Are Air Purifiers Safe or Harmful To Our Health? Is It Actually Useful At All?

How safe is an air purifier? There is a lot of myth that an air purifier is unsafe and can do more harm than good. There is also a lot of "fake news" that it can make you cough, sick, and other unhealthy symptoms. Today, I'm going to bust all the myth and prove once and for all that air purifier is perfectly safe and good for your health. At the end of the post, I'm very sure whatever bad perception you have with an air cleaner will change.
Short answer
Air purifier ≠ Ozone generator.

Can Air Purifiers Be Harmful?

Only the wrong type of air purifier like Ozone generator is harmful and can aggravate health conditions. Poor air quality can lead to sleep apnea, worsen our allergies, and causes bad long-term health effects. A filter-based air purifier will capture airborne particles without producing any harmful by-products. With the bad pollutants and chemical substances removed, you will enjoy good health as you are only breathing in clean, fresh air. That is why air purifiers are perfectly safe for babies, children, adults, elderly, and pets at home.

IQAir GC MultiGas

HEPA Air Purifier

Mechanical air purifier is the safest and obvious choice to go for. High-Efficiency Particulate Air or HEPA is a certified, mechanical filter made with dense, fine mesh glass fibers. According to Wikipedia, HEPA filtration has been around since 1963 by brothers Manfred and Klaus Hammes in Germany. The air purifier relies on an internal motor fan to draw air in, forcing air through the HEPA filter to trap harmful airborne particles before releasing clean air out. High-Efficiency Particulate Air or HEPA is a certified, mechanical filter made with dense, fine mesh glass fibers. Depending on the airflow capacity and coverage, the air purifier will capture airborne dust, pet dander, microbes like mold, spore, pollen, and bacteria within its proximity. You can use the manufacturers recommended room size or clean air delivery rate (CADR) to determine the capacity of the air purifier. The higher the output number, the swifter and more in-flowing particles will remain trapped by the filter. HEPA air purifier also supports multiple filtrations i.e. pre-filter, carbon filter, ionizer, or UV-light. It is the only all-in-one purification type that you could get in the market.

Overall, mechanical air purifier is a harmless filtration technology that will improve air quality and benefits the respiratory system. The only downside is the high filter replacement cost that occurs every year or so. Failing to replace the filters would result in decreased efficiency or damage to the devices. There are also 2 common types of HEPA filter in the market: The higher grade True HEPA filter that will 99.97% of particulate matter as small as 0.3 microns, and the inferior HEPA-type filter that will trap 99% of particulate matter as small as 2 microns.


UV Air Purifier

UV-light is a technology that we adore but as a standalone filtration, it lacks the punch and durability. Let’s start with what we like about the UV air purifier. UV-light is a 100% safe and proven technology that has been used in many household products as a sterilizer. UV-light is also very effective in killing illness-causing germs like bacteria and viruses. The ultraviolet light destroys the microbes’ DNA cell at molecular level, unlike a filter that traps it inside a filter. When the live particulates are eliminated, there is absolutely zero chance of the allergens from multiplying or escaping.

The problem with a dedicated UV air purifier is long-term effectiveness and durability. UV-light is not very 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 in accordance with the UV bulb lifespan. Expect the UV lamps 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 bulbs regularly to maintain its germ-killing efficiency. For the 2 reasons mentioned, it is recommended that UV-light is used in conjunction with a HEPA air purifier.

Ionizer/ Electrostatic Precipitators

First thing first, electronic air purifier or ionizer will not make you feel sick as it is not an ozone generator (even though some Ozonator do offer this feature). An ionizer is basically a negative ion generator that disperses millions of negative ions into the air. Ions are naturally occurred particles that are harmless to our body. What ionizer would do is to draw air in and electrostatically charge oxygen atom into negative ions. The negative ions will then be released and attached to surrounding positive ions air molecules. the heavier, merged ions would be weighed down and fall to the ground or stuck on the wall. This effectively removes all the unwanted particles in the air so we won’t breathe into it. Electrostatic Precipitators is the same thing as ionizer but with extra collector plate. The additional plate is used to collect fallen particles from scattering all over the room.

There are 3 major setbacks using an ionizer. First, the contaminated particles would still be in the room and can be stir back up to the air. Second, the entire purification is slow and ineffective compared with the HEPA air purifier. Finally, it will generate mild burned smell and increase the chances of static shock. As for electrostatic precipitators, there are very small traces of ozone created during operation. Based on the test by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the ozone volume is insignificant to cause a panic or impact our health.

Along the line, you will also see many filterless air purifiers in the market and wondering are they safe? Most filterless air purifiers use a permanent-type filter, ionizer, or thermal ceramic core found in Airfree models. These types of air purifiers are safe as they rely on mechanical filtration or heat to clean the air without generating any ozone. In terms of effectiveness, it is incomparable with a True HEPA air purifier but you again the advantage of no recurring cost and hassle-free ownership.

O-Ion Enerzen O-777 Commercial Ozone Generator

Ozone Generator: The Reason Why Air Purifier is Getting The Bad Rap

Air purifier is not bad for you but ozone generator is. It’s the trouble maker that is giving air purifier the bad name. It is NOT a genuine air purifier despite the manufacturer is pushing the other way around. What those sneaky manufacturers will do is to hide the word “ozone” from its packaging or brochure. Instead, they replace it with popular words like “HEPA”, “Ionizer”, and of course “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 gas. Worst still, anyone staying in the same roof would be slowly poisoned by the silent killer.

Why Is Ozone Harmful?

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 substances chemical composition that can be unstable and dangerous to our body. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) clearly states that breathing in ozone is harmful to our health. Even a small concentration (0.08 parts per million) of Ozone can irritate our lungs with cough, throat inflammation, and breathing difficulty symptoms. Inhaling to high concentration can cause chest pain and damage lung tissue cells. For people with an impaired immune system or asthma, long exposure to ozone may aggravate the diseases. Ozone will also have chemicals reactions to household cleaners such as terpene (aromatic compounds), deteriorate rubber, and plastic even at a low concentration level of 0.35 parts per million. The deterioration of the household objects will release toxic gases that are extremely harmful to our health.

So What Air Purifier Is Safe And Works?

All air purifiers are safe except for ozone generator. After all, an air purifier is designed to improve your health by reducing the number of airborne irritants in the air. You can safely leave the air purifier running all day to ensure good air quality is maintained. You are not at risk of fire hazard as air purifiers are designed to run 24×7 without fail. It is also safe to sleep with an air purifier on so you can wake up feeling more refreshed and revitalized. So feel free to place the air cleaner in the bedroom as it is the place you will likely spend the most time in. Set it to auto mode and let the machine do its background air cleaning.

In short, to safely purify the air, look for an air purifier with the following criteria:

  • Enough airflow performance (200 cfm minimum) and coverage for a room.
  • Decent mechanical True HEPA filter NOT HEPA-type.
  • Additional filtration support such as carbon filter or UV-light.
  • Autonomous purifying for zero fuss operation and better energy management.
  • Low noise level or sleep mode if is for bedroom use.
  • A price point that you are comfortable with.

Get a HEPA air purifier as it is proven to be safe, effective, and more importantly, does not produce ozone! You can find air purifiers or HEPA filters in clinics, nursery homes, factories, and hospitals such as emergency rooms, ICU rooms, wardrooms. It is not the quietest due to the motorized parts, but it is the most reliable air purifier out there that will clean the air without creating any ozone. Another advantage of a mechanical air purifier is there are many big brands out there with excellent models that would easily fit the bill.

How much should you pay for a HEPA air purifier? That depends, but $200-500 is an acceptable range that can support 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 decide based on the condition. If a household member has asthma, children, or pets, a higher spec air purifier would make more sense. You can find out more details on our latest best HEPA air purifier list here.

Let me say it again, air purifier strives to provide us with good health rather than being harmful. It is safe from fire hazards with zero side effects as certified by UL, AHAM, and CARB. Unfortunately, its good name has been tainted by a "type" of air purifier that does the opposite of what it suppose to do. Between HEPA air purifier, Odor eliminator, UVGI cleaner, Photocatalytic oxidation (PCO), Ionizer, Electrostatic Precipitators, and Ozone Generator, can you guess which one?

Frequently Asked Questions FAQ

Do Air Purifiers Give Off Radiation?

All electric appliances including air purifiers will safely emit low-level radiation of electric and magnetic field (EMF) radiation. It is comparatively lower than a laptop, microwave ovens, and cellphones. Most household air purifiers will use less than 60 watts depending on fan speed with a low-frequency 60Hz 120V power source. Any claims that air purifier is not safe is non-existence as there is no data or scientific fact to support that.

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, and the high-level frequency, ionizing radiation, 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 fields 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 keeping a few feet distance away from the air purifier. The EMF intensity drops dramatically as you are further away from the sources.

What Is The Healthiest And Safest Air Purifier?

A filter-based HEPA air purifier is the safest option to go for to mitigate any health concerns. It can safely remove dust, pollen, mold, chemicals like VOCs, tobacco smoke, asbestos, radon, and pesticides without creating ozone. An air purifier will not give any side effects like shortness of breath, headaches, sore throat, coughing, or even trigger an asthma attack. So here are our best home air purifiers that are both safe and good for your health.

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

Air purifiers should not make you sick as if it is intended to help people suffer from allergies and asthma. If you are feeling ill when an air purifier is active, it is the unpleasant pollutants that are causing the discomfort or you are using the wrong type of air purifier.

When Should I Use An Air Purifier?

The best time to use an air purifier is when you feel the indoor air quality is deteriorating. Opening windows and letting fresh air in will only serve as a temporary relief to your woes. Most allergens come from indoor like dust mites, indoor plants, pets hair, and chemicals with a strong, nauseating smell. You might experience symptoms such as cough, runny nose, red eyes, dry throat, itchiness, skin rash, dizziness, headache, tiredness, and loss of concentration. An air purifier can improve air quality by removing harmful particles and gaseous pollutants including the common indoor pollution as below:

  • Asbestos Carbon Monoxide (CO)
  • Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)
  • Formaldehyde (CH2O)
  • Lead (Pb)
  • Radon (Rn)
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
  • Biological contaminants
  • Tobacco Smoke

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.