Can My AC Filter Make Me Sick?

Man, sick at home on his sofa using a tissue to blow his nose while wrapped in a blanket

Changing your AC air filter is an important part of keeping your air conditioning unit running smoothly, but did you know that it can also help keep you healthy? It seems like spring and summer in Canada get hotter every year, which means turning on the AC more often. An air conditioner and the cold air it produces are not inherently harmful, but increased AC use can lead to an increase in problems with air quality. Without proper maintenance, air conditioners have the potential to cause all sorts of issues, from allergies to respiratory infections. However, there are effective ways to keep your air healthy and your AC unit running efficiently. Here are a few things to watch for, some tips on proper AC filter replacement, and advice on how to improve indoor air quality by choosing the right AC filter for your needs. 

Watch Out for Mould 

When running an air conditioner, even one that is maintained and functioning properly, you may have condensation form in your air ducts. This condensation can sometimes lead to mould and mildew in your system. Mould and mildew can cause various respiratory problems, from coughing and sneezing to more serious conditions like bronchitis. When mould spores become airborne, they can also trigger allergies and asthma attacks. If you’ve wondered to yourself, “Why are my allergies so bad right now?” it may be due to poor indoor air quality. AC units can sometimes provide the perfect environment for mould to grow, as they are constantly recirculating the same air. This is why it's so important to regularly clean and maintain your AC unit and replace your filter regularly.  

However, if your indoor air smells stale or musty, or you can see visible growth of mould in or around your air ducts, it's best to call a professional right away. This is the best way to significantly improve indoor air quality. For your own safety, you should never try to remove mould from an AC system yourself. Also, if you’ve considered how to clean an AC filter (instead of replacing it) - don’t do it! Because of the way AC filters work, cleaning one does not eliminate mould or make it safe to re-use. 

Too Cold, Too Dry 

Believe it or not, that deliciously cool air can also cause health problems if you overdo it. Constantly blasting cold air into your home can cause headaches, sinus problems, brittle hair, and dry, itchy skin. This is because air conditioners take moisture out of the air, and dry air can be hard on your body. In one sense, your house could actually be making you sick! 

The best way to stay healthy and cool at home is to set your AC to a level that is comfortable but not too cold. You may need to experiment a bit to find a setting that balances out your preferred indoor temperature and still avoids drying things out too much.  

If you find that your air is still too dry, you can also add a humidifier to your system. A whole-home humidifier will help maintain healthy levels of humidity throughout your home and can be controlled by your thermostat. 

Related Topic: Air Conditioner Maintenance Checklist 

Dust and Dander 

If you live in an area with high levels of smoke or dust, or you have one or more pets in the house, your AC filter may not be enough to keep the air clean. AC filters do a good job of trapping larger particles, but they may not be able to remove smaller ones effectively. If you have a sensitive respiratory system or find that dust and dander are a constant battle inside your home, it's probably time to get an air purifier. 

Air purifiers are much better at filtering out fine particles like smoke, dust, pet dander, and pollen. There are many different kinds of air purifiers, such as individual units for different size rooms or whole-house purifier units. It's important to choose an air purifier that is right for the size of your space. However, be careful of air purifiers that produce ozone because the ozone can irritate asthma. 

How to Stop My Allergies - Choose the Right Filter 

If you have been asking, “Why are my allergies so bad?” well, even the best air purifier won't help if you don't have the right AC filter from the start. Having the right filter can make your AC unit more efficient in removing particulates from the air. There are many AC filter sizes and brands, and they also come in a range of MERV ratings (minimum efficiency reporting value). The higher the MERV rating, the more effective the filter will be at removing particles from the air. Filters with higher MERV ratings are better for people with allergies and asthma. 

To find the right size filter for your home, measure the inside opening and then locate a filter with matching dimensions. Once you have the right filter, it's also important to change it regularly. During periods of heavy use, your AC filter should be changed every 30 to 60 days, or more often if you have allergies or have a sensitive respiratory system. 

How to Clean AC Filter 

Periodically cleaning your AC filter is a must for two reasons; first, a clean AC filter will help your system run more efficiently since it won’t have to work as hard to generate a consistent airflow. Second, a clean AC filter is more effective at removing air bourne particles, which will reduce allergens and improve the air quality in your home.  

If you have a reusable AC filter, it’s best to clean it every 30-45 days, depending on how often your AC operates during warmer months. Most reusable filters can be cleaned using a garden hose. Here are some simple cleaning steps to follow: 

  1. Switch off the breaker that operates your AC unit. 

  1. Remove the filter from the unit. 

  1. Take the filter outside and rinse both sides with a garden hose. 

  1. Place the filter in the sun to dry. 

  1. Once the filter is completely dry, place it back into its holder within the unit. 

  1. Switch on the breaker that operates your AC unit.   

Note: After rinsing the filter, make sure it is thoroughly dry before placing it back into your AC unit. Moisture in your AC filter could promote mould growth and negatively impact your air quality. If you feel more comfortable having a professional service your AC filter, contact your local Aire Serv today.   

Schedule Regular Maintenance 

In Canada, air conditioners go through seasonal periods of heavy use. This is what makes regular maintenance on your AC unit so important. Not only will your AC unit need to be prepped to run smoothly during hot weather, but it will also need care and attention throughout the year to ensure it continues to operate efficiently. Your local Aire Serv professionals provide comprehensive maintenance for all types and brands of HVAC systems. Professional maintenance ensures that your AC system will work better and last longer, saving you money in the long run. To learn more, call us or schedule an appointment online today!