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Air Conditioning 101: Will Your AC System Filter Out Smoke?

June 10, 2021

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Homeowners often ask, will my AC filter out smoke, and especially if there are both smokers and nonsmokers in the home! Filtering cigarette smoke, cooking smoke, and smoke from candles or incense can mean a cleaner, more comfortable interior environment for everyone in the family.

A home’s air conditioner pushes air through the furnace filter, helping to trap dirt, dust, and other debris, including smoke. However, HEPA filters and other air purifying systems are a better choice for trapping smoke and irritants, and for ensuring healthier indoor air.

Don’t overlook the need for high-quality air purifying systems and especially if there are smokers in the house, if your local area is prone to persistent wildfires, or if your home’s indoor air is compromised for any reason. Knowing the best choice for air purifying systems, including how well AC and furnace filters work to block irritants, can help ensure your indoor environment is clean and safe for everyone!

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To keep your home’s atmosphere clean and hygienic and reduce indoor smoke, airborne dust, and other irritants and allergens, check out some added information about air conditioner filters. You might also note some suggestions for choosing an air purifying system and for keeping your home’s indoor air and outdoor environment as clean as possible.

Will My AC Filter Out Smoke?

Homeowners are sometimes unaware that a central air conditioner runs cooled air through the home’s furnace filter before that air is then blown to interior rooms. The furnace is attached to the home’s ductwork and the air conditioner to the furnace, so the furnace filter works for both appliances.

While the furnace filter does remove lots of airborne irritants including dust, pet hair, human hair, and the like, it’s vital to remember that even the best filter can’t trap and lock all bothersome residues. That filter still needs to let air pass through so it will also let some smoke, airborne chemicals, and other minute particles back into the home as well.

Cigarette smoke especially contains particles of bothersome and even poisonous substances that are not so easily trapped by an AC filter, including tar, benzene, arsenic, and ammonia. These substances then get circulated back through the home when you run your air conditioner.

Tar, trapped grease, and other particles found in cigarette and cooking smoke also leave behind residues on surfaces, including furnace filters. These substances quickly coat those filters, making them less effective overall. Relying on a  home’s air conditioner to filter smoke then has two drawbacks; the first is that smoke and the poisons it holds can pass through the filter easily and the second is that the filter will soon be coated with residues that keep it from working effectively.

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In addition to a filter that doesn’t work so effectively, a coated or damaged filter also puts added wear and tear on the home’s appliances. The air conditioner blower and motor need to work harder to push air through a clogged filter, so smoking indoors and relying on the AC filter to trap that smoke can mean premature HVAC repairs and replacement.

Getting Smoke Out of My Air Conditioner

If your home’s air conditioner smells like smoke, you might schedule an inspection for needed repairs! As a motor and blower begin to break down, they might cause friction and create an unpleasant smoky smell. Something stuck inside the unit can also cause friction and resultant smoke.

However, if you know that smell is from cigarette smoke, foodborne odors, or other such causes, a good cleaning is in order. Switch off the circuit to the appliance, remove the top of the compressor unit, wipe down the fan blades, and then close the unit and wipe the cover and outer grilles. Replace the furnace filter and run the AC with the home’s windows open just slightly, to pull in fresh air and allow old air to vent, and those smoky smells should dissipate.

If this doesn’t do the trick, the home itself might be coated with trapped cigarette smoke and other pollutants. Schedule a ductwork cleaning and then wash the home’s interior walls, and steam clean the carpets and floors. This should help remove lingering smoky odors; if not, call a water damage repair cleanup company for odor neutralization services.

Is It OK to Run My AC Without a Filter?

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An air conditioner will operate with a filter but this doesn’t mean you should forego its use, even for one day! Not only will running the air conditioner without a filter allow dirt and dust to circulate through your home, but these particles can also then settle on AC parts, the inside of the furnace, and along a home’s ductwork.

The more dirt buildup inside your home’s HVAC appliances, the more wear and tear on the motor, blower, and other internal parts. Your AC will then break down sooner than it should, leading to costly repairs and the need for eventual replacement.

Your AC might also suffer from mold growth and buildup from condensation on its interior parts. (see https://whitemechanical.com/can-you-run-your-ac-without-using-a-filter/) Rather than risk this damage, ensure the system has a fresh filter as needed before switching on the furnace or air conditioner!

AC Filters & What They Do

Your home’s air conditioner works by pulling air from interior rooms, extracting heat from that air and then venting the heat to the home’s outside, and then circulating that cooled air back into interior spaces. That air is run through the furnace filter before it’s pushed back into those interior spaces, helping to trap and lock airborne dust and other particles.

While your AC will then filter out some dust, note that it doesn’t pull so much air from interior rooms that it will also remove dust settled onto furniture and flooring! Minute particles are also typically too small for the filter to capture. If you’re worried about allergies or never want to dust your home again, a standard AC filter is typically not powerful enough to remove all those dust particles.

Will the AC Filter Out Mold?

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A home’s air conditioner might filter out some mold spores as these are often airborne throughout the home. Keeping a home cool can also help reduce the risk of mold growth, as mold grows more readily in warm, humid spaces.

However, a home’s air conditioner filter will not kill mold and running the air usually isn’t enough to stop mold from spreading once it begins to grow in the home. As with dust and other irritants, if you’re worried about mold due to allergies or sensitivities, it’s vital that you invest in a high-quality air purifying system designed to kill mold spores. Professional mold cleanup and waterproofing also help ensure a clean and hygienic indoor space.

Mold in An Air Conditioner

It’s absolutely impossible to get rid of all the mold spores in your home, as mold is virtually everywhere including outside air. Even if you could somehow manage to remove every mold spore in a home, more would get into your house the minute you opened the front door!

Because air conditioners work to move heat from one area to another, it’s not unusual for condensation to form around the compressor and the AC coils; the unit has a drain that allows this condensation to drain to the home’s exterior. This buildup of moisture can still be a breeding ground for mold growth.

While the mold in an AC is no more dangerous than mold growing along walls or underneath carpeting, it’s more likely to get circulated into the home every time the AC unit cycles on. In turn, you might be more likely to breathe in mold spores coming from the AC unit than anywhere else in the home!

If you notice mold along a window AC unit, it’s typically best to simply replace it. Trying to dismantle the unit and clean it entirely can be difficult, and if you overlook any mold spores they are likely to just start spreading again once the unit cycles on. For central AC units, schedule professional maintenance and ductwork cleaning, as this will help remove bothersome mold from the appliance and the home’s ducts.

The Best Air Purifier for Filtering Cigarette Smoke

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An air purifier is more effective than an AC filter when it comes to trapping and locking cigarette smoke, pollen, pet dander, dust, and other irritants from your home’s interior spaces. Some air purifying systems even kill germs, bacteria, viruses, and mold spores, for maximum protection and improved indoor air quality.

·       A HEPA filter is usually recommended for removing cigarette smoke and other such irritants from the air. HEPA stands for High Efficient Particle Arrestor, meaning that the filter captures smaller particles from the air than standard AC and furnace filters.

·       Carbon filters are excellent for removing odors indoors. If your home tends to hold cooking odors, pet odors, or other such unpleasant smells, a carbon filter can mean a cleaner, more welcoming environment without having to use unpleasant air fresheners that often mask odors rather than removing them.

·       Ultraviolet air purifiers can remove viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens from your home. Ultraviolet lights are used in hospitals and restaurants, to help keep countertops and other surfaces clean. An ultraviolet filter pulls air through the light so it can kill airborne irritants, creating cleaner indoor air quality.

·       Ionic air purifiers dispel negative ions into the air. These negative ions bond with positive ions in particles like dust, making them so heavy they fall from the air. Ionic air purifiers are quiet and work without a motor, making them an excellent choice for bedrooms and children’s rooms.

How to Improve Indoor Air Quality

Other than investing in a high-quality air purifying system, there are many ways you can keep indoor air clean and healthy for you and your family. Note a few tips here, and discuss these with an HVAC contractor as needed.

·       Check and clean air ducts and registers. A homeowner can clean vents and registers themselves, and regular ductwork cleaning by a pro is usually only a few hundred dollars. Having this work done every other year or as needed can mean less dust and dirt circulating throughout the home.

·       Airborne grease and food residues not only create unhealthy indoor air but these irritants can capture dust and dirt, keeping them inside the home. Use cooking vents or at least open a window when cooking, to allow these irritants to escape.

·       A dehumidifier removes humidity that encourages mold growth and that might cling to dirt and dust, making it harder for a filter to trap and capture these irritants.

·       Don’t overlook the benefits of indoor plants! Plants help to clean the air around them, improving air quality that can mean better health and even improved sleep.

·       Carpets especially trap lots of dirt, dust, pet hair and dander, pollen, cigarette smoke and ash, and other residues. Vacuum every day, replace the vacuum filter regularly, and invest in professional floor cleaning every year or as needed to ensure clean floors inside your home.

·       A home’s exterior walls, decks, fences, and other surfaces often capture pollen, dried dust, and other irritants that then make their way into the home through doors and windows. Professional power washing removes these residues and helps improve air quality on your property.

·       Note the overall mesh size for your home’s door and window screens. Smaller mesh will block more outside dust and pollen, while larger mesh allows outside irritants into your home!

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A homeowner might also note that basement and crawl space waterproofing and water resistant paints can help keep humidity out of a home; in turn, this can mean less risk of mold growth, standing water, and pest infestation! Your local hardware or home improvement store will usually carry lots of waterproof concrete wall coatings and paints you can even apply yourself, while crawlspace encapsulation and vapor barriers are typically very affordable and can mean a cleaner indoor environment.

Kingwood AC Repair Pros is happy to provide this information to our readers and hopefully it helped answer the question, will my AC filter out smoke. If you’re in the area and need HVAC servicing, trust our experienced Kingwood AC repair contractors! We offer convenient appointments, FREE quotes, and guaranteed services. For more information, call us today!

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