Sadly, it appears there’s some false information being presented as the truth when in fact it’s nonsense! As both an engineer and an air purifier owner and reviewer I wanted to bust the myths once and for all.
Do air purifiers give off radiation? You’ll find out the truth here based on the scientific facts, not rumors or superstition.
Read on to learn more. There’s a lot to see!
Infographic – Air purifier & EMF facts
Fast facts: Do air purifiers emit harmful radiation?
Air purifier EMF radiation truth
Do air purifiers give off radiation? Air purifiers produce a safe & small amount of electromagnetic field (EMF) radiation. There is no data supporting the claims that they’re harmful. Any such claims have no basis in scientific fact.
A 2002 study published by the World Health Organization (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer found no evidence of cancer caused by low-frequency electric & magnetic fields.
What is EMF? Electromagnetic field radiation (EMF) describes the magnetic & electrostatic fields produced by the movement of electrical current in a conductor and devices. They’re also a by-product of electric motors such as in fans as they need magnetic fields to create motion & do work.
Common household, automotive, and workplace electronics produce similar or more EMF than air purifiers. In fact, industrial workplaces often power machinery that create hundreds or thousands of times greater electromagnetic fields due to the huge electrical current moving through them.
Household electronics have not been scientifically proven to cause harm in humans. However, higher-energy (higher frequency, such as radio frequency (RF) and higher power) sources like cell phones have been shown to cause harm in lab rats under extended use.
Most air purifiers use relatively low power (55W or less, typically) and use a household low-frequency 60Hz 120V power source which is “chopped up” to control the purifier’s fan speed. They don’t use a high-frequency design in most cases.
The power of magnetic fields drops dramatically the further away you are from them. In fact, at only a few feet or meters away they’re a fraction of what can be measured right in front of the source. Most people aren’t immediately next to EMF sources, meaning there’s little that reaches them.
When someone claims something that millions of people own is supposedly harmful, shouldn’t they be able to back it up with scientific facts?
In this article I’ll explain:
What the hype is all about
What EMF radiation is and where it comes from
Scientific facts and why it’s much ado about nothing
More things to know that matter
Note: In this article, I’ll be referring to HEPA-based air purifiers, not ionizers or ozone generators sold as purifiers. Those are a completely different type and I don’t recommend them (you can read why here in this detailed article).
The misinformation being spread – What does it mean?
An example from a website providing misleading information about air purifiers. The main concern I’ve heard from readers is that they’re reading that they produce harmful radiation – causing them to become worried when in fact there’s no need to be.
Some time ago I first heard from a reader and more recently I’ve gotten more comments and questions about this topic. In product reviews and in other places, they’re reading statements claiming (or implying) that air purifiers are potentially harmful to your health due to “radiation.”
You’ll notice people making this claim don’t provide evidence or cite studies by reputable organizations to back it up. Also, they may incorrectly refer to magnetic field “limits” or by measuring a product and finding a supposedly high reading with unproven test equipment and not with a controlled & proper scientific test.
You shouldn’t base your decisions on random strangers on the internet who aren’t qualified to make these (incorrect) claims – but instead on facts and what science actually says!
There’s a huge difference between a person at home taking measurements vs a proper study done under controlled conditions and correct test procedures. After all, isn’t that what scientists and labs are for?
That’s why I wrote this article – so you won’t be misled into believing false claims and won’t avoid buying air purifiers based on that.
What is this “radiation” that people are talking about?
When the word “radiation” is used here when we’re talking about air purifiers. We’re not referring to nuclear radiation.
The word “radiation” normally refers to materials that give off radioactive particles like uranium and other radioactive materials that can result in extreme environmental and health problems in both humans and animals.
Magnetic and electrostatic fields are created when electrons flow through an electrical conductor. The strength of the fields depends on the amount of electrical current and other factors. Motors like those to drive a ceiling fan, motors in your car, and inside an air purifier use magnetics field to turn the fan that moves air.
I’ll spare you the very complicated (and boring) physics of it all. Believe me when I say my electromagnetics class was one of the single most difficult engineering classes I had in college!
Don’t worry, though – the basic idea isn’t that hard to understand.
Just saying “radiation” actually isn’t the right description – it can give people the wrong idea and lead to confusion or misunderstanding.
After all, we’re talking about electricity and air purifiers, not nuclear materials for heaven’s sake!
How electromagnetic fields (EMF) are produced and what they do
When the electrical current (electrons, as you might recall from science class) flows through a conductor like a wire, 2 types of fields are produced:
Electrostatic fields are a type that acts as a voltage potential in the air because of an electrical charge, much as static electricity does. In a similar way, electromagnetic fields are created too, and radiate, or move outward, a lot like how a magnet produces its magnetic fields.
As we all know magnetic fields attract objects. They also can create the movement of electrons (called induction) in nearby metals.
When we talk about radiation, we’re simply talking about the fields that ALL electrical and electronic devices – not just air purifiers – produce.
The strength of these fields is commonly measured in units called Gauss or Tesla, named after the early scientists who pioneered the understanding we have of them today.
Magnetic fields are critical for the things we use
Electric motors like those that turn a fan to blow air for cooling your room or cleaning the air need magnetic fields to create motion. To do that, electric motors use a huge length of wire windings.
When a long length of wire is wound into a coil or winding like in a motor, the magnetic fields “build up” and are much stronger. That, and electrical current flowing in them, create the fields.
The thing is that unless they’re very strong they can’t affect objects or humans or animals nearby. It takes an enormous amount of power to create EMF that is any concern – way beyond anything you’ll get from your electronics, appliances, and an air purifier or fan.
Magnetic and electrostatic field strength drops significantly with distance. Even a few feet or meter away the fields reaching you (as who stands right in front of electronics?) are much weaker than right next to the source.
Another very important thing to know is that these fields are much weaker further away from them – meaning you’re almost never exposed to their full strength, which again is typically very small (a few thousandths of a Gauss (milliGauss).
That’s why radio and television stations, for example, use thousands and even hundreds of thousands of watts of power. It takes an enormous amount of power to get a good high-frequency radio or TV signal to an antenna in your home over a long distance.
The appliances and machines in your home and workplace generate only a fairly small amount in most cases.
How air purifiers work (and where the EMF comes from)
Shown: The main components of a Levoit LV-H132 purifier. Air purifiers use a power source and control an electric fan motor in order to move dirty air through the filters to clean it. Most use alternating current (AC) from a wall outlet in your home and “chop it up” with control electronics. This allows running the fan at different speeds and more efficiently, too. (Note the yellow section in which the motor’s wire windings are)
Ever heard of a direct current (DC) motor? You might remember them from battery powered toys or some of the science experiment kits you played with as a kid. While they’re good for some things, alternating current (AC), which is what is supplied to your home from the power company is used instead.
But why? There are several good reasons AC motors are used in nearly all appliances and electric fans including, but mainly it’s because of their increased power output and efficiency.
Air purifiers use an electric motor, powered from alternating current (AC) in most cases, to turn a fan and move & clean air. An electronic board regulates how much power is applied to the fan to allow different fan speeds. Both the motor and the operation generates EMF fields around it (as do other devices too).
Most air purifiers use standard AC power connected to an electronic motor control board and the fan speed switch (or button). The low-frequency AC is “chopped up” and modified by a pulse width modulation (PWM) electronics circuit board to control how voltage is applied to the motor.
This is how we’re able to get different tightly regulated fan speeds without wasting power as was done with products back in the old days.
The PWM motor control board isn’t a high-frequency controller like you’d find with radio or cell phone signals. Instead, it’s a lower-frequency design that works several thousand times per second typically. This frequency range is called “kiloHertz” (KHz).
Since the fan motor uses a lot of wire wound as coils and also the fast pulsing of the power supply, EMF is generated anytime the purifier is turned on. Note that the amount of EMF changes based on the amount of power being drawn (electrical current required).
However, most air purifiers draw only about 12-55W watts based on my measurements & the fan speed chosen, so they create a small amount of EMF.
Many appliances and machines draw a lot more power and generate more EMF.
The scientific truth about it all
There is inadequate evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of extremely low frequency magnetic fields in relation to all other cancers. There is inadequate evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of static electric or magnetic fields and extremely low-frequency electric fields. There is inadequate evidence in experimental animals for the carcinogenicity of extremely low-frequency magnetic fields. No data relevant to the carcinogenicity of static electric or magnetic fields and extremely low-frequency electric fields in experimental animals were available.2002 World Health Organization IARC study findings
What people who make claims about air purifiers (or any other small, typical source of EMF) aren’t telling is that for decades no scientific test has proven any proven harm from exposure to low levels of low-frequency EMF like air purifiers produce.
A 2002 study from the World Health Organizations’s International Agency for Research On Cancer found that there was no evidence of physical harm or cancer in humans or animals under study.
In fact, even much larger amounts like from current-hungry industrial machines haven’t been proven to cause any harm to humans, either.
The simple facts are the following:
Scientists disagree regarding the conclusion that EMF can cause cancer, for example.
There are no studies that have ever found definitive proof of harm (aside from an exception, see below).
You’re likely to be harmed by high levels (high frequency, higher power), if at all possible, and certainly not weak devices like an air purifier.
The EMF from an air purifier or other electrical devices drops drastically the further away you go – so your exposure is even smaller.
It’s important to be realistic – you can’t avoid EMF totally.
There’s an important point I need to make here before we continue: the EMF given off by air purifiers is no different (and even less than) sources you’ve been around already for years.
Here are some examples:
The blower fan in your car or truck (the dashboard fan that blows air through the vents)
Ceiling fans and other cooling fans
Certain types of light fixtures and heaters
Machinery in your workplace (industrial machines, in particular, can be a big source of high EMF levels)
Radio and cell phone high-frequency waves
The truth is that you’re surrounded by EMF everywhere. However, exposure to certain kinds of EMF may be potentially harmful, as you’ll see below.
What EMF radiation types have been proven to be harmful?
There has, in fact, been demonstrated evidence by the National Toxicology Program in the testing of abnormalities in lab rats caused by heavy cell 2G & 3G phone exposure. An increase in DNA damage along with the growth of malignant tumors was discovered in the mice & rats under test.
Unlike air purifiers and other standard appliances or products around, this doesn’t refer to low-frequency fields but high frequency. Examples of that are signals in the millions of cycles per second (Megahertz [MHz]) and billions of cycles per second (gigahertz [GHz]).
This includes various devices like radio broadcasters, radio & communications towers, and wireless cell phone use.
In summary: the main facts to know
In summary, there’s no truth to the hype about air purifiers generating “unhealthy levels of EMF.” It simply isn’t true, there’s no proof to the claim, and it also ignores several important facts (while providing no proof).
In other words, it’s nonsense.
Here are the main facts to take away after reading:
There’s no scientific basis to the claim that air purifiers produce potentially harmful EMF. In fact, scientific studies have proven otherwise (see cited paper above).
Air purifiers (and many other devices) do produce some EMF, however, these are (1) generally small levels that (2) dramatically decrease in strength the further away you are.
You’re surrounded by EMF from many sources, and from the same type of EMF that air purifiers create: in your home, your car, and in the workplace. It’s nothing new.
Air purifiers produce low-frequency EMF, not the high-frequency/high-power type that has been suspected to create cancer in scientific tests (RF, wireless phone, and other types with high exposure).
If you see a recommendation that you “should” by a DC motor air purifier, you’re being misled. Not only is it not necessary, but very few high-quality purifiers use a DC motor. The best models use an AC design.
Hopefully this helps clear up the confusion and will help avoid being influenced negatively. Air purifiers are a great way to improve your quality of life, your comfort, and even stay healthy.
HEPA filter purifiers are used by millions of happy owners every day and are a safe and effective way to clean your air.
Air purifiers work by circulating and filtering contaminants like microbes, allergens, pet dander, and many more from the air. At the same time, letting in fresh air is something most of us enjoy doing from time to time. But does it affect how your air purifier works?
You may be asking yourself, “Do air purifiers work with windows open?” To help you understand the facts more easily I’ve put together some helpful information to explain it all.
Answering the basic question – Do air purifiers work with windows open?
Air purifier open window facts
Technically speaking the short answer is –yes, but not as well as they should. Before we go any further, let’s consider what the word “works” actually means.
It’s important to understand that air purifiers work by continually cycling the air in a room and filtering it.
If you open windows, the process is interrupted and your air will be subject to whatever particles are present in the outdoors. Before opening the windows, consider that you’ll potentially be starting over with the air purification process, as the purifier will have to clean the room’s air all over again.
It depends mainly on what you’re cleaning from the air and how much outside air you let in.
Let’s use an example. Think about how a refrigerator works. Its primary task is to cool air inside of it, right? Likewise, an air purifier primarily filters out contaminants from the air around it that cause air quality issues.
If you open a refrigerator, will it still operate? Yes, definitely.
The same goes for an air purifier you’ve got running and cleaning the air in an open room. If you leave its door open, it will still try to cool the air near it as much as possible.
Likewise, an air purifier will draw in as much air is physically possible and filter it. The performance in a room with windows open is much less than with windows closed.
The problem lies with efficiency.
Should I never open a window with an air purifier running?
No, that’s not the case at all. Basically, you need to think about a few factors before doing so. Ask yourself these questions:
#1. How clean is the air outside near the window you’ll have open?
Is it dirty, polluted, or smoggy? Is anyone burning piles of leaves nearby, for example? It’s a big thumbs down if your outdoor environment is full of smoke, trash, and particles you don’t want indoors!
I’ve lived in ground-level apartments very near the path of passing cars in the past. In some cases having the window open wasn’t a problem. However, some cars with emissions problems or diesel pollution would enter my residence.
#2. Will you remember to close the window later, or do you plan to leave it open for hours? (Will you forget to close it?)
Time is the determining factor for whether or not an open window will or will not reduce the indoor air quality where you live. And your air purifier’s efficiency as well.
The longer the window is left open, the less work that the air purifier can perform. It takes a number of hours to fully clean the air in a standard sized room. Think about how much longer the device will take to do so in the case of having that interrupted.
If a room has air blowing in from outdoors it will still circulate the air and filter it, but because of the disturbance in the airflow the air to get cleaned which is the outside air.
Unfortunately, leaving the window open means the air purifier is not just cleaning the air in the room. It must also clean the air entering the room from the outdoors as well.
As long as that condition is present, you’ll never have fully purified air inside.
An air purifier can “work” with the windows open, but it can’t work nearly as well as it would with the room sealed. One significant problem is that contaminants like allergens are re-introduced into the room’s air. It will take much more additional time to complete the purification process. If a window is open, there will always be air containing outside particles.
5 factors to consider before opening a window
1. Your outdoor environment
I don’t recommend opening windows if you live in a polluted area or one that has car exhaust, smoke, or other pollution issues nearby. Also, definitely don’t leave the windows open during spring because of the high pollen count. That stuff gets everywhere and will consume your air purifier’s filter lifespan more rapidly.
Opening windows means that you’re not just giving the air purifier work additional work to do. You’re also prolonging the time it will take for the air inside your house to be thoroughly cleaned.
For those with allergies, a few seconds of exposure to allergens can be critical. I don’t have allergies but I can feel the effects of pollen & other pollutants in the air. Vehicle exhaust can cause lots of coughing and headaches from time to time. Dust is another issue to contend with, too, and it gets all over the place after a few weeks!
For the sake of your health and quality of living, open the windows only if you live in a relatively clean environment.
2. Your home’s indoor environment
Given that you own an air purifier, it’s safe to assume the cleanliness of your indoor air is (now) probably pretty good. Otherwise, something else must have prompted you to open the window.
I totally get it – lots of things can happen. Maybe you burned your cooking and need to let the smoke out FAST! Maybe the garbage has piled up because of a rough week at work & you didn’t have the time. Painting your walls and having to deal with the fumes is another potential reason.
These are honestly all great reasons – you don’t have to have some huge, major cause for opening one or more windows. I love opening windows in the summertime and hearing the kids play outside. It’s one of life’s little pleasures, and I still have fond memories of living nearing a playground many years ago.
An air purifier will keep doing its job, regardless of whether the room is sealed or not.
If you’re like me and live in a fairly nice area with mostly fresh air, the air inside your house should stay clean and filtered as long as an air purifier is at work.
To make the most of your air purifier, keep the time you have windows open to a minimum.
3. The impact on your air purifier
Fact: It’s easier for an air purifier to work within confined spaces.
After all, disruptions are minimal. It pulls in air, filters it, and releases it back to the room as fresh, clean air.
The air that it filters is some of the same air it filtered a few minutes ago, and the number of particles that get trapped in each filtration process decreases per attempt.
When you limit the amount of air an air purifier has to clean, you greatly increase its efficiency and the amount of time it will take to freshen an entire room.
However, there’s another issue you might not have thought of: if you’re cleaning additional air from the outdoors, that means you’ll be decreasing the life of the air filter. That’s something to think about.
4. Energy costs
Because of the open window, clean air will exit and unfiltered outside air will enter. When this happens there’s a good chance you’ll be tempted to turn up the fan speed and let the device run for more hours than you normally would.
Less effectiveness = you notice the air isn’t clean = you use your purifier more. That adds up to more money wasted!
As I mentioned earlier, the amount of time it takes for an air purifier to fully freshen a room is affected by air space. Take my advice and close the window after a few minutes.
It’s not just whether or not a purifier can work with windows open, but if you are dealing with respiratory problems it can be pretty important. The amount of time you suffer from a lower-quality air environment is directly impacted by how long you will have to keep it running.
In most cases, it only takes a handful of hours for your air quality to greatly improve. Your quality of life can improve accordingly! Severe conditions like cigarette smoke and multiple pets with odors & their dander are some good examples.
How long do you want to prolong having the best, freshest air possible?
Of course, if health problems like asthma and emphysema aren’t an issue, then that’s not really a concern. My goal in bringing this up was to at least give you some food for thought so you can make the best decision for you & your family.
Air circulation factors to know
Airflow with 1 vs 2 or more windows open can be dramatically different. With 2 or more windows open, often the air purifier will have almost no effect. With only 1 window open, there is some external air entering the room but the purifier can at least work with marginal efficiency. This is because the amount of disturbance in the room’s airflow is typically much smaller.
If you do decide to open windows, try opening only one in each room. The reason is that 2 or more windows tend to allow more airflow through a room but the drawback is the disturbance in the air around the purifier. Basically, you defeat the purpose of using a purifier when doing so.
Perhaps you occasionally enjoy listening to the lovely sounds during a warm summer’s night. Wait until your indoor air has been freshened then open only one window. You’ll find it will have minimal impact on the indoor quality where you live in most cases.
Final thoughts and advice to take away
You SHOULD open your windows if:
You’ll close them relatively soon or you don’t have immediate health or allergy issues
Your outdoor environment is relatively clean
Your room is newly painted or fumed
There are immediate extreme air quality problems like from a kitchen fire, burns, or garbage, etc.
If you’ve been around an air purifier before, you probably already know that most move air. And if they move air, it’s easy to see why you might wonder if air purifiers are also fans.
Not only will I answer this question but I’ll also show you how air purifiers work.
You’ll also find out a bit more about a few that actually do act like fans as well!
The basic question: are air purifiers also fans?
The general rule is “No.” Air purifiers aren’t fans alone. That is, while they do move and circulate air, most can’t do so with the high speed & larger airflow of a basic electric fan.
More importantly, they’re designed for cleaning the air you breathe which in turn makes a large impact on the airflow volume they can offer.
Standard electrical fans don’t have the same restrictions caused by doing other work like an air purifier does. Because of that, ordinary fans can blow air much faster to cool you and the room you’re in.
Read on and I’ll explain why they’re not fans.
First, let’s talk about what a fan is and then what an air purifier is. I’ll then compare the two and explain specifically how they’re different.
What is a fan and how does it move air?
Electrical fans come in different styles and serve different purposes. Both use an electric motor to rotate blades which cut through the air and cause it to move from one side to the other, creating airflow. Both centrifugal and axial style fans are used in air purifiers. You may have seen axial fans used in your desktop computer case. The curved blades on a fan cause the motion of air that is so important.
A fan is a device with fixed blades (usually curved) that force nearby air to move from the rear to the front of it in a blowing motion. It’s a common misconception that a fan cools air because it actually doesn’t. Instead, it moves air to create the opportunity for cooling by the evaporation of sweat and convection in an environment.
In other words, fans move a liquid or gas (air) rapidly to allow cooling to occur on you or an object.
Normally they’re powered by an electrical motor that uses many windings of copper wire to produce movement and turn the blades. This is done by allowing electric current to pass through the windings which then creates magnetic fields.
These fields, in turn, push away from other magnetic fields and the rotor, the rotating center section, turns. The fan blades, attached to the rotor, then cut through the surrounding air and the air is forced to move.
Typically the fastest fans have the greatest flow of air.
Sweating is how your body self-regulates its temperature. As your sweat evaporates, your body cools off because it requires heat to convert water to vapor. In still air, however, it isn’t so easy for sweat to evaporate. The air circulated by a fan helps the sweat on your skin to evaporate faster.
That’s why you feel cooler when there’s a fan blowing around you or on you.
Aside from helping regulate heat by helping your sweat to evaporate, fans also have a role to play in a process called convection. For our purposes, we’ll consider this process as heat moving away from one place to a cooler place. When you feel hot and the surrounding air is cooler, your body cools down by transferring heat to the air.
Air becomes less dense and rises at it’s heated. When you have a fan in the room, it helps to carry this warm air away. Cooler and denser air will settle down and the cycle continues, making you feel cooler.
Fans are generally designed to blow air as I mentioned above, although some fans are designed to suck or pull air. Some examples exhaust fans, vacuum cleaners, and range hoods (like you’ve seen in restaurants or perhaps in a home kitchen).
We’ll leave fans here for the moment and take a look at air purifiers.
What is an air purifier? How does an air purifier work?
Air purifiers work by moving air through filters and trapping airborne elements that cause pollution, allergies, asthma, sickness, and much more. Additionally, with an active carbon filter (a separate type of filter) they can trap odors and airborne chemicals. Some products like this GermGuardian AC4900CA also include a germ-killing feature using ultraviolet (UV) light.
An air purifier is an electrical device that eliminates airborne pollutants in a room.
Most air purifiers contain an electric fan which pulls air to the intake part of the device. Air is then forced through a series of replaceable filters where pollutants are trapped. After the air is cleaned it’s released back into the room.
As the process continues the air purifier will continuously cycle and filter bad elements and odors in a room. The result is fresh, clean, healthy air being left behind.
Air purifier filter types
A small air purifier (GermGuardian AC4100) showing the dense HEPA filter (white) and the activated carbon pre-filter (black). These work together to remove foreign particulates and substances like odors from the air. Neither can work alone to do both functions.
High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters are made of very thin entangled glass threads that are formed into a flat sheet, which is pleated like an accordion. Think of it as being an extremely dense material with gaps far too small to see with the human eye.
This material works to filter & trap 99.97% of airborne particulates and allergens as small as 0.3 microns (that’s 1/1,000,000 of a meter in size).
Activated carbon filters are often used along with HEPA filters because of their porous nature which makes them highly effective at absorbing volatile organic chemicals, odors, and some gases in the air. They may or may not be a part of an air purifier that you buy.
It depends on the design of the product.
Pre-filters are usually made of washable foam or nylon materials that trap larger particles. These are often integrated with HEPA and carbon filters so as not to overwork the more expensive filters. They’re typically a less dense and thinner filter serving mainly just to trap larger elements in the air like dust, insects, hair, and so on.
They’re generally used as a 1st stage in the filtering process if provided.
Aside from different filters used, there are also different types of air purifiers. Some use ultraviolet light (UV) rays to destroy mold, mildew, viruses, and other germs in the air as they pass by. There are also ozone-generators and negative-ion air purifiers that remove microbes and gases but produce ozone molecules as a functional by-product. Ozone-producing air purifiers are not approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
So, are air purifiers also fans in a way?
Air purifiers contain electric fans which are used to draw in dirty air and blow out clean, filtered air. The pink arrows in the image point to the centrifugal fans used in this GermGuardian AC4825 purifier. In the center you can see the silver electric motor used to drive them both.
As I mentioned at the beginning of my post, it’s important to understand the difference between a regular fan and an air purifier.
1. Unlike fans, the majority of air purifiers have filters that greatly slow the flow of air through them.
That’s why they’re not capable of moving enough air to cool you or your room. The rate depends upon the purifier’s fan speed in use and efficiency.
These two products are not the same because they’re designed and made for different purposes.
The way they operate is different, too. They’re similar in the sense that both cause the air in your room to circulate. Fans circulate air in a room as a side effect of how they work – often they’re used to blow air directly.
Air purifiers, on the other hand, filter airborne particulates and circulate the air as they go through the dynamics of air purifying. Air circulation, rather than blowing air directly in any particular direction, is critical to how they function.
2. Most purifiers aren’t designed with fans that can move enough air to cool a room.
Purifiers aren’t expected to clean all the air in a room rapidly. It can take anywhere from several hours to a few days depending on the product and the room size. Air purification is a process that takes time.
If you require something that was much faster, it would be much larger in size and more expensive. That isn’t practical and very few people would be willing to pay for that.
There are also some types that don’t have fans. These products don’t add to the normal circulation of air in a room, and thus don’t have the added function of a fan. Ionizers and some ozone generators are good examples of this type.
Examples of air purifiers that are fans
There are a few exceptions to the rule. A few products on the market actually do act as fans. The Honeywell AirGenius product family (left) and Dyson air purifiers like the Pure Cool purifying fan (right) create a very high airflow in a room much like a fan.
While what you’ve read is true for most, there are a few exceptions to the rule. Some products like the Dyson Pure Cool purifying fan are designed specifically to move large amounts of air to help keep you cool & comfortable.
Others like the Honeywell Air Genius 5 have a different type of filter design which allows a high rate of air to blow just as a fan (and even oscillates to blow air like a fan).
Most air purifiers are not, in the most strict sense, fans. They can’t move large amounts of air rapidly like fans and cannot cool you or your home. There are a few models, however, that are exceptions to this.
Unlike a fan, the typical air purifier:
Can’t produce high-speed airflow – the filters inside greatly reduce it
Won’t cool you or the room, as the airflow doesn’t extend very far past the purifier
Needs a lot of time to circulate the air in a room
As most air purifiers work, they do circulate the air in a room, which is the function of a fan. So in that respect, they do work as fans. But we draw the line there because an air purifier is more than just a fan.
If the ability to cool a room is important to you, plan on purchasing a fan separately. You can, in most cases, use a fan in the same room with an air purifier without any problems!
Hopefully I’ve cleared up the question for you and helped you better understand the differences.
Babies are more vulnerable to sickness and many other things we as adults can handle better. Since their lungs and immunity hasn’t fully developed yet, it’s easier for them to get sick and suffer a lot.
When you think of ways to keep your home’s air fresh and healthy, air purifiers are one of the first things that come to mind.
But are air purifiers good for babies? Which ones should you avoid? I’ll share with you everything you need to know, plus much more.
Answering the question: Are air purifiers good for babies?
I’ll answer the basic question first, then I’ll show you why as we go.
Baby health and air purifier facts
Air purifiers are good for babies – if it’s the right type of air purifier.
Air purifiers help babies in the following ways:
Remove sickness-causing particles, microbes, and allergens that are harmful to them and can cause sickness
Allows babies to breathe better and sleep more easily as the air remains fresh and pure
Fans and spray air fresheners cannot address the real source of the problem (They don’t actually clean the air)
Children who are born or develop health problems are especially sensitive to air impurities and need clean air
Prevents problems in homes with pets due to hair, pet dander, and dust mites that feed on the dander
Reducing bad odors both from diaper containers and other areas of the home
Basically, the right kind of air purifier is good for babies, by helping to prevent sickness and cleaning the air they breathe safely.
Not all purifiers (like ionizers and ozone generators) are good for babies or are simply aren’t very effective, as I’ll explain later.
What causes air problems for babies?
You might not realize it, but the air around us can be loaded with a lot of pollutants, dust, allergens, organic matter (like pet dander), chemical vapors, dust mite particles, and even mold spores.
Bacteria can travel through the air as well!
The problem is that we can’t see these incredibly small & harmful particles that surround us. At some point, after enough exposure, we can become sick or cough and sneeze as our nose, throat, and lungs become irritated. That’s especially true for babies as they’re really vulnerable.
It’s a big problem when a child is kept in a room with unclean air for long periods of time. That means a baby is exposed to much more potentially harmful particulate matter.
An example of what’s in the air
A microscopic image showing common household dust your child is breathing in.
The nasty particles and germs in the air that your child can inhale are incredibly small: some to less than 1 micrometer (a micrometer is 1 millionth of a meter) in size!
Because they’re so incredibly small, they’re easily inhaled deep within your baby’s lungs where they can accumulate and begin causing illness, coughing, or other respiratory problems.
Pets, cigarette smoke odors and residue, airborne remnants from construction, carpet, dust mites, and so much more stay in your home and your child’s air unless they’re removed.
Even if you don’t allow smoking inside your home, smokers can still bring in residual particles from smoke on their clothing & hair and near your baby. That increases the risk of respiratory problems and a lot of coughing and other reactions.
What doesn’t work – and why you need a purifier
It isn’t enough to just open a window to get cleaner air in your home. Air quality problems are caused by particles & germs that stay there unless they’re permanently removed. Opening a window simply lets in the fresh air – it doesn’t clean the air indoors or remove existing particulates.
Simply using an electric fan, opening the window, or using air fresheners don’t work because while it may seem like the air is fresher, the unwanted toxins and elements in your home are still there.
A fan can actually worsen your baby’s breathing as they can disturb pollutants and materials that have settled on surfaces. An example is dust which, when bothered by gusts of air, moves into the room’s air again where it can bother your child.
An air purifier is the right solution
The difference between an air purifier and other “solutions” is that they actually remove the nasty particles from the air your child breathes. That’s the only truly effective way to clean the air effectively: Removing the source of the problem.
The problem is, there are several kinds sold on the market and some can actually be bad for your child! I’ll explain here the different types and which ones to avoid.
An example of dust removed from my home by my purifier, trapped in the pre-filter (shown as gray dust). HEPA purifiers are a safe, effective way to remove what’s in the air around your child and offer healthy, fresh air.
The 2 types of air purifiers
Products sold and labeled as “air purifiers” are categorized as 2 types:
Non-emitting purifiers (filter-based)
What does this mean? It’s really simple, actually.
“Emitting” purifiers are those products like ozone generators that produce – or emit – a by-product into the air like ozone or ions.
Non-emitting (filter-based) purifiers are those that use filters to remove particles & gases from the air. They don’t add anything into the air around you.
Ozone generators and ionizers, often marketed as “air cleaners” or “air purifiers” are electrical devices that use high voltage to separate air molecules and create ozone molecules.
The misleading marketing idea used to sell to buyers is that as they produce ozone and create fresh air in the room as they work.
Usually, ozone generators are sold with the idea that ozone molecules can attract and attach to other substances (like dust, microbes, allergens, and so on) to cleanse the air in a room, automobile, or wherever they’re used.
Emitting-type purifiers can actually trigger problems and can be bad for your baby.
The EPA also notes that ionizers are ineffective in removing large particles like pollen and house dust. In this category of product you’ll find two types:
Examples of ionizers available for home use sold as air purifiers.
Ionizers and ozone generators are very similar in how they work but generally speaking ionizers produce charged atoms in the air to attract airborne particles to a metal plate or similar object like a filter.
They typically don’t introduce a high level of emissions into the air, so they’re generally safe and aren’t likely to produce headaches. If you’re especially sensitive, however, it’s possible.
Additionally, they can reduce sickness by dramatically reducing the number of airborne sickness-causing microbes!
As a rule, an ionizer is helpful for improving the germ levels in a room, but as far as air cleanliness goes, they’re not very effective for the most common household air quality problems.
You can, however, buy a filter-based purifier with an ionizer feature in some cases.
Shown: An ozone generator that produces large amounts of O3 molecules (ozone) by splitting oxygen molecules (O2) from the surrounding air. Some of these recombine to form ozone with a charge whereby they can attach to particles in a room’s air. The side effects humans feel depends on the ozone levels they’re exposed to.
The truth is, ozone generators don’t purify the air without health risks – or as effectively – as filter-based products do.
While it’s true that they can trap some elements in the air like dust, pet dander, and similar particulates, they’re not at all efficient at doing so. The reason is that when ozone (O3) molecules are produced, they have a short life span before recombining back into oxygen molecules at some point.
How they create problems for your baby
An ozone generator, generally speaking, produces a lot of ozone in a room. The idea is that by doing so allergens and other contaminants will bond with the ozone, causing it to fall to the ground or be trapped in a filter if provided.
The main problem with this is that it takes a significant amount of ozone to make a worthwhile difference.
So much so that these are not recommended to be used in rooms that are occupied by people. That’s because there’s a health risk involved due to the high levels of ozone.
When inhaled by your child they can suffer from lung irritation, coughing, and other symptoms.
Non-emitting (filter) purifiers
A filter-based air purifier works not by emitting by-products into the air like an ionizer or ozone generator, but only by safely removing unwanted substances from the air. Almost all use a highly dense HEPA filter (shown in white) and an activated carbon filter/pre-filter (black). When used together, these remove headache-causing elements like allergens, odors, chemical substances, perfume smell, organic substances, outgassing molecules, and more.
A non-emitting air purifier works not by producing by-products that enter the air, but by simply but processing air in the room. They permanently trap and remove particulates and many other types of airborne pollution.
Filter type purifiers work by using a fan to draw in air which passes through the filters which trap air contaminants before releasing clean air back into the room.
These work by continually cycling and cleaning a room’s air as they work. You can let them run 24 hours a day if you like, in fact.
HEPA filters and prefilters explained
High-quality models use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to remove particles as small as 0.3 micrometers (less than 1/100,000 of a meter!) in size by permanently trapping them.
The result is safe, fresh air without anything produced as a side effect – therefore there’s nothing to breathe in and potentially cause headaches.
The HEPA filter standard
HEPA is a United States government standardized level of filter quality and assures that the 0.3 uM (micrometer) particle size and is met and that 99.97% of the contaminants in the air moving through the filter never escape.
In other words, the HEPA standard means that a filter has to meet the requirements of how small the elements it can capture are and how efficient it is at removing particulates.
An additional 1st & 2nd stage filter section first removes larger particles and matter in the air (like pet hair, for example) and uses an activated carbon filter that traps chemical substances. This allows it to permanently remove many odors, volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), and vapors that can affect you.
Which is best for your baby?
You’ll want to get a good true HEPA purifier and stay away from ionizers & ozone generators. HEPA models are both safe and effective, which can’t be said for other types.
Purifier use, expected costs, and maintenance
You’ll need to periodically replace the purifier’s filters. The odor-absorbing prefilter has a life expectancy of around 6-8 months while the HEPA filter can last longer. It depends on the air quality conditions in your home.
A HEPA air purifier is extremely easy to use and only requires maintenance for filter check and replacement after several months. For your convenience, many have a filter reminder feature in order to remind you to check and replace the filters if they’re heavily used.
Note: A purifier needs space for airflow around it to work well and effectively clean the air in your home.
You’ll need to place them in a room with adequate space between them and walls or furniture. Many models recommend 15″ to 24″ space around them, for example.
Costs include the original purchase price (for a good one for a baby’s room, expect to spend less than $100) and the cost of replacement filters. Most air purifiers for small to medium size rooms use replacement filters that cost around $30 or so and have an average replacement time of about 6-8 months, depending upon use and air conditions.
Note that if you aren’t removing a high level of pollutants in your baby’s room often the filter replacement reminder can simply be reset. If the filter isn’t heavily used you can wait more time before purchasing a replacement.
In summary – are air purifiers good for babies?
The answer is a definite yes – and they’ll provide cleaner air for you, too.
An air purifier helps babies in the following ways:
Removes lung-irritating particles and other microbial allergens that are harmful and can cause sickness
Allows babies to breathe better and sleep more easily
Fans and spray air fresheners only mask air problems, while an air purifier truly removes the problem
Children who are born or develop health problems are especially sensitive to air impurities and need safe, clean air
Removing the problems by smoke residue brought in on clothes and hair
Prevents problems in homes with pets due to hair, pet dander, and dust mites that feed on the dander
Reducing bad odors both from diaper containers and other areas of the home
Sure – you can prevent some smells from getting into your home. But many are just a fact of life. Even without some of the most common problems (like pets, smoke, and cooking odors) smells just seem to find a way in.
Dealing with them can be a hassle, and air fresheners often only mask the problem. Additionally, some causes in particular (like smoke) come with even more side effects.
Does an air purifier remove smells? Should you buy one for your home? Read on to find out the answer.
Odors are everywhere! Unlike the outdoors, indoor odor sources don’t have much air circulation and can be even more noticeable. The addition of a well-designed, properly chosen air purifier can help relieve a variety of odor symptoms everywhere from rooms with pets to your kitchen.
In order to better understand what we’re dealing with and how air purifiers may help, it’s important to understand the problem.
What exactly is an odor or “smell”?
Odors are actually caused by volatile chemical compounds which basically means they’re the molecular composition of materials or chemicals that present in the air. When this occurs your nose’s olfactory nerves detect them as scents and you have a related reaction (good or bad, depending on the type).
Not only that, but the sense of smell varies from person to person. So while some odors may not bother you greatly, for others the effects can be much more unpleasant or even trigger problems.
Likewise, some smells don’t bother me as much as others – but some really get on my nerves!
Common types of odors
I’ve made a brief list here, along with added details, of some of the most common odor sources you may be dealing with. After that, I’ll show you how a purifier can help.
Cigarette smoke is one of the most bothersome odor sources anywhere. Not only do the by-products of smoke find their way into the air, but they also cling to surfaces like your clothes and hair. A purifier is highly recommended when smokers are present.
This one has always bothered me a lot! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve left my local sports bar while wearing nice clothes, that smelled absolutely terrible afterward. Even my hair smelled bad!
Even if you don’t smoke, you might live with a family member or roommate who does. Either way, tobacco smoke is capable of moving between rooms and distributing small particles that can irritate people with allergies, or even cause cancer as you may already know.
Smoke particles contain elements that are incredibly tiny in size – down to a fraction of other airborne contaminants like pet dander and dust, for example. That’s one of many reasons it’s harder to deal with.
Additionally, burning tobacco and paper releases gases into the air as well. You’ll need an effective solution to successfully get rid of those (and not just cover them up).
Pet odors are caused by organic substances from microorganisms present on and released by animals. A great example is the “wet dog smell” everyone knows. Pets also produce a number of other odors that can stink up your home.
I love pets just as much as you do. But it seems like no matter how much we wash or bathe them, they always smell a bit. And pets always like to get into trouble, so they often end up bringing something smelly into the house.
We’ve all smelled the infamous “wet dog smell” I’m sure!
As much as pet hair and dander is a problem also, it’s the other sources of smells from them that need to be captured and removed from the air: organic sources like bacteria and their bodily functions in addition to the oils naturally secreted by their skin.
One more benefit of using a purifier is being able to capture allergy-causing dander as well as some of the hair they leave behind.
Food and cooking
Cooking is especially notorious for releasing odors into the air. As a matter of fact, some dishes release substances that can cling to your kitchen’s interior and build up over time. Using an air purifier to remove airborne food-related substances is a great idea.
Some of the most common dishes like burgers or fried fish can leave a strong, lingering scent behind. Foods with spices and similar ingredients are especially bad at releasing organic compounds that cause very strong odors.
Sometimes it’s not just you that feels the effects, but your neighbors to, since odors can rise and permeate rooms and buildings.
Cooking appliances and food release particulate matter into the air when you cook which can spread throughout your home, leaving your entire house smelling like what you ate for dinner for a long time afterward.
To make matters worse, some foods, when cooked, distribute minute food particles in the air which can build up over time on your interior surfaces.
I’m certainly not perfect. Every once in a while I forget to take out the garbage. The problem is that leaving meat or old vegetables in the garbage can make the house smell even after I take out the trash.
Garbage has a variety of materials that tend to begin to decompose in a short amount of time, creating gases in the air which surface as very strong odors.
When bacteria begin to increase in numbers and start breaking down organic substances like old food or waste items it can become a big problem.
While the only true remedy is to remove the garbage from indoors, a purifier can help to reduce the problem while it’s in your home.
Household chemicals and construction materials
Other common substances like paint, cleaning chemicals, and even renovated rooms in a home emit harmful substances into the air by a process called “outgassing.”
Outgassing is a process in which everything from new carpet to household chemicals, paint, or building materials release molecules into the air as chemical vapor odors.
Some actually are harmful, like chemicals with vapors which can affect the central nervous system and internal tissues if inhaled.
That’s a definite source for headaches but potentially other health problems, too. You’re much safer with a means of capturing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and removing them from your breathing air.
How does an air purifier help with smells?
There 2 main ways in which a purifier can help relieve odors:
Removing some airborne particles that carry odor-causing elements
Absorbing and trapping odors substances from the air
Of these 2 factors, the most significant one is the ability to trap odors and remove them from the air. However, you’ll have to pick the right kind of product to do so.
Not to worry, though – I’ll cover that below as well.
How does an air purifier work?
Air purifiers reduce odors by continuously cycling the air in a room and filtering out both solid and gaseous substances like odors and chemical vapors. There are 2 main filters (with 3 functions, often called a “3-in-1” purifier) that do so: a High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter section and a pre-filter section with activated carbon inside or specialized chemical treatment. A good quality air purifier like the popular GermGuardian AC4825 will move a good amount of air quickly and will reduce odors in your home.
Air purifiers work by using a fan to cycle the air in a room and filter out unwanted particulates and odors too.
In order to do so, you’ll need to buy one that’s capable of moving a sufficient amount of air in the room it’s used in. Ratings like the Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) or air flow rate specifications such as the Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM) describe the effectiveness of a purifier.
However, I realize that can be a bit confusing and may feel a bit like a hassle to have to figure out. The good news is that the major purifier manufacturers specify the recommended room size in square feet.
For example, a 10 foot by 15 foot room has a size of 10 x 15 = 150 sq ft (square feet). Using the recommended room size you should be fine when buying.
How air purifiers remove odors
Air purifiers (specifically, filter-based products) use activated carbon (charcoal) to absorb and trap odors. Carbon is an industry-standard element used in many types of filters including for water. Once it’s used up the filter should be replaced.
Activated carbon is the essential element required for removing odors and terrible smells with an air purifier. I bring that up because in fact not all purifiers include this type of filter!
However, most high-quality and best-selling models do.
Activated carbon (which is a form of charcoal) is a granular, tiny element used as an ingredient in a special section of the air purifier’s 2 or 3 filters. The carbon is a porous and absorbent element that has the ability to trap odors and airborne chemicals present.
When the purifier’s internal fan draws air through the carbon filter, substances can be absorbed and removed from the air, removing odors and harmful chemical vapors.
The HEPA filter’s role
HEPA filters are a standardized filter section made of extremely dense fiber which can trap microscopic particle down to 0.3 microns in size (a micro is an amazing 1/1,000,000 of a meter!). They’re designed to capture solid particulate in the air, and not gases or vapors.
While that’s true, they can trap some nasty particles like hair and debris that can carry a bit of odor-causing molecules. Generally speaking, however, the carbon filter section is the most essential.
Carbon filters are typically separately replaceable from the HEPA filter section and tend to have a life of around 6 months or so, though this varies with use.
Air purifier types
Shown: (Left) Emitting air purifiers create a by-product that’s released into the air around you. (Right) Filter-based, or non-emitting purifiers, do not. The simply remove air contaminants as they pass through filters.
There are several different types of air purifiers sold today and it can definitely be confusing and in some cases – even misleading! And that’s a shame – unsuspecting buyers can get tricked into buying a poor-quality product that will do little, if anything, to improve their air quality.
Just to keep it simple, I’ll break down the most common types you’ll likely run across when shopping:
HEPA (filter-based) purifiers
Purifiers to avoid
Products like the Oion B-1000 ionic air purifier (left) and ozone generator (right) should be avoided. Ionic air purifiers do work to a degree, but they’re very weak and typically have extremely low airflow rates compared to HEPA-type purifiers. Ozone generators, however, are ineffective at safe ozone levels. At ozone production levels at which they become effective, they’re unsafe to be around. Most sold as “air purifiers” are a waste of your hard-earned money.
When shopping avoid the following two kinds which are often hyped-up with clever marketing and many technical phrases. They’re sold using misleading promises and a lack of actual performance data:
Ionizers (ionic purifiers)
Ionizers do actually work, but in my experience, they’re extremely poor performers and simply are a terrible use of your money. For example, my GermGuardian AC4100 purifier is about the same price as the Oion B-1000 yet can run circles around it!
Good purifiers to buy for odor relief
To effectively combat odors, I recommend a quality air purifier with good airflow rate. This means it can cycle and clean the air in the room relatively quickly. Note: it’s critical to buy the appropriately sized purifier for your room size! While there are other very popular products available, one of the best I’ve owned and tested is the top-rated Winix 5500-2 model with a real carbon pellet odor capturing filter.
Whichever product you decide to try, be sure to buy one with the following criteria:
A quality purifier with proven buyer reviews
An activated carbon filter section
Adequate airflow rate / recommended room size meets your room
While the things I’ve mentioned here are of great importance, remember the following: no purifier can prevent odors 100%. You should treat the problem at its source.
In other words, don’t expect any purifier to work miracles. They’re very helpful and can definitely reduce odors, but they’re a way of dealing with the symptoms of the odor source.
Bad smells often require treating the source, depending upon the type of problem.
The most effective type of prefilter
Closeup of the activated carbon filter from a Winix 5500-2 air purifier, containing real pellets (rather than the standard coating most use). This is a more effective odor control option.
If possible, for the best odor control pick an air filter with a prefilter that uses real carbon pellets. They’re more powerful for odor control than the standard coating type used by most on the market.
They also have a greater life expectancy and use capacity as well, as they contain much more activated carbon.
Additionally, some can be rinsed off (like those in the Winix 5500-2) for maintenance.
Summary – Does an air purifier remove smells?
So does an air purifier remove smells? Let’s break it down.
In short, yes! A good-quality air purifier with an activated carbon filter can reduce odors and airborne chemical vapors
Not all HEPA purifiers include this type of filter – be careful and shop wisely
Ionizers and ozone generators may give the impression of fresh air, but they’re generally either 1) very weak and ineffective, or 2) can produce irritating or harmful ozone. They should be avoided.
Now that I’ve cleared that up, perhaps you’re wondering what kind I’d recommend?
Air purifiers are wonderful and can definitely improve your quality of life. Unfortunately, a lot of the ones sold today can be hard to figure out.
You might find some labeled “true” HEPA filters while some others are advertised as “HEPA type.”
To make matters worse, as a new buyer it’s easy to be misled into buying a product that’s misrepresented and pretends to be as good as better-quality products.
In this post, I’ll explain the difference between HEPA type vs HEPA filters in great detail.
True HEPA and HEPA type air purifiers
Shown: 2 very common air purifiers, which don’t seem very different from the outside. Left: A Holmes HAP242-NUC air purifier which includes a HEPA-type filter and marketed similarly to a true HEPA filter. Right: GermGuardian AC4825 air purifier. It includes a genuine HEPA filter that meets the High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) standard.
The problem with air purifiers sold today (as pictured above, for example) is that it’s very easy to think they’re all the same. Because of clever marketing, you may think a HEPA-type is just as effective as a true HEPA product.
The problem lies in the details and how filters are rated.
What is a true HEPA filter?
A High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter describes a type of filter designed to meet efficiency and air purification quality levels set by the United States Department of Energy. These filters are made of a very dense fiber-like material.
To meet the standard a filter must be able to remove 99.97% of airborne particles that enter it down to 0.3 microns in size.
A micron, or micrometer (uM), is 1/1,000,000 of a meter. It’s a common unit of measurement for microscopic elements.
A filter’s efficiency refers to how many particles it can trap and remove from the airflow that passes through it. At 99.97%, for every 10,000 particles flowing into it only about 3 escape.
HEPA filters are very effective at cleaning the air!
The good news is that thanks to the High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) standard exist it’s much easier to know what you’re getting for your money.
HEPA-type vs. true HEPA explained
This graph shows how air filters like HEPA filters perform when used in an air purifier.
A HEPA filter’s efficiency actually begins to fall for particles near the size of 0.3uM, which is why they’re rated to “99.97% of particles down to 0.3uM.” Filters actually work even better above that size (as seen in the graph, like 5uM for example).
Following the red line on the graph, you can see that the efficiency (the number of particles it can capture) drops a bit near a certain size range.
The interesting thing to know is that filters actually trap more particles below that size range, but it’s misleading to sell a filter based on that.
Minimum particle size is what matters
The smallest particle size a filter can remove from the air is the most important thing to know. In the case of a genuine (true) HEPA filter, you can be sure that’s 0.3uM (less than 1 millionth of a meter).
“HEPA-type” filters are those that look like true HEPA filters but don’t meet the same requirements. They’re not standardized and can have any range of efficiency and minimum particle size rating.
HEPA-type purifiers are sold to give a buyer the impression they’re getting the same performance when in fact who knows? Unless the specs are specifically made clear, it’s anybody’s guess.
There’s no mandatory requirement for companies selling those to have proof of their product’s performance.
Industry standard ratings
An example Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) label from the Honeywell HPA160 medium-large room air purifier. CADR ratings are lab-verified cleaning efficiency ratings based on measuring how effective an air purifier is for 3 major types of air contaminants.
The AHAM is an independent (non-government) voluntary industry association that was established to better rate and standardize the ratings of many appliances you buy.
Air purifiers have unique requirements as well so a method of testing their cleaning effectiveness was developed. Using the CADR you can better shop by comparison for those models which include the rating in their specifications.
Understanding CADR ratings
The CADR rating is a cleaning effectiveness rating. It’s a score based on standard lab tests by the AHAM where a purifier is used in a room with a measured amount of air contaminants.
The air purifier is then observed and measured based on how well and fast it can clean the 3 types of contaminants (smoke, dust, and pollen) in a given amount of time.
Air purifiers with a higher airflow rate (larger purifiers with more fan speed) will nearly always rate higher.
That’s expected. Therefore when shopping and reading CADR ratings you should compare purifiers of a similar recommended room size.
(For example, a small room purifier will have a lower CADR rating than a large room one, so comparing them as equals doesn’t make sense).
HEPA-type marketing to watch out for
You might find products advertised as having “99.9% efficiency” or something like that. But the most important thing is what’s the minimum particle size they can filter at that level? What is it? How does it really perform?
Unless it’s specifically made clear, you have no idea how well it’s actually going to work. More than likely it’s not close to the performance of a true HEPA filter and is a bad choice.
In some cases, HEPA-type filters can allow allergens, dust mite particles, and more to escape! That’s because some of the most common airborne particles that give people problems are smaller than they can capture.
Image showing the filters from the previously shown examples. A HEPA-type filter (Holmes air purifier, left) and a true HEPA filter (GermGuardian, right) look extremely similar. In most cases, you can’t tell the difference just by looking. You’ll need to be very careful and look for specifications that tell you their performance. However, in my opinion, “HEPA-type” filters are best avoided and you should simply get the real thing.
Avoid unknown HEPA-type filters. Don’t waste your money.
Are HEPA type purifiers bad? Are there exceptions?
As I mentioned earlier, it’s generally best to avoid HEPA-type purifiers. But there are exceptions to the rule.
The Holmes desktop air purifier I showed earlier is an example I can use. It’s more of a budget model. However, in this case, Holmes does specify it can trap contaminants down to 2 microns (2uM) in size.
HEPA type filters aren’t “bad” – just a different performance level
While that’s poor in comparison to a real HEPA filter, it’s still ok for some purposes. For example, for larger particles like dust mites, household dust, hair, and so forth it can work just fine.
In that case, you’ll need to be well-educated about what size particles your air problems include. I definitely wouldn’t recommend a HEPA-type filter for smoke, airborne microbes, and other issues.
Smoke particles have been shown to measure well below 1 micron in size, for example.
Honestly, this kind of information isn’t for the average person and leaves too much room for making a bad buying decision in my opinion.
If you’re on a tight budget and your air problems aren’t demanding it’s an option to consider.
As they look very similar to each other, you can’t rely on your eyes alone. As I mentioned earlier, because of clever marketing you could be misled into thinking HEPA-type purifiers are just as good as the real thing.
To recap, here are the most critical points to keep in mind when comparing HEPA type vs true HEPA purifiers:
“HEPA-type” filters are not standardized and can’t match the performance of true HEPA purifiers. Often they don’t show the smallest particle size they can trap. This means they’re not a good choice usually but in some cases they’re ok to use.
True HEPA purifiers are verified to meet a standard level performance. They’re standardized and must meet the 99.97% efficiency / 0.3uM particle size quality standard.
In my opinion, it’s worth spending a bit more money for a product with better air cleaning ability and that has demonstrated effectiveness.
Your home is your safe haven and should be a place that feels great to come home to. But did you know it can harbor some harmful gases and pollutants?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air contains organic chemical pollutants at levels 2 to 5 times higher than those found in outdoor air. Knowing that maybe it’s time to invest in a good air purifier.
But wait – are air purifiers good for your health? Or could they be potentially harmful as well? And which ones are the right kinds to buy?
Answering the basic question – Are air purifiers good for your health?
First off, before going into more detail, here’s a quick answer to your question:
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 or discomfort.
HEPA filter-based air purifiers produce no 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 very ineffective for air cleaning when compared to HEPA type air purifiers.
Ionizers are generally a good way to effectively combat airborne germs that cause illnesses. However, like others, they’re not efficient or effective for the most common air quality problems. Again, a filter-type based purifier is a much better choice.
I’d like to explain exactly why this is – and what kind of purifier you should – or should not – buy.
Some are simply junk and a waste of money. In fact, some can make you cough, feel poorly, and are not good for your health!
Common home air quality problems
(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 let fresh air in for a while, but the problem is that’s a temporary solution – it won’t fix the source of the problem.
While there are too many to list here, some of the most common problems are:
Allergens from plants and other materials
Pet odors, hair, and pet dander
Bad smells from a variety of sources
Sneezing, coughing, and sniffling
Irritants causing red eyes or scratchy skin
Dust mite problems
Stale air that doesn’t smell fresh
Volatile organic compound (VOC) substances from chemicals
Unlike temporary solutions, an air purifier can remove air contaminants, pet dander, dust mite irritants, dust, smoke odors, and much more. Some of the most common problems we all suffer from can improve a lot!
Ultimately, the only way to truly deal with an air quality problem is to get rid of the source! If that’s not possible (for example, getting rid of your pets) the solution is to remove the cause as it’s produced.
To do so, however, you’ll want the right kind of product that won’t expose you to potential health symptoms. You’ll also want something that’s effective, too. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Air quality problems air purifiers can help with
Shown: My air purifier’s filter after being used only about 2 weeks and capturing LOTS of dust. I was amazed at how much it removed from my room and the air around me!
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, or dirt and plant particles from other places.
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.
How does an air purifier work?
An air purifier works by drawing in dirty, contaminated air which is then filtered before it escapes 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). 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 into 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 by one of 3 ways:
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
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.
1. HEPA filter purifiers
A HEPA filter is an extremely dense filter made up of many extremely dense fibers packed together. 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 along with a pre-filter and an activated carbon filter.
The most commonly 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 and are the standard type you’ll find when shopping.
A HEPA air filter is made of very thin glass fibers randomly woven into a mesh material which is folded to increase its surface area.
Extremely dense in construction, they’re 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).
While there are other types of filters used in some cases (such as HEPA “type”), they’re not as effective if they don’t meet the government specifications the HEPA filter standard requires.
Normally they’re used along with 1 or 2 more filter sections such as a mesh prefilter (for trapping dust, hair, and larger elements) and an odor and gas-absorbing section.
2. Electronic air cleaners
Electronic air cleaners like this B-1000 ionizer shown here work by generating charged particles. These particles then can cling to particulates 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 attracted to plates with an opposite electrical charge as they pass through in the air, removing them from the air.
Ionizers create the charged particles which bond to air particles and then metal collection plates or a filter inside the device.
Unlike air filters that are tested using HEPA standards, there’s 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 a by-product.
Why ionizers are a bad choice
Ionizers have been proven to rid the air effectively of sickness-causing microbes, so they can offer a great benefit if designed correctly.
Despite this, they can’t purify the air nearly as effectively as filter-based purifiers can. If you’re considering buying an ionizer purifier, it’s important to be aware that most aren’t really worth the money.
3. Ozone generators
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 don’t 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.
At first glance, it can seem like ozone is a great way to eliminate pollutants in the air without even needing a filter or even fans in some cases. Many sold today on the market are listed with big claims and fancy technical terms but in truth are very poor performers.
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.
In fact, the EPA recognizes ozone as a lung irritant and products often have ratings to let you know how much they produce.
Sales gimmicks and your money
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 really don’t!
Ozone itself can attach to airborne particles and trap it, but the problem is that it takes an excessive amount of ozone for them to be anywhere near effective. Therefore, they aren’t recommended for enclosed rooms and especially not for people with asthma or other respiratory problems.
Some air purifiers have an ionizer or ozone generator as an extra option. These types are less likely to produce unsafe levels as they’re a secondary feature and aren’t a health threat in most cases.
The most prevalent problem with ozone generators is that they can’t purify the air efficiently as a filter-based product can.
4. Ultraviolet (UV) germicidal irradiation air cleaners
Ultraviolet light damages the DNA of airborne germs and microbes at the molecular level, rendering them harmless.
UV-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 produce 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 UV cleaners are since there aren’t any standards to test them or compare them when buying.
In air purifiers available for home use, the UV feature serves as a side benefit for reducing airborne germs and microbes.
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!
Dust is an everyday problem for many of us. I used to suffer terribly from coughing because of dust blown into my work area from the ventilation system in my old job.
As I learned later, dust contains a variety of debris, pollutants, and allergens that are bad to breathe in. One of the best things I’ve ever done is to invest in a high-quality air purifier.
But what if you’re not convinced yet. Do air purifiers reduce dust? That’s a great question I’m going to answer for you.
Infographic – Air purifier and dust facts
Do air purifiers reduce dust?
Air purifier dust facts
The short answer is yes, air purifiers reduce dust and help eliminate the problem.
The critical reason is that they eliminate dust particles – both visible and microscopic – from the air. Airborne particulates pass through them and are caught permanently in filters. Larger dust elements like hair and fabric fibers get trapped in a front section called the pre-filter.
It’s important to note that I’m referring to filter-based purifiers, not ionizers or ozone generators. The reason is that while those have a purpose under certain conditions, they’re not nearly as effective as a traditional (filter-based) purifier.
Note that air purifiers aren’t a 100% solution – it’s impossible for them to remove all air contaminants, like dust that has settled on surfaces. I’ll cover the other steps you should take for the most benefit as we go along.
What is in dust?
A microscopic image of common household dust. It’s not made of any one element. However different dust sources may generate higher levels of some particles than others. These microscopic particulates are not just a cleanliness issue but can aggravate your respiratory system, cause allergies and sickness, and even cause cancer. Without a good way to trap and remove dust, you’ll constantly breathe in more and more.
It’s helpful to understand exactly the problem you’re dealing with. Why? Because common household dust isn’t often made of large, visible elements that are easily vacuumed or swept away permanently.
Many dust particles are actually microscopic in sizewhich means ordinary cleaning and vacuuming won’t capture them.
Additionally, different dust sources can bring toxicity and other potentially harmful effects due to chemical elements and organic threats.
Sources of dust
As you might have already guessed, there are a lot of ways dust gets into your home:
Dust mite by-products (dust mite feces and body parts)
Pet dander & human shed tissue/skin
Home construction materials
Carpet dust fibers
Fabric & clothing fibers
Central heating and cooling system air ducts
…and the list goes on and on. There are just too many to list!
The problem can come from nearly anything that breaks down into small enough particles that can be carried by wind and air.
A surprisingly large amount of dust actually comes from the outdoors. Tracked-in dirt from outside is a great example of how you bring these types of particles into your home without knowing it.
Toxicity and health dangers
Respiratory and other health problems increase a lot when you inhale dust. Microscopic dust particles are more easily brought into our respiratory passageway. Coughing, allergies, nose problems, and much more are some of the symptoms caused by it. People with asthma are especially vulnerable to it too.
Because most Americans spend up to 90 percent or more of their day indoors, it’s easy to see why dust could potentially bring health risks over time.
Dirty, trapped air increases in dust content over time and you’re constantly breathing it in.
As dust settles, it’s less of a risk but once disturbed it’s airborne again and you’ll be inhaling more of it yet again. People suffering from asthma, emphysema, and other health issues can struggle with even a small increase in dust levels.
Many materials, many dust sources
Man-made materials like fabric, home materials, and carpet distribute particles that break off and enter your air. Many are potentially toxic and contain chemicals like formaldehyde.
In fact, a 2016 study found that it can contain up to 10 household chemicals!
Some are known carcinogens (cancer-causing agents), meaning you’re at risk for even more health problems down the road!
Dust cleanliness problems
The more you let your dust problem go unchecked, the more you’ll need to clean! I hate dusting so I use my air purifier nearly 24 hours a day for best results.
I really hate having to dust every so often! It’s a boring chore and just feels like I could be spending the time elsewhere.
I’m sure nearly everyone knows how that feels – walking in and seeing cabinets, tabletops, and shelves coated with that same old dust we hate.
The thing is, if left untreated you’ll have the same problem, day after day, week after week – more cleaning. That goes for nearly anywhere you live: If not dealt with effectively, you’ll never escape the headache of dust problems.
I finally had enough of the dust particles that were constantly building up from fabrics and my bathroom towels. Vacuuming helps, but it definitely isn’t the easiest or most efficient way.
So I decided to try an air purifier and I’ll share my experiences below.
How air purifiers reduce dust
Diagram showing how an air purifier circulates air and removes dust in a room. Shown here is the AC4825 air purifier, a great example of an effective product. I’m an owner and have had great success with it keeping dust levels down where I live!
As I mentioned above, a good purifier is a great choice for reducing dust.
They work by using internal electric fans to continuously circulate air in a room and filter the air as it moves through them. Dusty and dirty air is pulled in and forced through the filters, trapping dusty permanently.
Clean air leaves the exhaust side of the purifier and the cycle continues. In most cases, it takes a few hours with an appropriately sized purifier to circulate & clean the air in a room.
A pre-filter section contains a thin mesh material that first traps larger elements like household dust and pet air before they reach the HEPA filter. This is especially helpful because when dealing with air quality problems like this the pre-filter will likely become dirty relatively soon.
In that case, the pre-filter will prevent the HEPA filter section from becoming dirty too rapidly and will extend its life. Many purifiers sold today allow the pre-filter to be replaced separately instead of having to replace both, saving money.
You may be able to vacuum the dust trapped in the pre-filter section as I’ve done before.
The High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) section is made of very dense fibrous material. The HEPA standard ensures it can trap 99.7% of the unwanted particles entering it, down to 0.3 microns in size. (A micron is 1/1,000,000 of a meter).
Working together they form a highly effective way to capture dust both large and microscopic in size.
My experiences with an air purifier and dust
My air purifier’s dust cleaning ability (top photo) after only a week or 2. I was amazed at how much dust it trapped! Truly wonderful, and it helps a lot to keep my place cleaner and the air healthier. Bottom photo: after it became nearly used I vacuumed the pre-filter to get more life out of it.
I bought the highly recommended GermGuardian AC4825 to try out in my own home – the results where excellent! The amount of dust it captured was crazy!
After about 2 weeks or so I opened the rear filter cover to check it out for curiosity’s sake. I was almost shocked by how much dust was on the pre-filter. How much dust had I been breathing in all this time?
Now I normally leave mine running for at least 8-9 hours a day and even longer if I’m inside working all day or while I’m out.
Are you trying to understand the difference between an ionic air purifier vs. a HEPA purifier? I’ll be honest and admit a long time ago I was confused too. One reason is because of misleading product descriptions I had to research and verify.
It seems like there are so many products sold today as air purifiers. And many are falsely described – which makes it even more confusing! My main goal is to answer your questions about both the differences between an ionizer purifier vs. HEPA purifier.
Before spending any money it’s well worth taking a few minutes to find out more what you really need. I want you to get the best for your money and the best product for your needs.
Infographic – Ionic air purifier vs. HEPA
What does an ionic purifier do?
Examples of two popular and commonly sold ionic (ionizer) air purifiers. Left: O-ion B-1000 purifier and (right) the No products found. Both use charged plates to attract particles from the air which collect in a filter or on plates for later removal. Both also use a fan to move air through the ionizer section of the purifier. Both also have a UV-C light feature to kill germs.
Air ionizers work by processing air moved by a fan using electrically charged plates to charge air molecules. These ions – or charged air molecules – are attracted to plates or electrodes very much like how static electricity works.
How ionizers work
Shown: one of many ionizer designs. In this example (of a design used by better ionizer air purifiers) air is moved by a fan through the first filter. Following this, particles in the air are charged (ionized) and then attracted to metal plates of an opposite charge where they’re captured. A final filter removes some more particles in the air. Note that not all ionizer air purifiers have filters.
Ionizers come in different designs. Not all work the same.
For example, better models have a fan to circulate air in a room and others don’t. In order to purify the air in a room, a product absolutely must actually move the air through it and process it to remove contaminants.
Generally speaking, however, ionic air purifiers use a fan to move air through a series of electrodes and plates. The first plates use an electrical charge to ionize (change the electrical charge of) the airborne particles.
The 2nd stage features other electrodes or plates which have an opposite charge. When the newly charged particles move close to them, they’re attracted to them and bond to them, removing them from the air.
It’s very much like static electricity. For example, think about how pieces of paper, hair, or styrofoam are attracted to your body and clothes when you build up a charge on your carpet.
These contaminants collect on plates or similar type of filter where they’re cleaned off later. Some models feature standard filters as well.
Sometimes ionizers are a feature built into HEPA type purifiers as an added benefit.
Unlike ionizers, ozone generators produce a lot of ozone molecules in the air and don’t internally collect contaminant particles. The idea is for ozone to bond with airborne particulates which then fall from the air. They’re not very effective at safe ozone levels and at levels where they are effective, the ozone is potentially harmful to humans.
It’s important to cover this topic as unfortunately ionizers are often confused with ozone generators. Companies selling ozone-generating “purifiers” often mislabel them and it simply adds to the confusion.
By nature, ionizers do generate a very small amount of ozone but don’t generally do so at an unsafe or harmful level.
Ozone generators are different from ionizers in that they primarily generate ozone (O3 molecules) by using a high-voltage corona effect to split oxygen molecules in the air which form with other oxygen atoms.
They usually use a fan to blow these molecules into the room, but a lot of them don’t contain internal filters for trapping contaminants. Instead, particles fall to the floor around it.
Why ozone generators are a poor choice
I recommend you avoid these and decide between an ionic purifier and a filter-based (HEPA) purifier. Ozone generators aren’t effective and even if not harmful can irritate your respiratory system.
They’re also a bad choice for people with health issues related to emphysema and other conditions.
What does a HEPA purifier do?
Commonly sold HEPA filter air purifiers like the Levoit LV-H132 are placed in rooms where air quality issues are present. Some of the most common locations are bedrooms and living rooms. They circulate air using fans, moving the air through different filters that trap unwanted elements. You’ll need to replace the filters with new ones once they’re saturated with contaminants.
HEPA air purifiers are designed to circulate air in the room and remove contaminants, dust, allergens, and more by trapping them in filters. Unlike ionic purifiers, HEPA purifiers always use a fan – it’s not possible for a product to work without one. Also, they generally do not affect air molecules using any type of electrostatic charge as ionizers do.
(Note that there are some exceptions which I’ll cover later)
A High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter refers to a particular type of filter designed to meet certain efficiency and air purification quality levels. These filters are made of a very dense fiber-like material.
The HEPA name describes a standard that mandates a filter can remove airborne particles down to 0.3 microns in size. A micron, or micrometer, is 1/1,000,000 of a meter. The efficiency of this type of filter is 99.97%, meaning that for every 10,000 particles flowing into it only about 3 escape.
They’re very effective at cleaning air.
How HEPA purifiers work
HEPA filter-based purifiers don’t produce anything in the air or cause any type of electrostatic charge, unlike ionizers. They work off of a simple principle: using a fan or fans to circulate the air in a room and move it through filters. These filters trap both larger and microscopic particles, odors, chemical vapors, and many common household irritants.
HEPA filter purifiers are pretty simple in principle although many variations with more features exist.
They all share a similar design: A fan (or fans) is used to draw in air and force it through filters that trap odors and contaminants to blow out fresh air. They continue to do so in a circulation pattern to clean the air in a home or room within several hours.
Unlike ionizers, they depend on the fast movement of air and a filter. While ionizers use an electrostatic charge to remove particulates in the air you breathe, these rely on mechanical means.
In other words, instead of “attracting” particles in the air, they block and trap them in filters.
Some add more features
It’s worth noting that some filter-based purifiers may include unique features like an ultraviolet light (UV) germ killing option. Some may even include an ionizer feature themselves! However they still heavily rely primarily on filters to work effectively.
For convenience, some also offer more advanced features like an air quality sensor or auto-off timer. Others today allow smartphone control features.
Filters used in HEPA purifiers
It’s actually rare that a modern air purifier like this has only a HEPA filter. Today, most products include some variation of a “3-in-1” design:
Activated carbon (charcoal) section
The pre-filter is normally attached to an activated carbon filter section. It’s a thin material that traps larger matter like hair and dust. The activated carbon filter is the section that absorbs vapors and odors.
Ionic air purifier vs HEPA purifier comparison
By now you should understand more about how ionic and HEPA purifiers work. You really shouldn’t spend money until considering the pros and cons of each.
In order to make it a bit simpler, I’ve put together a comparison table that highlights the differences between the two along with a few notes. (Some characteristics are often different on a brand & product basis and are not true in all cases).
Ionic vs HEPA comparison table
IONIC PURIFIER (IONIZER)
Air cleaning process
Charges air particles which are collected on plates or filter. Fan moves air through the purifier.
Cleans air by circulating air. Air is forced through HEPA/pre-/carbon filters, trapping particulates
Very small (< 0.05ppm typical)
Germ killing ability
Low to good, depending on product
None to fair (some products feature germ killing ability)
Air flow rate
Low-fair (fan speed often not selectable)
Good-high (adjustable fan speed)
Cigarette smoke cleaning
Fair-good (particles to 0.01uM in some cases)
Good (limited to particle size to 0.3uM and above)
Good (models with carbon filter)
Pet dander cleaning
Pet hair cleaning
Clean plates/wash filter (reusable)
Replace complete or separate filters, depending on model (ave. 6-8 months life)
Which one should you choose?
Ionic purifiers do have a distinct advantage over HEPA type purifiers: their ability to sanitize the air and greatly reduce airborne germs which cause illnesses. Filter-type purifiers don’t normally have this ability although some like GermGuardian products do have a feature that uses UV-C technology to do so.
Some ionizers like the O-Ion B-1000 in the image above also have this feature, too.
However, when comparing the pros and cons of each, I recommend a quality HEPA-type purifier. They offer a higher rate of airflow for better clean air delivery, they’re good for dust and hair problems, and models with a carbon filter can absorb odors and chemicals in the air.
Another reason is that ionizers are not held to the same standards of performance and demonstrated air cleaning that filter models are.
For example, the Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) is laboratory tested and proven testing. It’s a standardized way of demonstrating an air purifier’s cleaning effectiveness. You won’t see that on ionic air purifiers.
When are ionizers a good idea or helpful?
Ionizers are good for light-duty cleaning like needing to freshen a room as well as other less demanding applications.
For pet dander, allergies, bad smoke problems, and others HEPA purifiers are the way to go. Additionally, the faster fan speeds mean air cleaning is more rapid and you have more control over it.
The major downside of HEPA purifiers is needing to buy replacement filters, which on average is about 6-8 months depending on the model. (Note that in some cases carbon filter can be replaced separately, extending the use of the main HEPA filter section).
Some models use both filters and an ionizer to clean the air. Note that purification effectiveness can vary greatly, so it’s very important to always buy a proven, effective product.
To (unfortunately!) make things more complicated, there are some hybrid models on the market which feature both a filter and a built-in ionizer section as an extra feature.
Primarily, however, you should always shop for a purifier on the basis of proven performance, great reviews, and cleaning ability for your room size. Don’t let marketing tactics mislead you into spending money on something that’s less effective.
Summary – Ionic vs. HEPA air purifiers
In summary here’s what we’ve learned:
Ionic (ionizer) air purifiers work by moving air. Airborne particles are charged and attracted to plates where they collect on plates or a filter. Ionizers are more effective at sanitizing air.
High-Efficiency Air Particulate (HEPA) purifiers move air through filters to trap particles, odors, and more. They don’t introduce anything into the air itself.
Ozone generators may be misleadingly sold as “ionizers’ but aren’t a good use of money, and aren’t effective. Ozone can irritate internal tissues. At high levels, ozone molecules can become harmful.
Be sure to do your reading before spending money!
One of the best HEPA purifiers sold today is the GermGuardian AC4825. It’s an effective purifier with good performance – and I own one! You can read my detailed review here.
Are you unsure of the differences between an air purifier and a humidifier? Hey – it’s totally ok! A long time ago so was I!
Ultimately, if you’re reading this post it’s because you’re wondering, “What’s the difference between an air purifier and a humidifier?” As it turns out, they both serve different but important roles in improving the air quality where you live.
As I own both and have benefited from both, I’ll share with you my personal experiences as well.
Infographic – Air purifier and humidifier facts
What do humidifiers do?
Common humidifiers like this super-popular Vicks V745 warm mist model take water and use heat to turn it into water vapor that raises humidity. Have you ever noticed how running a hot shower steams your mirrors and raises the moisture in the air? Humidifiers work the same way.
Humidifiers are electromechanical devices that increase the humidity (moisture) level in a room. They work by slowly taking water in a tank and turning it into a fine mist or vapor which rises in the air in the air where they’re used.
While it may not sound like much, humidifiers really can make a really big difference not only on your overall comfort but your health as well!
How they work
A range of different types exist, but most fall into a few basic categories:
Warm mist: uses heat from electrical power to generate steam
Cool mist: uses other methods like an ultrasonic device to change water into vapor (not heated)
Electromechanical: some use an electric motor and blades or another device to stir the water and create a mist
How dry air affects you
Speaking from personal experience, during the wintertime I had difficulty sleeping at night due to discomfort in my nose and sinuses. It was mainly due to what happens to our bodies when the air moisture level drops. I also had a painful, dry cough which caused even more suffering!
The mucus linings in your body’s respiratory system and nasal cavities can become more dry than normal, resulting in discomfort. You’re also more susceptible to sickness under these conditions, too.
Additionally, dry skin becomes a concern and it’s especially tough on people with sensitive skin or other issues.
When I caught a cold, it was much harder to sleep because of the dry air. I felt terrible! It wasn’t until investing in a humidifier that I got relief and could sleep better. My cold symptoms were also less severe when using it.
Colds and sinus problems
Your nose needs gooey mucus to trap viruses and other icky invaders before they can get you sick, dry nostrils can also make you more vulnerable to colds, sinus infections, and the flu.
Getting sick is already tough – but it’s even worse in dry air! Maintaining a healthy humidity level is essential for healing cold or other sicknesses. You’re more prone to suffer coughing, sneezing, and even feel the effects of dust and allergens more than you normally would.
I don’t know about you, but I sniffle quite a bit when I’m having nose problems. After using my humidifier I’ve enjoyed much less discomfort than I used to.
Allergies and asthma
Another result is that those with asthma may have an attack triggered. When using the heating system in your home, dust, pollen, and other allergens are often distributed in the air. They can irritate your airways.
If you already suffer from allergies you’re also more likely to feel the effects. Dry air promotes the movement of particulates like allergens and dust more so than a comfortable humidity level does.
Humidity levels and comfort
What humidity level do I need?
For most people, a comfortable humidity level falls in the range of about 30-50%. However, note that it varies by person.
During the wintertime and when using heat the moisture can drop dramatically – well below 20 and even 10%! That’s an extremely dry condition.
In tropical climates humidity levels are very high. If you’ve even run a hot shower for a long time it’s a similar effect.
While traveling abroad I’ve visited countries where due to the high humidity I was sweating almost constantly and it was very uncomfortable. In high humidity conditions, your body can’t cool itself as it can under normal circumstances.
There’s no need to get the moisture in your room or home exactly right – just remember it’s a general range. You can check air conditions where you are using a simple temperature and humidity gauge like the one shown here.
What humidity should I set my humidifier to?
A good rule of thumb is to aim for about 40-50% humidity when using a humidifier and you’ll soon learn what works best for you.
If using a gauge you can see what’s going on in your home and use your humidifier as needed.. Not only that but you can see patterns in your home as temperatures rise and fall.
Over time I’ve noticed that when I get the moisture back up above 30% I began feeling better and dry air symptoms stop nearly immediately!
During heavy winters and when my heating system is under heavy use, I set mine to high. Under easier conditions, I set it to low.
What does an air purifier do?
Air purifiers are often used in living rooms or bedrooms. However, they’re ideally used wherever air quality problems and allergies are a concern. Products like this GermGuardian AC4900CA have a tall “tower” shape. They use electric fans to move air through filters to clean the air.
Unlike a humidifier, an air purifier circulates the air and removes contaminants from the air by trapping them in filters. You might not be aware, but there are lots of unwanted elements in the air around you!
Some of the most common are:
Pollen and plant by-products
Dust mite elements
Airborne chemicals and odors
Outdoor debris brought in
Trace elements of household chemicals
…and that’s just to name a few!
Air purifiers are commonly used to improve air quality by circulating the air in a room and removing foreign matter which causes odors, allergies, and health problems. They’re also capable of helping to prevent sickness by trapping some germs and airborne microbes.
How air purifiers work
Air purifiers work by using electric fans to draw in air, force it through filters, and blow out clean air.
Note that although several types exist, most are filter-based and use replaceable filter sections to trap particles and even odors in the air. Other types exist such as ozone generators and ionizers, but the most common and most effective products rely on filters and air motion.
As they’re left to run and circulate the air in a room it becomes fresher and healthier as time goes by. Because of dust and other issues reappearing continually, they should be used regularly or as needed.
HEPA, pre-filter, and activated carbon sections
Purifiers are typically designed to work with 3 common types of filters:
HEPA filters are made of very dense fiber-like material packed tightly and held inside a rigid frame. They’re designed to be very efficient and they can capture incredibly small particulates in the air down to 0.3 microns in size (A micron is 1/1,000,000 of a meter!). They’re excellent for allergy relief and other air quality issues but don’t really affect odors.
The pre-filter is normally attached to an activated carbon filter section. It’s a thin material that traps larger matter like hair and dust.
The activated carbon filter is the portion of an air purifier that absorbs vapors and odors.
After some use a purifier’s filter will become used-up with the matter it has trapped. The carbon filter, after being in use for some time, will lose effectiveness as well.
Most purifiers have about a 6 to 8 months filter lifespan for the prefilter section and 6-8 months life span or even 12 months for the HEPA filter. (Note that the life expectancy relies heavily on the use and conditions)
For this reason, some provide a filter replacement feature to remind you when to check it. Although it varies by manufacturer and product, some allow the filters to be replaced separately while others require replacing a single filter assembly instead.
Air purifier benefits
My air purifier’s filter after a few short weeks of use. Lots of dust removed from the air! I was surprised to see how much dust I had lived with for so long. My purifier reduced the amount of cleaning I had to do.
They’re especially helpful to people with allergies and breathing problems. However, they’re also beneficial in many other ways.
For example, they can help with dust and cut the cleaning you’ll need to do in your home. They can also trap odors and chemical vapors as well.
Pet owners can greatly benefit as pets generate dander and hair which triggers allergic reactions. Smokers or people dealing with cigarette smoke and odors know how strong those problems are.
An air purifier is great for dealing with those problems as well.
Others feature timers, air quality sensing, and even a remote control or smartphone connectivity.
Summary – The difference between an air purifier and humidifier
To recap, here’s a simple explanation:
Humidifiers increase the moisture in the air by changing liquid water into steam or water vapor. They increase your comfort and restore a healthy humidity level often lowered in dry climates or wintertime conditions.
Air purifiers circulate air and remove air contaminants in a room by trapping them in filters. They provide for many common problems like bad smells, allergy symptoms, pet-related issues, dust mite effects, and reducing dust.
In my comparison and review of the Honeywell AirGenius 5 vs true HEPA purifiers I’ll show you how it stacks up against the competition. Although described as an “air cleaner” and an “odor reducer”, it’s actually extremely similar in many ways to other products you’ll find when shopping.
There are a lot of details to cover as it’s one of the best air cleaning products I’ve ever owned and reviewed. Read on and I’ll share with you everything you need to know before buying.
I’ll also tell you why it’s one of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of owning.
Getting to know the AirGenius 5
The AirGenius 5 is one of 3 models in the AirGenius line from Honeywell and offers the most features of them all. If you’re budget-minded, the offering almost the same air cleaning performance for less money.
The AirGenius 5 (model number HFD320) is the top-level air cleaner in a family of 3. All 3 share the same physical size and same basic design (including oscillation). However, the HDF320 offers the most options including the highest fan speed available.
While both the HFD310 and the HDF320 provide a recommended 250 square feet of room coverage, the HFD300 is slightly lower at 225 sq. ft. Additionally, the AirGenius 4 is extremely similar to the top model, although without touch controls, fewer auto-off hour selections, and no germ reduction fan speed setting.
If money is tight but you’d love to have one of these air cleaners, consider the AirGenius 3. Its air cleaning performance is identical (aside from being limited in fan speeds). The trade-off is having fewer features, no accent light on the base, and no touch controls also.
Basic design operation
The AirGenius 5 uses a 3-stage air cleaning process to purify the air. Unlike true HEPA air purifiers sold today, it also adds an ionizer field stage to capture additional air contaminants.
AirGenius purifiers are a bit different from competing products sold today in both the air cleaning methods they use and the ability to wash the filters for reuse.
While stages 1 and 2 are standard in today’s products, what makes this air cleaner design different is that the filters are washable and can be reused. Unless an odor-capturing pre-filter is used (these can’t be washed – they must be replaced).
Both the pre-filter and main filter (called an “ifD” type by Honeywell) can be washed and re-used.
That’s a feature that’s very rare in today’s products, and offers the possibility of saving a substantial amount of maintenance costs over time. I’ll go into more detail about the filters later.
High air flow – just like a fan!
Because of the main air filter’s low-restriction design, high airflow is produced – it blows and circulates air much like a fan! That’s very unusual for an air cleaning product as most use HEPA filters which severely restrict air flow.
Additionally, the AirGenius cleaners have an oscillation option which allows circulating the room air even more rapidly.
At almost 27″ (68 cm) in height, it’s definitely not a small product.
I’ve been looking forward to getting my hands on one of these ever since hearing about them, and it was fun opening it up!
The HFD320 ships with recyclable cardboard packaging and is securely held in place. It’s just a little tough to get it out of the box (as the bottom portion was very snug inside) but only took a moment or two. I had to pull it out while holding the bottom of the box.
After opening the box up I removed the plastic outer bag (you must turn the air cleaner upside to untie the wrapping) and moved on to check out the build quality.
The unit looked great, with no quality issues fresh from the factory. My first impressions were that of a well-made air cleaner that will work well just like the Honeywell HPA series I’ve owned. Good-looking and well-made products are what I’ve come to enjoy from the company.
And certainly I couldn’t wait to power it up and try it out!
How’s the build quality?
Build quality and fit and finish are good. The air cleaner has a nice-looking matter silver trim around the top. Mine was well-assembled and had no quality control issues.
My first impressions were right. I checked out the AirGenius 5 and verified build quality as I like to do when evaluating and testing air purifier products.
There weren’t any issues to mention. Gaps and seams aligned as expected (tightly) with no large spaces or loose body panels. The control panel (on top of the unit) aligns just as it should and looks great.
Note that the air cleaner arrives with a thin plastic protective cover you’re instructed to remove by the included label. However, you can leave it in place if you want to protect the surface. The touch controls work fine with it still on.
The body is a nice satin black color and looks good. The design style is similar to the HPA series of Honeywell air purifiers which feature similar trim, too.
Overall, I’m impressed with the build quality – it gives a good sense of being a well-made product.
Setting up the AirGenius 5 and first use
After removing the air cleaner you’ll need to remove the packaging. Aside from that, it’s ready to go! Included is an additional pre-filter that’s optional and is used for odor and volatile organic chemical (VOC) removal. Unlike the pre-installed pre-filter, it can’t be washed and reused.
Actually, unlike some other brands and models, once unboxed and the packaging has been removed you’re ready to go.
Unlike some other purifiers including the Honeywell HPA series, you won’t need to remove filters from their bags before using the cleaner. The AirGenius ships from the factory with the ifD main filter and the ifD pre-filter (both washable) already installed and ready to use.
Optionally at this point, you can install the included type K filter (covered in more detail later) if you need odor and airborne chemical trapping ability. That’s an easy task, however: just remove the pre-filter from its bag and swap it with the pre-installed one.
Once the packaging is cleared away, simply pushing the power button brings the air cleaner to an on state. The air cleaner will begin running in mode 3 called “General Cleaning.”
Note that upon initial power-up and first use, a moderate smell will be present for some time due to the fresh filters. My unit took a few hours but it went away fairly quickly. That’s normal not just for this air cleaner, but I’ve seen it with other brands as well.
Note: A short-term odor is both normal and expected for many air cleaning products you buy. Much of this has to do with “outgassing” – the process by which materials release molecules into the air for a short time when new. Often this appears as some sort of mild chemical smell.
After a number of hours you’ll find it’s not very noticeable anymore and it will fade soon.
Honeywell AirGenius 5 (HFD320) specifications
Room size rating: 250 sq. ft (large rooms)
5-speed fan control
Low-noise sleep mode
Main filter: Permanent washable high-flow ifD type
Pre-filter: Washable general purpose (installed) or K-type odor/VOC reducing (included)
As you can see from above its one of the more feature-packed air cleaners sold today. It’s rather unusual to have an auto-off timer feature with so many hour selections (6 selections). Most competitors offer about 4 or 5 at the most.
Additionally, a large range of fan speeds is nice.
Carrying and moving the air cleaner
Although the air cleaner is rather large and a bit heavy at 13 lbs, the built-in carry handle on the top rear is great. It makes moving it from place to place much easier. It’s a good feature to have.
Fortunately, despite its large size and somewhat heavy weight there’s a convenient feature Honeywell has provided. Just like many of their other air cleaning products, there’s a carrying handle located on the top rear portion of the body.
Note that other manufacturers like GermGuardian provide the same feature on their most popular air purifiers as well.
Air cleaning ability and performance vs true HEPA filters
The Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) rating label for the AirGenius 5. This is a lab-tested and proven rating of cleaning effectiveness, where a higher rating is better. The HFD320 scored well in all 3 standard tests!
As this is a rather different type of air cleaning product, I can’t stress enough how important it is that the company can back up their air cleaning claims. I say this because as the AirGenius 5 uses a high-flow permanent and washable main air filter, it’s not a High Efficiency Air Particulate (HEPA) filter as most purifiers use.
Essentially, products are tested in a lab environment of a fixed size and the amount of air particulates removed in a given amount of time is measured. This gives a CADR rating where higher is better.
The AirGenius 5 does quite well in all 3 tests! (For reference, some of the most popular air purifiers have CADR ratings of about 100, so that shows you how effective it is!)
AirGenius 5 vs true HEPA filter performance
The AirGenius 5 is rated to provide a reduction of 99.9% of airborne elements down to a microscopic 0.3 microns in size – which is nearly identical to HEPA filter performance. (Note that 1 micron, or 1 micrometer, is 1/1,000,000 of a meter in size).
Originally I was concerned about the company’s claims that while it’s not actually a HEPA filter it’s basically just as effective. However, the data backs it up as well as my own experiences.
The biggest difference is that while more particulates may pass through on the first pass, the AirGenius 5’s airflow rate is so much higher that it makes up for the difference. In my testing so far I’ve been very happy with the results.
Ultimately, for the majority of most air quality problems the ifD filter essentially meets the same standards as a true HEPA filter but allows air to circulate faster (hence the higher CADR ratings).
HEPA filters are very dense in construction and restrict airflow quite a bit. In order to have faster airflow, air purifiers using them require even faster and noisier electric fan assemblies.
What kind of filters does it use?
The AirGenius 5 ships with 2 filters pre-installed and ready for use: 1) the washable ifD filter and 2) the general-purpose washable pre-filter. Included in a sealed bag (not shown here) is an optional pre-filter for odor control and capturing VOCs.
From the factory, a general-purpose pre-filter (washable and reusable) is installed as well as the main ifD permanent filter.
The type K filter, should you need odor and airborne chemical vapor control, is included in a sealed bag. The pre-filter is easy to remove and swap. It’s just a matter of opening the rear cover, pulling it out gently, and inserting one back underneath the plastic tabs.
Main filter comparison: AirGenius 5 vs true HEPA filters
The AirGenius 5 (and other models in the same family) use a ifD filter (top) which allows high airflow unlike true HEPA filters (bottom). The ifD filter serves as the main filter and resembles a honeycomb or car radiator in design. True HEPA filters like the one here shown from a popular GermGuardian AC4825 purifier use a very dense fibrous material which restricts airflow.
The main filter is called an “ifD” filter by Honeywell. It’s best described as a “honeycomb” type of design: open passageways through which light can be seen. It’s made of dense fibrous material.
HEPA filters, however, use filter material densely packed with incredibly small fibers that is folded and held in a rigid plastic frame that snaps into the body.
In the case of the HFD320 (and the other similar models), it’s an effective filtering solution that allows the cleaner to circulate air in the room much faster than most products can. Additionally, it meets the basic requirement of the HEPA standard: capturing elements down to 0.3 microns in size.
At 99.9% efficiency, it’s not quite as good a performer as a HEPA filter (99.97% cleaning efficiency), but that’s extremely close!
Washing and re-using the permanent filter
Honeywell provides an estimated life span for the permanent ifD filter of about 5 years, with 4 washes and reuses per year.
It’s pretty simple to clean: remove it from the unit (when turned off) and wash gently in warm soapy water for 2-3 minutes maximum. Remove and allow to dry fully before reuse.
I found it easy to clean. Having a reusable filter is a nice surprise as so few air cleaners offer that. It’s rare.
The factory-installed general-purpose pre-filter viewed up close. It’s a mesh-like material that’s essentially similar to open-cell foam or sponge material. It’s good for dust, pet hair, and so on, but can’t absorb odors and volatile airborne chemicals. However, unlike other brands, this one can be washed in warm soapy water and reused.
From the factory, the AirGenius 5 comes ready to use with the general-purpose pre-filter section already inserted in the rear cover. It’s mainly good for common air quality nuisances like pet hair and dust (which is a problem where I live, I might add!).
A huge benefit this is its ability to be re-used, as that’s not common for most air cleaning devices sold today in case you weren’t aware. Ordinarily most require buying replacement filters periodically.
Cleaning for re-use is easy: periodically remove it and shake it, vacuum it, or you can rinse it under warm water. Let it dry fully before installing it back in the unit.
Included in the package is a type K pre-filter which can be swapped out with the factory-installed pre-filter. Type K filters are used for trapping odors and other airborne chemical substances but must be replaced periodically. They can’t be washed and reused.
Included with the air cleaner is a sealed bag containing a type K (replacement model HRF-K2) filter. If you need odor and airborne chemical vapor absorption for your home, you’ll need to install it in the place of the original one.
The K filters use potassium permanganate calcite to trap some odors and gases and fumes.
Of course, it’s just as good for dust, pet hair, and similar debris as the original but it’s also treated with odor-absorbing materials with a limited life span.
Honeywell recommends replacing this filter about every 3 months if used.
The ionizer section
Ionizers use an electrical charge to cause airborne particles to be pulled from the outgoing airflow. As a side benefit, they’re also effective against airborne germs and have been documented to reduce sickness-causing viruses and other microbes.
Unlike other products sold as “air purifiers” that use only an ionizer, the AirGenius uses it as an additional cleaning feature – not the primary one. That’s the job of the first two stages. And accordingly, there are no metal collection plates to clean.
It does, however, produce a tiny amount of ozone which I’ll cover below.
Removing filters for cleaning
Filter removal for maintenance is actually really very simple. You’ll only need to do the following:
Push on the rear cover release
Pull the rear cover backwards at an angle
Remove the permanent filter using the tab shown in #3 above
The pre-filter is really easy to remove from the cover/grill: it’s very soft so just gently pull out one edge from the retaining tabs.
Removing the permanent filter isn’t hard either. Much like the grill, it “hooks” using tabs on the bottom of the filter frame. Pull from the top finger/removal tab and move it out in a downward motion.
Note! The plastic rear cover has a central tab that could be broken if you’re too forceful. Be sure to “swing” the cover out gently when opening the air cleaner.
Filter reminder feature
The built-in filter reminder will indicate when the (estimated) time for cleaning your filters has elapsed. It’s easy to reset as well once you’ve cleaned and replaced the filters.
With the power off, just hold the filter replacement button for about 3 seconds; the indicator will illuminate, indicating it has been reset.
Filter life and costs – a big advantage!
One thing that struck me was the amount of money you can save thanks to its design. For example, most HEPA purifiers recommend a filter replacement every 6-8 months or so depending upon use.
Here’s an estimate of how much money you can save with the AirGenius 5 (assumes a permanent filter life of 5 years, and using the basic pre-filter). I’ll calculate this based on a reasonable average filter replacement cost for most purifiers. Let’s use $27 as a reasonable number:
5 years x 2 replacements per year x $27 = $270.
That’s quite a bit of money – and amazing considering it’s more than you paid for the air cleaner itself! Of course, if you need odor control or chemical vapor control you’ll need to use the replaceable type K pre-filters.
Those sell in packs of 2 for near $15 or so, which is roughly $75 in maintenance costs for 5 years. That’s excellent!
Does the AirGenius 5 produce ozone?
The short answer? Yes.However, no need to worry! It’s a tiny amount and unlike other products I’ve tested, I can’t even detect it. Ozone, when present in sufficient amounts, is usually easy to smell and recognize.
Ionizers work by using high voltage to charge unwanted airborne particulates and draw them out of the air. This, by nature, creates a very small amount of ozone as a by-product. Don’t confuse this with ozone generators which produce heavy amounts of ozone that are bad for you.
According to Honeywell: “This product complies with the maximum allowable concentration of ozone of 0.050 parts per million by volume in a 24 hour period.”
Basically, the AirGenius does not produce unsafe or unpleasant levels of ozone – it’s well below the safe and undetectable threshold for people.
The owner’s manual and reference guide
Owner’s manual quality
I found the owner’s manual to be well done, covering the HFD300 series of air cleaners with pretty good detail. It covers basic operation, safety information, maintenance, and provides a telephone number should you have questions.
A nifty little feature, the built-in reference guide is provided to help with basic operations and consumer help contact information. It’s located near the carry handle area and simply pulls right out. Pretty neat! I like this little touch.
One cool little addition I found on the AirGenius is the built-in Quick Reference Guide. When looking down while above the control panel, a small plastic tab can be seen near the top rear of the unit.
Pulling it out reveals a laminated plastic card with basic instructions, a consumer telephone line, and an email address for getting assistance. I’ve seen this on other Honeywell air cleaning products but not on most competitor’s products.
Controls and fan speeds
The HFD320 features touch controls and many options including 5 fan speeds. I found it very easy to use and a pleasure to own and enjoy every day. It also features more auto-off hour settings than others. However, there’s no memory feature, so upon powering it off and on you’ll have to set it back to your last selections.
The AirGenius 5 features a very sleek-looking and well-designed touch control panel. Note that several others in the same product family don’t offer touch controls. The AirGenius 4, for example, doesn’t and also doesn’t have as many timer options as the AirGenius 5.
Operating the air cleaner
Using the air cleaner is really simple: just push the power on/off button and it will enter General Cleaning mode with medium fan speed. By default, the oscillation feature is switched off.
Touching any button on the panel rotates through the settings easily. For example:
The accent light, located at the base of the unit, is set to high brightness by default. However, it’s not too bright and you may not need to change it. There are 2 brightness levels (as well as off) available.
One complaint I have is that unlike some other models I’ve tested, there’s no brightness dimmer for the controls themselves. I don’t understand why.
Additionally, there’s no memory feature to retain your last operational settings after it’s turned off and then back on again.
Note that the unit doesn’t beep when operated unlike some the nice Honeywell HPA200 and the popular Levoit LV-H132 air purifiers I’ve both owned and reviewed.
Fan speeds and airflow
While Honeywell describes the various operational modes as being correct for particular air quality issues (like germs and allergens) they don’t go into detail about them. I would have liked to know more.
As I mentioned earlier, unique to the AirGenius line is the high airflow rate. I can feel the air blowing from across the room. When oscillating is switched on quite a bit of air is moving.
When set to Max, it’s as if you’re using a small fan in the room. It’s an interesting experience and I have to say I like it. I realize, however, that not everyone wants a large amount of air blowing towards them.
In that case, you can simply leave the oscillation setting off, although using it helps circulate and clean air more quickly and effectively.
I’ve owned oscillating air fans in the past, so I’m not unaccustomed to having one in the room. However, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about having an air cleaner behave similarly.
After some time, however, it has really grown on me. Having the air circulate and become fresher by the moment is great. Here’s a short video clip I took demonstrating its operation.
By comparison, competing products are near 55dB or so when on maximum. The AirGenius 5 is nearly 6 decibels quieter which is a fair amount of difference. Even some of the smallest air purifiers are well above 44dB on their lowest setting!
All in all, despite its large size and high airflow rates, it’s one of the quietest air cleaning products I’ve tested.
I’ve been testing the unit in my room where I sleep with it set to Sleep mode. Although I’m sensitive to both light and sound levels, I slept comfortably with it – it’s very quiet!
Accent lighting and brightness levels
A lovely accent lighting feature on the base of the unit is built-in (top) and adds a soft glow around it. I found brightness levels to be good and not TOO bright for my tastes, despite being a sensitive sleeper. The control panel illumination (bottom) is a bit brighter than I would have liked. Sadly, there’s no way to adjust that.
The HFD320 has a great little feature I haven’t seen in other products: there’s a classy accent light at the base of the unit. When switched on, it provides a nice, soft blue glow around the base of it.
2 brightness levels can be selected. Somewhat like the night light provided by the best-selling Levoit LV-H132 it provides a way to find your way to the bathroom late at night.
As part of my standard testing process, I used the air cleaner during my normal sleep sessions to judge both sound levels and brightness in a darkened room. I’m a light sleeper and as such, I notice the glow of just about any electronic device. And I’m sure I’m not alone.
The controls are moderately bright. It wasn’t enough to keep me from being able to sleep well, but definitely brighter than I would like.
Oddly enough, other air cleaning products by Honeywell offer a dimmer for the controls – but not this one. That’s unfortunate, but not a big deal when compared to the overall value and quality of the unit.
As you’re likely to run across GermGuardian products as an option when shopping, I’d like to provide some additional helpful information. Comparing the two brands is much harder unless you’ve owned and tested them.
Having owned many models from both brands, I can tell you that the quality of both is comparable. Pricing and value are a bit more difficult to compare, however, because room coverage isn’t exactly the same between competing similar models from the two brands.
Comparing the two brands, in general
Basically, GermGuardian uses true HEPA filters and they’re some of the best affordable air purifiers sold today. With the exception of a few models, they are, however, a bit more “basic” in design: most use simpler controls and have fewer features.
Honeywell, on the other hand, offers models with electronic controls, auto-off timers, and so forth. The HPA series of air purifiers are a good example.
The most significant differences to be aware of between the 2 brands are:
GermGuardian products offer a UV-C germ killing feature; Honeywell does not
Advanced features like oscillation and touch controls are available on Honeywell products
GermGuardian purifiers use true HEPA filters with a slight advantage in air cleaning
Better warranty length for Honeywell (depends on the model)
Final thoughts and review score
All in all, the AirGenius 5 (model HFD320) is one of the nicest air cleaning products I’ve had the pleasure to own and test. Build quality is great and a nice assortment of features really make it a true winner. It’s also one of the quietest I’ve tested and measured, despite moving so much air.
Having an air cleaner with air flow similar to a fan may not be for everyone, but it’s one reason why the HFD320 has some of the best lab-proven clean air delivery rates and 250 sq. ft. of coverage. It holds its own when compared to true HEPA-based air purifiers, too, with almost the same air cleaning efficiency.
Having washable air filters is a rare and nice money-saving feature, too. However, its cleaning ability, while pretty good, still can’t match that of a true HEPA purifier.
If you’re dealing with pets, smoke, or other very bothersome air quality problems I’d recommend a good quality HEPA purifier.
Great features, good air purification, and a unique take on air cleaning. One of the nicest products I've tested.
The Honeywell AirGenius 5 provides near-HEPA air cleaning ability with great features and performance. It’s also one of the most quiet air cleaning products I’ve owned and reviewed. Using an original design, both the main and pre-filters can be washed and reused, saving a good bit of money in maintenance costs. However, it’s not as effective for heavy smoke and allergens as some of the top competitors, but it’s great for average homes.
The oscillation feature combined with the high airflow rate circulates and cleans air in a room quickly and pleasantly. CADR rates are very high; with 255 sq. ft. of coverage it’s great for just about anyone. Build quality and documentation are both highly satisfactory as well. Well worth your time and money!
Maybe you know someone who mentioned their air purifier. Or perhaps you’ve got an air quality problem you need help with. Are you wondering “What are air purifiers used for?” If so, you’ve come to the right place.
As it turns out, there are some great benefits they offer and they can improve your quality of life. I own several and I speak from personal experience.
In addition, it’s important to know a few facts ahead of time to avoid buying low-quality and ineffective products.
Read on and I’ll do my best to share the details you need.
Infographic – Air purifier uses and benefits
What are air purifiers used for?
Air purifiers have a fundamental purpose: they circulate the air in a room and clean it by removing particulates and airborne chemical substances permanently.
Essentially, they remove bothersome particles, odors, vapors, hair, and more to produce clean, healthy air. They also help sickness and allergy symptoms since they eliminate many causes that trigger both.
While there’s a long list of air quality issues they treat, they’re most often used to treat several common problems found in many homes. They’re used not only in living rooms but bedrooms, work offices, kitchens, or any area where the effects of air quality problems are felt.
Odors are the result of substances releasing their molecules into the air which enter your nose. Many are just bothersome and offensive (like garbage) but others like building materials and chemicals are potentially harmful, too.
Have you ever avoided making one of your favorite meals because you didn’t want your home to smell like it for days afterwards?
Sometimes the most delicious foods, like fried fish or burgers, can leave strong smells behind long after we finishing eating them. Spicy foods are especially known to do this.
This is because cooking releases the molecular organic compounds in those foods into the air. Likewise, chemical sources like cleaning products or solvents which release Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) can cause very strong and potentially harmful odors.
Garbage, pets, and musty areas can also release a number of organic substances that we sense as odors. Some materials like the new carpet you’ve had installed or construction materials have “outgassing” properties, which means for a period of time they release elements into the air with a strong odor.
The activated carbon filter in many purifiers is a type of filter section that can absorb and trap these odors and vapors, leaving fresh air behind.
Of course, there’s no substitute for treating the problem at its source, but they’re a great way to freshen the air around you.
One of the most popular reasons for buying an air purifier is allergy symptom relief. Allergens come from a variety of sources: everything from pet dander to pollen. To make matters worse, dust mites feed off of pet dander and human skin waste, creating even more allergens! The ideal solution is to remove them from the air.
Allergens are one of the most common problems faced by people. There are so many sources of allergy symptoms like sneezing, itchiness, asthma, and more, that it can sometimes seem overwhelming
These symptoms are caused by allergens that move in the air around you and on to your skin and air passageways. Additionally, those that settle on surfaces can be disturbed and get into the air over and over to cause relentless problems.
When allergens enter our breathing passageways or contact skin they act as irritants our body reacts to.
Air purifiers help with this particular problem by using the High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter section to catch allergen particles. Most allergens are a few micrometers in size and above (for reference, a micrometer or “micron” is 1/1,000,000 of a meter).
Some of the most common allergy sources they’re proven to relieve are:
Dust mite allergens
Perfumes and cologne
Foods and other organic sources
HEPA filters trap the allergens in their dense fibers where they can’t escape. Fresh air escapes the other side and back into the room. They’re a safe and effective way to get relief. In the cases of odors (like perfumes or chemicals), these get absorbed by the carbon filter section (if provided).
Dealing with smoke
Smoke has an amazing amount of unhealthy elements and gases with chemical compounds. They get everywhere, and cling to surfaces! This image shows an aluminum silicate particle that’s microscopic in size – a by-product of cigarette smoke.
Smoke is a unique problem in that it’s a terrible combination of problems:
Chemicals released into the air
Particles that cling to and dirty surfaces
Health hazards when inhaled second-hand
Discoloration of surfaces if left untreated
Air purifiers are able to greatly help. Models with both a HEPA filter and activated carbon filter can trap a large portion of these, both when someone is presently smoking or from the remnants of smoke.
It’s important to understand that because smoke has so many incredibly small particles, it’s never a good idea to have smoke directly in your home. But if you can’t avoid it, or are simply dealing with the side effects, it’s great to leave the purifier running and you’ll feel a significant reduction in the problems.
Be sure to stay healthy and safe – I recommend a good quality purifier with a well-rated reputation for alleviating smoke problems.
Reducing and removing dust
Dust is another bothersome problem that I have personally dealt with. In the image above, my GermGuardian AC4825 purifier captured a lot of dust in the pre-filter. I had no idea how bad my dust problem was! It’s great to have an easy solution that keeps it under control.
Dust comes from a variety and sources – fabrics, home materials, the ventilation system, and many more. Tiny particles enter your home or break from many surfaces, materials, or get carried in when your central heating or cooling system operates.
For me personally it has always been a problem.
Dust control results
Purifiers work very well for dust as they’re good for cycling the air in a room and filtering out dust particles (which are generally larger in size than many other air contaminants).
Often the pre-filter, a more coarse section that serves as a “first stage” for debris, traps them. In many cases after a large build-up, you can vacuum off the dust and re-insert the filter for more use.
I’ve seen a good amount of success keeping dust under control and my home doesn’t need nearly as much cleaning as it once did! Additionally, I’ve noticed I don’t sneeze as much as I used to since using my purifier.
Treating pet odors and dander
Pets are wonderful, but bring a few things we have to deal with when they’re indoors. Pets generate a lot of by-products like hair, dander, and odors. They can also bring in substances from outdoors.
Pets bring with them a number of issues – not just allergens:
Skin oils (often odor causing)
As I mentioned earlier, pet dander can trigger allergy symptoms inside your home and can cause a number of problems. However, additional nuisances like “wet dog smell” are caused by micro bacteria that are activated when dog hair becomes saturated with water.
Pet hair can be difficult to deal with as well. A purifier can’t remove all pet hair from indoors (once settled on surfaces) but airborne hair can be trapped.
Pet odors are often caused by the natural organic compounds the product and release into the air. The same happens also with the natural oils on their skin and body.
Adding an air purifier is definitely a great idea. As many pet owners have discovered, it’s a good way to reduce the stinky smells and mess at home.
Note that it’s recommended you still bathe your pet fairly often as again it’s important to treat the problem at its source.
How does an air purifier work?
An air purifier is generally a pretty simple – but effective – device. They work by cycling air in a room and continuously trapping the elements (like dust, for example) that cause air quality problems. Shown is one of the most popular, the GermGuardian AC4825. I’ve owned and enjoyed mine for some time now.
Air purifiers actually generally aren’t very complicated at all, although the designs vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Some have more advanced features like timers, sensors, and more, but work using the same basic principles.
Purifiers cycle the air in a room and filter out unwanted contaminants using replaceable filter cartridges.
As you can see in the image above, it’s like running a fan in a room – except that as it moves the air more and more contaminants (or odors, and so on) are trapped. They’re removed permanently.
The HEPA filter I mentioned earlier is a type of very dense and efficient filtering standard. It defines this type of filter as being able to eliminate 99.97% of all particulates that enter it down to 0.3 microns in size.
That means for every 10,000 particles that flow through it, only about 3 can escape!
Activated carbon is found in many types of filters, including for drinking water. Because of its properties, it’s good at removing chemicals and odors from the air. Good purifiers include carbon or some type of odor-removal treatment in their filter design.
Activated carbon, often built alongside the more coarse “pre-filter” section, is responsible for eliminating odors, volatile chemical compounds, and similar nasty airborne substances we hate and shouldn’t breathe in.
Carbon (also called charcoal) is treated to give it the ability to absorb and trap these unwanted substances passing through the filter.
It’s necessary as the HEPA filter can only trap solid particles – not gaseous ones. When used together they form an effective way to treat your air.
Nearly all filter-based (HEPA) purifiers aren’t harmful and don’t produce any unsafe by-products to worry about. They simply remove particulates and substances from the air.
Good reasons to own an air purifier
While it’s great to buy one to get relief for a particular air quality problem, there are other reasons they’re a great idea:
They can help prevent sickness
Promote better sleep and overall better health
Reduce distractions due to air quality annoyances
Are great for children and babies (who are more sensitive to air)
They’re helpful for dealing with home upgrade dust and odors
Some products also provide a germ-killing feature like the one pictured above. They use an ultraviolet light (UV) bulb design to destroy airborne microbes and bacteria.
Ionizers are also particularly effective at sanitizing air to prevent sickness.
However, they’re not very effective for the other purposes I’ve listed in this post, so I can’t recommend them for most buyers. I’ve been disappointed with the ones I’ve tested.
Hopefully I’ve helped you better understand what an air purifier can do for you. After trying various kinds (I own and have tested many!) I can honestly say they improved my quality of life.
Air purifiers are used to help with common air quality problems
They work by cycling the air in a room and filtering out contaminants, odors, and more
Good products include both a true HEPA filter and an activated carbon filter section
Filter-based purifiers are safe and don’t generate harmful by-products
While the right air purifier can improve the air quality of your home, some people may wonder if they can make you sick.
Maybe you’re here because you’re asking yourself, “Can an air purifier make you sick?”
When it comes to air purifiers, there are so many brands, types, and models, that make a lot of claims and have different kinds of air cleaning technology. But can they actually make your health worse?
Read on to find out what you need to know.
Infographic – Air purifiers and your health
Why do people think air purifiers cause sickness?
Because they’re such a popular product, there’s a massive amount of information and different terms used out there. A lot of it is either misleading, factually incorrect, or just plain confusing.
One thing you might hear about air purifiers is that they produce ozone or a by-product under different names (like “ions” and so forth).
Some are, in fact, not good for you. Some products out there like ozone generators are sold as “air purifiers” when in fact they’re hardly effective and can cause problems.
In those cases, they’re advertised as creating an effective air cleaning air molecules (ozone) that is safe and naturally occurring in nature, but this isn’t the case. The ozone emitted by those types of air purifiers is the same as any other kind of ozone – and just as much of a problem.
Bad products can give good products a bad name due to the confusion and having consumers misunderstand how safe, effective purifiers really work.
What a mess!
Which types of purifiers are good and bad, and why?
The basics of ozone
Ozone is a by-product of products sold as purifiers that affect oxygen molecules. The basic idea is that safe oxygen molecules are split (often using a high voltage electronic circuit) and free oxygen atoms re-combine into unstable ozone (O3) molecules. These then can sometimes bond with, and affect, airborne contaminants and odor-causing substances. The problem is that ozone isn’t safe at high levels, and these products aren’t as effective as a HEPA purifier.
Ozone is that odd, “fresh” scent you may have smelled outdoors after a lightning storm or from a model railroad set at Christmas time. It’s produced when electricity affects oxygen atoms in the air, which can recombine into molecules with 3 (instead of 2) atoms.
The idea is that the ozone molecules will bond with and trap unwanted elements in the air. The big problem, however, is that at safe levels it’s very ineffective.
At ozone levels where the generator does make a difference, they’re not supposed to be used when humans are nearby as it’s a health hazard.
Ozone is inhaled when you’re in an enclosed room with products sold as “air purifiers” which are actually ozone generators. The side effects depend upon the amount of ozone you’re exposed to.
Basically, ozone molecules are unstable and when breathed in they can affect your respiratory system. Ozone molecules cause a number of symptoms like irritated and uncomfortable passageways, headaches, pain and coughing, and more.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is very clear that ozone is a lung irritant and they don’t recommend introducing ozone-creating products into your home. While ozone can help remove odors from your home, it takes levels that are unsafe for humans to do so.
This means that air purifiers that depend on releasing ozone, called ozone generators, should be avoided.
Some types of electronic air purifiers, like air ionizers, may release small amounts of ozone as a byproduct. In that case, they’re generally safe and can’t make you sick or cause issues, but they’re simply not effective and are not worth the money in my experience.
Which air purifiers are safe and effective?
Air purifiers that are safe and don’t cause the symptoms of sickness, headaches, or other irritants are those that use a filter and do not produce ozone. Two excellent – and best-selling examples arethe Levoit LV-H132 (left) and the GermGuardian AC4825 (right). These types of products work by simply filtering air, and don’t add any unsafe by-products into the air you breather. In fact, they make your air less prone to causing sickness or allergies!
Air purifiers that are filter-based are safe and cannot cause sickness or issues from their use. If anything, they prevent sickness and make the air around you safer and healthier to breathe.
They’re proven to be effective and some major brands have documented effectiveness, based on the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) lab testing standards.
These types of air purifiers don’t release any byproducts. Instead, they use a filter made of densely packed thin fibers to remove particulate matter from the air as it moves through when drawn in by fans.
Those thin fibers are woven into a dense mesh and pleated material. This way their surface area is increased. They’re based on an old standard which ensures they can remove 99.97% of particulate matter from the air.
HEPA filters can remove particles as small as an incredibly tiny .3 microns in size. A single micron is 1/1,000,000 in size, meaning that these filters can remove microscopic elements – everything from pet dander to microbes.
And the best part is, unlike air purifiers which make claims that are impossible to test, HEPA filters have specific standards that they need to meet so you can be sure that they actually work.
A close-up of a HEPA filter. Very dense and made up of tiny fibers, HEPA purifiers often are used with other filter sections like activated carbon and pre-filters to make their products more effective. When used together they’re more effective and can remove sickness-causing vapors, germs, allergens, and much more from the air you breathe.
HEPA filter-based air purifiers (a great example is the GermGuardian AC4825 I reviewed in detail here) work by filtering the air in a room continuously. They use an electric fan or fans to draw in air, move it through the filters, and force out fresh, healthy air.
Therefore there’s no way they can cause sickness. A good product cannot introduce harmful elements into the air you breathe or cause discomfort or any symptoms from use.
There isn’t any way for HEPA purifiers to make you sick, because they aren’t adding anything to the air. They are only taking away irritants that might exacerbate issues for people with asthma or other medical conditions.
Better-quality household HEPA purifiers also contain supplementary filters, like an activated charcoal filter, to trap odors and volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) that cause either unpleasantness or even health issues.
They’re also really helpful for dealing with second-hand smoke effects.
So what air purifier do I need?
The safest option is to use reliable, proven HEPA purifiers that will remove particulate matter from the air without releasing ozone. While shopping, you may also see some air purifiers that say “HEPA-type” instead of “true HEPA.”
This means that they don’t fully meet the HEPA standard of removing 99.97% of particulate matter from the air, but use a filter that is similar in design in some ways. They’re a lower-cost version without the same cleaning efficiency.