The Air In Our Cars

The Air In Our Cars

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Fuel for Thought

Car-Cabin-Indoor-Air-Allergy-Standards2I have to admit, its not something I have ever spent much time thinking about. In fact, it’s true to say that I take it completely for granted. But without it, about 2 hours of every day of my life would be really uncomfortable and probably even dangerous.

I’m talking about my car cabin air filter and believe it or not it is crucial to my everyday life and if you drive a car, to yours too.

This is what happens without an effective filter:

  • Debris, such as leaves, cement, ash and soot clog up your cabin air filter. The car air conditioning system is put under strain as it has to push the cool air through the clogged filter and so, the air conditioning becomes much less effective. In turn, the engine has to work harder to power the poorly working air conditioner and unfortunately up goes your fuel consumption. The impact on your wallet is soon apparent, not to mention on the environment.
  • Pollen and dust, among other allergens, enter your car cabin. For a lot of us this one is pretty serious. For us allergy and asthma people, a confined space filled with allergens becomes a serious matter of health and safety. My children spend a lot of time in the car. Ballet, soccer, dancing, tennis, squash, piano, art, hockey – we climb into the car for every one of those runs. Pollen season is no longer a defined few weeks, or even months, but rather stretches out for a good chunk of the year. To be surrounded by allergens entering the car cabin on every journey we take and then to be dragging these allergens back into our home on our clothes and hair means to be at the mercy of these triggers for the entire day. A good car cabin filter is an absolute necessity for good indoor air quality and preferably one that has been approved to be effective against allergens of all types and particle sizes.
  • Exhaust fumes and pollutants enter your car cabin. This is particularly problematic in urban areas or anywhere that engines may be idling. It’s one of my bugbears to see how even rural car parks are turned into toxic environments because so many parents sit in cars with idling engines when dropping and collecting kids. The pollutants being spewed out are so harmful to our children’s lungs and the car cabin air filter is a must to reduce them.
  • VOCs, odours, viruses and bacteria enter your car cabin. This is an interesting one. That new car smell? The one we associate with success, pleasure, money, satisfaction and that some people even try to replicate by putting an air freshener in their car? Its produced by up to 60 volatile organic compounds, including toluene (you are familiar with this one from nail polish removers), styrene and ethylbenzene (in petrol and paint) and is actually a nasty and very unhealthy odour to be enveloped in within an enclosed space. These VOCs are present in the fabrics, carpets, glues and other interior materials that go into making our beautiful new cars. They are responsible for triggering asthma and allergies. They are harmful when inhaled and cause headaches, dizziness, sore throat and nausea. Prolonged exposure may lead to birth defects, disabilities and cancer. Researchers have said that if an office building had the same level of chemicals in their indoor air, then it would be declared a sick building and the workers would be sent home until the building was cured.


Thankfully these chemicals that produce the new car smell do disappear over time (about 20% per week) but not completely, and on a hot day with rising temperatures in the car, the materials off gas again and levels once again rise.

Car manufacturers have recently been taking steps to reduce that new car smell and indeed in the future we may be reminiscing about it to our kids. Natural, renewable materials such as soy are being considered instead of the traditional synthetic fabrics and some progressive companies have introduced more effective filters. Experts advise that the easiest way of reducing our exposure to the VOCs is to roll down the window and let the smell out, but this is a no no on high pollen days, as really, its just facilitating the replacement of one toxic allergy and asthma trigger with another. Anyway, it’s not too comfortable an experience to be hurtling down the highway with the windows open. An effective car cabin filter is the only practical answer. The filter should be replaced regularly but also be capable of withstanding loading with allergen without its performance being affected. An ordinary filter alone cannot capture viruses, exhaust fumes, or other harmful gases. To effectively filter out those harmful pollutants activated charcoal can be used. The activated charcoal acts like a magnet to prevent toxins from entering the inside of the car.

There are a few other simple steps to take (or as I like to do – chores to give the kids) to allergy proof your car. Vacuum regularly to remove pollen and dust. Obviously a vacuum cleaner with an effective HEPA filter is a necessity. Wipe down the console, dashboard and steering wheel regularly. Don’t ignore those spills, whether they be your morning coffee or a kids juice box.. moisture allows mould to grow. Make sure that your windows and doors seal properly to protect from both moisture and pollen.

So next time you sit into your car and breathe in that nice fresh air, free of toxins, allergens and nasty odours, give a moment’s thought to the hard working car cabin filter that is all too easily taken for granted.

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Medical & Lifestyle Author Dr Anna O'Donovan

Medical & Lifestyle Author Dr Anna O’Donovan

About Dr. Anna O’Donovan – Medical & Lifestyle Author 

Anna is a mum of three children, one with allergies, and she suffers from allergies and asthma herself. She is a qualified doctor and worked as a General Practitioner and as a dentist for a number of years. She is also an award-winning author.

Key Words

Car cabin filter, indoor air quality, asthma and allergies, allergens, pollen, VOCs, new car smell

References and further reading

Breathe Easy With a New Cabin Air Filter, Champion AutoParts, Click here

Is new-car smell bad for your health? BBC, Click here

Is ‘new car smell’ toxic?, How stuff works, Click here

What causes ‘new car smell’?, How stuff works, Click here

Is That ‘New Car Smell’ Toxic?, WebMD, Click here

Related Internal Links 


By |2020-10-01T15:17:31+00:002 December 2019|Tags: , , |Comments Off on The Air In Our Cars