Why You Shouldn't Clean Your Air Conditioning Unit Amid Coronavirus

Experts say you should hold off on cleaning your AC filter during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has everyone cleaning nonstop. From wiping down every door knob to sanitizing recently delivered packages, people are scouring their homes left and right for things to disinfect to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But between all that spraying and wiping, is there anything you actually shouldn't be cleaning right now? According to experts, there is—you should not clean your air conditioning unit during the coronavirus pandemic.

We asked Qingyan Chen, PhD, a Purdue University professor researching virus transmission through ventilation, who said that cleaning the filter in your AC unit is a bad idea right now. Chen previously told Best Life that air conditioning can actually spread the coronavirus by recirculating possibly contaminated droplets that are too small for the system to filter out. The chances of spreading COVID-19 through air conditioning are even greater if your house relies on central air conditioning instead of window units, and if someone in the home is already sick with the virus.

This is why he recommends that you wait until after the pandemic to clean your AC filter—which requires replacing it—because it "may have the virus on it." According to the pros at Home Depot, you should be replacing your air filters every one to six months, depending on the type of air filter you have. But Chen says now is the time to disregard this home maintenance tip.

To replace your AC filter, you have to open up your air conditioning vent to get to the filter. According to Chen, this is risky. It's not only possible that the filter could have the virus on it and expose you to COVID-19, but opening the vent and removing the filter could also release the virus into the air and contaminate other surfaces in your home.

Instead, Chen says the best course of action is to let the filter stay inside the vent until the COVID-19 pandemic subsides to prevent the virus from spreading. Since it's a hidden surface within your vent, it can't easily be touched unless you open the vent, so it poses no risk staying exactly where it is. Most air filters are made from either fiberglass, pleated paper, or cloth encompassed in cardboard, and the virus can only last a few days on most surfaces, so you should be able to safely handle the filter down the line.

"In fact, an older filter has a higher filtration efficiency than a new one, so you should be safe" without replacing it, Chen says. "The only downside is that you may get a little bit less air or use a little more energy."

But if you can't clean your air filter, how can you take extra safety measures to make sure your air conditioner isn't spreading coronavirus around your home? Chen says your safest choice is to use outside air by "opening up a window," especially while most areas are still experiencing moderate weather temperatures. If that's not possible, he also says that ceiling fans and table fans are a safe way to cool off.

However, if you just can't imagine living without AC, consider investing in window units, as Chen says they only provide air for one indoor space, thus eliminating the possibility of cross contamination throughout your house.

Best Life is constantly monitoring the latest news as it relates to COVID-19 in order to keep you healthy, safe, and informed. Here are the answers to your most burning questions, the ways you can stay safe and healthy, the facts you need to know, the risks you should avoid, the myths you need to ignore,and the symptoms to be aware of. Click here for all of our COVID-19 coverage, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.
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