Do Air Purifiers Work?

Do Air Purifiers Work?

Indoor air quality has become a hot topic of conversation over the past decade. It’s basically a polite way of questioning if your home, work, or other indoor air is filthy or worthy of breathing. There’s a buzz word solution to dirty air, and it’s called an air purifier. Is indoor air quality really a big deal? Do air purifiers really work? Let’s explore.

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) 101

While your six-year-old’s sneakers worn sock-less in the heat of summer may smell like pure pollution, these types of odors aren’t really what’s concerning about indoor air quality. In fact, the worst air pollutants don’t even have an odor.

There are many indoor air pollutants, including:

• Cancer-causing radon gasses.

• Combustion gases, such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, that come from poorly vented fuel-burning appliances.

• Secondhand smoke

• Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from household chemicals and products.

• Formaldehyde, asbestos, lead, etc.

The list is quite alarming, and can cause or worsen serious health issues, particularly breathing issues like asthma.

Why Is IAQ A Big Deal?

Out of sight... out of mind.

When most people think of pollution, they think landfills and smog, right? Not to lessen the importance of outdoor pollution, but did you know that the average person spends a whopping 90% of their time indoors?

Think about your day to see how often you’re indoors. The point isn’t to demonstrate whether or not you need to get an outdoor hobby. Between work, household chores, sleep, and socialization, we naturally spend high volumes of time indoors, which means that our priority for the quality of air we breathe should match in location.

Now, here’s another alarming fact. Did you know that air pollutants are two to five times greater indoors than outdoors? The outdoors is vast enough to disperse the pollutants better. Meanwhile, indoor pollutants have a much higher concentration due to it being trapped inside a smaller space.

All this leads people to seek solutions. What can be done to improve indoor air quality? The answer is often air purifiers, but how do air purifiers work and are they effective and efficient?

What Is An Air Purifier?

This appliance is designed to rid your home’s air of impurities and irritants. It removes dander, smoke, dust, odors, and so forth from the air you’re breathing inside your home. Sounds exciting, right?

Before you slam this page shut to hit up Amazon for an air purifier, it’s important to understand that this is like any other consumer product on the market - all brands and devices aren’t equal and expectations should be fact-based.

How Do Air Purifiers Work?

An air purifier will typically consist of two main components - a fan to suck and circulate air and a filtration system with at least one filter to capture pollution particles. Once the particles in the air are captured by the filter(s,) the clean air is then blown back out into your environment.

Of course, the filters will eventually become full of debris. In fact, when it comes to efficiency and effectiveness of your air purifier, the filter is the star of the show. Just don’t forget that you now become a mom-manger - you’ll have to manage that filter by replacing or cleaning it every three months or so.

Filter replacement timing will depend on what type of filter your air purifier uses and how dirty your indoor air might be at any given time.

Typically, you’ll spend about $100 on replacement filters annually. You can avoid replacement filter costs by purchasing a device with removable, washable filters. Be warned, however, that reusable filters are much more labor and time intensive.

Is your AC filter looking like it’s hosting a dust bunny convention? If so, you’ll likely be better off spending the $100 on new filters verses adding another item on your household chore list.

Another consideration is the science behind the particular filtration system.

The best filter for fine airborne particles is a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter. These use airtight multilayer netting, usually of fiberglass, to capture particles of various sizes.

HEPA is a quite effective system. The fan draws the air through the filter. Large particles crash into the fiber and stick immediately. Medium particles are captured by interception in the filter’s netting, and fine particles are captured by diffusion in the zig-zag design of the pleats.

What Do Air Purifiers Filter Out?

This question is answered by the filtration system you select. Your standard air purifier is most effective against larger particles, such as pollen, smoke, and dust. They’re not really designed to handle radon and VOCs. If the latter is concerning, then look for an absorbent feature, such as activated carbon, and always be sure to replace your filter frequently.

Air purifiers of any caliber/design are not going to be effective against pollutants that are embedded into your home’s porous materials. Most people have their homes deep cleaned by a professional before purchasing their air purifier.

Some brands like to compare apples to oranges in answering what do air purifiers filter out. Imagine that! It’s misleading at best. They’ll tout that their air purifier is 99.999999999999% effective at removing x, y, and z. They’ll back it with some lab test. Here’s the thing - it was done in a controlled lab, not your typical everyday home that varies in operation, exposure, ventilation, conditions, and so forth. In other words, that lab didn’t likely use a cocktail of chemicals to try and remove a kid’s slime-making disaster out of carpet.

Vetting Air Purifier Claims

It’s important to understand what an air purifier actually does. Be realistic. This isn’t a cure for all your home’s IAQ issues, and there’s been little independent research to show that air purifiers have any direct effect on your health or allergies.

However, in the industry’s defense, it would be rather difficult to conclusively make that statement given our exposure to outdoor pollutants, IAQ pollutants from places without air purifiers, and predispositions from others allergen sources like ventilation systems.

Do pay careful attention to sizing guidelines. Marketers often don’t distinguish between a 5,000 square foot monster house and your typical 1,200-1,500 square foot house when explaining how do air purifiers work and do air purifiers work.

Sizing guidelines greatly affect the air purifier’s efficacy. Choose a model with regard to room sizes. If you want to ensure operation at quieter and more energy efficient setting, then go up a size from what the specs suggest. The initial investment is slightly more expensive, but you’ll save long-term in operation costs.

Supplement Your Air Purifier’s IAQ Efforts

Again, air purifiers are tools to help improve air quality, but they aren’t magic wands. If serious about improving IAQ, then give your air purifier a helping hand in reducing indoor air irritants:

• When using chemicals, paints, or introducing other pollutants into the home, open the opposing windows for a cross-draft to allow better dispersing.

• Opt for natural cleaning products, such as baking soda and vinegar, verses harsh chemical-laden products and aerosols.

• Use HEPA filters for your other appliances, such as HVAC and vacuums, and change them regularly.

• Vacuum often with a vacuum featuring a sealed containment to trap debris. Remove and dispose of the bag outside.

• When cooking, laundering, and bathing use an exhaust fan whenever possible. Keep it running 2-5 minutes before and after your activity.

• Don’t smoke inside your home.

• Use essential oil diffusers instead of candles and wax burners with unhealthy chemical releases.

• Go with radiant heat sources verses traditional wood-burning fires.

Closing Thoughts

Do air purifiers work? Yes, to what degree your air purifier is successful largely depends on selecting the right equipment and making a commitment to maintaining it and helping it out by not making a disaster out of your air quality.


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