With years of experience working with air purifiers, I’ve encountered many homeowners hesitant to buy an air purifier due to safety concerns.
I’ve seen countless people adopt the technology, but I also understand people being concerned about their safety.
With countless air purifiers available on the market, determining which ones are safe and effective can be overwhelming. However, having worked closely with various air purifiers, I’ve found minimal potential risks, and the benefits far outweigh any of those risks.
Below, I’ll help you better understand the benefits of air purifiers and their few potential risks.
Are Air Purifiers Completely Safe To Use?
The methods some air purifiers use have led to worries that they could pose greater health risks than the issues they aim to solve. Most air purifiers are completely safe, but there is reason to be wary of some.
1. No Ozone, Please
Ozone-generating air cleaners purify the air by oxidizing contaminants. This purifies your air, but it also emits ozone into the air. The potential side effects of exposure to the large ozone concentrations needed for this method to work may be more severe than being exposed to unclean air.
The EPA lists harmful ozone as a lung irritant, and too much exposure can be very harmful to someone with respiratory conditions like asthma. What’s even more alarming is that, over time, you may become less aware of the symptoms caused by inhaling ozone. This can be particularly concerning because it can lead you to underestimate the damage that the air purifier may be doing to your body.
As cleaner air can be healthier for people with lung conditions and allergies, the worst possible device would be one that could cause further harm. Additionally, ozone generators may not be effective at killing off mold, mildew, and bacteria. Your home may smell cleaner after using one only because the ozone smell covers the other odors and pollutants.
The effects of ozone inhalation can include:
- Shortness of breath
- Throat irritation
- Difficulty breathing
- Less resistance to respiratory infections
2. Same Pollutants, Different Places
Ionizers are not the same as ozone-generating air cleaners, but they too release particles into your home to tackle pollutants. However, ionizers don’t collect, neutralize, or get rid of the particles they’re pulling down. Eventually, the charge wears off, and the pollutants enter the air supply again. This has little effect on your indoor air pollution.
Unless you’re cleaning all your surfaces constantly, ionizers aren’t going to be entirely useful. To be able to keep stopping these particles from floating around in the air, you need a very powerful ionizer, and the stronger the ionizer, the more ozone they produce as a by-product.
Even devices claiming to be low or zero ozone producers will be creating some, and are best avoided.
3. Does the filter catch everything?
Mechanical filtration releases no chemicals and emits no by-products, so it is by far the most attractive prospect for air filtration. However, A HEPA filter will only deal with particulate contaminants and won’t make a difference to odors or gaseous pollutants.
This can be easily remedied by purchasing a purifier that combines HEPA filters with activated charcoal filters, which are great with gaseous pollutants and odors such as smoke.
HEPA filters were used in hospitals to make the air cleaner during the 2003 SARS outbreak as recommended by the CDC. However, there is not enough evidence to prove how well they deal with COVID-19.
What Types of Air Purifiers Are Safest?
After years spent in the field, I can confidently say that the most reliable kind of air purifier is one that uses mechanical filtration. This involves forcing air through a filter that has a dense mesh of fibers to capture particles like dust, pollen, pet dander, and other airborne particles.
Devices with a variety of different filters can ensure as many contaminants as possible, both particulate and gaseous, are dealt with.
To avoid potential health hazards, ensure the air purifier of your choice follows these specifications:
- Does not generate ozone (This includes ozone generators, ionizers, and some UV air purifiers)
- Is not an ionization or electrostatic precipitator
- Provides for proper airflow to reach all the air in a room – if the airflow cannot move freely in a room, the purifier will not be as effective as it needs to be
- Mechanically filters the air
- Has an air filtering capacity of 1,100 to 2,200 CFM – purifiers with a lower rating than this will not offer a good enough Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR). At 1,100 to 2,200 CFM, purifiers can filter a room 20 to 40 times an hour.
Different Types of Air Purifiers Explained
At first glance, it may seem obvious – of course, purifiers must be good for our health! What could be more healthy than clean air?
To understand why some may not be as safe as they appear, let’s look at the different kinds of air purifiers out there.
All of these are filtering air cleaners. Filtering air cleaners use an air filter to remove particles from the air directly and generally produce no byproducts. While many dehumidifiers may come with filters to combat some air contaminants, simple air purifiers will not cool or affect the humidity in your home.
Air purifiers that use this method use fans to pull air into the device. The air is then passed through an air filter or a series of filters that remove harmful particles, allowing cleaner air to pass back out into the room. This method is the safest as it produces no harmful by-products.
HEPA stands for High-Efficiency Particulate Air filters, and this is a very apt description. The filters are made of densely packed filters woven into a mesh, which is folded to increase its surface area. These filters are one of the best forms of air purification, and they catch 99.97% of particulate matter.
Replacement filters should be bought every two or three years, and they won’t be effective for dealing with odors, chemicals, or gaseous pollutants. Fortunately, many devices using HEPA filters also include other filter sections designed to handle these kinds of contaminants.
Activated Carbon Filters
Carbon is the building block of life on Earth. Activated carbon (or activated charcoal) is capable of absorbing a lot of pollution. In filters, activated charcoal can grab hold of pollutants like chemicals, odors, smoke, and other gases. Once absorbed by the carbon, these pollutants can’t be released.
After passing through the filter, purified air is released back into the room. These filters won’t have much of an impact on particulate matter and so are most useful when combined with HEPA filters.
Electronic Air Purifiers
Electrostatic Air Precipitators
Electronic air cleaners like electrostatic air precipitators trap unwanted contaminants inside. However, instead of mesh filters like a HEPA filter, they use an electric charge to trap the air molecules by drawing them to oppositely charged plates, removing them from the air stream.
The filters for these purifiers will need to be changed about every three months. It is difficult to establish how effective these types of purifiers actually are.
Air ionizers are another type of electronic air cleaners. These air purifiers work by sending out negative ions into the room. Those ions then bond with airborne contaminants and pull them down to the floor or attach them to the walls.
However, when the charge is lost, the particles will simply rejoin the air again. Ionizers don’t remove any unwanted particles; they simply move them to another surface. Additionally, despite any claims by manufacturers, all ionizers will produce a small amount of ozone as a by-product.
UV C Air Purifiers
Hospitals use ultraviolet light to purify equipment, and home air purifiers with UV technology promise the same effect – to kill bacteria and pathogens. Most air purifiers use UV c light, and this alone is safe for home use, but it may not be terribly effective, as pathogens need prolonged exposure to UV light in order to be killed or neutralized.
Air purifiers move air rapidly, not giving the UV light enough time to be effective. Some UV purifiers also produce ozone, which is best avoided when choosing an air purifier.
Photocatalytic Air Purifiers
Photocatalytic oxidation air purifiers, or PCO cleaners, also use UV light, along with a catalyst that reacts with the UV light to remove gaseous pollutants from the air. This type of purification on its own will not deal with particulate pollutants.
Ozone generators, as their name suggests, release plenty of ozone molecules into your airflow. The device creates ozone molecules by splitting oxygen molecules – which requires a lot of voltage!
These types of purifiers don’t trap pollutants but instead oxidize biological contaminants, gaseous pollutants, odors, allergens, and particulates. To be useful at all, you need to use a lot of ozone. And while this may handle the pollutants, inhaling ozone isn’t safe for humans or animals.
Common Indoor Pollutants Found In Homes
There’s not enough time in the day for me to go over all the placed volatile organic compounds (VOC) could be found in your home. Controlling indoor air pollution isn’t as easy as it seems.
Every room and occupant comes with its own by-products and potential for indoor air pollution, with the most common being dust created from your (and our pets) dead skin cells. Indoor pollutants can be broken down into two categories of volatile organic compounds – particulates and gaseous.
These air pollutants are things like dust and dust mites, hair and pet dander, smoke particles, molds, bacteria, viruses, pollen, and other microorganisms. They can cause allergic reactions and breathing problems for some people.
These air pollutants are made of gases and odors. It may come from the ingredients in fuels, medicine, cosmetics, perfume, or aerosols. Plastics and other materials may create gaseous pollutants, as do pet odors and smoke.
Are Air Purifying Plants a Better Idea?
Air-purifying plants may look better, but they cannot replace air purifiers. However, there are several kinds of plants that provide natural air filtration without the concern of by-products or chewed cables. Plants can filter chemical some contaminants from our indoor air while also looking very pretty.
Before introducing any new plants, always ensure they are pet safe and non-toxic. Pet-safe plants that are great at natural air filtration include bamboo palms, spider plants, Gerber daisies, prayer palms, and Boston ferns.
Avoid rubber plants, snake plants, jade, aloe, philodendrons, and a whole lot of others. And again, although they serve a purpose, plants cannot purify your home the way an air purifier can.
People Also Ask (FAQ)
Do all air purifiers give off radiation?
Not all air purifiers give off radiation. For example, HEPA air purifiers give off no radiation or other harmful by-products.
Do air purifiers get rid of smells?
Some air purifiers get rid of smells. Air purifiers that use technology to tackle gaseous pollutants will deal with unpleasant odors. Activated charcoal filters are great at absorbing odors and other gaseous pollutants.
Do you need an air purifier in every room?
You might need an air purifier in every room. It depends on the size of your home and the pollutants you most want to deal with. Decide if you need a permanent filtration system or if a portable air purifier that can be moved from room to room would best suit your needs.
Does boiling vinegar clean the air?
Boiling vinegar doesn’t really clean the air. While boiling vinegar may deal with some odors, it will not kill viruses, and it is generally not considered safe to boil vinegar.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that nothing is perfect. However, the best air purifier will improve indoor air quality, and it’ll do it safely.
By reducing the presence of airborne particulates like pollen, house dust allergens, mold spores, and animal dander, an air purifier can create a cleaner, healthier environment for you and your loved ones.
Still, as with anything else, it’s crucial to take the time to research and invest in a high-quality air cleaner (I recommend HEPA and activated carbon filters). The right air cleaner will allow you to breathe easier without threatening your health and well-being.