Air purifiers can play an important part of an overall strategy to breathe cleaner air. Whether that be for asthma or allergy relief as well as gas, smoke and odor removal. The question though is, do air purifiers really work to remove airborne particles and improve indoor air quality?
To assess whether an air purifier will work for you it is important to know what you are looking to remove from the air, how sensitive you are to the pollutant, and the size of the space that needs cleaning. In our Education Center we provide buying guides to help you through this process.
In our experience we have seen a fair amount of marketing hype with air purification systems over the past 16 years and our goal is to be as objective as possible. In most cases you get what you pay for. There is consistent demand for filter-less air purifiers but in our experience they are not very effective if you are looking for allergy or asthma relief because they don’t remove as many airborne particles that contribute to indoor air pollution.
How Air Purifiers Work Everywhere
At their most basic level, air purifiers are simple machines. They take in air, using a motor and fan to pull the air inward, and pass the air through a series of filters, which remove a variety of contaminants, allergens, pet dander, and air pollution, such as VOC's - volatile organic compounds. They then expel clean air out into the room.
The details, however, can involve advanced science, innovative technologies, and some of the most sophisticated systems available for home appliances. Air purifiers may use HEPA filters, activated carbon, UV light, and many other technologies to achieve an impressively-high level of filtration.
Choosing the Right Air Filtration Technology
There are a variety of technologies used in the air purifier space however HEPA-based air filtration units provide the best results. This is what is used to clean the air in planes, hospitals, clean rooms and pharmaceutical manufacturing where it is essential to have the purest air, such as what you’d have with a commercial air purifier.
To date we have not seen a non-HEPA air purifier come close to the particle removal rates you see with a true HEPA or better rated system. In addition, we may be the only air purifier manufacturer that will tell you that the number of filtration levels in a system is meaningless. You should look instead at how much filter media there is and the quality or efficiency of the filters.
Additional technologies are sometimes used with HEPA (ie PCO – photo-catalytic oxidation, UV-C lamps, negative ionizers, etc) provide at best a marginal benefit in terms of cleaner air in a room in our experience.
Many air purifiers start with a pre-filter to remove large airborne particulates like pet dander or dust bunnies. This is the first filter that air will pass through, and it will remove a wide variety of large particles from the air. In most cases, the pre-filter captures the largest dust, pollen, pet dander, and other airborne contaminants. Pre-filters are an important part of the overall performance of an air purifier, and they often extend the life of the main filters, which means they save users money because owners of air purifiers don’t have to purchase filters as often.
The best air purifiers in the world use HEPA filters to remove many contaminants including pet dander and particles from dust mites. “HEPA” is an acronym that stands for High-Efficiency Particulate Air, and it designates a filter that achieves a certain level of efficiency. HEPA filters, in fact, are not a specific type of filter, but rather a group of filters, made of any material, that are able to achieve extremely high filtration levels. To be classified as a HEPA filter, it must remove 99.97% of particles sized 0.3 microns from the air. This is an industry standard that is not enforced by the U.S. government, but it acts as a measuring tool for filter performance. If your air purifier has a HEPA filter, you can count on it to deliver extremely high filtration, which will result in cleaner air for you and your family.
Activated carbon is one of the top materials used in air purifiers to remove odors and chemicals. Also called activated charcoal, this is a porous material with an extremely high surface space per volume, which allows it to filter an unprecedented amount of gases. It works differently than HEPA air filters by adsorbing the gases in their tiny crevices.
Activated carbon is made by taking carbon material such as coconut shells or coal and removing organic matter. The removal of matter is usually achieved through burning at high heats, although other measures are used to complete the process. The material is then oxidized, which allows it to grab material from the air. Chemical activation is also used to create activated carbon. No matter how it’s made, activated carbon is an important material for making air purifiers work properly.
UV-C light is another technology that is used in air purifiers. UV light, which is a form or radiation, is able to destroy certain types of organic matter. As you probably know, it causes sunburns by destroying cells at the top layer of our skin. This same cell-destroying power, however, can be used to reduce airborne mold spores, which are a common form of indoor air pollution.
How Do You Know if Your Air Purifier is Working?
With all the advanced technologies and materials, air purifiers have become extremely reliable for removing air pollution. But it still helps to check and see if your air purifier is working. It’s easy to forget about your air purifier, and the results can be difficult to see (after all, can you tell that the air has less air pollution?) but when you use the right strategies, you’ll know whether or not your air purifier is working.
One important aspect is a filter indicator. Air filters capture particles in their filters, and eventually these filters need to be replaced. An indicator light will let you know if you need to replace the filter, and when the light is activated you have a sign (but not proof) that the purifier is working properly.
You can also check the filter manually. There is a chance that the indicator light could be inaccurate, so checking the filter yourself will allow you to see that it is capturing dust, dander, pollen, and other forms of air pollution. If you see debris, dust, hair, and lint in the filter, you can see that it is working the way you expect.
For even better proof that it is working, you can test the air before and after use. There are air-quality monitoring and testing systems that you can put to work in your home. These monitors will tell you how much contaminants are in the air, and, by comparing air-quality numbers before and after testing, could let you know whether or not your system is working. Be sure, however, to use the same type of testing or monitoring before and after using the purifier, as different systems could deliver different results.
How to Choose the Right Air Purifier
There are many different air purifiers on the market and knowing which one is right for your needs will help you get the best results.
So, what should you look for? To decide on an air purifier, you should consider the room size, the specific pollutants you want to control, and the overall sensitivity of people in your home.
In general, the larger the room, the larger an air purifier you will need. Air purifiers can be large, small, and anywhere in between, so choosing the right one will ensure the best filtration as well as greater convenience.
The best way to know the air flow of the air purifier is to check the CADR rating. The CADR is a measure of the filtered air volume that comes out of the air cleaner. The higher the CADR number the larger the room it will clean.
In a small room, such as a college dorm room, having a small air purifier like the Finn will allow you to get the best performance without taking up too much space. If you have a larger area, such as an office, open kitchen and living room, or an open basement, a larger purifier like the Erik 650A may be the right choice. This air purifier is rated to clean a space measuring up to 1,700 square feet, so it can handle many spaces that other purifiers can’t.
You should also consider whether or not the air purifier will filter out airborne particulates like dust, mold, pet dander or gases like smoke smell or other odors.
You should be strategic about which air purifier you buy when you need to control dust, pollen, dander, or other airborne contaminants. With the right air purifier, you’ll have better air quality in your home.
In all cases, you should avoid any air purifier that produces and releases ozone, such as ionic air purifiers and ozone generators. The last thing you want is for an air purifier to introduce an air pollutant like ozone into your home.
Even with the right HEPA based air cleaner, its effectiveness can be limited if it is not sized properly for the room or if there is too much air mixing in with the room – meaning it’s not able to keep up with the air that is circulating through the room. For example, this can occur if the unit is operating in a room with an open window. It is important to ventilate in fresh air but this needs to be managed if you are also bringing in pollutants (ie pollen and mold) that you are trying to remove.
We receive feedback daily on how our HEPA air purifiers are improving lives and some of this feedback is available in the form of customer testimonials. Part of our success stems from being the only company that uses the same filters used in hospital operating rooms and computer clean rooms.
So, do air purifiers really work to remove air pollution like particles from dust mites and pet dander?
The short answer is yes, they do remove airborne particles provided you buy a HEPA air purifier that is sized properly for your room and has sufficient air filter quality for the intended purpose.