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It snowed lately, and (for as excited as I am about springtime) I couldn’t be happier.
See, both my S.O. and I have allergies — me, to grass pollen and mold, and him, to ragweed and possibly mold spores. While I love having lots of windows and being able to air out my entire apartment easily, that’s a bit more difficult than just opening up a couple and letting the breeze in. The bitter cold has helped cut down on the proliferation of plant gametes, but there have been days here and there where we both start feeling it.
According to the EPA, maintaining good indoor air quality is kind of a big deal. Not only is it a big deal, most places can’t help but have crappy air. Without good ventilation, buildings are more or less box-shaped pollution traps. If you’re sitting in a house in a developed nation while you’re reading this, I can pretty much guarantee you’re breathing in more junk than if you were sitting in your yard.
In addition to allergies, I get headaches at the drop of a hat (well… okay, intracranial hypertension means I basically always have a headache, but I can end up with some pretty serious brain pain from the right triggers) so keeping my exposure to irritating volatile organic chemicals is pretty important to me. It’s also why I’m so big on natural perfumes, since a lot of synthetic fragrances essentially guarantee me a migraine after a half hour or so of exposure.
Fortunately, we’re prepared this year. I did my homework, we have everything set up the way we need it, and it’s been pretty nice — even on days when our allergies should be bugging us. By combining house plants with a really good air filter, we’ve been able to stay on top of the particulates and VOCs that should be making us miserable.
When it comes to choosing an air filter, I had a couple criteria that were important to me:
- I wanted a true HEPA filter. They can trap 99.97% of airborne particulates, which, when you have allergies to pollen and mold spores, is important.
- I wanted it to have a carbon prefilter. Prefilters help trap larger junk like hair, cobwebs, and bits of dust. Carbon helps absorb VOCs, and putting carbon in a powered filter that moves air around works a lot better than those carbon air purifiers that just kind of sit there and passively absorb pollutants.
- I wanted it to be quiet. Air filters make noise, it’s just a fact of life. Fans are a necessity for moving air through the filter so it can catch stuff, so some sounds are non-negotiable. That said, we were going to be putting this by our bed so something that sounded like an entire airport was going to be a dealbreaker.
- I didn’t want it to rely on ionic air purification, or, at the very least, not run an ionizer continuously.
In the end, we decided to go with this guy:
There’s another size available that would’ve been just about big enough to do our entire apartment (and which I’ve used before in a finished basement), but #3 was really important to me. This filter isn’t too loud, and it definitely gets the job done. We can feel the difference in the air pretty much immediately before the red light comes on to tell us to change the prefilter.
We also have one of these guys:
It cools, it fans, it dehumidifies, and it has an ionic air purifier to help catch even more stuff. Now, opinion is divided about the pros and cons of ionic air filters, but, since we have a lot of plants and no other ionic air purifiers, I felt comfortable using this one. The air purifier is also optional, so it can be turned off on days where allergens are relatively low.
Air filters, in my experience, work best when combined with a generous number of plants. I’ve read that you should have one plant for every hundred square feet of space, and we’ve definitely surpassed that number. Most of our guys are cacti and succulents, which are nice if you have allergies — since the soil stays pretty dry most of the time, there are fewer concerns about mold. There is a list of plants that are particularly useful for removing indoor air pollutants, but really any houseplant will be better than nothing. (If in doubt, get a dracaena or a pothos. They’re easy to take care of and virtually impossible to kill.)
We’ve also decided to forego curtains in favor of blinds. Curtains tend to trap dust and pollen like nobody’s business, and hard furnishings are much easier to keep clean and dustless. It’s one way we’ve lucked out with this apartment — all of the flooring is wood parquet or tile, so I don’t have to worry about taking care of an allergy-magnet carpet. They’re small measures, but they can really make a big difference in indoor air quality and springtime allergy symptoms.
Do you use air filters? What do you do to help keep your home’s air clean?