Recent fires have been causing unhealthy air across the entire country, even thousands of miles away from the source. We've compiled some pointers on how to deal with poor air quality.
Fires, smog, pollen, industrial pollution - poor air quality can come from a variety of sources. No matter how or why it happens, unhealthy air quality can lead to respiratory issues and other long-term health concerns. Unfortunately, clean air eludes many of us, especially if you live in or around a crowded city. The recent spate of record-setting wildfires also managed to bring smoke and ash across the entire continent, tinting the daytime sky an uncanny orange and spreading ash and PM2.5 in many areas of the country.
Limit your exposure
As obvious as it may sound, the first course of action is to try to limit your exposure to unhealthy air. There are many ways to do this, but we can start with the easiest options and work our way through the list.
- Close windows
There's no way to control the air quality outside, so the first thing to do is to prevent it from permeating your living area to begin with. Close all of the windows and exterior doors as tightly as you can, latching every single one to ensure the best seal. If you're blocking smoke, a wet towel jammed into small cracks will effectively stop intrusion.
- Use HVAC if necessary
Once all the windows are closed, the air inside your home will quickly get stagnant. This is doubly true if it's hot or muggy outside. Running the ventilation fan is typically sufficient to keep the inside air circulating at a comfortable temperature; regular floor fans or ceiling fans are also a good alternative if you're being mindful of your energy bill. Sometimes, it's necessary to crank the A/C - in that case, set the thermostat at 78 degrees or higher to avoid being walloped by a bloated energy bill.
- Check A/C air filter
If you can't remember the last time the HVAC filter was replaced, it almost certainly needs to be done. This filter is one of the only components in your home HVAC system that can capture unhealthy particles before it's distributed throughout the ducts, and it often goes ignored until it's too late. It's typically located within the furnace unit of your HVAC system; many newer models have an easy lift-up flap that allows the old filter to slide out and a brand new one to slide right back in. For the best results, go with a higher-quality filter - the cost difference is negligible if spread out over a year, and your lungs will thank you in the meantime.
- Clean, clean, clean!
Carpets and rugs can trap and hide pollutants in their fibers, only to release them back into the air when disturbed or treaded on. Clean carpets not only feel better on your feet, but will go a long way towards reducing indoor air pollution. Make sure to vacuum every carpeted surface thoroughly, ensuring that the vacuum itself will pick up any embedded air pollutants. On that note, the vacuum air filters should be inspected as well - if they're aged or dirty, the vacuum will only contribute further to the poor air quality.
Treat poor air quality
- Air purifier
Once you've sealed off your home, it's possible to begin treating the air quality indoors. One of the most effective ways of doing this is with an air purifier or a HEPA filter, and we've selected several of the best indoor air purifiers for the job. The vast majority of these units are designed to work up to a certain square footage rating, so it helps to prioritize which room the air purifier will be placed in. Most of our favorite air purifiers also include an activated carbon element to help remove odors, and some even include a night mode if the purifier needs to be run overnight.
- House Plants
House plants are nature's very own air purifier, but they're often overlooked in favor of appliances. While it's true that a HEPA filter will work faster in treating indoor air, plants can contribute towards indoor oxygen content and remove carbon dioxide from the air. Air cleaning plants in small glass globes might work well as an office desk novelty, but you'll need a large concentration of much bigger plants to make a difference in a living room-sized space. Some of the most popular "clean air" plants include the sansevieria (snake plant), spider plant, and peace lily - as an added bonus, they're all great to look at and will add to indoor decor.
As an aside, we don't recommend relying on house plants alone to clean the air in your home. They're fun to have and provide some degree of psychological reassurance in troubling times, but there are more effective ways to treat bad air quality.
- Air quality monitor
Bad air quality can certainly be felt, but it's a lot more difficult to measure. In order to make sure that all of your efforts are effective, consider an air quality monitor to keep track of how healthy your indoor air is. Many of these testers can provide alerts if there is an unhealthy concentration of particulate matter, VOCs, or carbon dioxide; luckily, most air purifiers are highly effective in removing all of the above. Though these testers require a higher investment up front, they'll earn their keep by showing when it's necessary to run the air purifier, extending the life of the filters.
- Try to remove unpleasant odors
Even after taking all of these steps to treat the air in your home, there may still be a lingering odor. If you'd prefer not to wait for the odors to dissipate naturally, try Lysol, Febreze, or Air Wicks to cover up the unpleasant smells. This will make it more tolerable to breathe the air in the meantime, though take care not to expose yourself to the chemicals present in these products.
Wear a mask outdoors
If you have to go outside, take whatever necessary precautions to avoid breathing unhealthy air. One item that will help is a face mask, but those should be pretty familiar at this point. Otherwise, do your best to stay indoors and group all necessary outings into a single trip.