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5 things you can do right now to improve your indoor air quality

Last updated: 09-21-2020

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5 things you can do right now to improve your indoor air quality

Oregonians facing smoky skies due to wildfires went looking this weekend for inexpensive ways to remove harmful smoke and pollutants that had crept inside their homes.

Many returned empty-handed. Home Depot had a run on its air purifiers and shelves in many smoke-laden areas still needed to be restocked Monday.

Smoky air, which can travel miles from a fire, is expected to linger in Oregon and Southwest Washington through at least Thursday, according to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

The Oregon Health Authority, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other experts recommend these DIY ways to improve indoor air now:

Make sure all windows and doors are shut. Use weather sealing or even masking tape to cover gaps. Place damp towels under doors or in other crevices where polluted air might leak in.

Stay as long as you can in a room with the fewest windows and no fireplace or ventilation ducts that connect to the outside, and keep an air purifier running constantly here, says Consumer Reports.

Avoid indoor activities that increase indoor pollution, like smoking, burning candles and using a gas stove. Refrain from doing activities that stir up dust already inside your home. Limit vacuuming unless your vacuum has a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.

Check your heating filters daily due to the amount of wildfire smoke. You will need to change or clean them more often than the recommended two or three times a year. Once a filter is full, it no longer traps particulates, says Consumer Reports.

Make sure you have the right size filter to ensure that as many particulates as possible are being filtered and they are not going around the filter. Have backup filters ready.

Health experts and others recommend using only HEPA filters, which use a fan to force air through a fine mesh to trap particles in indoor heating, ventilation, cooling and air purification systems.

If you have a central heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system, set the fan to “on,” rather than “auto” to make sure the fan is constantly circulating and filtering air. HVAC systems do not pull air from outside.

If you have a fresh air system, however, turn it off until the smoke is cleared since it will draw in polluted air from outside. Turn it back to on after the smoke has subsided.

Read more about adjusting your HVAC system here.

You can create an air purifying filter by covering the front of a box fan with a HEPA furnace filter or one rated MERV-13 or higher. For safety, turn the fan off if you leave the house. Here are instructions to a DIY air filter.

No air cleaner or filter will eliminate all of the air pollutants. But air purifiers properly fitted with HEPA filters can reduce particle concentrations by as much as 85 percent, according to the EPA.

If you want to get rid of the smell of smoke in addition to particles, you’ll want an air purifier that also has a carbon filter to absorb odors, says Consumer Reports.

Buy a portable air cleaner that has a clean air delivery rate (CADR) large enough for the size of the room or area where you will use it.

Lakin Norton of Pyramid Heating + Cooling in Portland says the Air Scrubber air purifier will help with smoke smell and overall air quality. She stocks units for conventional forced air systems and ductless, mini split systems as well as a pocket-size unit to take when you travel to be used in a car or hotel room.

Pyramid Heating + Cooling has all three types of Air Scrubbers in stock and offers contact-free phone and video consultations, Text the Expert services at 831-346-5955 and free deliveries.

Dyson offers a range of advanced purifiers that remove gases and odors, and capture 99.97% of allergens and pollutants as small as 0.3 microns. Select from cooling air purifiers, air purifiers with humidifiers, and ones with heaters.

The Dyson Pure Hot+Cool HP01 purifying heater + fan is on sale for $$399.99, a discount of $100 plus free delivery. Dyson purifiers are certified asthma and allergy friendly by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

Consumer Reports ranked these air purifiers as the best to counter wildfire smoke:

For more information: Read the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s guide to air cleaners in the home and the California Air Resources Board guide to air cleaning devices.

Read more: “The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality” is an online reference guide prepared by the EPA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission that includes sources, health effects and steps to reduce exposure for each pollutant.

Even when skies are clear, levels of air pollutants are often greater indoors than outside, says the EPA and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which offer ways to identify air quality problems as well as reduce the release of gases or particles inside your home and dilute emissions by improving ventilation.

Indoor air quality monitors are designed to alert you to contaminants that affect the air you breathe so you can fix the problem.

Awair Glow C Air Quality Monitor + Smart Plug ($89) tracks airborne toxic chemicals (VOCs), humidity and temperature levels, and provides actionable tips.

The Temtop M10 air quality monitor ($79.99) watches for PM2.5 (microscopic atmospheric particulate matter), HCHO (Formaldehyde), TVOC (total volatile organic compounds) and AQI (air quality index).

To check the air quality in your area, visit IQair.com. Or visit the EPA’s air quality website, airnow.gov, and type in your city or ZIP code. View interactive maps at the state’s web page, oregonsmoke.blogspot.com, or the EPA’s web page, fire.airnow.gov.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality also allows smartphone users to check air quality though an app that can be found by searching for “OregonAir” in the app store.

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