Air Quality Problems in Vehicles: Do You Need an Air Purifier for Your Car?
As awareness of indoor air quality problems grows, more and more people are installing air purifying systems within their homes. An impressive quarter of American households now use at least some type of air purifier because they want to ensure the air they breathe is as clean as possible. Your workplace may have an air purifying system as well, and the same holds true for many educational institutions.
If you’ve been wondering whether you need an air purifier for your car, though, you’re asking an excellent question. The average American adult spends at least an hour in their car every day, after all, and some drivers are behind the wheel so much that their vehicle has basically become a home away from home. How concerned do you need to be about the air quality within your car? What sources of air pollution do you need to pay special attention to, and most importantly, what can you do to raise the air quality within your vehicle?
Do You Need to be Worried About Exposure to Exhaust Fumes Within Your Vehicle?
You are, of course, quite aware that vehicles make significant negative contributions to outdoor air quality. Tucked “safely” into your car you may, however, think you are relatively well-protected against this type of pollution — especially if you make sure you close the windows to avoid fumes emitted by other vehicles. Although it is true that closing your car windows does help to protect you against air pollution released into the air by your fellow road users, you would unfortunately be wrong to believe that this simple step defends you against indoor air pollution entirely.
The heavier the traffic you are in, the more likely you are to be exposed to dangerous levels of vehicle exhaust. The air quality within your car’s cabin especially dips when you are parked at the side of the road as other vehicles whiz by, as you wait for a red light to turn green, and while you’re passing through busy intersections. The mixture of air pollutants you are exposed to in your car will include ultra-fine particles originating from tires, dust, and other environmental sources, as well as exhaust fumes. Exhaust fumes expose you to a number of dangerous Volatile Organic Compounds, and some of the biggest offenders are:
Nitrogen dioxide, a noxious gas that increases your susceptibility to respiratory infections, as well as leading to lung irritation and potential breathing difficulties. When nitrogen dioxide is exposed to sunlight, it can lead to ozone build-up. This pollutant, which is a key contributor to smog, ultimately increases your risk of developing asthma and other respiratory conditions.
Carbon monoxide is a notoriously hazardous gas, all the more so because you can neither see it nor even smell it. Even after prolonged exposure to lower levels, you could suffer symptoms such as fatigue, disorientation, and dizziness.
Sulphur dioxide can, again, lead to chest pain and respiratory problems.
Besides closing the windows, there is almost nothing you can do to help prevent these toxic compounds from entering your vehicle. You can, on the other hand, use an air purifying system to filter those harmful particles out. Exhaust fumes are far from the only contributors to poor air quality within your vehicle, however, and to get the full picture, it is important to consider the other threats to your health that hide within your car as well.
Are Volatile Organic Compounds Originating Within Your Car a Significant Threat to Your In-Car Air Quality?
Volatile Organic Compounds are emitted, in gas form, from various solids and liquids. That includes fuels, true, but the VOCs you are exposed to on a daily bases also originate from numerous other sources. Within your home, cleaning materials, personal care products, solvents, paint, furniture, and construction materials are all potential sources of harmful Volatile Organic Compounds. Is your car any different? Not likely. That “new car” smell that so many drivers love represents, in fact, a tell-tale sign that VOCs are off-gassing within your car. The upholstery, paint, and solvents present within a new vehicle are all potent VOC-emitters.
You, yourself, may bring Volatile Organic Compounds into your car, as well. Indeed, the air freshener you might install in your car in a bid to eliminate the smell of exhaust fumes is itself highly likely to be a source of harmful VOCs.
What do you do to limit your exposure to Volatile Organic Compounds within your car? Well, the usual advice would be to increase ventilation — something that is easily achieved by opening the windows. Inside your car, opening the windows only makes you vulnerable to exhaust fumes. That’s a conundrum, then, and one that is best solved by making sure that you have an efficient air purifying system in your car.
What Types of Air Purifying Systems Can You Install in Your Car?
Two options are at your disposal when you want to purify the air in your vehicle — passive air purifiers and active air purifying systems.
The air filters already built into your car would fall under the first category. When you run your car’s air conditioning, your cabin air filter automatically gets to work by filtering many harmful particles from the air you breathe. Cabin air filters have the potential to do an excellent job, too, as they can filter out a grand total of 99 percent if airborne particles over 3 µm in size.
The only problem? Well, most car owners do not have their cabin air filters replaced anywhere close to often enough. If you are one of them, you could greatly improve your in-car air quality simply by having the cabin air filter changed — depending on your mileage — annually or twice a year. If your cabin air filter is not already a HEPA filter, asking for that option next time you have yours replaced will boost your car’s air quality further. Some of these filters are coated with carbon to render them even more effective.
For drivers who feel they could benefit from some extra help to improve the air quality in their vehicles, however, there is an additional option in the form of plug-in air purifiers for your car. These also come in two basic types:
Ozone generators, which are designed to neutralize VOCs by generating ozone. While this system does work, you’ll also have read, above, that ozone is a pollutant in its own right — and these air purifiers for your car may even be the source of respiratory symptoms and asthma attacks. Since the Environmental Protection Agency recommends keeping ozone levels within your car low, these purifiers are not recommended for long rides or people spend large amounts of cumulative time in their cars.
Ionizers work by releasing ions into the air, which will then attract harmful particles, forming clusters that are too heavy to remain airborne. They, too, however, emit ozone.
Although these plug-in air purifiers seem helpful they could, then, cause problems of their own. Ultimately, upgrading your cabin air filter to a HEPA filter is going to result in the cleanest possible air in your car — but only, you should be warned, if you also take other proactive steps.
Mold: An Overlooked Threat to Your In-Car Air Quality?
Let’s assume that you have familiarized yourself with the dangers of exhaust fumes and Volatile Organic Compounds originating from within your car. You take these health risks seriously. Increased ventilation combats off-gassing within your vehicle, but increases the concentration of outdoor pollutants within your cabin. Keeping your windows closed helps keep fumes emitted by other vehicles at bay, but simultaneously forces you to breathe VOCs released inside your car. To solve this problem, you have decided to put changing your cabin air filter on your calendar twice a year. Because you only want the best, you opt for HEPA filters that are also impregnated with carbon. In addition, as a responsible car owner, you regularly clean your car to keep it free of dust build-up.
Do you still suffer from chest discomfort, coughing, irritated eyes, a dry throat, and breathing difficulties within your car? Does your (older) car have a characteristically musty or “old” odor, especially in summer?
You know that severe mold problems can develop within homes and other buildings — but you may not have been aware that, given humid conditions, harmful molds can proliferate within vehicles as well. Car owners are often able to spot the tell-tale signs in these cases, but mold may also hide in nooks and crannies that you simply have not explored. Severe allergic symptoms can arise from a mold problem in your car, and toxic and pathogenic molds are further associated with the risk of long-term health complications.
If you suspect that you could have a mold problem within your car, it is time to call in the professionals. As an independent mold inspection company, MI&T can inspect and test your vehicle for mold spores. Following the collection and testing of air samples, you will receive a full report that tells you exactly what steps to take next.
For long-haul drivers and daily commuters, who spend long hours behind the wheel, it is especially crucial not to let a suspected mold problem in a vehicle fester. By asking for a mold inspection now, you can take yet another step toward optimal in-car air quality.