When one thinks of Los Angeles, it is generally of sun-drenched beaches, palm trees, and the iconic Hollywood sign. But using our local lens, there’s yet another aspect we can’t escape: the quality of air. With its busy urban life and heavy traffic, the air in LA doesn’t always state pristine scenes. That is where air filters come into play, especially in dealing with our indoor air quality. Of course, you might ask yourself, “How do filters enhance indoor air quality?” This is a good question for us Angelinos, for sure, because we spend so much time inside-getting away from the midday heat or working from home. Ensuring our indoor air is clean assures health and overall well-being. We take a look here at how filters manage to work their magic in seven ways that keep our indoor air fresh and safe.

1. Trapping Dust and Dirt Particles

Have you ever seen dancing dust particles in a sunbeam? That’s just a tiny fraction of the dust and dirt floating around your home. Los Angeles, with its mix of urban and desert environments, sees more than its fair share of dust. Air filters are the first line of defense.

HVAC systems pull in air from your rooms, pass it through filters, and then circulate the cleaned air back. The filters have a mesh of fibers that create a complicated maze. As the air goes through this maze, dust, dirt, or even small debris gets trapped in the fibers. Think of this as a fish net: small holes allow the particles in the air to be filtered with clean air flowing right on through. The efficiency of this whole process depends on the MERV rating of the filter. The higher the rating, the finer the screen’s mesh and the more microscopic particles it can pick up. For a Los Angeles household, a higher rating in the 8 to 13 range can be a significant factor behind why the quality of the air inside is markedly better.

2. Capturing Pollen and Other Allergens

Los Angeles may have a reputation for a temperate climate, but it’s no gentle giant regarding allergies. Its diversity of plant life emanates from oak trees to grasses-all producing pollen that will make life miserable for allergy sufferers. Add in its year-round warmth, which only means that plants keep pollinating for longer, and you have a recipe for ongoing allergy issues.

And this is where your air filter comes in to save the day. Most standard air filters are designed to catch particles as small as pollen grains. When your HVAC system pulls outside air in through windows, the allergens get caught inside the filter and don’t have a chance to enter your home. But it’s not just pollen; filters also catch common allergens like mold spores, pet dander, and dust mites.

Consider improving the allergen sensitivity in our indoor air with a HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filter. The high-performing filters clean away 99.97% of the particles that measure 0.3 microns in size, which is less than most allergens. This way, filters remove irritants from your indoor air: you breathe easier, sneeze and itch less, and indeed feel more comfortable at home.

3. Capturing Smoke Particles

Potential sources of smoke that would degrade indoor air quality in one’s dwelling include; neighbor’s backyard barbecues, nearby wildfires, and indoor sources such as candles or cooking. Smoke is a nuisance and a cocktail consisting of harmful particles and gases-fine and ultrafine particles that penetrate deep into the lungs and toxic compounds like carbon monoxide and benzene.

Air filters are incredibly good at capturing smoke particles. It will, of course, trap the smoke particles since the dense fiber mesh allows air to pass through with your HVAC system. For areas where wildfires are expected, or a house with smokers, HEPA filters are greatly recommended. They filter out even 0.1-micron-sized smoke particles, offering you good protection. Filter the smoke out with these devices, keeping your indoor air fresher than in the presence of harmful substances. This can lead to respiratory issues, eye irritation, and even cardiovascular problems over time.

4. Stop the Spread of Mold Spores

Mold is an invisible danger but with severe health and home implications. Growing happily in moist areas like bathrooms, basements, or even around leaking pipes, it releases tiny, lightweight spores into the air. These are so light that they hang in the air for hours, floating around until they find a place to land. When inhaled, they result in a range of health issues, from allergic reactions to more serious respiratory problems, most especially for asthmatic and immunocompromised individuals. Air filters are critical in the prevention of transmission of mold spores. When air passes through your HVAC system, the filter will catch it before being dispersed to another location in your home. This containment is essential because it stops mold from colonizing new areas. Advanced filters stop mold spores in their tracks and may even have an antimicrobial coating that kills mold spores on contact. Air filters help maintain a healthy indoor atmosphere by trapping and reducing mold spores that could lead to health effects associated with mold.

5. Neutralize odors and chemical vapors

Life in Los Angeles can be associated with both pleasant odors-food smells from the many different cuisines-and not-so-pleasant odors, traffic exhaust and industrial odors. Inside your home, you might have your own set of odors from cooking smells, pet odors, or the fumes from cleaning products. Many odors are associated with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can harm your health.

VOCs are emitted as gases from some solids or liquids, including various products such as paints, varnishes, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials, and furnishings. Common VOCs include formaldehyde, benzene, and acetone. Short-term exposure can cause headaches, dizziness, and eye, nose, and throat irritation. It has been associated with a set of severe health complications. Standard mechanical filters are not effective against VOCs because these are so much smaller than the designed catchment for the filter. On the other hand, activated carbon filters score well in this respect. These are filled with charcoal and treated with oxygen to create millions of tiny pores that multiply the surface area. The large surface area attracts and traps the molecules of gases and odors through adsorption. Some advanced air purifiers combine HEPA filters for particulates with activated carbon filters for gases and odors. It’s dual-power in removing the stink from the air and lowers the unhealthy chemical vapors for a healthier, more pleasant home atmosphere.

6. Preserving Your HVAC System’s Efficiency

While we’ve focused on health benefits, air filters also play a crucial role in maintaining your HVAC system’s efficiency-a big deal in Los Angeles, where we rely heavily on air conditioning. Essentially, those HVAC systems will circulate the air through the home, run it through the unit, cool or heat it, and then push it right back into the same air that you’re breathing. All that air carries particles with it. Without a good filter, these particles settle on parts like the evaporator coil and blower fan. This layer would eventually insulate and prohibit the free absorption of heat from your home’s air by the evaporator coil, forcing it to work harder and, in turn, work the blower fan harder. What happens is that the system needs to run more to achieve the same amount of cooling, which means higher energy bills.

In extreme cases, a neglected filter can even lead to the premature failure of your HVAC system. The strain of trying to work harder to overcome the buildup can lead to parts wearing out that much more easily. Replacing an HVAC system is a significant expense, especially in a high-cost-of-living area like Los Angeles.

7. Filtering Out Bacteria and Viruses

In our post-pandemic world, we’re all more aware of the microscopic threats that can be present in our air. The minuscule invaders such as bacteria and viruses bring sickness from the common colds to severe infectious diseases. These microorganisms often tag along on your water droplets and dust particles, enabling them to remain airborne and pass through the air circulation in your home.

High-quality air filters, particularly HEPA filters, including other technologies, are surprisingly effective at grabbing these invisible intruders. Genuine HEPA filters can catch 0.1-micron-sized particles, meaning many different species of bacteria and some more giant viruses. However, some advanced filters go a step further in leveraging UV-C light or photocatalytic oxidation to kill this microorganism. Their DNA is messed with by the UV-C light, making them unable to reproduce. Some of the filters also incorporate an anti-microbial coating that kills the pathogens literally on contact. Filtering out bacteria and viruses means these devices provide an extra layer of protection so that your indoor air quality is safer and healthier for all your family members.

Final Thoughts

Air filters are something more than just another part of your HVAC system. Indeed, they represent the front line of defense for your indoor air quality ,and by definition, your general health. From filtering constant, everyday dust and dirt to reducing the potent VOCs to warding off viruses, from supporting mental health to always laboring to keep your home’s air clean and safe, these devices never stop working.

In Los Angeles, specifically, we face particular difficulties with air quality. Our outdoor air is often fouled by traffic, industry, and wildfires. On the other hand, inside our homes, we can make a haven of clean, healthy air. Choosing suitable air filters, maintaining them properly, and knowing their many benefits will improve your indoor air quality.