California breathing, on a summer’s day

Back when my sister first moved out to Los Angeles, I remember often seeing the dark orange band that circled the city: the layer of disgusting smog, so bad you could taste it. Reformulated gasoline, emissions standards, a shift from making California’s electricity in California (and polluting our own skies) to importing our electricity from Arizona (thus polluting the skies there instead, much better!) and a decline in heavy manufacturing all helped clear the air. (Major solar and wind installations came more recently than the reductions in smog.)

But California air is still filthy. Maybe it’s because it rains so little here, that the general grime never gets washed away down to the rivers--or the concrete ditches we refer to mockingly as “rivers”--and the slightest breeze picks it up again and turns it airborne. Maybe it’s coal smoke coming over from China (US air is cleaner when it leaves the east coast than when it arrives in the west, or at least can still be a significant contributing factor: Or maybe, there is still a lot of domestic particulate pollution going on. Whatever the cause, it’s one of the things you really notice when you come out here: how often you have to dust, how often you have to change the air filters on your furnace and in your car, and how gross your rugs get between deep cleaning.

Because of the heat wave last week, and our running the air conditioner much more than normal, I checked whether it was time to replace one of the furnace filters; it could still hold out for a while longer (I buy the filters in bulk.) That same day, I walked past a little fan I often keep in my bedroom window, and realized how disgusting and grimy the thing was. And I mean really disgusting, with black strings of grime attached to the grill and blowing out of it like streamers. 

Now memory is an interesting thing: looking at the filter and later at the fan, made me think of Alton Brown’s contraption for drying fresh herbs ( He took a box fan and some furnace filters, put the herbs between the filters, strapped them on to the back of the fan and ran it for a day or so, and voila! dried herbs.

Well, I thought, if an air filter can work to dry herbs...why not use an air filter as an air filter!

Last Saturday, I went to the hardware store and picked up a filter to match my box fan. I used painters tape to attach it and have been running it for a week. Often I hung it, as usual, in my window; but, when the air conditioner was on and the windows closed, I ran it on a low speed down on the floor.

One week later and the filter is already gray and gross. I will now never run the fan without a filter on the back, and I’ll get one for Elizabeth’s matching fan as well!