energy efficient and prevents illnesses and allergies from taking over your home. If you have any questions about the maintenance of your heating and air conditioning system or how often to change your filters, contact a qualified dealer or HVAC repairman for answers.