In the final week of our course on How to Build an Eco-Friendly, Non-Toxic Nursery, I talk about baby monitors, non-toxic, air filtering plants for the nursery, and air filters themselves. The big takeaway (spoiler alert!) is that an air filter may well be essential in ensuring clean and safe air in your baby’s nursery. Not all air filters are made the same, though, and the type of filter you need depends on the kind of air pollution you’re dealing with.
At home air filtration
There are plenty of excellent reasons to consider getting a home air filter for the home and especially for the nursery. An air filter can vastly improve indoor air quality to reduce allergy symptoms and support improved respiratory and immune health overall. For little lungs just developing, clean air free from allergens and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) is super important.
Many things can have a dramatic effect on indoor air quality, including:
- Wildfire/climate fires
- Living near a freeway or busy intersection
- Living near a coal power plant or manufacturing facility
- Living near farmland sprayed with pesticides and herbicides
- Bringing new furniture and furnishings into the home that off-gas chemicals
- Cooking with Teflon-coated cookware and some other non-stick cookware
In addition to choosing household products like rugs, mattresses, and paint that don’t off-gas pollutants, air filters can significantly improve indoor air quality. A good air filter can also significantly reduce airborne allergens as well as pollutants.
Many filters don’t, however, remove toxic exhaust gases such as benzene and 1,3-butadiene, or other harmful ingredients in traffic pollution or common indoor air pollutants such as formaldehyde. For that, you’ll need a high-efficiency filter and you’ll need to replace filters regularly, usually every few months.
If you have central air or central heating, you can install a high-efficiency air filter system. Choose one rated 13 or higher on the 16-point industry MERV scale (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value). This scale measures how effectively a filter blocks tiny pollution particles. Happily, the California Energy Commission is set to require MERV 13 air filtration in all newly built residential buildings starting in 2020. So, if you have the option, choose a newer building with good air filtration rather than an older one that is less likely to be air-tight and more likely to harbor mold and other respiratory hazards.
Stand-alone air filters
In homes without central air, a stand-alone filter is still a good option for purifying the air in a single room.
In one study that took place over three to four seasons, researchers set up free-standing air filters and window air conditioners in the bedrooms of over a hundred kids with asthma and then monitored indoor air quality. They found that air filters reduced particulate matter levels by 50%. Similar results were seen in another study, where air filters reduced particulate matter by an average of 69-80%.
Air filters also filter out airborne infectious pathogens such as some viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Indeed, airborne droplets are responsible for diseases like tuberculosis, influenza, some types of herpes zoster, and childhood infections such as chicken pox and measles (though air filters should not be used in lieu of vaccinations against preventable diseases).
A HEPA filter can also capture airborne viral particles in your home. And, by using a HEPA filter year-round, you’re doing your lungs and general health a favor, meaning you’re in better shape to tackle any bugs that come your way. I’ll explain in a moment what a HEPA filter is and why it matters.
What to look for when choosing an air filter for the nursery
For optimal air filtration in the nursery or any room in your home, you’ll want to consider four key things:
- Good airflow and ventilation in your baby’s room (and a suitably sized filter)
- An ability to filter out a range of particles, small to large, in different ways
- Easy maintenance and upkeep (and low-cost filter replacements)
- An ozone-free filter, as certified by the International Association of Air Cleaner Manufacturers (IAACM)
It’s also good to look for an air purifier with an AHAM Verifide seal and a CADR. This seal certifies that the model has been tested by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers and that you can trust the CADR or clean air delivery rate. The CADR is a measure of the volume of clean air an air purifier produces when it is operating at its top level. So, a CADR of 150 for tobacco smoke filters air in such a way as to be the equivalent of adding 150 cubic feet of clean air every minute. (Hopefully, there’s no tobacco smoke near the nursery though!)
As you’d expect, a higher CADR means greater efficiency and speed at filtering air. Be careful to check the CADR for different types of air pollutant, though. If you are buying formaldehyde-free furniture and furnishings, and your main concern in the nursery is pollen, a model with a high CADR for formaldehyde doesn’t necessarily mean a high CADR for pollen, and vice versa. In general, a CADR of 240 or more is excellent, while a filter with a CADR below 60 isn’t going to be all that helpful.
You can find out more about how air filters work and the different types of air filters in the course, and be sure to check out our roundup of the best air filters for the nursery here.