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How to make air in Utah homes safer from wildfire smoke

Posted at 5:56 PM, Aug 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-09 20:01:14-04

SALT LAKE CITY — It's inevitible. Unless people live on a submarine or in space, the air they breathe inside isn't entirely divorced from the air outside. So the important thing to do in a place prone to days of bad air is to figure out how to clean up the air.

“Even the indoor air will start becoming polluted because there is only so much our home air conditioners can filter," said Dr. Harris of Intermountain Healthcare. "The other thing is there isn’t really anywhere within a reasonable driving distance for people to get out of it."

WATCH: Poor air quality causing worsening symptoms for some COVID-19 long haulers

Turns out, it's possible and doesn't have to be too expensive.
Dr. Harris, a pulmonary critical care physician, says to watch the forecast and close windows before the air outside gets bad.

Next, check the air filter in a home that has a central air system. When the air is bad, filters need to be changed more often or they'll clog and lose their efficiency.

Most of the time, homeowners may not need a pricey filter, but they might want to upgrade for times like Utah's current smoke conditions and in the winter inversion season.

That means a more expensive MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) system. The New York Times consumer ratings service "Wirecutter" recommends a MERV of 12 or higher.

WATCH: Utah doctors warn of health risks from wildfire smoke

The same site also tests air purifiers, and years of tests show the purifiers are not a gimmick. A good one can capture more than 99% of particulates in a room and last for years.

One thing both Wirecutter and Consumer Reports agree on: Don't go for a gimmick purifier claiming some new kind of technology that doesn't use a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter. The simple concept of pushing air through a filter has not been improved upon.

Other simple things to clean the air in a home:

  • Close windows
  • Remember that even tiny particles succumb to gravity eventually. Instead of stirring them into the air, use a damp mop to not kick up particulates that settle
  • Clean bed sheets more often. Just like floors, particles settle on other things
  • If it's bad enough that clothes smell smoky, change when upon arriving home. Remember that another term for "smell" is "particulate."