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The microbiological quality of air improves when using air conditioning systems in cars

Ralf-Peter Vonberg1*, Petra Gastmeier12, Björn Kenneweg13, Hinrich Holdack-Janssen3, Dorit Sohr2 and Iris F Chaberny1

Author Affiliations

1 Institute for Medical Microbiology and Hospital Epidemiology, Hannover Medical School, Hannover, Germany

2 Institute for Hygiene and Environmental Medicine, Charité - University Medicine Berlin, Berlin, Germany

3 Institute of Automotive Engineering, University of Applied Sciences, Braunschweig and Wolfenbüttel, Germany

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2010, 10:146  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-10-146

Published: 1 June 2010



Because of better comfort, air conditioning systems are a common feature in automobiles these days. However, its impact on the number of particles and microorganisms inside the vehicle - and by this its impact on the risk of an allergic reaction - is yet unknown.


Over a time period of 30 months, the quality of air was investigated in three different types of cars (VW Passat, VW Polo FSI, Seat Alhambra) that were all equipped with a automatic air conditioning system. Operation modes using fresh air from outside the car as well as circulating air from inside the car were examined. The total number of microorganisms and the number of mold spores were measured by impaction in a high flow air sampler. Particles of 0.5 to 5.0 μm diameter were counted by a laser particle counter device.


Overall 32 occasions of sampling were performed. The concentration of microorganisms outside the cars was always higher than it was inside the cars. Few minutes after starting the air conditioning system the total number of microorganisms was reduced by 81.7%, the number of mold spores was reduced by 83.3%, and the number of particles was reduced by 87.8%. There were no significant differences neither between the types of cars nor between the types of operation mode of the air conditioning system (fresh air vs. circulating air). All parameters that were looked for in this study improved during utilization of the car's air conditioning system.


We believe that the risk of an allergic reaction will be reduced during use also. Nevertheless, we recommend regular maintenance of the system and replacement of older filters after defined changing intervals.