Informational Guide

Are Ionic Air Purifiers Safe?

Most air purifiers use filters such as HEPA, carbon, & PECO. We explore ozone and ionizers which are different systems.

by Josh M

Air purifiers have exploded in popularity in recent years, and for good reason. Human beings are subject to all kinds of things in their air, and these devices can make our space a healthier one.

Modern air purifiers use common technologies to make it work, like HEPA, carbon, PECO, ozone, and ionizers. But are they really safe to use? Stay tuned, because we’re going to cover the ins and outs of purifiers and their safety.

Air Purifier in the Living Room

Ionic air purifiers are quiet and don’t use a lot of energy to clean, making them appealing to just about everyone. Charles Antony Deane made the first air purifier in 1830. In the 1950s, HEPA filters became very popular after being used during the US’ Manhattan Project to control radioactive contaminants in the air. The Hammes brothers in Germany are responsible for the HEPA filters becoming commercial.

So, how exactly does ionic technology work? By producing a constant stream of negatively charged ions into the air of your home. These negative ions then attach to an airborne molecule (smoke, dander, etc.), negatively charging them, so they attract positively charged molecules close by. This creates bunches of particles together, causing them to be too heavy to be suspended in the air, so they fall to the ground.

The main difference between ionic purifiers and others is that ionic models use these ions to remove contaminants, while others use fans and filters to do so. You may have wondered, “Does an Ionic air purifier emit ozone?” and yes, they do. What is the difference between ions and ozone? Ozone is actually an oxygen molecule made of 3 oxygen atoms, while negative ions are simply oxygen atoms with an added electron.

There are 2 main types of Ionic air purifiers. Let’s take a brief look at each one:

Electrostatic Precipitator Ionizer

These disperse charged ions into the air by corona discharge, which happens when the ionization of a fluid-like air surrounding a conductor that is electrically charged. The ions attach themselves to airborne particles and are collected by a flat plate with the opposite charge.

Ion Generators

These disperse charged ions into the air without using plates. Instead, they produce ions by either corona discharge or UV lights. This leaves pollutant particles stuck on various surfaces throughout the room with no method of collection.

You can learn more about these Ozone generator models here.

Ozone Side Effects & Dangers to Human Health

While these purifiers are certainly great for many purposes, they do produce ozone, which can cause some adverse effects on human health. Even inhaling just a bit of ozone can be damaging to the lungs. The following are some of the side effects and conditions it can cause:

  • Coughing
  • Throat Irritation
  • Breathing Discomfort (pain, burning in chest when taking a deep breath, shortness of breath)
  • Chest Tightness or Wheezing
  • Worse asthma
  • More vulnerability to respiratory infections

Are Ionic Air Purifiers Safe? The Safety Levels Explained

As we mentioned, ionic air purifiers do produce ozone. But how much do they specifically produce, and what is considered to be dangerous? We need to look at the PPBs (parts per billion) produced. Different places throughout the world have different standards.

“In 2005, California established an 8-hour standard of 70 PPB and a one-hour standard of 90 PPB,” says IAQ Science.

Are these standards rigid enough? Let’s take a look:

  • 0 – 50 PBB
    No health impacts should be incurred when ozone levels are within these numbers. Air ionizers sold in California cannot produce more than 50 PBB.
  • 51 – 100 PBB
    If you are particularly sensitive to ozone, you’ll probably want to limit exposure to this level.
  • 100 – 200 PBB
    These are downright unhealthy levels. While everyone should avoid exposure to ozone in this range, those who are more sensitive should place even more attention to avoiding it.
  • 200 – 400 PBB
    Everyone must avoid these levels.

Should I Use an Ionic Air Purifier? The Risks, Pros & Cons

So, now you’re trying to figure out if you should use one or not. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons to decide if it’s worth it for you.

Ionic Air Purifier Advantages
  • No need to replace filters
  • “Set and Forget” operation
  • Highly effective at removing odors
Ionic Air Purifier Disadvantages
  • Ozone is unhealthy if it builds up in the home
  • HEPA filtration systems are more effective

HEPA filtration systems are more effective

Now that we know these purifiers can produce ozone, we need to be able to identify the signs. Of course, the best way to go about this is to read through the manufacturer’s website or manual, but the following tips are also reliable:

  • The Ozone Smell
    This is usually the top sign an air purifier is emitting ozone. It smells very unique – almost like bleach or antiseptic.
  • Blue Light
    If your air purifier starts shining a blue light, then you have a UV lamp. Ultraviolet light creates ozone, so this is crucial to pay attention to.
  • Dusty Surfaces
    If your purifier and surfaces around it are particularly dusty, it’s because the air purifier is producing negative ions which attach to dust. This causes the dust to fall onto the surface, and this kind of ionizer also creates ozone as a byproduct.
Where to Place an Air Purifier

People Also Ask (FAQ)

Is it safe to be in a room with an ionizer?

You can if the window is open. However, it’s important to avoid being in an enclosed space when an ionizer is running.

Do ionizers kill mold?

It’s not a sure thing, but “air purifiers may help to clean the air and reduce mold exposure within your home.”

Can ionizers get rid of cigarette smoke?

They can definitely help remove the smoke particles from the air and other types of smoke in general.

How do I know if my ionizer is working?

First, you can check to see if fluff and dust have been collected on the ionizer’s metal rods which produce ions. If it’s working, you’ll see this dust and fluff. You will also see pollutants collected in the “pollutant collector compartment.”

However, the easiest method is to simply check its airflow by placing your hand and see if there’s a breeze.

Conclusion

Many people have questions about whether they should be using ionic air purifiers and what kind of negative and positive effects they can have on our health. While there are definite pros and cons to these machines, they are very effective and useful to have around.

Just make sure ozone production is kept to a minimum and that you’re not sitting inside an enclosed area with one. We hope our guide has helped clear these questions up! Thanks for tuning in, and we’ll see you again soon!

Josh M

My name is Josh and I am obsessed with the HVAC industry. I created this website to help HVAC techs of all levels get the best out of their heating & cooling systems. I have spent thousands of hours studying air conditioners, heaters and home air products so you can learn & buy with confidence. Learn more about the team here.

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