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Are Air Purifiers Safe? (Fact Check)

There are a lot of myths that an air purifier is unsafe and harmful. Some "fake news" even suggested that it can make you fall sick. Today, we're going to bust the myth and prove that an air purifier is safe and good for your physical and mental health. We will also guide you through buying a safe air purifier and the things you need to consider. Start taking charge of your well-being today!

 

How Safe Is An Air Purifier?

Mechanical HEPA air purifiers are not dangerous when it is well-maintained and functioning properly. It is the safest and most effective way to clean the air without producing any byproducts. Only ozone generators that emit ozone are bad for your health and a waste of money. Inhaling a small ozone concentration (0.08 parts per million) can cause throat irritation, chest pain, cough, inflammation, and shortness of breath. The continual high concentration of ozone exposure can lead to irreversible damage to olfactory organs, lung tissue cells, and other respiratory diseases. It is hazardous for children and hyper-sensitive people with asthma and is not recommended by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

So what is Ozone? Ozone (O2) is an unstable and reactive molecule of 3 oxygen atoms. The third oxygen atom can detach and re-attach to other substances molecules to restore its diatomic state. The alternation of a substance’s chemical composition can be unstable and dangerous to our health.

Ozone is notorious for reacting with airborne chemicals resulting in more toxic pollutants such as formaldehyde or terpene (aromatic compounds commonly found in pine and citrus. Ozone can also prematurely deteriorate rubber and plastic, even at a low concentration of 0.35 parts per million. The deterioration of household objects will release carcinogenic toxic gases that are incredibly harmful to our health.

The Different Types of Air Purifiers

Everyone could do with an air cleaner, but unfortunately, not every model is a slam dunk. Air purifiers come with different sets of technologies, sizes, and performances. Below are the available options with their own set of pros and cons for comparison.

Are air purifiers safe or dangerous

1. Mechanical/ Filter-based Air Purifier

A HEPA air purifier is the most effective and safest purification method to mitigate health concerns due to bad air quality. It uses an internal fan to draw air through a series of filters, trapping harmful particulates before releasing clean air back into the room. A mechanical air purifier supports multiple filtrations in different towers, portable, and console sizes. Most models come bundled with a pre-filter that traps large particles like dust, fiber, hair, and lint. Followed closely by a HEPA filter that traps microscopic particles like pollen, mold, pet dander, bacteria, and viruses. An activated carbon filter absorbs gaseous pollutants from cooking, pet odors, stinky diaper to chemical fumes such as Asbestos, Carbon Monoxide (CO), Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), Formaldehyde (CH2O), Lead (Pb), Radon (Rn), Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), Tobacco Smoke. You can find a HEPA air purifier in most homes, clinics, hair salons, nursery homes, bars, fitness centers, retail stores, factories, and hospitals.

High-Efficiency Particulate Air, or HEPA, is a certified filter made with many dense, fine mesh glass fibers. There are two common types of HEPA filters in the market: The higher grade True HEPA filter captures 99.97% of particulates as small as 0.3 microns, and the inferior HEPA-type filter catches 99% of particulate matter as small as 2 microns. Some people are afraid that the HEPA fiberglass might be shed, leading to health risks when inhaled. In reality, no evidence shows that the filter’s fiberglass causes lung diseases or cancer.

It is our top pick as the air cleaner has no side effects and is free from byproducts emission. However, the wrong air purifier with a low airflow capacity will fail to filter the air in a large room. On top of that, you will have to bear a recurring filter replacement cost that can go as high as 1000 dollars for premium models. It is also not the quietest due to the motorized parts that generate white noise.

PureZone-3-in-1-True-HEPA-Air-Purifier--3-Speeds-Plus-UV-C-Air-Sanitizer--Eliminates-Dust-Pollen-Pet-Dander-Smoke-Mold-Spores-Household-Odors--with-Whisper-Quiet-Operation-Auto-Off-Timer-0

2. UVGI/ PCO Air Purifier

UV air purifiers are very effective at killing germs, bacteria, and viruses. Best of all, Photocatalytic oxidation (PCO) and UV technology are 100% safe for household use. The ultraviolet light damages the microbes’ DNA cells at a molecular level, thus rendering them completely harmless and incapable of reproducing.

It does have a few drawbacks that can be a significant hindrance. For a start, the long sterilization time reduces its effectiveness when dealing with larger particles like dust, fiber, hair, or sticky pet dander. UV sanitizer does create ozone as a byproduct, even though it is at a harmless level. You have the option to deactivate it if you are uncomfortable using it. The ultraviolet light efficiency will also drop dramatically on gradual use. Expect the UV lamps to lose about 60% of their light intensity in the first year. You will need to replace the UV bulb promptly to maintain its germ-killing efficiency. Another area for improvement with UV air purifiers is the need for more official tests like AHAM for evaluation. Otherwise, you will have to entrust the numbers given by the manufacturers for comparison. Bias and favoritism will come into play.

3. Ionizer/ Electrostatic Precipitators

An air ionizer is a filterless device that disperses 1,000,000 to 10,000,000 charged negative ions to cling to positive ion particles. Negative ions are a safe, natural occurrence that can benefit our health and well-being. The bonded ions would be weighed down and adhered to the ground, furniture, curtain, or wall, thus effectively removing the unwanted particles in the air. Electrostatic Precipitators come with an additional collector plate to gather the fallen particles rather than letting the pollutants scatter all over the room.

However, electronic air purifiers will release minimal traces of ozone byproducts that are negligible and will not impact our health, according to the California Air Resources Board (CARB). Another setback with an ionizer is the need to constantly vacuum the room to prevent the fallen particles from becoming airborne again, AKA Black Wall Effect. As a standalone unit, ionization is slow and ineffective compared to the HEPA air purifier. The released ions will also generate a mild burned smell and increase the chances of static shock. We would not recommend electronic air cleaners over a HEPA air purifier.

O-Ion Enerzen O-777 Commercial Ozone Generator

4. Ozone Generator/ Ozonator

The main reason why an air purifier is getting a bad reputation. An ozone generator or Ozonator generates harmful ozone and should be avoided at all costs. It is not recognized by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as an air-cleaning device. As such, Ozone generators are often marketed as air purifiers to prevent backlash. Manufacturers will purposely hide the word “ozone” from their packaging/ brochure and replace it with popular terms like “HEPA,” “ionizer,” or “air cleaner” to mislead the consumer. Consumers unknowingly expose themselves to the toxic ozone when they fall for the marketing gimmick and purchase one. Opt for an ozone-free air purifier instead.

Can air purifiers be harmful and aggravate health conditions

Along the line, you will also see filterless air purifiers in the market powered by various technologies. It is safe to use and hassle-free as they rely mainly on UV light, ionizer, or heat to clean the air. A good example would be the thermal ceramic core technology found in Airfree models. In terms of effectiveness, it is incomparable to a HEPA air purifier.

How To Pick A Safe Air Purifier?

Picking the right air purifier can do wonders, while the wrong type will do more harm than good. To safely and effectively purify the air, look for an air purifier with the following criteria:

  • Opt for mechanical filtration with a True HEPA filter and activated carbon filter.
  • Decent airflow performance and CADR (ideally above 200 cfm). The higher the CFM, the more air will pass through the filter.
  • Ample room purifying coverage (at least 200 sq. ft.) measured at a minimum 2 air changes per hour. There is no harm in having more than one air purifier for a larger home.
  • NOT an ozone generator.
  • Autonomous purifying for zero-fuss operation and better energy management.
  • Low noise (under 30 db) with sleep mode for bedroom use.
  • The price tag has nothing to do with the safety of an air purifier. You can purchase a HEPA air purifier for less than 100 dollars with UL, AHAM, and ozone-free CARB certification.

What Is The Safest Air Purifier?

Air purifiers are worth it as they can vastly improve your health by reducing the number of airborne irritants in the air. Below are a few of the safest, medical-grade HEPA air purifiers you can purchase right now.

  • IQAir HealthPro Plus
  • Medify Air MA-15
  • Winix 5500-2
  • Levoit Core 300
  • Austin Air HealthMate
  • Honeywell HPA300
  • AIRMEGA 300

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

Air Purifier Safety Considerations

As most of us probably 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 underperform or even malfunction. Here are some safety tips on what you CAN do and what you CAN'T with an air cleaner.

  • Do not place an air purifier outdoors or under direct sunlight. The excessive heat would damage the machine. Use indoors only.
  • Do not use it in an extremely humid environment or on wet floors. It will increase the risk of short circuits.
  • Only operate with windows closed to prevent outdoor pollutants from flowing in and clean air from leakage out.
  • Never use a boost converter/ transformer to step up or down the power voltage.
  • Do not plug it into a damaged electrical socket, as it may cause the machine to malfunction.
  • Always turn off the device before moving or unplugging it to avoid damaging the electric board. Never operate, insert, or pull out the plug with wet hands to avoid electric shock.
  • Do not obstruct or place foreign objects into the air inlet and outlet.
  • Never use it as a dryer.
  • Keep it away from children and pets. Make sure they refrain from playing or fiddling 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 yourself. Doing so will void the manufacturer's warranty.
  • If the air purifier's power cord or plug is damaged, contact the manufacturer or get a qualified technician for repair.

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.
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