Do Air Conditioners Filter Pollen?


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In the hot summer months, I use my air conditioner a lot, and I suppose most homeowners do the same. Air conditioners keep the air smelling fresh, plus they remove moisture, dust, and smoke. If you are allergic to pollen, you may doubt keeping your windows closed and using the air conditioner.

Air conditioners filter pollen. An air conditioner uses vacuum power to suck air into its intake vents. The air then passes through filters that trap pollen, dust, and other particles. That way, air conditioners improve indoor air quality and significantly reduce allergy-related complications. 

The rest of this article will examine several aspects of this question, including how air conditioners work, the source and effects of pollen, and whether the system achieves 100% pollen removal.  I will also discuss the role of air filters and share my verdict. 

How Do Air Conditioners Work?

Air conditioners suck in air through vents located at the base. Inside the unit are cooling pipes containing fluid known as coolant or refrigerant. The air cools and is also deprived of moisture before flowing to a heating element. A fan located at the top of the air conditioner blows the air back into the room.

An AC is designed for cooling a room, not heating it. An air conditioner regulates its flow of air by utilizing a thermostat until it reaches the maximum setting. After that, it stops until the temperature rises again. 

As the coolant flows through the pipes, it takes away heat from the air, after which it evaporates. In the end, it takes away heat from a room and releases it outside in the air. An electric fan helps blow air past metal plates in a process that accelerates heat release to the atmosphere.

How an Air Conditioner Filters Pollen

Air conditioning equipment is fitted with filters that help trap the contaminants resulting in a clean air discharge. Not all air conditioners can efficiently clean up allergens. The difference is in the air filters. Some variants trap large debris that could damage the HVAC. 

The following types of air conditioning filters exist:

  • Electrostatic filters
  • Plastic mesh filters trap large dust particles
  • Carbon filters are effective at removing gases that cause odor
  • Adhesive filters are made from fiberglass and cotton with an adhesive coating

Air conditioners fitted with High-Efficiency Particulate Arresting (HEPA) filters can trap up to 99.9% of air particles, with electrostatic filters as the other alternative. They are highly recommended for residential AC units with a 90% efficiency rate. However, the effectiveness of air-conditioning equipment determines the amount of pollen it can remove.

Here is a short video on indoor air filters that you will find most useful:

When purchasing an air conditioner, you must check its filter’s rating. What sets an efficient filter and a non-efficient one apart is the MERV rating. Pleated filters are standard in residential HVAC equipment. On their part, electrostatic filters use an electric charge to attract allergens. HEPA filters are the most efficient.

Components of an Air Conditioning System

Air conditioners may seem like complicated pieces of equipment, but they are not. As for the one in your house, if it works just fine, you never give much thought to it. An air conditioner comprises of four components:

  • Evaporator Coil: It helps absorb heat and moisture, resulting in the dry, cold air that you enjoy when it is hot.
  • Compressor: It compresses the refrigerant vapor in a process that increases pressure and temperature.
  • Condenser Coil: After the compressor has increased the refrigerant’s heat, it is the condenser coil’s work to turn it into a hot liquid. 
  • Expansion Valve: It converts the coolant into vapor before it flows back to the evaporator to repeat the cycle.

Where Does the Pollen in Your House Originate?

Pollen comprises a fine powder transported by wind, insects, birds, and other animals. Plants are the primary source of pollen. The movement of pollen from plant to plant is essential for fertilization. However, for people suffering from allergies, exposure to pollen causes misery and discomfort.

The particles get indoors through windows and doors. Your shoes, clothes, and pets also bring in pollen. Once inside your living space, the particles settle on surfaces. Airflow helps in keeping pollen suspended in the air. 

Most of the pollen in June and July comes from trees and grass. On the other hand, pollen in mid-August, with peaks in September, comes from ragweed. In some areas, the season can go all the way to November.

Ragweed allergy is also known as hay fever. The weed grows anywhere in both urban and rural areas. Winter salting promotes its growth along the edges of roads. 

Air conditioning significantly reduces indoor airborne pollen. Allergic individuals residing in air-conditioned homes experience reduced clinical symptoms compared to those living in homes without air-conditioners. Central air conditioning also reduces mold and bacteria counts.

Symptoms of Pollen Air Contamination

Most individuals spend 90% of their time indoors. The pollutant concentration indoors can, at times, be 2-5 times higher than in outdoor settings. Children and older adults are most likely to be affected since they spend most of their time indoors. Also, the use of household cleaners, personal care products, and furnishings increase indoor pollution.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction to pollen include:

  • Sneezing
  • Short breath
  • Coughing
  • Dizziness
  • Watery eyes
  • Itchy throat
  • Running nose
  • Fatigue

By keeping your doors and windows closed, you can minimize pollen exposure. But then, this is not always possible as indoor air pollution is not entirely avoidable. Therefore, you need an air conditioner to filter pollen.

Does an AC Clean Up All the Pollen? Verdict

Air conditioners keep your indoors cool during hot weather. That way, there is no need for you to keep the windows open. Besides, the air conditioner sucks pollen-filled air into its vents, passes it through a filter, and releases it clean.

An air conditioner in mint condition will clean out the air leaving it with less pollen and significantly reduce allergy-related complications. In a nutshell, here’s how air-cons work:

  • They pull in air from a room.
  • They condition it by removing heat and impurities via pumps, compressors, filters, and valves.
  • They release back the cold air and dump hot air outside. 

However, depending on the state of your filter, the air might still have traces of pollen. Therefore, in my verdict, air conditioners filter out pollen but not all of it. Nonetheless, you have no cause for worry since what remains unfiltered is negligible and cannot harm you.

You cannot live in the comfort that your air conditioner will work all the time correctly. As it filters out pollen, the allergen and other dust particles accumulate on the filters and cause them to clog. That translates to less efficient equipment and higher power utility bills; you need to replace the filters. I recommend buying filters in bulk. 

Final Thoughts

Technically speaking, air conditioners are effective pollen removers. Pollen comes from plants and is transported by wind, insects, animals, and humans. People with allergic reactions to pollen prefer to keep all windows and doors shut.

Air conditioners not only cool a room but also keep the air fresh. But at 99.9% efficiency, HEPA filters cannot mop up all the pollen indoors. Regardless, what remains is so little you can hardly notice the effect.

Invest in an air conditioner with a high MERV rating and change the filters regularly. Also, follow a frequent maintenance schedule to retain its efficiency.

Chris Hewitt

Chris is a Texas-based freelance writer who loves the outdoors and working in his garage. When he's not enjoying the Texas sun, he can be found tinkering with all sorts of things in his workshop.

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