(WebMD) - Think of air pollution and you may think of gas-guzzling cars emitting harmful fumes or smokestacks on factories sending gray clouds into the sky. But indoor air pollution can be a problem, too. Dust mites, mold spores, pollen, and pet dander in the air inside your home can cause problems if your family has allergies or asthma. Using HEPA filters can trap these pollutants and may help bring allergy relief.
How HEPA Filters Work
HEPA stands for high-efficiency particulate air. A HEPA filter is a type of mechanical air filter; it works by forcing air through a fine mesh that traps harmful particles such as pollen, pet dander, dust mites, and tobacco smoke.
HEPA filters were invented during World War II to keep radioactive particles from escaping from laboratories. To qualify as a HEPA filter, it must capture at least 99.97% of all particles as small as 0.3 microns in diameter. A micron is one-thousandth of a millimeter. A particle measuring 0.3 microns would have to be enlarged 150 times to be seen with the naked eye.
Selecting and Using an Air Filter
You can find HEPA filters in most air purifiers. These are small, portable units that may work for a single room. If you are considering buying a HEPA filter, find out the capacity that the filter can clean. Be sure you buy one that is big enough for the room where you plan to use it.
The best room for a unit is the one where you spend most of your time - usually your bedroom. You can find HEPA filters in most home improvement stores or through allergy supply dealers.
Some vacuum cleaners are equipped with HEPA filters, which are designed to trap more dust from their exhaust airstreams. HEPA-equipped vacuums exhaust less dirt and fewer microscopic dust mites back into the room as you vacuum. Some people say allergy symptoms improve after using these specially equipped vacuums.
How Much Can HEPA Filters Help?
Using a HEPA filter in your home can remove the majority of airborne particles that might be irritating or aggravate allergies. But the particles suspended in air are not the only ones in your home. There are far more in your rugs, bedding, and draperies and resting on countertops and tabletops. For that reason, it's important to keep these areas clean. It's also important, when possible, to get rid of the source of allergens and irritants. For example, the only effective way to keep tobacco smoke out of your home is to not smoke.
Nevertheless, these filters can be part of an effective strategy to remove irritating particles from your home. According to the American Lung Association and John Mastronarde, MD, director of the Ohio State University Asthma Center, other parts of that strategy should be to:
- Vacuum frequently.
- Replace carpets with wood, tile, or vinyl flooring.
- Open windows in your home when possible - except when pollen counts are high.
- Keep pets outdoors if you are allergic to pet dander.
- Change bedding frequently and wash sheets in hot water.
- Replace draperies and curtains with wood or metal blinds.
- Use plastic covers over mattresses and pillows.
- Use high-efficiency furnace filters.
For more information on improving your indoor air quality, visit the AdvantaClean website.