According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), air filters represent an important component to keep your indoor air clean, pure, safe and breathable for all members of your family.

However, the home air filters of today are a far cry from the home air filters of a decade ago! There are more options and many more levels of air filters to choose from. Some air filters are disposable (single use) while others are reusable (a number of times or indefinitely).

In this article, we take a close look at four vital cleaning tips to help you get the most out of your home air filters and keep your air as clean and pure as possible.

1. Identify the Filter Type and Its Maintenance Requirements

Learning how to clean your home’s air filters efficiently and effectively starts with understanding what type of filter you have. WebMD outlines the basic types: mechanical, electric/electrostatic, hybrid (mechanical plus electrical), gas phase and ozone generators.

The first three types are the most common types and the ones this article will focus on.

2. Understand Your Household Air Filtration Needs

For standard mechanical filters, which represent the vast majority of home air filters today, changing them out or cleaning and replacing them monthly during high HVAC-use periods (such as summer and winter) and quarterly during low HVAC-use periods (such as spring and fall) is a typical industry standard.

But this doesn’t mean you should just blindly follow the industry standard. If someone in your household has seasonal allergies or asthma concerns, you live in an older home with lots of natural air leakage, you have furry pets, you don’t know if your air ducts have ever been professionally cleaned or you have to dust your home surfaces often, you may need to clean or change out your home air filters more frequently than a friend or neighbor does.

3. Clean and Maintain Your HVAC System

Industry experts generally recommend at least a once-annual HVAC safety inspection and preventative maintenance tune-up. For new units, this is typically required to avoid voiding your manufacturer’s warranty. For older units, it can stave off costly surprise breakdowns and outages.

During this service call, the technician will also clean the exterior and interior components of your HVAC (air conditioning, furnace or other heating system) and take a look at your air duct system if you have a central (ducted) system to evaluate it for leaks and debris.

If you have an older home and you have no record of ever cleaning out the air ducts, this is also a service to consider. Trapped debris can build up over time inside the air ducts and when they become sufficiently clogged, this can turn into a fire safety risk as well as an air quality concern inside your home.

Most importantly, removing trapped dust, dirt and debris from in and around your HVAC components can alleviate the burden on your home air filters to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to keeping your indoor air supply clean and breathable.

4. Clean out Low-traffic Areas Where Trapped Debris Remains

In addition to regularly cleaning and dusting visible areas inside your home itself, you can also do your air filters a big favor by regularly cleaning in more out-of-the-way areas such as behind the refrigerator and water heater, behind furniture and laundry room appliances and inside your clothes dryer (having it professionally vacuumed is also an excellent safety idea).

By cleaning out these areas where more dust and debris is typically permitted to accumulate for longer periods of time, you remove a larger percentage of ambient airborne dust and debris that can get sucked into your HVAC and sent out through your air filters.

You may also want to purchase a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) rated vacuum cleaner with specialized attachments and use this to clean floors, rugs and furniture. This will ensure up to 99.7 percent of airborne particulate matter down to the size of 1/100th of a human hair will get vacuumed up and removed from your indoor air supply.

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