Do Air Purifiers Really Work: Our Complete Guide

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Air filter and air purifier manufacturers like to make a lot of claims that sound just this side of impossible, so we’re all asking the same question: Do air purifiers really work? Frankly, if a product is claiming to magically improve the quality of the air we breathe in our homes, we want to believe it. But we also once wanted to believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, and look how that turned out.

Just like Santa flying around the world in one night and the Tooth Fairy managing to visit every child who has lost a tooth each night, we have to look at air purifiers with some skepticism, especially those of us who have respiratory concerns. But in our mission to debunk air purifiers as a myth, our curiosity led us to research that did the exact opposite. Here’s what we found.

Do Air Purifiers Really Work?

The short answer: yes. Air purifiers on the market today are shockingly very effective – up to 99.9% effective, actually. Whether you chose an air purifier with a HEPA filter, which is the market standard, or an ionic generator, the air purifier does its job by significantly decreasing the level of air pollution in your home.

 

Of course, if you’re like us, your skepticism about air purifiers won’t be mollified by the short answer. Do air purifiers really work? Sure they do. But how? That’s a bigger question, one that’s a little more technical and one that we were quick to research. While you can buy pretty much any air purifier and be assured it will do its job, there are a few variations in the kinds of air purifiers on the market and each have their advantages and disadvantages.

Air Purifier 101: A Crash Course in Air Purification

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​Image via ​Pixabay

If you take a moment and think about it, air purifiers are products that are both conceptually simple and technically complex. We understand. For something that seems easy, it can be a little difficult to wrap the mind around how something so simple can be so effective. That’s where the skepticism comes from. But now that we know that air purifiers deliver on what they promise, we want to know the other hows and whys. How do air purifiers really work? Why are there different filters? And should you be buying one immediately?

do air purifiers really work: Why Do I Need an Air Purifier?

To be blunt, the air inside our homes is awful. According to the EPA, the air quality inside our homes is up to 5 times more polluted than the air outside – and that includes the most air-polluted cities in the nation, like Los Angeles and New York. We know, it’s an alarming statistic.

Where does all that pollution come from? Well, we can accurately point fingers at poor ventilation, chemicals contained in household cleaners, mold spores, bacteria, and allergens that get tracked inside. The air in our home is so easy to pollute because it stays trapped inside, even when you open a window. Ever hear someone complain about “stale” air? Indoor air pollution is probably the reason. And we hate to break it to you, but indoor air pollution gets worse during the spring and summer months because our homes make an internal greenhouse effect that traps all the pollutants inside.

That’s where air purifiers come in. To put it simply, air purifiers work by stripping the air of these bad airborne contaminants. Air purifiers suck in the bad air, purify it through some sort of filter, and blow the purified air back into your home. Pretty easy, right? There’s only one problem. Not all air filters are made equal.

do air purifiers really work: The Quick Guide to Air Filtration

Do air purifiers really work? Yes – provided, of course, that the filter on the air purifier is actually effective. And while it’s nice to believe that the markets wouldn’t sell something that can hurt you, in the case of air purifiers that isn’t exactly true. In fact, there are two types of air purifiers that are more harmful than helpful. But don’t worry – we’ve got you covered.

1. HEPA Filters

When researching, “do air purifiers really work,” you will certainly come across HEPA filters. High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters capture airborne particles from moving air using a dense, random arrangement of fibers. HEPA filters are simple but effective, and HEPA filters are now standard issue for almost every air purifier on the market.

If you buy an air purifier with an HEPA filter, the chances are that you really are buying something that will purify the air in your home. HEPA filters manage to filter 99.97% of bad pollutant particles down to 0.3 microns Sometimes, the basics are the best. The LEVOIT Air Purifier in particular is a reliable HEPA filter air purifier that is small, quiet, and affordable.

2. Air Ionizers

When researching, “do air purifiers really work,” you are bound to come across air ionizers. In research, air ionizers claim to purify air by sending out negatively charged ions that attract positively charged pollution particles, causing them to leave the air and stick to surfaces like ceilings, walls, and furniture. Air ionizers can help stop potentially infectious molds and bacteria from spreading in sterile environments like dental clinics and hospitals.

 

Unfortunately, air ionizer filters as air purifiers for the home are not great. For one, air ionizers don’t actually get rid of pollutants. Particles charged by negative ions aren’t removed from the air—they merely stick to surfaces nearby, including your lungs. And a not-so-fun fact? Pollutant build-up can cause heart, lung, and other respiratory conditions.

Air ionizers can also generate ozone in your home. Ionizers produce ozone (O3) that can build up to dangerous levels indoors. At even low levels, indoor ozone can irritate your airways, trigger asthma attacks, and even be fatal at high concentrations. So not only do air ionizers not purify air of pollutants, they also generate a worse pollutant.

3. Ozone Generators

It’s a mystery to anyone why ozone generator air filters are on the market at all, especially since we all know that ozone is always a bad thing. Ozone might make the air in your home smell as fresh as a thunderstorm, but that fresh smell is more than a little harmful.

Ozone generators use a process called corona discharge to release ozone molecules into the air. When an ozone molecule intermingles with a particle or gas molecule, an ozone atom clings to the other molecule and blows it up in a process known as oxidation, which is what creates that “fresh” – but harmful – scent. Worse still, indoor ozone pollution is already 5 times worse without the added assistance of an ozone generator, which can trigger potentially fatal asthma attacks.

Thankfully, recent years have seen the air purifier industry unite against the sale of ozone generators, meaning they should be hard to stumble across. But if you do see an air purifier with an ozone generator feature as a selling point, do yourself a favor and steer clear. Your health and the air quality of your home will thank you.

4. UV Light Filters

This is another filter that works great in hospitals, but not so great in homes. Ultraviolet (UV) light is often used to disinfect equipment in hospitals and prevent the spread of harmful strains of bacteria and viruses since intense UV light can damage strains on a DNA level and prevent them from reproducing.

The problem with UV light filters in home air purifiers is that the UV light isn’t strong enough, won’t be exposed to harmful particulates long enough, and, distressingly, alsogenerates ozone as a byproduct. Any air purifier with a UV light filtration system just isn’t worth the fuss, because even though it sounds cool, the

UV light filter isn’t effective and does more harm than good.

In review: do air purifiers really work? HEPA filters YES. Air ionizers, ozone generator, and UV light filters NO.

Why Should I Buy an Air Purifier?

If you buy the right air purifier, then it can be the best choice you’ve ever made for your health and the health of the people and animals in your home. Having indoor air with less pollutants is always a good thing. This is doubly true for those suffering from chronic respiratory issues, such as asthma, or for those with vulnerable immune systems. The most vulnerable to indoor air pollution are the very young and the very old, but everyone in the home will benefit from a quality air purifier.

So long as you make sure to buy an air purifier with a HEPA filter, you have a couple of options for air purifiers. You can get a basic one-room air purifier, of which there are free-standing and wall-plug models to choose from. You install a whole house purifier into your heating, cooling, and air ventilation system – which is certainly pricier but it’s a long-term investment that you can maintenance yourself, so it’s a viable option for home owners. Or you can invest in a personal air purifier, which is portable and can travel with you anywhere you go, including in your car and office.

So, do air purifiers really work? Yes. With a HEPA filter, air purifiers are able to do their job and significantly purify the air you breathe. And since there are several different types of HEPA filter air purifiers, there are several options for air purifiers for any budget. It’s a health-wise investment that truly pays off.

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