Is your air conditioning making you sick?

Air conditioners are a godsend, but without proper care and maintenance, air conditioners also have the potential to cause health problems by spreading mold and dust.

Here's how to stay cool and healthy if you're using a portable or window air conditioner.

If you don't have central air conditioning, then you know the drill: haul your heavy, awkward window air conditioner out of storage when it gets really hot.But because it's stored away, it could be harboring mold and other irritants.

"Without proper care and maintenance, mold can actually grow on the inside, which has the potential to lead to health problems like wheezing, congestion and throat irritation," said Consumer Reports home editor Paul Hope.

He suggests first taking a close look at your air conditioner. Be on the lookout for clusters of tiny black spots along the air duct.

"Cleaning the louvers is a good first step but if you see mold on them, there's a good chance that there's more hiding inside the air conditioner," Hope said.

"If that's the case, you really want to consider buying a new one."

Consumer Reports recommends an SPT model for larger rooms. It costs about $340.

For mid-sized rooms, consider a CR recommended Kenmore for $270.

Next, it's important to take steps to install your AC properly. Make sure your window air conditioner is slightly tilted to the outside, that way any condensation or rain water won't end up on the inside, which could also cause a mold problem.

Install the air conditioner's side panels snugly against the side of the window frame and use the weather stripping foam that comes with most AC units, so that outside air can't creep in.

This will save energy and keep pollen and other allergens, outside.

Experts say it's also a good idea to clean the filter on your AC at the start of the season and then once a month after that.

"It will help the machine run efficiently and keep the air it circulates clean," Hope said.
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