Are Air Purifiers Safe or Harmful To Our Health?

There are a lot of myths that an air purifier is unsafe and can do more harm than good. Some "fake news" even suggested that it can make you cough, sick, and suffer from other unhealthy symptoms. Today, we're going to bust the myth and prove once and for all that air purifier is safe and good for your health. We will also guide you through how to buy a safe air purifier and things you will need to take into consideration. Read on.
Short answer
Air purifier ≠ Ozone generator.


How Safe Is An Air Purifier?

HEPA air purifiers are scientifically proven to be safe and good for your health as it does not produce harmful byproducts like ozone. Using a multi-layer filtration, an air purifier circulates fresh air by removing airborne irritants that trigger allergies like cough, sore throat, sinus, headache, breathing difficulty, respiratory infection, and asthma.

Air purifiers that do not produce ozone are safe for babies and good for their health. The babies will breathe and sleep better throughout the night. Is it also safe to sleep with an air purifier on to ensures the air is clean and prevents dirty particles from building up. You wake up feeling refreshed and revitalized the next day. There is no risk of fire hazard as air purifiers are designed to run all day without fail. Regardless of how cheap or expensive is the particular model, the price tag has nothing to do with the safeness of an air purifier. You can go for a HEPA air purifier for less than 100 dollars that are equally safe with UL, AHAM, and ozone-free CARB certification.

Are Air Purifiers Dangerous And Harmful To Health?

Only an ozone generator can be harmful to our health and aggravates health conditions, especially highly sensitive people that are suffering from asthma and allergies. An ozone generator emits millions of ozone that is dangerous when inhaled or exposed to. Even a small concentration (0.08 parts per million) of Ozone can cause throat irritation, chest pain, cough, inflammation, and shortness of breath. At a high concentration level, it can cause irreversible damage to our lung tissue cells and other respiratory diseases.

Ozone (O2) is an unstable and reactive molecule made of 3 oxygen atoms. The third oxygen atom can detach and re-attach to other substances molecule to restore its diatomic state. This resulted in alternation to a substance’s chemical composition that can be unstable and dangerous to our body.

Ozone will also have chemicals reactions to household cleaners such as terpene (aromatic compounds). It can deteriorate rubber and plastic prematurely even at a low concentration level of 0.35 parts per million. The deterioration of household objects will release toxic gases that are extremely harmful to our health.

The Different Types of Air Purifiers

A filter-based air purifier is the safest option to mitigate any health concerns due to bad air quality. However, there are other types of air purifiers that could also clean the air but with some trade-offs. Let’s explore the alternative options and compare their pros and cons.

IQAir GC MultiGas

1. Filter-based/ Mechanical Air Purifier

A mechanical air purifier that uses an internal fan to draws and forces air through a series of filters, trapping harmful particulates before releasing clean air back into the room. HEPA air purifiers are the most common filter-based type that supports multiple filtrations. Most models come with a pre-filter that traps large particles like dust and hair. The HEPA filter will trap microscopic particles like pollen, mold, pet dander, bacteria, and viruses. The carbon filter will absorb gaseous pollutants and odors from cooking, pets, diaper, to chemical fumes such as Asbestos, Carbon Monoxide (CO), Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Formaldehyde (CH2O), Lead (Pb), Radon (Rn), Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), and Tobacco Smoke. Because of HEPA air purifiers’ high filtration efficiency with no undesirable side effects, it is widely used in homes, clinics, hair salons, nursery homes, bars, fitness centers, retail stores, factories, hospitals such as emergency rooms, ICU rooms, wardrooms.

High-Efficiency Particulate Air or HEPA is a certified filter made with many dense, fine mesh glass fibers that trap microscopic particles that pass through. According to Wikipedia, HEPA filtration has been around since 1963 by brothers Manfred and Klaus Hammes in Germany. There are 2 common types of HEPA filters in the market: The higher grade True HEPA filter that capture 99.97% of particulates as small as 0.3 microns, and the inferior HEPA-type filter that captures 99% of particulate matter as small as 2 microns. Some people are afraid that the HEPA fiberglass will shed and put us at health risk when inhaled. However, there is no evidence that shows the filter’s fiberglass causes lung diseases and even cancer.

Overall, filter-based/ mechanical filtration is a harmless technology that will improve indoor air quality and benefits the respiratory system. You do have to bear with a recurring filter replacement cost in order to maintain the filtration efficiency. It is also not the quietest due to the motorized parts where white noise can be heard when running at high speed. Then again, filter-based HEPA is the most effective and reliable air purifier out there. There are no short of options to find an H13 HEPA air purifier to suit your needs.


2. UV Air Purifier/ UVGI/ PCO Air Purifier

UV air purifiers are very effective at killing germs, bacteria, and viruses. The ultraviolet light damages the microbes’ DNA cell at a molecular level thus rendering it completely harmless and incapable of reproducing. Photocatalytic oxidation (PCO) and UV technology are 100% safe, proven, and widely used in many household products as a sterilizer however, it does have a few drawbacks. The long sterilization time means it is not effective when dealing with larger particles like dust, pet dander that falls quickly and adheres to surface. The Ultraviolet light efficiency will also drop on gradual use. Expect the UV lamps to lose about 60% of their light intensity in the first year. For example, a 20,000 microwatts UV bulb will be left with 8,000 microwatts by the end of the year. You will need to replace the UV bulb to maintain its germ-killing efficiency. Another issue with UV air purifiers is the lack of official tests like AHAM to evaluate the efficiency. You will have to entrust the result given by the manufacturers for comparison.

3. Ionizer/ Electrostatic Precipitators

An air ionizer disperses charged negative ions that cling to positive ion particles in the air. The bonded ions would be weighed down and adhered to the ground or on the wall thus effectively removes all the unwanted particles in the air. Electrostatic Precipitators come with an additional collector plate that collects fallen particles so the pollutants will not scatter all over the room.

Negative ions are a safe, natural occurrence that can be beneficial to our health and wellbeing. A negative ion generator or ionizer is not an ozone generator as it generates negative ions to clean the air. However, electronic air purifier does release very small traces of ozone byproducts that are insignificant and will not impact our health according to the California Air Resources Board (CARB). Other setbacks with an ionizer include the need to vacuum the room to prevent the fallen particles stir back up into the air when disturbed AKA Black Wall Effect. Ionization is also slow and ineffective when compared with the HEPA air purifier. The released ions will also generate a mild burned smell and can increase the chances of static shock.

Along the line, you will also see filterless air purifiers in the market with different technologies. Filterless air purifiers are safe as they rely on UV-light, ionizer, or heat to clean the air e.g. thermal ceramic core technology found in Airfree models. In terms of effectiveness, it is incomparable with a HEPA air purifier but you gain the advantage of zero recurring cost and hassle-free ownership.

O-Ion Enerzen O-777 Commercial Ozone Generator

4. Ozone Generator/ Ozonator

Ozone generator or Ozonator is bad for your health and should be avoided at all costs. It is the reason why an air purifier is getting a bad reputation. Ozone generators are often marketed as an air purifier to confuse the buyer despite not recognized by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Manufacturers will purposely hide the word “ozone” from its packaging/ brochure and replace it with popular words like “HEPA”, “Ionizer”, “air purifier” to mislead the consumer. When consumer falls for the marketing gimmick and purchases one of this death trap, they are opening themselves to the toxic ozone. Opt for an ozone-free air purifier instead.

How To Pick An Air Purifier That Is Safe And Works?

The right type of air purifier can be beneficial to your health and wellbeing. A filter-based HEPA air purifier is the most effective and safest bet compared with an ionizer or UV air purifier. Never go with an ozone generator as it will do more harm than good. Not all models are created equal though as they come with many different technologies, sizes, and forms. To safely purify the air, look for an air purifier with the following criteria:

  • Decent airflow performance and CADR (ideally above 200 cfm).
  • Wide room purifying coverage.
  • Uses mechanical filtration with True HEPA filter.
  • Support filtration support such as carbon filter or UV-light.
  • NOT an ozone generator.
  • Autonomous purifying for zero fuss operation and better energy management.
  • Low noise level or sleep mode for bedroom use.
  • A price point that you are comfortable with.

What Is The Safest Air Purifier?

Air purifiers are designed to improve your health by reducing the number of airborne irritants in the air. Below are the safest, HEPA air purifiers you can purchase right now.

  • IQAir HealthPro Plus
  • Blueair Classic 605
  • Winix 5500-2
  • Rabbit Air MinusA2 SPA-780A
  • Austin Air HealthMate
  • Honeywell HPA300
  • AIRMEGA 300

How much should you pay for a HEPA air purifier? That depends, but $150-300 is an acceptable range that supports at least 400 square feet of room size. If you want a more powerful unit obviously you will have to pay more. Rather than pointing you straight to the most expensive unit, you will have to evaluate yourself based on the home condition. For example, if a household member has asthma, children, or pets, a higher spec air purifier with stronger airflow output would make the most sense. To learn more on which model to go for, feel free to explore our latest best HEPA air purifier list.

Air Purifier Safety Tips: Do's and Don'ts

Air Purifier Safety Considerations

As most of us will never open an air purifier’s owner manual, there will be valuable information that we miss out on. Careless habits, lack of care, and improper use could cause an air purifier to malfunction. To prevent all that from happening, here are some safety tips on what you CAN do and what you CAN't with an air purifier.

  • Do not use the air purifier outdoor or place it under direct sunlight. The excessive heat would damage the machine. Operate air purifier indoors only.
  • Do not use an air purifier in an extremely humid environment or wet floors where it is at risk of short circuit.
  • Never use a boost converter/ transformer to step up or step down the air purifier’s power voltage. Only use the recommended power voltage with a dedicated socket outlet.
  • Do not plug the air purifier into a damaged electrical socket as it may lead to a short circuit and cause the machine to malfunction.
  • Never operate, insert, or pull out the air purifier’s plug with wet hands to avoid electric shock. An air purifier is not fire hazard, it is however electricity-dependent thus has a risk of catching fire.
  • Always turn off the air purifier before moving or unplugging it to avoid damaging the electric board. Grasp the plug and pull instead of pulling on the power cord.
  • Do not obstruct or place foreign objects into the air purifier ventilation. Never use an air purifier as a dryer.
  • Keep the air purifier away from children and pets. Make sure they do not play or fiddle with the settings.
  • Never spray insecticides, fragrances, or other flammable materials around an air purifier.
  • Do not attempt to modify, disassemble or fix an air purifier by yourself as it will void the manufacturer's warranty.
  • If the air purifier’s power cord or plug is damaged, contact the manufacturer for replacement or get a qualified technician for repair.

Do Air Purifiers Give Off Radiation?

Air purifiers emit no harmful radiation but only a low-frequency electromagnetic field (EMF) when electrical currents flow. It is safe and the EMF level is comparatively lower than a laptop, microwave ovens, cellphones. Most household air purifiers will use less than 60 watts depending on fan speed with a low-frequency 60Hz 120V power source.

So what is Electromagnetic field radiation (EMF)? Often referred to as radiation, electric and magnetic fields are invisible areas of energy or electrical power that surround electrical devices. EMF is generated by the motion of electrical motors in a conductor and devices. There are two types of EMF: The low-level frequency, non-ionizing radiation found in your air cleaner, Wi-Fi router, cellphones, power lines. For high-level frequency, ionizing radiation, it can be found in your x-rays, gamma rays, ultraviolet (UV) light.

Exposure to EMF is unavoidable as we all surrounded by everyday electric appliances. Even the all-mighty sun sent out electric and magnetic field waves. Low-frequency electric & magnetic fields are harmless to people. Many studies including one done by the World Health Organization (WHO) show no scientific evidence linking EMF with cancer. If you are still worried about EMF exposure, you can reduce the exposure risk by maintaining a few feet distance. The EMF intensity drops dramatically as you are further away from the sources.

When Should I Use An Air Purifier?

The best time to use an air purifier is when the indoor air quality is deteriorating. Poor air quality can lead to sleep apnea, worsen allergies, and have irreversible long-term health effects. Opening windows and letting fresh air in will only serve as a temporary relief to your woes. For a long-term solution, an air purifier can improve air quality by dealing with common indoor pollution sources such as home insulations, carpets, pets, pesticides, solvents, paints, household cleaners, fireplaces, and woodstoves.

Max Fernandez

A loving father and a dedicated reviewer for airfuji.com with more than 1000 air purifiers under his belt. Max Fernandez is also one of the million patients currently suffering from asthma. Feel free to nudge him if you have any questions.