Does an Air Conditioner Filter Smoke?

Learn how an AC unit can help filter smoke from wildfires and how to choose an efficient HVAC filter.

Does an Air Conditioner Filter Smoke?

Wildfire season is inevitable unless you plan to move. As is the case every year, the effects can be devastating. Some homes and businesses burn to the ground, but perhaps most importantly, it can lead to unhealthy air conditions across the country. Local officials can advise people to stay at home, but even if you do, some of the smoke from outside can get in and make your space unhealthy. With no apparent solution, the question arises: “Do air conditioners filter wildfire smoke?” The short answer is yes.

If the area you live in is prone to wildfires, you can prepare properly before the season starts. One of the routes you can take is to purchase a high-quality portable air filter or air conditioning filter. Air conditioners use air filters to remove contaminants from the air circulating in the home. By operating the air conditioner, indoor air is circulated, heat is removed, and some particles are also filtered out of the air.

If you want to ensure that your air filtration works at peak efficiency, get the highest level of filters possible. HEPA filters trap very small particles. Change air filters frequently to keep them working at peak performance. Common designs include placing a flat filter against the fan, two filters glued together with cardboard to form a triangle against the fan, or even more filters taped against the fan to form a cube. Notably, reverse-cycle air conditioners are equipped with humidification and excellent air filtration of different particles and dust. Air conditioners contain filters to prevent dust or particles from entering the air conditioning unit.

Although these filters are installed only to protect the air conditioning system from damage, in many cases they can help you eliminate smoke from the air. If portable air purifiers aren't available or not affordable, you can choose to use a DIY (do it yourself) air purifier. Portable air conditioners have filters, because your system must be protected from dust and airborne particles. DIY air purifiers are manufactured by attaching an oven filter to a box fan with tape, brackets, or an elastic cord, and can serve as a temporary alternative to commercial air purifiers. If you or one of your family members is a smoker and everyone is sitting in an air-conditioned room, it may be time for you to ask a question. If you decide to purchase a high-efficiency HVAC filter to increase filtration, choose one with a MERV 13 rating, or a rating as high as the system fan and filter slot can accommodate. The air conditioner will tend to absorb more smoke from polluted air and will affect your filter and, in the worst case, the air conditioning system.

Many air purifiers have HEPA filters that permanently capture contaminants in the air, such as chemicals and airborne contaminants. Large commercial air conditioners and cooling towers installed in shelters, libraries or cinemas can better filter wildfire smoke.

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