Something about local news broadcasts has caught my eye lately. That something is the rising frequency with which I see air quality alerts. Maybe it’s all the talk of climate change that seems to dominate the political and media narratives these days. Whatever the reason, I’m more aware now than ever. It doesn’t really matter where you live anymore. Air quality is an issue for everyone and it’s a good idea to pay attention, especially for anyone who spends a lot of time on the road. The best protection against airborne contaminants when traveling anywhere by car is a fresh, clean cabin air filter.
Many people aren’t even aware that their car has a cabin air filter and that is probably because they’re well hidden – usually behind the glove compartment, or under the windshield cowl. The name is self-explanatory. The job of this little filter is to catch all of the road dust, dirt, particles and contaminants in the air before they are circulated into the cabin through the dash vents. They are about the equivalent of your home heating and air conditioning system filters. It may not seem like these filters do much, but you’d be very surprised. We’ve come across some extra filthy specimens, clogged with mold, mildew, fungus and other foul substances to which no person’s lungs should ever be exposed!
Rest assured that the cabin air filter does do a very good job of keeping cabin air fresh and clean – as long as it’s changed regularly and preferably on a seasonal basis. With all that said, there are a few different types of cabin air filters available – each offering its own unique features and advantages. If you’re a consumer, you’ll want to know the differences – and, if you’re a professional installer, you can leverage your knowledge of these products as a powerful selling tool.
Particulate Media Cabin Air Filters
Particulate filters are usually white in color and are sometimes referred to as electrostatic particulate cabin air filters. These filters have the unique ability to remove dust and other particles from the air using static electricity. This happens when air flowing through the maze of the filter’s static prone fibers generates an electrostatic charge. At that time, any airborne particles in the air are attracted and held by the static charge for as long as the filter is in use. Electrostatic particulate filters offer exceptional protection from dust, soot, pollen and other particles in the air – trapping particles as small as 0.3 microns. These filters are composed of a multi-layered fleece material designed to efficiently collect dust and solid matter. Electrostatic particulate cabin air filters offer high dust holding capacity while minimizing air-flow resistance. The drawback to using these cabin air filters is that they are thin and lightweight, making them the flimsiest of all options. They also lack the ability to neutralize odors in the air.
Carbon Media Cabin Air Filters
Carbon media cabin air filters will usually feature a darker, charcoal colored media and will be noticeably heavier than a particulate media only filter. The initial intent with the development of cabin air filtration systems was to filter solid particles from the air before circulation into the cabin via the vehicle’s ventilation system. The particulate cabin air filters that we just discussed do a fine job of this using electrostatic technology. Carbon media cabin air filters take cabin air filtration to another level, which anyone sensitive to foul smells or noxious fumes can really appreciate. These filters can neutralize odors before they get into the cabin. This unique advantage is achieved by adding a layer of fibers that have been impregnated with activated carbon. Activated carbon is created using an environmentally safe and natural steam treated charcoal. This activated charcoal material contains millions of micro-pockets which are essentially tiny holes, or pores, on and inside the surface. These properties make activated carbon one of the most porous materials in existence and the reason why carbon media cabin air filters have such a large capacity for gas particles. A new carbon media cabin air filter will ensure that air is not only free of dirt and dust particles but also smells fresh and free of odors as it flows into the cabin of any vehicle.
Baking Soda Treated Cabin Air Filters
There is another type of cabin air filter that attempts to offer even more odor absorbing power by applying a chemical treatment to the media in addition to the conventional carbon impregnated and particulate media layers. With these cabin air filters, sodium bicarbonate – more commonly known as baking soda – is applied to the media. Sodium bicarbonate is amphoteric, which means that it reacts with particles that are either very acidic or very basic. In theory, this ability combined with the naturally large surface area of sodium bicarbonate powder enables it to soak up and neutralize odors as they pass through the filter media.
Washable Cabin Air Filters
Some manufacturers provide washable cabin air filters that can be washed periodically and reused. While this option sounds interesting, there are questions about whether the washed filter retains its ability to function properly after the first use. Also, users have reported the presence of an oily smell inside of their car because of the additive that is applied to the cabin air filter to make it function a second time. Those with sensitivity to odors would probably like traditional cabin air filters better.
HEPA Certified Cabin Air Filters
As the name implies, these cabin air filters are designed to meet High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filtering standards based on test standard ASTM D2986. In order to meet the requirements, these filters must offer filtration efficiency of 99.97% at 0.3 microns. An efficiency rating that high sounds really great if you’re someone that suffers from allergies or sensitivity to microscopic pollutants such as mold. In order to achieve those numbers, these filters require a very dense media, coupled with an electrostatic layer. While the concept of HEPA media cabin air filters sounds amazing, the idea doesn’t actually play out well in operation. One of the most common complaints about these filters is that they are too air flow restrictive, even when newly installed. Many users of these filters report dramatic decreases in ventilation system air flow, which of course will have a negative impact on the heating, air conditioning, defrosting and defogging ability of the vehicle.
Since their initial introduction by OE manufacturers in the 1980’s the use of cabin air filter systems in vehicles has steadily increased. Today, over 90% of newer vehicles feature a cabin air filtration system and many cabin air filters can be changed in under 10 minutes with few, or no tools required. If you’re wondering how long a replacement might take for your car, or a customer’s, we have the answers you need. Head over to the ECOGARD e-catalog to see approximately how much time each application requires along with installation instructions.