Are Air Purifiers Good For Your Health?

Your home is your safe haven and should be a place that feels great to come home to. But are you aware that it can harbor some harmful gases and pollutants? According to the Environmental Protection Agency indoor air contains organic chemical pollutants at levels 2 to 5 times higher than those found in outdoor air. Maybe it’s time to invest in an air purifier. But wait – are air purifiers good for your health? Or could they be potentially harmful as well?

I’d love to better help you understand the facts before you spend your hard-earned money. In order to do so, I’ve done the research and wrote this post to help educate before spending any money. I’d also like to help you prevent any complications from buying the wrong kind when you begin shopping.

definitely don’t want to you waste money on a garbage product as I’ve done in the past.

How can we deal with air problems at home?

(Click image to enlarge)

Indoor pollution is best dealt with by eliminating the pollutants and ventilating your home. Some of us can open windows and allow fresher outdoor air in and it may help a bit. That’s more often than not a temporary measure, however.

As we all know, weather won’t always allow us to open windows. Other times outdoor air actually isn’t that clean. Some of us live in a house or other residence with a dust, dust mite, or pet allergy problem. Some live with smokers and have to deal with the side effects of smoke and its odors and particles.

These and many other air quality problems are excellent examples of why adding a good air purifier to your home could make a remarkable difference in your air. You need this to ensure that the air you breathe is safe and your family’s health is protected. Unlike temporary solutions, an air purifier can remove air contaminants, pet dander, dust, smoke odors, and others.

Not only that, but they can provide a real, meaningful benefit. Life is really much more enjoyable when your air quality is fresh and pure.

Pick up an air purifier and you’ll breather better and feel better. It really is that simple.

Or is it?

One thing I’ve noticed is the huge amount of advertising and the wide range of claims made by many air purifier companies. Some products are proven and effective, while others, to those who aren’t well-educated, can be questionable and confusing. Some you just don’t know about. It’s honestly a headache to figure it all out at times.

Many sound wonderful and promise to improve not just your air but your quality of living with the different technologies they offer. But are air purifiers good for your health always? How will you know which purifier will be healthy for you and which ones will do more harm than good?

I was in the same situation years ago and spent quite a bit of time sorting out the facts from the hype. Let’s move forward and I’ll help you sort out what is important to know.

Common air pollutants present in homes

There are two kinds of indoor pollutants commonly found in homes:

1. Particulate matter: Pollen, dust, debris, hair, pet dander, smoke, molds, bacteria, viruses, and other tiny organisms. Newer homes may contain airborne particles related to new carpet or building materials indoors.

Sometimes matter is brought in from outdoors. A great example is smokers who bring smoker particles inside your home on their clothes & hair.

2. Gaseous pollutants: The usual household sources, including ingredients in fuels, medicine, perfume, cosmetics, plastics, and other products used for things like cleaning, cooking, or maintenance. Others include smoke or pet odors also.

What is an air purifier and how does it work?

How air purifiers reduce dust diagramAn air purifier works by drawing in dirty, contaminated air which is then filtered before it is released back into the room. A great example is the popular GermGuardian AC4825. An activated carbon filter traps gaseous substances (and larger particles, as it acts as a pre-filter). The high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter traps extremely tiny particles permanently. The result is extremely fresh & clean air – truly purified, not just temporarily freshened! This particular model also includes a germ-killing feature using ultraviolet (UV) light.

An air purifier is an electromechanical device that cleans indoor air either by removing or destroying the pollutants. Most use a fan to pull dirty air from an enclosed space (your bedroom, kitchen, or living room, for instance) and force the air through a filter or series of filters, trapping unwanted contaminants. The clean air is then released back in to the room. This continues and is a process of continuously cycling air over and over until the room is purified.

Since each group of pollutants has different characteristics, the air purifying system that will work for each of them will also differ.

Some systems work by removing pollutants and there are three ways by which they do this:

  • Mechanical filtration – applicable for particulate matter
  • Electrostatic attraction – applicable for particulate matter
  • Gas absorption – applicable for some gas pollutants

Other systems work by destroying pollutants and work as follows:

  • Ultraviolet (UV) light radiation – applicable for molds, viruses, bacteria, and other biological pollutants
  • Photocatalytic oxidation (PCO) – also uses ultraviolet lamps and is intended for gaseous pollutants
  • Ozone generation – produces ozone molecules (O3) from surrounding oxygen to trap particulates, gases, and biological pollutants

The different types of air purifiers…are they effective and safe?

There’s a number of different types of air purifiers that you should know about, although not all are found in consumer products. Just the same, it’s very helpful to have an overall awareness of what’s out there.

Several of these aren’t something you’ll find when shopping for a product for your home, so don’t stress out about it.

Filter-based purifiers

HEPA filter illustration

A HEPA filter is an extremely dense filter made up of a large number of fibers. The material traps microscopic particles in the air passing through it. They’re highly effective at cleaning the air and don’t have any undesirable side effects unlike other methods used. Often a HEPA filter is used in conjunction with a pre-filter and an activated carbon filter.

The most common available type in the consumer market, these are air purifiers that capture particulates using filters. High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters fall under this category.

A HEPA air filter is made of very thin glass fibers randomly interwoven into a mesh and pleated to increase its surface. Extremely dense in construction, they are capable of capturing and removing 99.97% of particulate matter as small as 0.3 microns in size (a micron is 1/1,000,000 of a meter). Other air filters that don’t satisfy the HEPA standard, including pre-filters, and those called HEPA-types, also belong in this category.

Some other types like activated carbon filters are used to supplement HEPA type filters.

Electronic air cleaners

Orion B-1000 air purifier with filter shown

Electronic air cleaners like this B-1000 ionizer shown here work by generating charged particles. These particles then can cling to parcticulates in the air as well as neutralize germs, too. A well designed unit collects the foreign matter in a filter (shown) or on a plate.

Electronic air cleaners draw air into an ionization section where particulates are electrically charged. Electrostatic air precipitators and air ionizers are two examples of electronic air cleaners. In the case of precipitators, these charged particles are collected in oppositely-charged plates. Ionizers create the charged particles which bond to air particles and then metal collection plates or a filter inside the device.

Unlike air filters which are tested using HEPA standards, there is no way to gauge the effectiveness of electronic air cleaners. They also produce small amounts of ozone – a three-oxygen molecule which can irritate the lungs – as by-product.

Low-end and misleadingly sold ozone generators sold as “air purifiers” produce unsafe amounts of ozone and aren’t even effective at cleaning the air. Ionizers and ozone generators that are safe product small amounts.

Ionizers have been proven to rid the air effectively of sickness-causing microbes, so they can provide a great benefit if designed correctly. Despite this, they can’t purify the air nearly as effectively as filter-based purifiers can. If considering an ionizer for purchase you’ll definitely have to be very careful to ensure you’re buying a quality product.

Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) air cleaners

Image showing how UV light kills microbesUV-based cleaners are intended for the destruction of molds, viruses, and bacteria either airborne or populating along the HVAC ductwork. These serve primarily to cleanse the air of germs and don’t remove particles and other foreign matter from the air as filters do.

However, many of these biological pollutants may require higher levels of UV radiation than is provided by most UVGI cleaners designed for home use. Dead or inactivate microorganisms can still trigger allergies and respiratory problems. Also, there’s no way to tell how effective UVGI cleaners are because of the absence of standards to test them.

In air purifiers available for home use, the UV feature serves as a side benefit for reducing airborne germs and microbes.

Ozone generators

Image of ozone generator

Ozone generators produce heavy amounts of ozone molecules by using a high voltage device to split oxygen molecules. The oxygen atoms recombine as ozone (03). These can bond to particles in the air and may give the impression of fresh air being generated. They do not permanently trap particulates in the air as filter-based types do.

Ozone generators are a type of air cleaner designed to oxidize biological contaminants, odors, gaseous pollutants, allergens, and particulates. Ozone has to be used in high concentrations to be effective.

It does look like ozone is the key to eliminating pollutants in the air – from particulate matter to gaseous contaminants. Unfortunately, ozone can exacerbate symptoms in asthma sufferers, cause shortness of breath and throat irritation, and even lower the body’s ability to ward off respiratory infections. The EPA recognizes ozone as a lung irritant.

As I mentioned earlier, ozone generators are often sold with misleading advertisements to make consumers think they’re effective and will freshen the air well. The truth is, they don’t really. Ozone itself can attach to airborne particles and trap it, but the end result would an excessive amount of ozone produced in order to do so. Therefore, they aren’t recommend for enclosed rooms and especially not for people with asthma or other respiratory problems.

Diagram showing ozone production and pair particles
Some air purifiers sold feature an ionizer or ozone generator as an additional option. These types are less likely to produce unsafe levels as they’re a secondary feature.

The most prevalent problem with ozone generators is that they can’t purify the air efficiently like a filter-based product can.

In summary – Are air purifiers good for your health?

Ultimately, it comes down to this: Yes, the right type of air purifier is good for your health. The wrong type can cause health issues.

  • Filter-based air purifiers produce no by-harmful by-products and are good for your health. They remove harmful and allergy-causing particulates from the air, leaving only fresh air behind.
  • Ozone generators are a poor choice and are potentially harmful. Additionally, they’re not nearly as effective as filter-based products.
  • Ionizers are generally a good way to effectively combat airborne germs that cause illnesses. However, like others they’re not good for efficient and thorough air cleaning. Again, a filter-type based purifier beats them in that area.

Ideally, for the best health buy a true HEPA filter-based purifier. These will reduce airborne allergens and particulates that cause problems. A model with an ionizer or UV germ-killing feature is an ideal choice and won’t cause health issues. These won’t produce excessive amounts of ozone and the UV light won’t be a health hazard for your either.

It’s very important to buy a reputable, proven brand that isn’t misleading you with hype or false claims. Many sold (especially from China) are simply ozone generators that are bad for you and simply don’t work well!

For more information, check out my post with several great choices you can afford. You need not worry as a decent filter based purifier can be bought for near $50 or slightly less than $100 for a better quality one.

Your comments are welcome!

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