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7 myths about healthy air in cars

For most people, health is the most important thing in life1. Eating healthily and exercising enough are common resolutions, when it comes to doing something for our health. Healthy living starts with the small things in life - like the air we breathe in every day.

It is not only the ambient air that plays an important role, but also the air in the interiors of vehicles in particular: in as little as a ten-minute drive, we already breathe in over 70 litres of air - that's quite a lot. Who wouldn't want to have the appropriate quality of air in the car?

With polluted ambient air, climate change and other external influences, however, fungi and bacteria accumulate in the air conditioning system over time. These have a negative impact on the quality of the air inside the vehicle.

How can you ensure healthy air in the car and what should one be mindful of? Unfortunately, there is still too much ignorance and superficial knowledge in the automotive industry, which doesn't contribute to healthy air in the car in any way. Exploring the myths, we took a closer look at seven of them.

Myth 1: "Air conditioning systems are maintenance-free and protect me from polluted ambient air"

In the manual for most vehicles the manufacturers provide the information that an air conditioning system can be used maintenance-free. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The ambient air deposits dirt particles and bacteria on components of the air conditioning system.

According to VDI guideline 6032, regular preventive cleaning of the air conditioning system (evaporator and pollen filter area) is the only effective method to avoid harmful air in the vehicle interior2.

Myth 2: "Something is wrong only once there's an unpleasant smell from the vents"

You can already smell the air conditioning? Then it is high time to contact your trusted vehicle workshop. Unfortunately, in most cases this is already too late!

Even with a neutral smell, the air conditioning system may be dirty and therefore the air in the interior contaminated with bacteria. This was shown in an internal study on 50 vehicles, where the condensate* was sampled and in more than half (>25) of these vehicles the levels of germ contamination were found to have exceeded the normally permissible level for drinking water. However, only two out of 30 test subjects rated the smell of the indoor air of these vehicles as unpleasant; the rest found it to be neutral to pleasant. This clearly shows that an unpleasant smell is not a reliable indicator for a dirty air conditioning system.

(*Condensate in the air conditioning system can get into the vehicle interior in a gaseous state via the evaporator.)

Myth 3: "Little trees improve the air in a car"

Little/scented trees are used as air fresheners in the car. Unfortunately, these only mask room smells and in no way contribute to "healthy air". On the contrary, they may even cause allergic reactions and headaches3. Even odour neutralisers (air cleaners, air sanitisers) are not a long-term solution for clean indoor air in vehicles. They isolate odour molecules or remove them from the air, but they do not combat the origin of bad smells.

Myth 4: "A spray effectively cleans the air conditioning system in vehicles"

A spray can (aerosol), which is placed in the foot well of the vehicle, is also not an effective method of cleaning air in a car. The way it works may be compared to that of little/scented trees. Again, the unpleasant smells in the air (potentially germs and bacteria) are only covered up. The cause of bad air, i.e. a dirty air conditioning system is not combated here either. For effective cleaning, chemistry is not enough - the mechanics also play an important role. This method does not guarantee sustained healthy air in the car.

Myth 5: "The cure-all for healthy air inside a vehicle is ozone generators"

Ozone generators are still widely used as universal remedy for interior treatment. When it comes to the cleaning of automotive air conditioning systems, the ozone generator is a popular method in vehicle workshops. Although ozone eliminates (most) odours, this gas is extremely dangerous for humans, animals and plants4. The gas also attacks and damages materials beyond repair. Another disadvantage is the long treatment time (1 to 1.5 hours) and an extremely long drying time (4 to 7 hours) after cleaning – not adhering to this poses an extremely high risk to health. This method does not generally guarantee effective cleaning.

Myth 6: “Anyone can perform the cleaning of the air conditioning system”

An effective air conditioning cleaning cannot be performed by everyone. A certain level of expertise in air conditioning is required and (in most cases) can only be done with special tools. So it makes sense to go to a specialist workshop.

Myth 7: "For clean air in the car, it is enough to simply replace the pollen filter"

The pollen filter extracts pollutants from ambient air and thus cleans the air that flows in. However, the performance of the pollen filter declines over time and the filter becomes clogged. Dirty pollen filters put a permanent strain on the air conditioning system and the driver. It is essential to change the pollen filter.

For healthy air in the car, it is not enough to just use a new pollen filter. This is usually the method sold to the customer at the car dealership. Unfortunately, this only cleans the air conditioning to a certain extent - often the very  important cleaning of the evaporator is forgotten. Here, the VDI guideline 6032 also points out what is important: preventive cleaning of evaporator and pollen filter is the only effective way to avoid dangerous air supply to the vehicle interior5.

 

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