How Do Air Cleaners Work?
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which include chemicals, gases and odors are tiny molecules (< 0.001 microns) that are in the air. Since VOCs are not captured by HEPA media, activated carbon technology is necessary to remove them. Air purifiers with activated carbon help to remove odors and organic gases and solvents, including alcohols, benzene, esters, ketones and toluene from the air. Human beings and other living things should not have to breathe in toxic chemicals when they are indoors or outdoors.
People with multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) and people who live or work in cities or industrial environments are particularly at risk of airborne chemical exposure. Reactions to VOCs include asthma, headaches, vertigo, joint pain, burning eyes, runny nose, extreme lethargy, poor concentration, ADD and diminished memory.
Air purifiers with activated carbon technology can minimize reactions to VOCs, including diesel, gasoline, solvents, adhesives, cleaning products, perfume, hair and nail products and tobacco smoke.
Premium air purifiers use activated carbon produced from coconut shells. The coconut is heated at low temperature (200-300º F) over several days, transforming the coconut husk into carbon. This carbon is treated with hot steam to remove impurities and to create thousands of cracks in the structure. These cracks enlarge the carbon’s surface area, making it highly porous and attractive to gases and vapors. Like a sponge, activated carbon chemically bonds and adsorbs organic chemical impurities in the air. Many brands, including Austin Air, BlueAir, IQAir and Honeywell use some activated carbon in their air purifiers.
Clean rooms are controlled environments found in hospitals, research labs and industry that maintain extraordinary standards for indoor air quality. Clean rooms use high efficiency particulate absorbing (HEPA) filters to remove airborne particulates, including dust, pollen and bacteria, virus and molds. To meet standards, HEPA filters must remove 99.97 percent of all particles greater than 0.3 microns. Clean rooms use activated carbon to remove volatile organic gases and solvents, including alcohols, benzene, esters, ketones and toluene from the air. Activated carbon is a highly porous filter media that attracts gases and vapors. Like a sponge, activated carbon chemically bonds and adsorbs organic chemical impurities in the air. Austin Air, Blue Air and IQAir are used in clean rooms and hospitals around the world.
For a healthy environment, your indoor air should be free of toxic chemicals. Although activated carbon does an excellent job of removing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and odors from the air, some chemicals, including formaldehyde, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and nitric oxide cannot be completely adsorbed.
These chemicals must first be broken down into smaller molecules by a chemical mediator called a chemisorber. After the chemicals are broken down, these smaller molecules are easily adsorbed by the carbon; that is, they stick to the surface of the activated carbon and are removed from the air. Potassium iodide, a chemisorber, is used to break down formaldehyde, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and nitric oxide. Amoniasorb, also a chemisorber, is used to break down ammonia and minimize pet odors. Chemisorbs increase the activated carbon’s capability of removing toxins from the air.
People with multiple chemical sensitivities and people who live or work in cities or industrial environments should consider an air purifier with chemisorbers in the activated carbon mix. Austin Air, BlueAir and IQAir utilize chemisorbers in some of their air purifiers.
Electrostatic precipitators are air cleaners that create negatively charged air molecules called ions. These negatively charged particles stick to airborne particles (dust) and are collected on a positively charged plate that must be frequently cleaned to maintain the unit’s function. It is difficult to clean these devices because the particles become stuck on the plate. Electronic air cleaners use high voltages to create ions. In this process, ozone and nitrogen oxide, which are toxic chemicals, are often inadvertently created. Ozone, a known lung irritant, reacts to chemicals found in household cleaning products, paints, polishes, carpets and linoleum. These chemical reactions create harmful byproducts that can exacerbate allergies, asthma and lung disease. The EPA states that “relatively low amounts (of ozone) can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, and, throat irritation.” Ionic Breeze and Friedrich are air purifiers that use electrostatic precipitators.
True medical grade high efficiency particulate absorbing (HEPA) filters represent the highest standard in particulate air filtration. Developed in World War 11 by the Atomic Energy Commission, HEPA filters must remove 99.97 percent of all particles greater than 0.3 microns. HEPA filters remove pollen, mold spores, dust mites, pet saliva, pet dander, pollen and microorganisms, including bacteria and viruses, from the air. Surgical units, clean rooms and laboratories rely on true medical grade HEPA filters.
HEPA filters improve everyone’s health; fewer particles in our indoor air mean fewer particles in our lungs. People with airborne allergies frequently react with runny nose, sneezing and tearing eyes, which are symptoms of allergic rhinitis. These unwelcome symptoms are reactions to dust mites, molds, tree pollen, grasses, flowers, pet dander and pet saliva. HEPA filters are designed to prevent allergies and asthma. However, HEPA media does not remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or odors from the air, which is why carbon filter technology is so important. Many brands including Austin Air, BlueAir, IQAir and Honeywell use some HEPA media in their air purifiers.
No on should have to breathe in toxic chemicals when they are indoors or outdoors. Together, HEPA and HEGA form a complete air cleaning solution, and is increasingly becoming the choice of allergy and asthma sufferers. High Efficiency Gas Absorption (HEGA) filtration is a special carbon fiber that was developed by the British Military and is used to protect soldiers and civilians from chemical warfare.
This form of activated carbon is a woven material that has a massive surface area. HEGA provides ten times the surface area of traditional activated carbon. HEGA is lightweight and is highly efficient. Like a sponge, HEGA bonds and absorbs toxic chemicals, gasses, odors and tobacco smoke and removes them from the air. Unlike traditional activated carbon pellets, HEGA releases no carbon dust. The absence of carbon dust extends the life of the HEPA filter. HEGA is unique to Austin Air and is found in The Allergy Machine, Baby’s Breath and The Bedroom Machines.
Negative ion generators or ionizers are electronic air cleaners that disperse negatively-charged air molecules, “called ions” into the air. The ion molecule has an extra electron that detaches and then reattaches to a dust molecule, giving it a charge. The negatively charged dust molecule then sticks to the nearest surface or object available. This new molecule must be removed from walls, ceilings, floors or furniture, or it can detach and become airborne again.
These ions are often produced with ultraviolet light. Electronic air cleaners use high voltage to create ions. Ozone and nitrogen oxide are toxic chemicals, which are often created in the process. Ozone, a known lung irritant, reacts to chemicals found in household cleaning products, paints, polishes, carpets and linoleum. These chemical reactions create harmful byproducts that can exacerbate allergies, asthma and lung disease. The EPA states that “relatively low amounts (of ozone) can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, and, throat irritation.” Comtech Research and HealthGlow make ionizers.
Atmospheric ozone forms a protective layer high above the earth that shields us from excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. However, ozone in the air we breathe is a toxic gas that can be harmful. Ozone generators make ozone, a molecule composed of three oxygen atoms, increasing ozone concentration in indoor environments. Because ozone molecules are unstable, one atom can break off and combine with other molecules to create unwelcome indoor pollutants. These molecules adhere to any surface in the room, including walls and floors. High concentrations of ozone must be present for this bonding to occur. Claims have been made that ozone kills microbes and neutralizes toxic chemicals. But, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, “Available scientific evidence shows that, at concentrations that do not exceed public health standards, ozone is generally ineffective in controlling indoor air pollution.”
Ozone is a known lung irritant that can inflame and damage the tissues of your lungs, making it difficult to breath. The EPA states that “relatively low amounts (of ozone) can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, and, throat irritation.” People with allergies and asthma are at increased risk of attacks when exposed to increased levels of ozone. Ozone can also aggravate chronic lung disease, including emphysema and bronchitis. Ozone in the heavens is important to our health and ozone in our indoor and outdoor environments can be dangerous to our health. Ozone is not an effective strategy in managing indoor air pollutants. Uvonair and Air Tiger make ozone generators.
Ultraviolet air cleaners use UV radiation to destroy the DNA of microbes via oxidation. These microbes include dust mites, molds (but not mold spores), bacteria and viruses. UVC is the spectrum of light (short wave UV) used in this type of air purifier. In order for UVC systems to be effective, the contaminants must come within inches of the bulb, the UV light must be of high intensity and the microbe must be exposed for an adequate duration of time (dwell time). Most UV systems are not effective at killing microbes because they don’t move sufficient room air to the air cleaner, the bulb intensity is too weak and/or the dwell time is insufficient. UV bulbs become weaker with use and require annual replacement.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “Typical UV cleaners used in homes have limited effectiveness in killing bacteria and molds. The effective destruction of some viruses and most mold and bacteria spores usually requires much higher UV exposures than a typical home unit provides.” In addition, according to the EPA ultraviolet technology can produce ozone, a known lung irritant that can inflame and damage the tissues of your lungs, making it difficult to breathe. “Relatively low amounts (of ozone) can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, and, throat irritation.” People with allergies and asthma are at increased risk of allergic and asthmatic episodes when exposed to increased levels of ozone. Honeywell and Germ Garden make UV air purifiers.
All of the top three air purifier brands: Austin Air, Blueair and IQair, do an extremely competent job of cleaning the air. For allergies, you need good particulate removal. For chemical sensitivities, you need a good activated carbon component. Each of the top three brands perform these tasks competitively. All three have powerful quiet motors.
So what makes them different? The biggest issues are:
- Each brand uses different amounts of filter media.
- Each product has a different replacement filter schedule.
- Each product has a different five year total cost.
Blueair and IQAir will cost you over $1000.00 more than Austin Air, over a five year period.
Austin Air is the best performing air cleaner available, requires minimal maintenance and it saves you money over time.
See our Best Air Purifiers – Product Comparison
or contact David Frome firstname.lastname@example.org 877-432-1AIR (247)