There is an increasing concern about air pollution levels both outdoors and indoors. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air can be five times as polluted as outdoor air. Since indoor air is not circulated as much as outside air, many airborne pollutants continue to thrive inside.
Air purifiers can refresh stale air, reducing the chances of health issues caused by indoor pollutants, which can trigger respiratory infections, neurological problems, or aggravate symptoms in asthma sufferers. Quality air purifiers eliminate several types of indoor air pollutants, keeping us healthy.
In this article, we discuss how air purifiers work and the benefits of using them.
Benefits of an Air Purifier
Air purifiers with HEPA technology filters can remove 99.7 percent of the airborne particulate matter (PM) circulating in your home environment. 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 (CDC), 1 in 13 people have asthma. People living with asthma have inflamed bronchial tubes. Pollutants such as pet dander, pollen, or dust mites irritate their airways, causing difficulty breathing.
Many breeds of dogs and cats shed throughout the year. When these pets scratch themselves they spread a lot of hair and dander which keeps circulating in the air. Even if you don’t have pets, there are other triggering factors for asthma such as pollen and dust mites.
Pollen particles flow in with the breeze through open windows or they stick to your clothes when you are outside. Dust mites are the most common indoor allergens, thriving in a humid environment. Lack of fresh air increases indoor humidity levels, providing the perfect breeding ground for dust mites. They feed on dead skin cells and multiply quickly in your bed, carpet, and other upholstered furniture.
Vacuuming your bed, carpet, and floors can eliminate these pollutants, but some of them remain suspended in the air. Breathing in the polluted air increases the chances of asthma attacks.
Most household air purifiers contain HEPA filters, designed to capture all these pollutants so you breathe clean air. HEPA filters comprise multi-layered meshes made of fine fiberglass threads, thinner than strands of hair. The pollens, dust mites, and pet dander floating in the home environment are trapped in these meshes so you enjoy clean air.
Some air purifiers include replaceable pre-filters for trapping larger particles, so the HEPA filters are preserved for capturing smaller pathogens. 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 Environments
Closing the doors and windows of our house does not mean we can shut off external pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide. These gases are commonly found in areas of high motor vehicle traffic and may get inside your homes. Research 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. Many regular household cleaners contain toxic chemicals such as ammonia, chlorine, and phthalates. Exposure to these chemicals in small quantities may be harmless, but routine exposure can lead to serious health issues like a tumor, cancer, cardiovascular, or neurological disorders.
Air purifiers with activated carbon can cleanse these chemical contaminants, avoiding the risk of several health problems. A highly porous form of carbon is used in this carbon filtering method to trap chemicals, recycling fresh air back to the room.
Neutralizes Unpleasant Odors
Some chemicals such as gasoline, benzene, and formaldehyde break down at room temperature causing an off-gassing odor. These chemicals, called Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), are commonly found in paints, aerosol sprays, upholstered furniture, or air fresheners. The odor from VOCs can cause nausea, breathlessness, and even affect your cognitive functions.
Studies show low VOC levels in ambient air improves productivity and performance. Air purifiers with HEPA and activated carbon filters are effective in trapping gases as well as particles, reducing pollutants in the indoor environment.
If you have guests coming over, you don’t have to worry about the smoke or the odor of cooking oil and spices bothering them. The air purifiers absorb all the smell, making your room fresh and clean.
Reduces the Chances 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. When you remove the cause of airborne diseases, you safeguard yourself and your family from them. If you live with elderly people, children, or anyone with a weakened immune system, air purifiers are a must.
Indoor allergens such as bacteria, fungi, and dust mites can trigger allergies or hay fever. Hay fever causes a runny nose and can last up to several weeks. 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.
Removes Harmful Radon
The breakdown of naturally-occurring radioactive elements such as uranium found in certain building materials produces radon gas. Radon is a colorless and odorless gas, emitting from building materials like rocks, soil, and granite.
Watch out for cracks on the floor, walls, or plasterwork. The carcinogenic radon gas leaks into your environment through these cracks. Radon gas damages the cell linings of the lungs, leading to cancer. A 2003 study by the EPA indicates there could be as many as 21,000 deaths annually in the US related to lung cancer caused by radon gas.
To reduce the risk of radon pollution, use air purifiers. HEPA and activated carbon filters can trap radon particles and radon gas, protecting you from its harmful effects.
Eliminates Hazardous Asbestos Particles
Asbestos roofing materials or insulation pipes were common from the 1940s to the 1960s. 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 materials spreading asbestos dust in the ambient air.
If you breathe in asbestos particles, they can cause a lung disease marked by tissue scarring. Swelling in the neck or face, loss of appetite, and difficulty swallowing are some symptoms of asbestosis. This disease also increases the risk of lung cancer.
To protect yourself from asbestosis, use HEPA air purifiers that capture asbestos particles.
Can Increase Life Expectancy
Indoor air pollution can affect your cardiac, respiratory, and even neurological systems. Chemicals and gases from common household products can 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 traps even the fine particles providing you with better air quality.
How Do Air Purifiers Work?
Air purifiers contain one or more filters and a fan. The fan (or sometimes a system of internal fans) sucks in air, and that air then passes through the inside filters. These filters trap pollutants such as dust, pollen, and bacteria, and disperse clean air back into the room. This filtering process maintains healthy air circulation indoors.
Types of Air Purifiers
While most air purifiers contain HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filters, some air purifiers include other types of filters such as activated carbon or UV light. Certain technologically advanced air purifiers include a combination of two or three types of filters. In this section, we discuss the different types of air purifiers and how they work:
- HEPA Filters: Air purifiers with HEPA filters can capture pollutants as little as 0.3 microns in size. These tiny particles cannot even be seen by human eyes. The smallest particles visible to us are at least 50 or 60 microns in size.
- Activated Carbon: Air purifiers with activated carbon filters effectively trap odors. They can’t capture viruses and bacteria like HEPA filters can.
- Electrostatic Precipitators: Air purifiers with electrostatic precipitators use high voltage electrical energy, charging the particles passing through the filters. The dead pathogens keep accumulating on the electrostatic plates. To maintain the efficiency of the filter, these electrostatic plates need to be changed regularly increasing your maintenance cost. Electrostatic precipitators also release ozone, a reactive gas potentially damaging your lungs.
- Ultraviolet Light Air Purifiers: These air purifiers use UV rays to kill the germs floating in the air. Some UV light air cleaners release ozone, so check before buying this type of purifier.
- Ozone Generators: Air purifiers with ozone generators absorb odors. They are commonly used in hotels because the high levels of ozone released by these air purifiers make the room unsuitable for use, the next 24 hours. Exposure to even low levels of ozone can cause chest pain, coughing, and shortness of breath. Prolonged exposure damages your lungs and aggravates respiratory problems.
What to Look Out for When Buying an Air Purifier
When buying an air purifier, it’s crucial to check certain factors such as its HEPA filtration and ACH ratings. To reap the maximum benefits from your air purifier and avoid certain negative effects, consider the following factors:
Different air purifiers are designed to clean the air in rooms of specific sizes. Check with the customer service representatives of various brands about the compatible room size. Air purifiers are most effective when they are compatible with your room size. To save on energy bills, buy a model meant to be effective in a slightly bigger room. That way, the air purifier continues to be effective even at a lower setting.
Most air purifiers with HEPA filters produce noise ranging from 35 to 70 decibels. The noise level depends on your operational settings. To avoid sleep disruptions due to noise, opt for air purifiers which are effective even set to a lower noise level.
Look for true HEPA filters, avoiding purifiers with “HEPA like” or “HEPA type” filters. True HEPA filters are the most efficient because they can capture minute pathogens. If you want to avoid odors and gases as well, try air purifiers with HEPA and activated carbon filters.
Asthma and Allergy Friendly Certification
Many household products on the market claim to control allergens, but sometimes these claims are exaggerated. To help consumers make an informed decision, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America in association with Allergy Standards Limited (ASL) has created a certification program. Before certifying products, they run the products through many tests to ensure the air purifiers remove most of the harmful particles.
Once the home air purifiers clear all the tests covered under the program, they earn the “asthma & allergy friendly®” mark. The certification assures you a quality product with superior air filtration abilities, perfect for allergy sufferers as well.
Clean-Air Delivery Rate (CADR)
The air purifier’s CADR specifies its overall cleaning speed for a particular size room. It shows the speed at which the purifier can filter dust, smoke, and pollen particles (three of the most common indoor air pollutants).
Smoke particles are the smallest and can range between 0.1 to 0.3 microns. Dust particles vary between 0.5 to 3 microns, while pollen particles are around 5 to 11 microns. High CADR indicates the filters can purify the air quickly.
CADR is measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM). For example, an air purifier with 400 CFM will purify the air in a 400 square feet room much faster than an air purifier with 300 CFM. On average, bedrooms are between 250 to 350 square feet in size. Air purifiers with CADR 300 to 400 should be perfect for average-sized rooms.
The CADR of air purifiers is based on standards set by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM).
Air Change Per Hour (ACH) Rating
The ACH rating shows the number of times per hour the entire volume of air in your room gets filtered. A higher ACH rating indicates better efficiency. If you are prone to allergies or asthma, it’s best to opt for purifiers with at least a 4x or 5x ACH rating. That way, you ensure the indoor air is filtered at a faster rate. Frequent filtration reduces the chances of leaving behind pathogens in your indoor environment.
Some air purifiers generate ozone during the filtration process. Ozone gas can be damaging to your respiratory system. Before buying, check if the air purifier emits ozone gas.
On average, air purifiers are priced at around $150. There are others available at a higher or lower price, depending on the type of filters, maximum room size it can filter, and the brand. When buying an air purifier, you should factor in the maintenance cost as well.
The maintenance costs are dependent on how often you have to replace your filter. You should also factor your HEPA filter use in your energy bill. Some air purifiers, such as those with UV lights, include washable filters, but they need more watts to function. This may inflate your electricity bill. UV light air purifiers may not be as effective as HEPA air cleaners because many bacterias are UV-resistant.
HEPA air cleaners are energy-efficient, but the filters should be changed once in three months for optimum benefits. Generally, replacing filters cost around $100 per year. If you buy an air purifier with a combination of filters, you may spend more on changing filters. For example, if your air purifier contains HEPA and activated carbon filters, you will have to change both filters every 3 to 4 months, and that may end up costing you more than $100 per year.
Other Steps to Improve Indoor Air Quality
To improve your indoor air quality, follow some other steps such as regular cleaning, growing indoor plants, and maintaining proper ventilation. The following steps can further improve your indoor air quality:
- Vacuum clean the floor and carpets at least once a week to prevent allergen build-up.
- Grow indoor plants. They act as natural air filters, diluting the carbon dioxide levels in the room.
- Use dehumidifiers to avert mold and mildew growth.
- When the air purifier is not in use, open windows for fresh air. If possible, allow cross-ventilation by opening windows at opposite ends of the room.
- Turn on the exhaust fans in the kitchen to dissipate smoke after cooking. The exhaust fan also dries up ambient air in the bathroom and laundry room, otherwise, humidity can lead to bacteria and allergen growth.
Can air purifiers prevent coronavirus?
No, there is no evidence proving air purifiers can remove coronavirus. Usually, HEPA filters can trap particles as little as 0.3 microns, but the coronavirus is even smaller. Some air purifiers with UV lights can kill smaller pathogens but there are no specific studies showing they can destroy the novel coronavirus.
Do air purifiers help you sleep better?
Yes, air purifiers help you sleep better by removing allergens from your indoor environment. Allergens can trigger sleep-disruptive symptoms in some people. Frequent coughing, sneezing, or difficulty breathing are some allergic reactions affecting your sleep quality. Air purifiers can decrease the chances of allergies by trapping the pollutants. You get better sleep in a clean and fresh environment. A good night’s sleep also improves your mood and cognitive functions.
How long does it take an air purifier to clean a room?
Most air purifiers take between 30 minutes to 2 hours to clean a room. The duration depends on the size of the room and the ACH rating of the air purifier. The ACH rating refers to the number of times per hour the entire volume of air in your room gets filtered. The most efficient air purifiers filter about 4 or 5 times every hour. It’s best to keep the air purifier on whenever you are in the room.
Where should I place my air purifier?
Place the air purifier either in your living room or bedroom. The idea is to enjoy fresh air where you spend the most amount of time. Since the air purifiers are portable, they can be moved from room to room if needed.
Are air purifiers bad for you?
Not all air purifiers are bad for you. Some ozone emitting air purifiers can be harmful. They cause shortness of breath, coughing, and chest pain. Exposure to higher levels of ozone can damage your respiratory system. Air purifiers with HEPA and activated carbon filters are generally safe for use.
Do air purifiers really work?
Yes, air purifiers capture a high percentage of the airborne allergens and irritants flowing through the filters. In doing so, they refresh the indoor air quality. You get a generous supply of clean and fresh air. Using air purifiers is one of the many steps you can take to reduce indoor air pollution. Allowing cross ventilation and cleaning your floors, carpets, and upholstery are other steps to maintain a clean indoor environment.
The lack of ventilation in homes has spurred the demand for air purifiers. They decrease indoor air pollution levels, but their filters have a threshold. Some filters are effective for two to three months, while others can work for a longer period of time. Keep checking the air filter indicator so you change filters at the right time, and continue to enjoy a clean indoor environment.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.