Will an Air Cleaner Help Me Breathe Easier?


Susan Fishman

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air filter

Though there are many steps you can take to help with your COPD, when it comes to air-cleaning devices, they are a supplemental step, not the solution, to breathing easier in your home.

According to Janice Nolen, Assistant Vice President, National Policy, for the American Lung Association, air cleaners should be used only after controlling the sources of potential pollutants and dealing with ventilation issues in your home.

“Air cleaning devices are not capable of dealing with the larger problems, such as nitrogen oxide emissions from your gas stove, or the humidity that’s created in your bathroom,” says Nolen. “If you’ve addressed the other ways of dealing with air pollution in your home, and you still have a problem, then adding an air filter might help.”

Here are some steps you can take to  control air pollution in your home:  

  • Never allow cigarette smoking.

  • Address any moisture conditions or leaks, and keep the humidity below 50% to avoid things like mold and dust mites.

  • Remove potential chemical pollutants, such as cleaning products. Replace them with products that are free of scents or gases.

  • Make sure your home is well-ventilated.

    • Be sure your heating and air conditioning system are working well.

    • Open your windows when you need to.

    • Make sure your bathroom has a vent that pulls moist air out.

    • If using a gas stove, be sure emissions from the stove are vented out.

When It’s Time for an Air Cleaner

If, after dealing with potential pollutants and ventilation, you are still experiencing problems, an air-cleaning device may provide some relief.

“But they are very limited in what they can do,” notes Nolen. “A lot of them deal with particles, but many of the particles people are most sensitive to are heavy and fall quickly, so they are not in the atmosphere very long.”

Here’s a good place to start:

  • Consider the type of filter. The American Lung Association recommends an air-cleaning device with a mechanical filter, preferably a HEPA filter. But these filters can’t remove gases, so if you’re concerned about gas emissions, you need to look at filters with absorbents, such as activated carbon. Keep in mind, they won’t remove all gas pollutants, and the filters need to be replaced frequently and can be expensive.

  • Avoid anything that produces ozone. The filters that produce ozone (such as ionizers), intentionally or as a byproduct, are very harmful, according to Nolen. “Ozone is an air pollutant that can harm people and doesn’t need to be in the air.”

  • Consult the EPA's Guide to Air Cleaners in the Home for more information about the different types of air-cleaning devices and potential limitations. Also, visit www.lung.org/healthy-air/home/ for more guidance on indoor air at home.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Mar 9, 2017

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Medical References

  1. Air Quality in Your Home. COPD Foundation. https://www.copdfoundation.org/What-is-COPD/Living-with-COPD/Air-Quality-in-Your-Home.aspx
  2. EPA’s Guide to Air Cleaners in the Home, Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/guide-air-cleaners-home
  3. COPD Lifestyle Changes, American Lung Association. http://www.lung.org/lung-disease/copd/living-with-copd/life-change.html

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