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Millions of Americans are hitting the highways this summer for travel destinations near and far. All those miles on the road mean hours spent in the car, and that gets us at AprilAire thinking about the quality of the air you’re breathing inside your vehicle.
Sources of Air Pollution in Vehicles
The air in your car can become polluted from three primary sources: dirty air outside, off-gassing from the vehicle’s interior, and the activity of you and your passengers.
Outside air comes in through the car’s ventilation system and open windows, and can often contain pollutants like automotive exhaust from surrounding traffic, allergens, and particulate matter from industrial and farming practices.
Inside the vehicle there are hundreds of components made out of different types of plastic, metal, paint, and more. Think of that “new car smell”—this typically comes from the off-gassing of these materials and is more noticeable in newer cars and whenever your car is sitting in the sun. It’s dangerous to breathe in these volatile organic compounds (VOCs, like benzene and formaldehyde) over time.
Lastly, air can be saturated with carbon dioxide by the exhalations of the car’s occupants, especially with multiple passengers in the same cabin for multiple hours. And adding things like air fresheners, or not cleaning up food waste and debris will also impact the car’s air quality.
How to Clean Your Car’s Air
Start by making sure your cabin’s air filter is updated and effective at removing dust, allergens, and other pollutants. Some manufacturers recommend changing it every 15,000 miles.
If your car has been sitting in the sun for a long period, open up the windows when you first get in to release some of the VOCs that have been trapped. It’s tempting to let the air conditioner do all the work, but by letting out the trapped air, you’re both lowering the interior temperature and removing pollutants. After a few minutes, you can roll up the windows and enjoy the chilled air.
When you’re on the open road without much surrounding traffic or other sources of pollution, consider using open windows to control the temperature rather than the air conditioner. This allows more fresh air to enter the cabin and prevents the buildup of carbon dioxide.
Most modern vehicles have a setting on the air and temperature controls that will recirculate the air inside the vehicle, and block out air from outside. This is a good option when you’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic or driving through an area with construction, farming, or other sources of air pollution.
Recirculation mode will prevent the external pollutants from entering your car, but keep in mind that this setting can also cause carbon dioxide levels to rise if used for an extended period of time.
Keep your car’s interior clean to prevent airborne dust and the formation of mold and mildew. Clean up liquid as soon as it’s spilled, and avoid using chemical sprays or air fresheners.