Q: We have a heavily insulated home, 20 years old, with an electronic air cleaner and a small fountain. Two people live here. We keep the house...

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We have a heavily insulated home, 20 years old, with an electronic air cleaner and a small fountain.

Two people live here. We keep the house very clean. A black film keeps appearing on the TV screen and on plastic items. It looks like I am not keeping a clean house, and it is embarrassing and unsightly. What could be causing this?


Turn off the electronic air cleaner, remove the elements and put in a 4-inch-thick disposable pleated air filter in their place. Pleated filters are very efficient, fit the opening exactly and require no power to be effective. Next, don’t burn candles. Candles are notorious for creating staining and soot issues.

If you have an ionic air cleaner, unplug it. You should see a reduction in the problem immediately. Small internal shorts in the electronic cleaner can charge microscopic dust particles and cause them to stick to objects in the home rather than on the fins of the cleaner element, similar to what ionic air cleaners do.

Dan Morris with Healthy Buildings Inc., an indoor-air-quality specialist, says that to work correctly, an electronic air cleaner needs to be run continuously and washed thoroughly and regularly, and the power supply must be checked regularly.

Previous recommendations (here and elsewhere) have called for washing the elements in the dishwasher, but research now shows that chemicals in some detergents can damage the fins.

Washing the elements with a hose outside doesn’t cut it. A film develops on the collection plates that cannot be washed off with water alone. It takes hot water and soap. Manufacturers make cleaners specifically designed for their air cleaner elements. The elements may have to be replaced if damaged. A very crude test is to tap on the incoming cold air return plenum and listen for a popping noise.

Electronic air cleaners are susceptible to power surges and brownouts. Morris says that through his testing with air-particle counters, he has found electronic cleaners to be very effective. But he says 90 percent don’t work correctly, either because of faulty airflow, dirt on the elements that renders them ineffective, or improper power supply (which can cause excessive ozone generation).

Other things that could cause your dust might be unvented or back-vented fireplaces or gas appliances, or a lack of indoor ventilation (very common in a 20-year-old house). It would not hurt to leave a few windows open slightly.

Morris believes all homes need three key elements for healthy air: proper ventilation from outside, good furnace filtering and a good vacuum.


I have badly failing LP siding on a detached three-car garage. I did not get into the claims process during the class action settlement and never collected any money.

Replacing the siding on my garage might be a $30,000 job and I would like to get something. Is there anyway to collect some money?


$30,000 for siding a detached three-car garage? That’s about six times what I would expect, complete with removal of the old siding, paint and tax. Think about getting another bid, friend.

That aside, the deadline for filing a claim under the class action settlement was more than two years ago. You might fall under LP’s warranty. Call 877-677-6722.


I have a small car vacuum that I really like. It has great suction and plugs into the cigarette lighter.

I would like to use it inside the house. How can I do that?


Buy a cordless model of a similar size by the same manufacturer that could be used in the car and home. These come with mounting trays that double as chargers and plug easily into the wall.

If you’re happy with the new one, sell the car model at a garage sale and recoup some of your money.

Darrell Hay is a local home inspector and manages several rental properties. He answers reader questions. Call 206-464-8514 to record your question, or e-mail dhay@seattletimes.com. Sorry, no personal replies. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.