Introduction: Wildfire Smoke? Smells? Virus? Clean Your Air!

About: Life is a series of projects. Woo-hoo!

Got smoke smell from wildfires in your apartment? Want cleaner air in your classroom? Did you burn popcorn in the office microwave? Like to cook fish but hate the smell? Want to reduce dust, allergens, or viruses in the air where you live? Here's a cheap and easy way to help clean the air where you live or work. You can pick the level of filtration depending on your needs and its a super simple project. This project is perfect for teachers trying to stay healthy in their classrooms. If you know a teacher please consider making one a donating it.

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

We will be building a simple Air Cleaner that will reduce smoke, soot, pollen, dust, bacteria, and viruses from the air in a room. You can select a filter to match your cleaning goal, whether it is a less expensive filter for dust, pollen, and mold or a slightly more expensive filter that also captures viruses, bacteria, soot and smoke. The cleaner will not remove all the particles in your room but it will help reduce them. I used mine for 3 hours and there was a noticeable reduction in smoke smell and irritation in my room, a major relief. Here is what you need to build your own simple Air Cleaner.

1. A simple box fan. I bought a 20 inch box fan from Target for under $20. Or click the link to order one on Amazon:

2. A 20" x 20" air filter. Each filter is rated by the particle size that it can filter. The one I'm using is a high performance air filter, at a rating of 1900 it will filter particles sized between 0.3 microns and 1 micron. This size range includes 99% of particles you breathe in. This filter will capture dust, pollen, smoke, bacteria, viruses and more. I bought it at Target for just under $20. Don't know which filter you need? Look for the symbols on the packaging to see what kind of particles each filter captures. Order them on Amazon:

3. Duct tape, a classic. Order here on Amazon:

4. A pair of shears or strong scissors.

Step 2: Understanding How the Air Cleaner Works Safely

Our objective is to fasten the air filter to the back of the fan so that air is pulled through the filter, expelling cleaned air into the room. You might consider just taping the full filter to the back of the fan and calling it a day. Here is why you shouldn't do that. The cord and control switch to turn the fan on/off and adjust its speed are usually located on the back of a box fan (see picture). Taping over this would block your ability to turn the fan off and on, or even plug in the power cord. Also, importantly, covering the air flow to the fan's motor could cause it to overheat, ruining the motor or even creating a fire hazard. To be safe, I've used a temperature gun to check the surface motor temperature after running the fan for 3 hours continuously in a cooled room. The outer motor temperature is 74 degrees, we will use this to compare the temperature on our finished project.

To keep the motor safe, we will be creating a path for air to reach and cool the motor. This will slightly reduce the amount of air passing through the filter, but it is a good trade off for safety. Now let's get started.

Step 3: Fitting Our Filter

If you hold the filter to the back of the fan, you'll notice it is a good match. The only part of the filter we will trim is the center. The corners of the filter are also sticking out past the curved corners of the fan but that is okay, we will seal that.

Start by using a piece of paper to trace the outline of the motor/switch/plug plate on the back of the fan. Mine is round with a small bump at the top (see picture).Cut out the pattern and then draw an inner line and cut it again. You'll see why we do that in the next steps.

Now take the pattern and center it on the filter. You need the pattern to be exactly centered just like the fan motor, so measure the center of the plate on the fan and then transfer the measurement to the filter. Use a sharpie to mark the exact center of the filter and place the pattern centered on top of your mark.

Step 4: Cutting the Filter

Now that we have our pattern placed, trace around it with a sharpie. Remove the pattern. We will now cut out the wire and the filter material. First use your shears or heavy duty scissors to snip the wire mesh on the top of the filter. The material is glued to the wire frame so you will have to gently peal it off as you remove the material to avoid tearing the filter. When this has been removed, use scissors to cut the filter material one pleat at a time, slow and steady. when you've cut the material pull it out carefully. Now flip the filter over and snip the wire mesh on the bottom of the filter. We now have a complete hole through the filter. You'll notice that the hole slightly overlaps the edges of the motor plate on the back off the fan. This is why we cut the pattern a second time, to make the filter hole smaller and create an overlap. The overlap will help seal the airflow around the motor plate, forcing more air into the filter and through the fan.

We still have raw edges on our filter and possibly sharp pieces of wire mesh. Cover the edges of the hole with duct tape. This will help seal the edges and cover the sharp edges of wire mesh. Cut pieces to wrap around front to back until the entire edge is covered. This will also prevent small pieces of the frayed edges of material from blowing through the fan.

Step 5: Attaching the Filter to the Fan

Now we are ready to attach the filter to the back of the fan. Place the filter against the back of the fan. Be sure to follow the arrow on the filter so that the air is flowing in the correct direction (in from the back of the fan and out the front of the fan). Plug on the power cord to be sure you have clearance before you attach the filter in place. Now use duct tape to seal the edges of the filter to the back of the fan. The corners will require a few short strips of tape to create an airtight seal around the edges. Do not tape the center of the filter to the back of the motor plate. The suction created when the fan is turned on will pull the filter securely against the back of the fan.

As a final safety test, I ran the Air Cleaner continuously for three hours checking the temperature periodically. The temperature ran slightly higher occasionally reaching a still safe 76 degrees.

You are now ready to use your new Air Cleaner. Each filter lasts up to 3 months and can easily be removed and replaced as necessary. You can use different filters as your air conditions change, pollen/mold filters for allergy season, smoke/soot filters for wildfires, bacteria/virus filters for flu season. Cleaner air is only a quick project away, so try it out. Enjoy!

Step 6: One Last Safety Message for Everyone Near the Wildfires

This filter can significantly reduce the smell of smoke in your home. However, don't let your guard down when monitoring wildfires that are close to your home. Please stay aware and stay safe during fire season. I'm wishing you good health and good luck.