If you are thinking about buying an air purifier, you might have wondered do air purifiers really work? and how can they help improve my health?
Globally, outdoor – but especially indoor – air pollution are considered the single bigger risk factors for human health. Sources of outdoor air pollution include things like fires, cars exhaust, or factories, just to name a few. Dangerous indoor air pollution can be caused by normal everyday things like cooking, cleaning products, mold, or several other sources.
As a result, if you want to remove or destroy air pollutants in your home, running an air purifier will help you in your battle to reduce contaminant levels. Unfortunately, there are several potential sources of pollutants with many out of your control. To receive the full benefit of a purifier, it’s best to keep it running and change the filters on time.
In recent times, home air purifiers are on the rise, partly as a response to concerns over air quality following the Covid-19 pandemic. While your home is mainly designed to provide you shelter, many of us are spending much more time indoors than we ideally should – or would like to. Consequently, you may be exposed to more indoor particles and pollutants which can induce or even aggravate lung-related disorders.
But, do air purifiers really work? And are they a reliable solution to get rid of indoor pollutants? The short answer is yes, to a good degree. In this article we explore how these devices work, and whether they’re worth considering adding to your home.
How do air purifiers work?
Air purifiers - essentially - work by sanitizing the air, which may include pollutants, allergens, and toxins. They’re the exact opposite of essential oil diffusers and humidifiers, meaning that while the latter add particles to indoor air, air purifiers remove them.
Air purifiers also act differently than simple air filters. While filters only capture particles, air purifiers can remove them too, sanitizing the air.
The exact particles removed by an air purifier ultimately depend on the type you choose. Certain technologies are equipped with filters designed to trap particles as air runs through them, while others may directly “neutralize” particles in the air without having to capture them first.
Other options include negative ion-emitting air purifiers, which helps to attract particles in the air in a way that allows them to be instantly neutralized.
All-in-all, air purifiers usually consist of a filter and a fan that sucks in and circulates air. As air moves through the filter, pollutants and particles are captured, and the clean air is released back into the air. Traditionally, filters can be made of paper, artificial microfiber (like fiberglass) or a natural mesh, and most require routine filter replacements to maintain their air purification efficiency.
How frequently you will have to swap filters can vary based on the purifier type and its main use. Some filters are reusable and washable, but they do require constant maintenance. You can also find UV (ultraviolet light) filters on the market, which often claim to destroy biological impurities like mold or bacteria, but many come with the issue that they require higher wattage and greater exposure to be actually effective.
This means that, in addition to the initial purchase price for an air purifier, you should also consider both operating costs and filter replacement. Operational costs can easily amount to $50 annually in electricity bills, since you should be running air purifiers almost constantly to reap their benefits. Filter replacements can also run upwards of $100 a year all things considered.
Some air purifiers use ionizers to help attract particles like static — negative ions bond to dust and allergens and make them settle out of the air. If you're interested in buying an air cleaner that uses ionizers, make sure it does not produce dangerous levels of ozone, as ozone could further aggravate asthma and other lung conditions.
What types of air purifiers are out there?
Before we consider the merits of air purifiers, let’s take a look at the many varieties available today.
Here are the three main technologies used in air purification products:
- Ozone generators – These types of air purifiers generate large amounts of ozone that is released in a room. Ozone is a well-known purifying gas that is capable of killing living organisms such as mold and bacteria quite effectively.
- Electronic air purifiers – These types of air purifiers pull in air, which becomes electronically charged. As air molecules adhere to dust and other particulates, they become heavier and can thus be easily filtered. There are several variations and characteristics of these types of products, including Electrostatic Precipitation, Ionization, UV light, and Corona Discharge.
- Mechanical filtration – These kinds of air purifiers draw in air that is forced through a physical – or mechanical – filter that captures airborne particles. There are a few types of these as well including HVAC filters, portable air purifiers, and ceiling mounted air purifiers.
Are air purifiers actually effective at cleaning the air?
The short answer is yes. Nevertheless, an air purifier likely won’t remove or neutralize 100% of all dangerous particles in your home. This is due to the fact that many of these particles can sit on surfaces for an indefinite time after depositing there.
An air purifier may act as a complement to an air filter, and can greatly help you get rid of the following particles:
Allergens are substances that can create unpleasant immune responses in the form of allergies or asthma. Pollen, pet dander, and dust mites are among the most common airborne allergens.
An air purifier may work in conjunction with a high effectiveness air filter, the latter of which is best suited to trap airborne allergens.
Filter-equipped air purifiers can also remove smoke in the air, including smoke from wild fires and even tobacco smoke. Even so, air purifiers can’t get rid of the smell of smoke entirely, and there may still be cases in which smoke stains on walls and ceilings appear despite their use.
Removing the cause of smoke altogether is always preferable over trying to filter out smoke-filled air. A particular study on air purifiers observed that such devices did little in regards to removing nicotine from indoor air.
Not only may your home be a source of airborne allergens and mold, but it may also be a source of indoor toxins originating from cleaning products, personal care items, and more.
When these particles are released into the air, they can become very harmful to your health and body. Air purifiers can also trap these indoor toxins, but the best way to get rid of toxins in your home is to reduce their source in the first place.
What are air purifiers benefits for your health?
Some a purifiers technology can remove up to 99.99% of the airborne particulate matter (PM) circulating in your home or office. Removing these pollutants can lead to several immediate and long term health benefits such as better sleep quality and increased life expectancy.
Relieves Symptoms of Asthma
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 12 people suffer from asthma. People living with asthma have inflamed bronchial tubes. Pollutants such as pet dander, pollen, or dust mites irritate their airways, causing difficulty breathing.
Most household air purifiers are designed to capture all these pollutants so you can easily breathe clean air. The pollens, dust mites, and pet dander floating in the home environment are usually trapped in the air purifier filter so you enjoy clean air.
Some air purifiers even include replaceable pre-filters for trapping larger particles. This system prolongs the efficiency of your air purifier. An efficient air purifier continues to keep your indoor air free of pollutants, reducing the chances of breathing difficulties caused by asthma.
Eliminates Harmful Chemicals from Indoor Air
Closing the doors and windows of our house does not mean we can remove external pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide altogether. These gases are commonly found in areas of high motor vehicle traffic and may even get inside your homes. Research from the National Library of Medicine shows exposure to carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide PM increases the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Even if you don’t live in large cities with high vehicular traffic, your home atmosphere could still be polluted with toxins from several cleaning agents. Exposure to these chemicals may be harmless, but constant exposure can lead to major health issues like a tumor, cancer, cardiovascular, or even neurological disorders.
Air purifiers can cleanse most of these chemical contaminants, avoiding the risk of several health problems.
Neutralizes Unpleasant Odors
Some chemicals such as gasoline, benzene, and formaldehyde break down at room temperature causing an off-gassing odors. These chemicals, called Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), are commonly found in paints, sprays, furniture, or air fresheners. The odor from VOCs can cause nausea, breathlessness, and even affect your cognitive functions.
Some NIH studies show how low VOC levels in the air helps to enhance productivity and performance. Some air purifiers are an effective solution for trapping gases as well as particles, thus reducing pollutants in the indoor air.
If you have guests, you don’t have to worry about the smoke or the odors from your wonderfully cooked meal bothering them. An air purifier can absorb all the smell, making your room feel fresh and clean.
Allergens commonly found indoors include bacteria, fungi, and dust mites which can trigger allergies and hay fever symptoms. Frequent sneezing, coughing, nose congestion, watery eyes, or sore throat are some common allergic symptoms, disrupting your sleep.
Lack of adequate sleep causes daytime drowsiness, affecting your productivity the next morning. To avoid these sleep disruptions, it’s best to use HEPA air purifiers because they filter out most allergens from your room. Cleaner air gives you a better night’s sleep.
Reduces the Risk of Airborne Diseases
Airborne diseases such as the common cold and flu are spread through tiny pathogens floating around. When one family member catches the flu, it’s not uncommon for the rest of the family to get sick as well. This happens because everyone is breathing the same air that’s infected with bacteria and viruses.
Air purifiers with HEPA filters capture these bacteria and viruses. Tackling the root cause of airborne diseases, helps you safeguarding both yourself and your family from dangerous illnesses. If you live with elderly people, children, or anyone with a weakened immune system, air purifiers are a must-have.
Removes Toxic Radon
The breakdown of natural radioactive elements such as uranium found in certain building materials produces a very dangerous byproduct called radon gas. Radon is a colorless and odorless gas, emitting from building materials like rocks, soil, and granite.
Cracks on the floor, walls, or plasterwork are usually one of the main sources of radon off gassing. The carcinogenic radon gas leaks into your environment through these cracks. Radon gas damages the cell of the lungs, leading to conditions such as cancer. A 2013 study by EPA found there could be as many as 21,000 deaths annually in the US alone associated to lung cancer caused primarily by radon gas exposure.
To reduce the risk of radon pollution, use air purifiers. Air purifiers and activated carbon filters can help trap radon particles and radon gas, protecting you from its harmful effects.
Eliminates Hazardous Asbestos Particles
If you live in an old house or work in an old commercial building you may be exposed to asbestos particles. With age, these buildings shed material, spreading asbestos dust in the ambient air which could be extremely toxic.
If you breathe in a place where asbestos particles are present, they can cause a lung disease marked by tissue scarring. Swelling in the neck or face, loss of appetite, and difficulty swallowing are just some of the most common symptoms associated to asbestosis inhalation. This disease also dramatically increases the risk of lung cancer.
To protect yourself from asbestosis, use an air purifiers that capture asbestos particles, but the best protection would be to remove the asbestos source and wear protective gear like a mask, googles, and a protective suite while doing so.
Increases Life Expectancy
Indoor air pollution can have dramatic consequences on your health, affecting your cardiac, respiratory, and even neurological systems. Chemicals and gases from common household products can easily accumulate in your lungs. In fact, the airborne particles are so small that they penetrate the blood-brain barrier, impacting your brain and cognitive functions.
A good air purifier is the simplest solution to eliminate even the finest particles, providing you with better air quality and health in the long run.
What are the best air purifiers?To safely and effectively purify the air, you will need to look at the following attributes in an air purifier:
- Does not generate ozone?
- Is it a ionizer or electrostatic precipitator?
- Does it provide a proper airflow to the room size?
- Does it mechanically filter air pollution?
- Has a filtering capacity of 1,100 to 2,200 CFM?
We believe the most user-friendly solution when it comes to air purification is some ultra-high capacity, portable air purifier. Ceiling mounted models are also an option, but they are normally much more expensive and require maintenance and installation expenses as well.
You can expect to pay anything in between $500 and $2,500 for an air purifier that will do the job for a room that’s about 350 square feet. Although it may sound like a lot, it’s surely cheaper than most Asthma and allergy meds.
Besides, how much is it worth to breathe easier, sleep better, and be healthier? Air purifiers can do a lot to improve your life, health, and wellbeing.
What are the most common problems with air purifiers?
Air Purifier Does not Turn On
If the purifier is not turning on after pressing the power button, check the power cord. Is the cable plugged in? If not, plugged it into the power outlet. Another possible cause could be a damage to the outlet itself.
Try plugging in the power cord in another outlet. If it’s still not working a possible cause could be the incorrect power rating. Power rating is the total electrical power needed for the regular operation of the purifier. To ensure the proper operation of the purifier, make sure the outlet has the correct rating to support your device.
In case of a damaged power cord, stop using the air purifier immediately and contact the brand’s support team.
Controls are Unresponsive
Most modern air purifiers have either touch controls or push buttons. At times, the controls may not be responding. Possible causes include the air purifier is not plugged into an outlet, or the filter cover is not placed correctly.
If the power cord is not plugged in, try to connect it to an outlet with the correct power rating. For the filter cover, properly replace it according to the different manufacturer’s instructions.
At times, the source of the unresponsive controls could be that the controls malfunctioned. If you identify this to be the problem, disconnect the purifier from the outlet to avoid further damage. Contact the brand’s support team for help.
Air Purification is Not Working Well
The primary purpose of an air purifier is to clean the air and remove pollutants. So, if air purification is not working well or as intended, you and your family will breathe in unfiltered air.
There are a couple of reasons why this may happen. They include:
- Indoor air quality is terrible.
- Room coverage is too large.
- Dust has built upon the filter(s).
- Objects are blocking the air intake and outlet.
- The air purifier is too close to a corner.
If the air quality becomes really awful, ventilate the room before using the purifier. Once you start using the purifier, close the windows and doors. All air purifiers have defined room coverage. If you use it in a larger room or a room with open windows, the purification will be almost nothing.
Always use an air purifier according to the recommended room coverage. Some air purifiers also offer pre-filters that are washable. To get rid of the dust and improve air purification, toss it in a laundry machine or hand wash the filter often.
If objects are blocking the purifier’s air intake and outlet, change the purifier’s location. Also, avoid placing it in a corner as it will limit the airflow significantly.
Air Purifier is Making Unusual Noises While Running
You may detect unusual noises when the purifier is running. Possible causes include the filter is not installed correctly, or the air filter needs replacement.
Another reason could be the presence of an object within the unit. To replace the filters, follow the manufacturer’s instructions in the owner’s manual. For portable air purifiers, the filter replacement usually take less than 15 minutes, and most models do not require special tools.
Make sure the filters are correctly installed. Also, fit the cover properly. If the noise continues, then a foreign object is inside the unit. Do not open the unit.
Power off the purifier, disconnect from the outlet, and contact the support team.
No Proper Airflow
Are you experiencing reduced airflow from your air purifier? If it’s a new model, you probably did not remove the filter packaging. Check to see if the packaging is still on and remove it.
If this was not the case, try and check the fan speed. If the fan speed is too low, change it through the air purifier’s setting. You can do so by pressing the fan speed control to adjust fan speed or auto mode.
Another reason could be that the air purifier does not have enough clearance. Basically, the air intake and outlet are too close to objects. To improve the airflow, we recommend changing the location of the purifier to a place as free of other objects – including walls – as possible.
Strange Odor Coming From the Purifier’s Outlet
The air outlet of a purifier should be distributing clean, fresh air in the room. If you detect a strange odor, it means odors or heavy smoke are present in the room.
The smoke and odors may be originating indoors from cooking or smoking cigarettes, but they may also arise from outdoors, which is common with wildfire smoke.
You need to know that heavy smoke and odors can degrade the performance of the filtration system. Before running the air purifier, you should ventilate the room. Keep the windows and doors open for half an hour to an hour. Once the smoke clears, close the windows and run the air purifier.
A conclusive note
Air purifiers really work, and are effective at reducing the particulate matter in the air. Some types can lead to health benefits for those with allergies, asthma, and other conditions.
However, there are many factors to consider when choosing the most effective air purifier. HEPA filters have the most research to support them and can filter extremely small particles, however recent technologies are showing comparable and sometimes better results than HEPA filters, while drastically improving on sustainability, design, and connectivity.
Air purifiers are becoming more and more accessible and easy to purchase. Giving one a try might make a difference in the comfort level you experience at home.