Are air purifiers safe ?
This is a good question to ask prior to buying any purifiers. After all, everybody wants air purifiers to improve their lives, not making them worse.
The short answer to the question whether air cleaners are safe is: yes. Most air cleaners are safe for general use. However, some of them are not that safe.
So which air cleaners are safe then ?
In order to answer these questions, we have to first look at the air purification systems used by home air purifiers because the safety of an air cleaner is closely linked to the air purification system it uses to purify the air.
Among the air purifiers, there are two types which are questionable in terms of safety. They are: ozone air purifiers and ionic air purifiers.
Let us explain one by one.
Why Aren’t Ozone Air Purifiers Safe ?
One of the technologies which can be employed by air purifiers to clean air is ozone, a highly reactive oxidant. Ozone air purifiers are designed to emit a high-quantity of ozone so that the ozone can react chemically with airborne particles, hence converting those particles into supposedly harmless chemicals.
Since ozone can irritate soft tissues, including eyes and the respiratory tracts, the use of such high concentration of ozone is not safe. In fact, such ozone generators are originally only used for industrial purpose and in places where nobody is going to be present for a while, for instance, for cleaning up empty areas or houses struck by natural disasters.
Unfortunately, some of the ozone air purifiers have made it to the home air purifier market. The manufacturers of course claim that they are safe since most of them are within EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) ozone limit, which is 0.05 ppm. However, EPA found that when used within EPA’s ozone limit, this type of air purifier is not effective enough.
On top of that, even when used within EPA’s ozone limit, that level of ozone still causes irritation for people who are particularly sensitive to chemicals as well as people with respiratory diseases. Moreover, EPA also found that often, customers put the air purifier in a room smaller than the recommended size, hence the ozone level in that room ends up being higher than what is deemed safe by the EPA.
Therefore, if you want a safe air purifier, it is better to avoid ozone air purifiers. Not only you should avoid them because of the safety issue, but also on the effectivity grounds.
Are Ionic Air Purifiers Safe?
Another type of air purifiers use ionizer to clean air up. These air purifiers are called ionic air purifiers. Ionic air purifiers clean air by emitting charged ions (usually negatively-charged ions). These ions are expected to bind to airborne particles, hence dragging them down to the floor. This way, the airborne particles are no longer airborne and can be vacuumed away. Some ionic air purifiers, called electrostatic air purifiers, suck ionized airborne particles to the machine and stick them to a pair of electrostatic plates, hence removing them from the room.
The problem with this air purification technologies is that it can emit ozone as a by-product. This is because during the process of ionization, a high voltage has to be applied within the machine, and this process releases ozone by product. The amount of ozone emitted is small and most are within EPA threshold. However, people who have lung diseases including asthma patients should avoid such purifier since their lungs are already sensitive and easily irritated. In addition, people who are immunity levels are low and have chemical sensitivity should also choose other non-ozone emitting air purifiers. Healthy people generally can tolerate ozone, but if you have a choice, we suggest you to avoid these altogether because there are many other good quality air purifiers which are completely safe.
Having said that, it is important to mention that there are some ionic air purifiers which are safe. These air purifiers do not emit ozone or emit negligible (below background) amount of ozone, for instance: the high quality Blueair ionic air purifiers are completely safe and effective.
Are HEPA air purifiers safe ?
HEPA air purifiers are air purifiers which use high efficiency (HEPA) filters to filter out airborne particles. Filtration is basically the oldest way you can clean something up. It works purely by mechanical means.
HEPA air purifiers are safe. Effectiveness varies, depending on the brand. The only drawback is that usually these air purifiers are noisier and you need to replace the filters from time to time. This is in contrast to electronic air purifiers such as ionic and ozone air purifiers. They, in general, are quieter and don’t have anything to replace. In case with electrostatic air purifiers, the only thing you have to be aware of is that you should wash the electrostatic plates regularly to maintain the effectiveness of the machine.
Nevertheless, we recommend HEPA air purifiers highly because of the safety issue.
More Note on Air Purifier Safety For People With Chemical Sensitivity and Asthma.
For most people, as long as an air purifier does not emit ozone, it’s safe to buy. People with multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), and lung-disease sufferers are however a different bunch. If you had such condition, then it’s better to buy a safe air purifier which does not emit any kinds of gas. Ozone-emitting air purifiers should definitely be avoided. It is also better to avoid air purifiers which emit gases from materials used for air purifier housing or casing. These gases are usually well-tolerated by normal people, but can irritate people with multiple chemical sensitivity or gas sensitivity.
So where do you find such safe air purifiers ?
Here is some rules of thumb:
- Prefer air purifiers with metal instead of plastic casing.
- Buy premium air purifiers . Not only are they highly effective to alleviate symptoms for people with multiple chemical sensitivity and sensitive respiratory track, but they are also safe. They do not emit ozone, have metal casing and use non-toxic paint. In addition, they often have label or little booklet saying: ‘no ozone’ and ‘no off-gassing’ to help customers to identify those safe air purifiers. In addition, if you want to shop for them online, many online allergy stores which carry safe air purifiers put the no-ozone and no off-gassing features in their product description. So it should not be too difficult to identify them.
Happy shopping !