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Do Air Purifiers Really Work?

Ozone molecule. Some air purifiers create ozone, which can be harmful.
An air purifier.
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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 July 2014
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The good news is that most air purifiers do purify the air. The bad news is most people derive little to no benefit from their use. Using air purifiers as part of a multi-pronged attack against allergens or pollution seems to be the best route to take, but the effectiveness of air purifiers alone is considered by consumer advocates to be negligible. Considering the average price of high-end air purifiers offered through specialty outlets such as Sharper Image or Brookstone, other less-expensive air treatments should most likely be considered first.

Air purifiers work in a number of ways, but quite commonly the purification mechanism is an electrostatic charge on metal plates. The entire unit is placed in a inconspicuous location and air naturally circulates through it. As the air passes over the charged plates, any dust or spores or other floating debris should be captured by the electrostatic charge, much like salt crystals being attracted to a statically-charged comb. The air coming out of passive air purifiers should be much cleaner than the air going into the unit.

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The problem with passive electrostatic air purifiers is that many common allergens do not float in the air because they are too heavy. These allergens and germs remain on the ground or other surfaces and rarely if ever reach the electrostatic plates of air purifiers. Air purifiers also take allergens and harmful germs out of the air, but then cause them to fall onto carpets, furniture and clothing. The plates themselves must be removed periodically for cleaning, which could expose the user to more allergens and bacteria.

Air purifiers containing motorized fans do offer some advantages over passive models. More air can be treated if it is drawn into the unit mechanically. Air purifiers can also keep the air circulating, which keeps dust and allergens from landing on other surfaces. If a person required more purified air due to a health condition, air purifiers with special HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Arrestor) filters could work well in conjunction with other air filtration systems.

One of the major problems associated with air purifiers is the production of a heavy oxygen gas known as ozone. Ozone in the atmosphere serves as a protective layer against harmful solar radiation, but concentrated ozone in a confined space can cause a number of serious health problems. Many air purifiers using electrically-charged plates do generate ozone as part of their process. The health benefits of purified air may not be enough to overcome the potentially harmful effects of ozone-producing air purifiers. Consumers should look for HEPA filtration, low ozone production and some form of air circulation when shopping for air purifiers. The passive electrostatic air purifiers may offer some piece of mind, but very little actual health benefit.

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Discuss this Article

anon338024
Post 13

Some electrostatic filters also include an ozone filter to take care of any ozone produced by the high voltage in the collection plate area. I know this because the Oreck Truman cell electrostatic filter units that I bought have the carbon honeycomb in behind the collection cell that is an ozone filter.

SarahSon
Post 12

I did research on air purifiers in Consumer Reports before deciding on the best one that would fit my budget. I think one of the most important things when it comes to an air purifier doing a good job is the filters you use.

You can't just plug in an air purifier, never touch it and expect it to do you any good. You need to change the filters and make sure they are cleaned on a regular basis. We have two dogs in our house all the time and I think an air purifier helps keep the dog smell out of the air.

myharley
Post 11

I used to run an air purifier in my home all the time. I have had everything from expensive to cheap models and didn't really notice much of a different with any of them. I haven't used an air purifier for quite awhile now and have not noticed any difference in my health.

If you want to buy an air purifier I would recommend starting out with an inexpensive one to see if it does you any good before investing in one that is more expensive.

Some of them are also noisier than others, so if you want something that is quiet that is something you will want to check into before you bring it home as well.

John57
Post 10
I have bad allergies, and do feel like my air purifier helps me breathe better. I mostly use this on a seasonal basis and when spring comes and the pollen is bad, I start running my air purifier. I usually keep this in the bedroom so I can sleep better at night. I am sure some models work better than others, but I have had good enough results with mine that I continue to use it every year.
julies
Post 9

I have thought about getting an air purifier just so I am breathing cleaner air in my home. After reading this article I wonder if it would even be worth it and might I be making it worse?

I have a small diffuser that I use with water and essential oils. This also helps purify the air, but covers such a small area and I was looking for something that would cover a larger area.

cloudel
Post 8

I have an air purifier with no filter, and for the first few weeks, it did wonders for the air in my room. I could breathe easier at night without sneezing or becoming congested.

The purifier was quiet, because I kept the fan speed on low. It seemed to be the most wonderful solution to my allergy problems.

However, after about four weeks, it started making weird noises. I cleaned it out, but the popping and whizzing continued.

I still have no idea what caused this. I cleaned it more than once, just to make sure it wasn't something that this could remedy. However, I had to finally give it up, because the noise was annoying and I feared it might catch fire in the night.

OeKc05
Post 7

@feasting – First, I would like to say that for me, air purifiers do work well. I don't have asthma, though, and my allergies are mild.

There are a couple of other things that you can do, since you cannot tolerate the ozone. Make sure that your air filter on your HVAC unit is kept clean. Change it or at least check it once a month.

Also, vacuum and dust your house once a week. There is so much dust that accumulates in just a week on my furniture that any asthmatic guests would be horribly bothered if I didn't dust often.

feasting
Post 6

@StarJo – Ozone put out by a one room air purifier can cause respiratory problems. It could be anything from light irritation to trouble breathing, coughing, and asthma.

It's pretty bad that something which is supposed to help you breathe easier can actually cause an asthma attack. Does anyone know what some good alternatives to air purifiers are? I have allergies and am prone to asthma, so I need help with this.

StarJo
Post 5

So, home air purifiers can actually be bad for you? What are some of the side effects of the ozone they produce?

anon161190
Post 4

My air purifier is just using a HEPA filter, and no electrostatic. But it seems to work well, it can remove smells from the air. The only negative is you'd need to move it room by room to clean all of the air in the house.

pistachios
Post 3

We use an air purifier in the "man cave" of our home. It is the only room where people are permitted to smoke. While the purifier does not completely eliminate the smoky smell, it does seem to clean the room out a bit and keep it from looking murky. Because the air is circulated with the purifier and ceiling fans, there is less stale smoke left after a televised football game gathering than there normally would be.

WildRacer
Post 2

As someone with moderate allergies to dust mites and pollen, I have found my air purifier to be quite a boon. After a bit of experimentation I discovered that the passive electrostatic purifiers simply do not cut it, but ones containing motorized fans keep me breathing easy. I would, however, recommend getting a friend to change the filters for you if you have allergies, or, at the very least, covering your nose and mouth.

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