Perhaps you suffer from seasonal allergies, or your child lives with chronic asthma. Maybe you love cats. But, your litter box is keeping guests at a safe distance. Or, maybe you just want to breathe the cleanest air possible.
Whatever the reason, you now find yourself wading through product descriptions and online reviews trying to make an informed decision. But the number of options is overwhelming, “reviews” are conflicting, and the right choice seems daunting. You get to the point where you stop and ask yourself, “what is an air purifier anyway.”
WHAT IS AN AIR PURIFIER – EXACTLY?
Put simply, air purifiers mechanically remove one or more types of particles or odors from the air. The types of pollutants in your home are just as wide and varied as the types of air purifiers on the market. There are two basic categories when it comes to air purifiers: portable air purifiers and whole-house systems.
Portable systems are typically clean an individual room, but some are powerful enough to tackle large spaces. The other option is a whole-house purifier is typically a permanent install that ties into your homes heating or cooling system. These are intended to clean the air in the entire home by passing air through a centrally located filter. Portables usually range in price from well under $100 to $800; and sometimes high end units will cost $1,000 to $2,000. Whole-house purification can be as cheap and easy as a filter costing less than $30 to professionally installed systems costing thousands.
TYPES OF AIR PURIFIERS
Modern air purifiers employ a wide range of technologies to improve indoor air quality. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages, though some are deemed more effective than others. When it comes to choosing a device, it is necessary to consider the unique attributes of each individual system. Some of the top types of air purification systems are HEPA, Activated Carbon, UV, Negative Ion, Electrostatic and Ozone technologies. As a general rule we primarily recommend a combination of HEPA filtration and activated carbon.
HEPA filtration is one of the most popular, and effective, air purifying methods. It is a filter-based purifier that uses a glass-fiber filter to collect tiny particles as air is forced through by a electric fan. HEPA filters date back to the Manhattan Project where they were used to capture radioactive particles.
By law HEPA filtration systems must remove at least 99.97% of all particles larger than 0.3 microns. This means HEPA filters are able to get rid of a lot of tiny particles such as dust, bacteria and fibers. However HEPA does not remove odors, many viruses or gases. Even with a sacrificial pre filter, HEPA is so fine that it will eventually clog. Usually they need to be replaced every couple years under normal operating conditions.
Activated Carbon utilizes one of the most porous compounds to pull pollutants such as VOCs, gases, and tobacco smoke from the air.
These carbon infused filters use the process of adsorption (not absorption), which captures various chemicals and makes them stick to the surface. They are great at removing odors and gases. Activated Carbon filters are not as efficient with airborne particles, however, so they are best used in combination with a HEPA filter which can more effectively conquer allergens.
UV Technology involves using UV rays to cleanse passing oxygen. The air is forced to circulate past a lamp which then removes various microorganisms such as viruses and bacteria. The exposure time and the light wattage are both extremely important to the success of this kind of air purifier. If neither is at a high enough rate, the particles are not effectively eliminated. Because UV technology doesn’t physically filter, it is also best used with an additional filter system to catch airborne particles that are missed. In terms of maintenance, the lights will need to be replaced from time to time.
Negative Ion Generators
Negative ions are the result of a process that introduces electrically-charged molecules into the air. The negative ions cause a neutral air molecule to either gain or lose an electron. Larger particles are more prone to becoming ionized and will therefore gain an extra particle and latch onto surrounding surfaces.
The negative ion system is not the most effective because, while it assists in collecting unwanted particles, it does not remove them. Instead, it takes the unwanted particles from the air but then reattaches them to walls and other solid surfaces. The pollutants will be collected but not eliminated. The metal plates the unit uses to generate the ions also need frequent cleaning.
It’s also important to point out that, negative ion generators can produce ozone which is bad for your health. Be sure to check the specifications, reviews, or manual closely. When in doubt contact the manufacturer. Ozone is a respiratory irritant, and can trigger serious reactions in asthmatics or those with COPD.
Electrostatic Precipitators work similarly to ion generators in that they attract pollutants to the various surfaces in a room. They are somewhat superior, though, because rather than simply collecting the pollutants and attaching them to a surface, they filter and eliminate the pollutants as well. They also use metal plates which are easily cleaned and assist in odor elimination. The downside to Electrostatic Precipitators is that they can also create ozone. So use with caution.
Ozone air purifiers and generators work by altering oxygen molecules and creating ozone. Think three O’s instead of just two. While these are sometimes sold as household purifiers, ozone is a known irritant and potentially harmful substance.
It may remove certain chemicals and odors from the air, but it is not recommended to use these purifiers unless it’s commercially: in a large uninhabited room with significant damage from things like fires or flooding.
ISSUES WITH AIR PURIFIERS
So what can an air purifier really do for you? To answer that question it is important to first realize that, because air purifiers are not considered medical devices, they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Furthermore, many of the claims made by the some manufacturers of air purifiers are unsubstantiated. The American Lung Association provides a list of basic steps to take in your home that can be more effective and inexpensive than lower end purifiers.
There are also many myths associated with air purification so it is important to educate yourself and ignore claims that seem too good to be true. It is necessary to understand your air purification needs as well as the pitfalls of each type of device. Here are some of the most common air purifier misconceptions.
Misconception #1: Ozone Is Just Fine
If you have your eye on one of the sleek electrostatic units, or ozone generators, be aware that a byproduct of the electrical charge is ozone. Ozone has been proven to pose health problems, even at small levels. Triggering asthma, reducing lung functioning, and causing chest pain are among the health risks associated with ozone. The Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board have issued statements advising against the use of air purifiers that put off ozone.
Misconception #2: Say Goodbye to Dusting
While many air purifiers will help remove dust and other allergens, one of the most important things to do is keep a clean and uncluttered household.
Certain devices such as the Activated Carbon and Electrostatic Precipitators are not as effective at eliminating allergens or merely push the dust particles off to the sidelines. It is important to combine these purifiers with daily cleaning and dusting around your house to achieve optimal results.
Misconception #3: No More Odors!
Nothing can replace good hygiene. If you have animals around the house, they still need to be bathed. If you have trash sitting in the garbage for days, it still needs to be taken out.
Certain air purifiers such as Activated Carbon and Ozone Generators may be helpful in reducing the odors in your household but it is not a miracle cure. The best solution is always to eliminate the origin of the odor. Purifiers mainly help with lingering or short term odor.
Misconception #4: Set it and Forget it…
Though it would be incredibly convenient to buy one air purifier and leave it running eternally, this is unfortunately not the case. You must replace air filters or clean metal plates.
HEPA filtration and Negative Ion Generators can be extremely useful, but not if you don’t take the time to maintain their systems.
Misconception #5: I Will Be Healthier than Ever Before
The main purpose of all air purification systems is to clean and improve the air and environment around you. UV Technology, for example, will assist in removing viruses and bacteria from the air. HEPA technology will also remove airborne particulate matter. Negative Ion Generators can help eliminate pollen and dust.
None of these systems, however, will do the job alone. You will want to research the type of allergens or particles you are looking to remove of and choose a purifier accordingly. To maximize benefits, you should also keep your home well ventilated and avoid indoor smoking.
Air Purifiers cover a wide range of devices, from portable to whole-home purifiers, all at varying costs. Every type of air purification system is unique and focuses on the removal of specific group of elements: bacteria/viruses, allergens, odors, to name a few.
Air purifiers provide many benefits. But, you must also recognize the various myths and unsubstantiated claims to avoid when purchasing an air purifier. The best option is to strike a balance between a unit that is right for you and a lifestyle that complements your choice. We’re here to help, so feel free to look around our site and learn more about the best air purifier for you.