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Can air conditioners spread coronavirus? Here’s what the WHO has to say

Can air conditioners spread coronavirus? Here’s what the WHO has to say
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There’s been a lot of dispute about how indoor air quality - and the ways we improve it - can impact the spread of coronavirus. Some have expressed concern (opens in new tab) that air conditioners can spread the virus, circulating droplets in indoor spaces. However, there is no conclusive evidence that suggests that air conditioners can spread coronavirus so long as recirculation modes are not used. In fact, the WHO has said that HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) can in fact protect you from the spread of COVID-19.

The vast majority of American consumers say that higher indoor air quality is important in the fight against COVID-19, according to a survey (opens in new tab) by energy savings company Carbon Lighthouse (opens in new tab). The survey, released yesterday, found that 91% say that indoor air quality is important in preventing COVID-19, and 66% of those 1000 consumers surveyed say it is “very important”. 

The survey also said that 89% of consumers are aware that viruses are transmitted through the air, but that awareness was far higher among the over-35 age category. Of course, there’s only so much the average citizen can tell you when it comes to preventing the spread of coronavirus, so what do the experts say? 

Indoor air quality, COVID-19 and air purifiers: what does the WHO say? 

Can air conditioners spread coronavirus? Here’s what the WHO has to say

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According to the WHO (opens in new tab), “a well-maintained and operated system can reduce the spread of COVID-19 in indoor spaces by increasing the rate of air change, reducing recirculation of air and increasing the use of outdoor air.” 

This means that regularly cleaning your air conditioning unit (opens in new tab), air purifier (opens in new tab), and humidifier (opens in new tab) is crucial, as part of keeping your HVAC system well-maintained. The EPA has also spoken on the topic of indoor air quality and COVID-19:

“Although improvements to ventilation and air cleaning cannot on their own eliminate the risk of airborne transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, EPA recommends precautions to reduce the potential for airborne transmission of the virus. These precautions include increasing ventilation with outdoor air and air filtration as part of a larger strategy that includes social distancing, wearing cloth face coverings or masks, surface cleaning and disinfecting, handwashing, and other precautions.”

Can air conditioners spread coronavirus? Here’s what the WHO has to say

(Image credit: Frigidaire)

As the cooler months approach, relying on outdoor air to increase the air circulation of your home or workplace may be a less comfortable strategy, although it’s still the best one. Instead of circulating the air within your space, the EPA suggests (opens in new tab) a “window air conditioner (opens in new tab) that has an outdoor air intake or vent” as a way of ventilating using outdoor air, without leaving all windows and screen doors open. 

Another strategy (if you wish to keep those windows closed entirely) is to use an air purifier. Although stressing that air purifiers are not enough to protect you from coronavirus, it does advise that “when used properly, air purifiers can help reduce airborne contaminants including viruses in a home or confined space.”

Millie is a former staff writer for the Top Ten Reviews brand who now works across Future's Home portfolio. Her spare time is spent traveling, cooking, playing guitar and she's currently learning how to knit. Millie loves tracking down a good deal and keeping up-to-date on the newest technology and kitchen appliances.