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Vocal Hygiene Tip: Change Your Air Filter

This article addresses air filtration in a singer's living space and vehicle.

Level: Beginner

An older man or dad checking am air conditioning unit

How does air filtration play a role in vocal hygiene?

At the end of March 2021, one of my university students fell ill with cold-like symptoms. She missed a voice lesson or two and was complaining of a sore throat that was not going away. Since we were still in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, the student went to the doctor to get a test to see if she had coronavirus. The test was negative, but the symptoms remained. I asked her if she had allergies, to which she replied, "no." As we continued our conversation, she mentioned something that led me to ask about her air conditioning filter. Since we were still having online voice lessons at the time, she picked up her laptop and took me to investigate. I was astonished to find a filter so dark that I thought it had some kind of extra charcoal layering. I begged her to call her apartment management to get it replaced immediately. When maintenance dropped off her new filter, she sent me a side-by-side photo comparison. This is that actual photo...

A clean air filter next to a dirty air filter side by side
That moment when you realize that it is time to replace your air filter

Needless to say, this student's sore throat got way better shortly after this photo was taken--when the filter was replaced.

This is not the first time I have talked to a student or client about air filters. In South Florida, it is common to run air conditioning year-round, and, under these conditions, a/c filters can get filthy.

When should I change my air filter?

If a person has allergies, they can usually tell immediately when it is time to change an air filter. If you happen to wake up with a sore throat one morning, and it has been a while since you replaced the last filter, then this should be the first thing you check. Chances are, your air filter has turned from pure white to a relatively dark shade of grey and is ready to be replaced.

As a general rule, you should probably check your air filter every thirty days and replace it when it looks dirty. Keep in mind, this timeframe will be different for everyone. Some people can go sixty to ninety days before replacing an a/c filter. If you have pets, it will likely be sooner.

I have an a/c window unit. Do those have filters?

Usually, the answer to this question is yes. The filters in window or wall units are not typically replaceable. These filters have to be removed, cleaned similarly to a dryer filter, and placed back in the unit. Check your appliance's user guide to see what is recommended.

What else has a filter that I should replace or clean?

  1. Air purifiers (replaceable)

  2. Dehumidifiers

  3. Dryers

  4. Hairdryers

  5. Most any household appliance that moves air

  6. Vehicles (replaceable)

I got an oil change for my vehicle recently and they replaced the air filter, so I am good to go right?

Most newer cars, trucks, and SUVs have two air filters that need to be replaced periodically. One is an engine air filter and the other is a cabin air filter. The cabin air filter is far less important for the performance of the vehicle but way more important for your vocal health.

A dirty cabin air filter next to a clean cabin air filter
A dirty cabin air filter next to a clean cabin air filter

The day before a road trip, check to make sure that your vehicle has gas, the recommended air pressure in the tires, and a clean cabin air filter. As a singer, it is wise to make sure that your cabin air filter is clean, especially when traveling for auditions or gigs.

Cabin air filters are extremely easy to check and replace, and YouTube makes the process even easier. Take a second to see if there is a video tutorial that walks you through the process of replacing a cabin air filter for your vehicle before purchasing one online.

Pro Tip: Bosch makes cabin air filters with HEPA filtration that "provides filtration efficiency of 99.97% at 0.3 microns" (accessed April 19, 2021). The company does not make them for every model. If Bosch does not fit your vehicle, try Pureflow.

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Maintaining your air filter is essential, especially if you have allergies—symptoms like a sore throat can indicate it's time for a change. Check your filter monthly and replace it when dirty; pet owners may need more frequent changes. Window AC units typically have cleanable filters, not replaceable ones, similar to dryer filters. Consult your HVAC Contractor for specific maintenance tips.

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