Are Air Purifiers Safe Or Dangerous To Our Health? (What Is Harmful)

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 that an air purifier is safe and good for your health, both physically and mentally. We will also guide you through how to buy a safe air purifier and things you will need to consider. Start taking charge of your well-being today!
Short answer
Air purifier ≠ Ozone generator.


How Safe Is An Air Purifier?

A HEPA air purifier is scientifically proven to be safe and good for your health. It removes airborne pollutants without producing harmful byproducts like ozone. Air purifiers are perfectly safe for babies and children to use daily to clean the air. You can safely sleep with an air purifier turned on all night to ensure the air is clean and prevents dirty particles from building up. Babies will breathe and sleep better throughout the night. As a parent, you will wake up feeling refreshed and revitalized the next day.

An air purifier circulates fresh air by removing airborne irritants that pass through its multi-layer filtration. It can reduce allergy symptoms like cough, sore throat, sinus, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, irritation, and headache without the pesky allergens. An air purifier can also help alleviate breathing difficulty, respiratory infection, and asthma in the long run. There are no perceived drawbacks and risks of fire hazards 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 purchase a HEPA air purifier for less than 100 dollars equally safe with UL, AHAM, and ozone-free CARB certification.

Are Air Purifiers Dangerous And Harmful To Our Health?

Only fake air purifiers, AKA ozone generators that produce harmful ozone, are bad for your health. Especially for hyper-sensitive people that are suffering from asthma and other allergies. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared ozone generators that emit millions of ozone dangerous for adults and children. It will significantly increase the risk of exposure when used in confined spaces linger with airborne bacteria and viruses like an elevator. Inhaling to a small concentration (0.08 parts per million) of ozone can cause throat irritation, chest pain, cough, inflammation, and shortness of breath over 7 hours of exposure. Most people will ignore or don’t pay close attention to it as the symptoms subside after repeated chronic exposure. The continual high concentration level of ozone exposure can cause irreversible damage to olfactory organs, lung tissue cells, and other respiratory diseases.

So what is Ozone? 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. The alternation to a substance’s chemical composition can be unstable and dangerous to our health.

Ozone is notorious for causing chemicals reactions with household cleaners such as terpene (aromatic compounds commonly found in pine and citrus. A group 1 carcinogen (Carc1A) substance with carcinogenic potential based on human evidence. Ozone can also 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 incredibly harmful to our health. Do not use an Ozone generator under any circumstances.

Are air purifiers safe or dangerous

The Different Types of Air Purifiers

Air purifiers come with different sets of technologies, sizes, and performances. Without a shadow of a doubt, filter-based air purifiers are the safest option to mitigate any health concerns due to bad air quality. However, other types of air purifiers could also clean the air but with some trade-offs. Let’s explore the alternative options and compare their pros and cons.

1. Filter-based/ Mechanical Air Purifier

As mentioned earlier, HEPA air purifier is the most effective and safest purification method. A mechanical air purifier uses an internal fan to draw air through a series of filters, trapping harmful particulates before releasing clean air back into the room. It 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. And/ or an activated carbon filter that 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. HEPA air purifiers are our top pick for their high filtration efficiency with no undesirable side effects and are free from byproducts emission. 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 (Germany). 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. 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 and lead to health risks when inhaled. In reality, no evidence 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. However, the wrong air purifier with a low airflow capacity will struggle to filter the air even at the lowest air changes per hour. For example, a small air purifier with under 100 cubic feet per minute (cfm) is incapable of purifying the entire living room moving air. On top of that, you will have to bear a recurring filter replacement cost to maintain the filtration efficiency. The price can go as high as 1000 dollars for premium models with top-grade filters. It is also not the quietest due to the motorized parts that generate white noise at high speed. Put aside that, filter-based HEPA is undoubtedly the safest, most effective, and most reliable air purifier available. There are no short of options to find an H13 HEPA air purifier that suits your air cleaning 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% proven safe and used in many household products, such as a sterilizer. It does have a few drawbacks that can be a hindrance. For a start, the long sterilization time reduces its effectiveness when dealing with larger particles like dust, fiber, hair, pet dander that falls quickly and adhere to the surface. 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 of everyday use. For example, a 20,000 microwatts UV bulb will be left with 8,000 microwatts of light intensity by the end of the year. You will need to replace the UV bulb promptly to maintain its germ-killing efficiency. Another issue with UV air purifiers is the lack of official tests like AHAM to evaluate light efficiency. You will have to entrust the result given by the manufacturers for comparison. Bias and favoritism will come into play.

UV sanitizer does create ozone as a byproduct, even though it is very insignificant and harmless. There are times when you can smell ozone discharging that can be displeasing and worrying. Most air purifiers that rely on multiple filtrations will include the option to deactivate the technology if you are not comfortable using it.

3. Ionizer/ Electrostatic Precipitators

An air ionizer disperses 1,000,000 to 10,000,000 charged negative ions that cling to positive ion particles in the air. 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 collect the fallen particles rather than letting the pollutants scatter all over the room.

Negative ions are a safe, natural occurrence that can benefit our health and wellbeing. A clear distinction as negative ion generator or ionizer is not an ozone generator because it diffuses only negative ions to clean the air. However, electronic air purifier does release minimal traces of ozone byproducts that are negligible 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. 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. Ozone generators are often marketed as air purifiers instead to confuse the buyer and prevent backlash. Manufacturers will purposely hide the word “ozone” from its packaging/ brochure and replace it with popular terms like “HEPA,” “Ionizer,” “air cleaner” to mislead the consumer. When consumers fall for the marketing gimmick and purchase one of these death traps, they unknowingly expose themselves to the toxic ozone. 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 with different technologies. In general, Filterless air purifiers are safe to use as they rely on UV light, ionizer, or heat to clean the air. A good example would be thermal ceramic core technology found in Airfree models. In terms of effectiveness, it is incomparable with a HEPA air purifier. Still, you gain the advantage of zero recurring costs and hassle-free ownership.

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 use less than 60 watts of electricity 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 surrounding electrical devices. EMF is generated by the motion of electrical motors in a conductor and devices. There are two types of EMF: Low-level frequency non-ionizing radiation can be found in your air cleaner, Wi-Fi router, cellphones, power lines. High-level frequency ionizing radiation can be found in x-rays, gamma rays, and ultraviolet (UV) light medical devices.

Exposure to EMF is unavoidable as we are 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. You can reduce the EMF exposure risk by maintaining a few feet away. The EMF intensity drops as you are further away from the sources.

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

Picking The right type of 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 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.
  • Uses mechanical filtration with True HEPA filter and activated carbon filter.
  • NOT an ozone generator.
  • A price point that you are comfortable paying.
  • [OPTIONAL] Autonomous purifying for zero fuss operation and better energy management.
  • [OPTIONAL] Low noise level with sleep mode for bedroom use.

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 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

How much should you pay for a HEPA air purifier? That depends. Many excellent small air purifiers cost less than $100 to get you started. $150-300 is an acceptable range for models that supports at least 400 square feet of room size. If you want a more powerful unit, you will have to pay more, starting from $600. Rather than pointing you straight to the most expensive unit, you will have to evaluate based on the home condition. For example, if you live in a large abode or suffer from asthma, a higher spec air purifier with stronger airflow output would make the most sense. On the contrary, if you live in a tiny, single bedroom apartment, an energy-efficient small air purifier would be sufficient for everyday use. 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 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 purifier to prevent all that from happening.

  • 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 that increase the risk of short circuits.
  • Only use an air purifier 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 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. It may 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 electricity-dependent thus has a risk of catching fire.
  • Always turn off the air purifier before moving or unplugging 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 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.

When Should I Use An Air Purifier?

The best time to use an air purifier is when the indoor air quality deteriorates, especially in a poorly ventilated area. 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. Instead, get a HEPA air purifier that improves air quality by dealing with common indoor pollution sources permanently. It will help deal with chemical fumes released from 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.
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