What Are Air Purifiers and Do They Work?

Air purifiers remove toxins from the air, typically through air movement through specially designed filters. Often, those who have allergies and lung issues buy air purifiers to help them breathe better and have fewer illnesses.

Which toxins does a purifier eliminate from the air?

The list of allergens and contaminants air purifiers can remove from the air is a long one:

  • Pet dander
  • Pollen
  • Mold
  • Dust
  • Dust mites
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as paint fumes and gases emitted from new buildings, carpet, or furniture

Purifiers cannot remove 100% of the contaminants, but they can reduce the numbers considerably. The documentation for any purifier you choose should tell you exactly which allergens it captures and how clean you can expect your air to be.

How does a purifier work?

The most common purifiers sold for home use are filter-based, activated carbon, and ionizers.

Filter-based purification forces air through a filter, which traps toxins that are larger than the filter’s holes. HEPA filters typically remove almost all particles that are larger than 0.3 micrometers, so they are effective for larger airborne particles.

Activated carbon systems remove chemicals from the air, but they do not remove large particles. The carbon alters the chemical state from a gas to a solid. It’s typically used along with filter-based purification, but you will sometimes find it used alone.

Ionizers create charged particles, or ions, that attach to airborne toxins and draw them to a electrically-charged plate. Ionizers do produce a small amount of ozone—and possibly nitric oxide—which is unacceptable to some.

How do I know the purifier is worth the money?

Read the documentation and the packaging carefully. Possible considerations may be filter replacement frequency, area covered, air changes per day or per hour, amount of electricity used, and ease of cleaning. Think about these issues before you begin looking for a purifier.

Some purifiers may create more noise than you’d prefer, so when you buy one, ask to plug it in so you can gauge the sound level. The documentation should specify the amount of noise in decibels.

Most portable purifiers use HEPA technology, and the Department of Energy has guidelines companies must follow in order to claim HEPA on their packaging and advertising. If you see “HEPA-like” or “HEPA-type,” look elsewhere, as the manufacturer is not using true HEPA technology.

Do your research on any purifier you are considering. Google it to see reviews, but beware websites that have many reviews, mostly good; they may be trying to sell purifiers. Check Consumer Reports, manufacturer’s websites, and sites that sell many units, such as Amazon and Best Buy. Talk to friends and family who have purifiers to see how they like them.

If you get the right purifier for your home and your needs, you’ll feel yourself breathing better and getting sick less often. You’ll notice a significant difference when you walk into your home from outside. In short, air purifiers ARE worth it, but you need to do your homework first.

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