Air conditioners operate by sucking in the surrounding air from the room or space they are fitted in. This air is passed through the coil and over the refrigerant which cools it down. Then the cool air is blown back into the room.
It is common knowledge that when an air conditioner processes air, it greatly improves the quality of the said air by filtering it and keeping off the dust, pollens, allergens, etc. from it. But there is no consensus on whether the AC filters also trap smoke.
Do Air Conditioners Filter Smoke?
In simple words, no air conditioners do not or rather cannot filter out smoke completely unless the air filters are of the best quality.
All AC units are fitted with internal filters that look like ice-cube holder trays with mesh in place of the cavities. This mesh is the most important part of the filter as this is what traps the dust on one side and allows clean air to pass through it.
It depends on the size of the holes in the mesh as to how small particles can or cannot pass through it. The air we breathe in has lots of dust that is a mixture of pollen from flowers, dead skin cells, clothing fibers, dead mites and bugs, soil particles, specks of plastic, etc. All of these can be considered fine particles and get trapped in air filters fitted in AC.
Even at times, the filters cannot keep out all the dust due to it being smaller than the diameter of the mesh holes. Coming to smoke, which has a mixture of solid-liquid and gaseous particles suspended in air, the filters can only keep out the solids. The other two will easily pass through the commonly used AC filters because they will simply classify the smoke as normal air.
That said, the AC will definitely lessen the concentration of the smoke and make it less intense and/or stuffy. This means that if your AC emits smoke, it will not take very long for it to fade away as well.
Some ac filters with extremely fine mesh can also filter smoke but they are quite uncommon and have to be separately installed or customized.
Does Ac Help With The Smoke Smell?
Yes, the AC can be used to remove unpleasant smells and odors from inside your room.
The thing with smoke is that it contains carbon and also minute particles that are invisible but cling to the walls, furniture windows, and any solid surface of your room that has some texture or where these particles can hold onto. The smell of smoke comes from the carbon and these particles are infused with the smell which then stubbornly stays inside your room and refuses to fade away.
If there is a bushfire around your house, then depending on the wind and weather conditions the smoke can hang around in the air for many days even after the wildfire has died down. Constantly smelling the remnant smoke of this fire can pose serious health hazards and thus it comes crucial to at least keep the smell out.
To remove the smoke and smoky smell from indoors you can do is turn on the ventilation feature of your AC. This will turn your AC into a ventilator where it will no longer provide you with cool air but draw the air inside the room and release it outside. This is an ideal setting if the smoke you are trying to get rid of has originated within your homes such as from excessive incense, candles, burnt food, and such.
Along with the smoke, the ventilation feature will also get rid of the smell.
Should I Run My Ac During A Fire?
If there is a fire outside and your AC filters are not built to filter smoke out then it is best to not turn on the AC during this time. This is, however, a general statement and in reality, there can be many variations to this situation.
Air conditioners are built to control the temperature of the room by cooling or heating the air it collects. Keeping out dust is a secondary feature that is built into it. Unlike air purifiers, an AC unit does not solely focus on improving the quality of air, and thus not all AC units filter the same way.
Some air conditioners have a “fresh air” setting which when turned on will collect air from the outside and then process it to blow into your room. If there is a fire outside then simply turning off this feature will stop the possibility of smoke getting inside your room.
However, if the fire in question starts inside the room itself then it is safe to turn the AC on in ventilation mode so that it can guide the smoke outside.
Does Smoke Affect Air Conditioners?
While filtering the smoke or smoky air does not do any damage to the air conditioner. But the solid particles contained in the smoke cling to the internal parts of the AC which may include the coil, the outer portion of the pipe that holds the refrigerant, and even the channels between the outdoor and inside unit from where the air passes.
What happens due to residual particles from smoke sticking to these parts is they will be susceptible to dust even more than it is as now the dust will cling to the said surfaces.
This is ultimately detrimental to the performance of the ac if for instance, the refrigerant pipe is covered with a thick layer of dust it will not be able to cool the air properly and if this goes on, the ac will breakdown due to overheating,
Is It Safe To Use AC When It Is Smoky Outside?
As already mentioned before, smoke from the outside will be drawn inside your home when the fresh air feature of the AC is switched on. This is because the AC will be drawing air from the outside to cool and pass it to your room.
Some ACs’ only have this one setting whose default mechanism is to draw in fresh air from the outside. For such ACs, it is not recommended that you turn it on when it is smoky outside.
In case of smoke, the AC should only be turned on if it has a very good quality filter that filters smoke completely and only lets pure air pass through it and if the air filter in question is of very good quality.
Inhaling smoke can be dangerous for your lungs and the respiratory system and thus essential to make sure it does not come anywhere near our breathable air.
If you think your AC is emitting smoke then turn it off immediately and let the smoke from the air gradually fade out from indoors. Although these days most ACs come with a ventilation feature and can be used to draw out the air along with smoke from inside your room.