Is an air purifier worth it?

With Americans spending 90 percent of their time indoors, coupled with increased attention to respiratory health due to COVID-19, air purifiers and air purification systems have become increasingly popular .

These filtration systems have several names and use various technologies. But are they worth the price and can they mitigate the health risks? This blog is a resource for providing you with more information on the medical benefits of air purifiers.

What is an air purifier for?

The lungs are sensitive to the air you breathe. It may not be visible to the naked eye, but concentrations in indoor air can be 2 to 5 times higher than outdoor concentrations, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Lack of indoor air circulation can lead to a higher concentration of allergens and pollutants which can cause irritation and inflammation of the lungs with chronic inhalation. Indoor air pollutants can also cause eye and nose irritation, headaches, dizziness, and respiratory illness.

To combat this, it is important to get rid of the source (like dusting) and ventilate the indoor air through a window. But in cases where nothing can be done, air purifiers can help remove small particles, pollutants, and toxins from the air through the use of filters and chemicals. Trapping and removing these particles can give you some relief.

Portable air purifiers, also known as air purifiers, use either a filter or a disinfectant (some systems use both) to purify the air you breathe in a single room in your home. For more robust purification, a whole house system goes through a house’s HVAC unit.

What is a HEPA filter?

Many purifiers contain a HEPA filter, which is synonymous with high efficiency particulate arrest. These filters trap particles 0.03 micrometers in diameter. HEPA filters have multiple folds to trap dust and pet hair in the home to help relieve allergy symptoms. However, they don’t work well with odors or gases.
HEPA filters can trap small particles that stay suspended in the air for longer periods of time. Dust, pollen and mold are heavier and tend to fall to the ground or cling to surfaces before they can pass through a filter.

As an alternative to HEPA filters, some filtration systems use activated carbon to purify odors and gases. Activated carbon filters are more expensive and need to be replaced more often.

What is a UV light air purifier?

Unlike filters which only trap odors and pollutants, purifiers that run on a disinfection system are designed to kill viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Most disinfectant air purifiers use ultraviolet light, also known as UV germicidal irradiation. Air passes through an HVAC system, fan, or open window into a disinfection area that kills any pollutants or pathogens.

UV light is rarely used on its own, mainly because it cannot trap or remove particles and pollutants. Instead, many air purification systems combine disinfectants with filters to kill and remove particles.

What is an ionizer air purifier?

Ionizers provide an electrical charge to air particles so that they can be pulled to a collection device using an opposite charge. According to the EPA, ionizing air purifiers can remove small particles and pollutants, but they’re not the best at removing large pollens, dust mites, odors, or gases.

Ion generators also produce ozone as a by-product, which can be an irritant to the lungs.

Do air purifiers work?

In short, it depends on what you are trying to accomplish or mitigate. For people with severe allergies, HEPA filters can help trap pet dander and other larger allergens. If you’re just trying to freshen up the air, the price tag might not be worth it. In other words, air purifiers are not the cure for everyone.

Purification systems with more than one technology tend to work the best. For example, a machine might have a HEPA filter to trap particles, a disinfectant to kill germs, and activated carbon to reduce odors and gases.

Air purifiers will only work if you maintain the system you are using, so be sure to change the filter as directed by the manufacturer. You should also practice good indoor hygiene, dusting and vacuuming regularly, especially if you have pets.

Some air purifiers work better than others for specific symptoms or to relieve certain airborne particles. Your home likely contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as gases from paint or cooking byproducts, that linger in the air. HEPA filters cannot remove VOCs, unlike activated carbon air purifiers. Charcoal, usually in the form of fine granules or powder, absorbs gases and odors.

If you are considering purchasing an air purifier, look for filtration systems with a seal of approval from the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM). You should also check the manufacturer’s label for the Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR), a number that measures the machine’s efficiency at removing airborne particles and gases. The number should be equal to or close to two-thirds of the surface of the room. For example, a 300 square foot room would need to have a CADR of 200 to properly purify the air.

Do Air Purifiers Help With COVID?

The risk of COVID spreading indoors is increased because indoor air circulation and ventilation is not as strong as outdoors. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that produces COVID, has a delicate structure that can be altered by environmental factors such as wind. In indoor environments, virus concentrations tend to be higher, increasing the likelihood that it will spread indoors.

Air filtration systems and ventilation practices can lower concentration levels and reduce airborne contaminants. However, this will not be enough to eradicate COVID. You should always practice social distancing when appropriate, and remember to wash your hands.

According to the EPA, air purifiers must have the ability to remove particles from 0.1 to 1.0 micrometers to remove airborne viruses.

By themselves, the virus particles are small. But they tend to cling to larger particles that carry them through the air and eventually land on high-stress surfaces such as doorknobs and countertops. For example, the coronavirus is around 0.1 microns in size, but the particles are often part of respiratory droplets large enough (0.5 microns) that a HEPA filter can trap – a HEPA filter can trap 99.97% of the particles. 0.3 micrometer.

UV light can also be effective in inactivating the coronavirus, which is why healthcare organizations, hospitals and schools have used a combination of HEPA and UVGI filters to filter the recirculated air.

If an air purifier is not an option, ventilating your home with a window or door open can reduce the concentration of contaminants inside. The downside of opening a window or door is that many people have allergies to ragweed or pollen which can get worse when they breathe in fresh air.

For more current health topics, visit the INTEGRIS Health For You blog.

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