How Do Air Purifiers Work?

by Véronique Raymond
air purifier

Air purifiers aren’t overly complex machines, but many people still aren’t sure exactly WHAT they do to purify the air or HOW they do so.

There are many types of air purifiers on the market, and they all have their own unique ways of removing contaminants from the air to improve indoor air quality.

Some use air filters, others UV light or charged ions. Some even use a combination of purifying methods.

Let’s take a look at the benefits of an air purifier and how each type of air purifier actually brings them to life.


Benefits of An Air Purifier

Everyone knows that an air purifier creates clean air, but many don’t know for sure what pollutants are actually being taken out of the air and what kind of effect one of these machines can have on your daily life. An EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) report revealed that indoor air can be up to 5x more polluted than outdoor air since the air gets trapped inside a home. Air purifiers help get rid of that air pollution and make your home healthier and safer. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits these machines offer.

Allergy and Hay Fever Relief

Almost every type of air purifier you purchase will eliminate all of the allergens from the air in your home. Whether your allergy is to pollen, animal dander, or anything else, an air purifier will make your home a safe haven from allergy symptoms. If hay fever is something that affects you outdoors, you’ll also find than an air purifier can essentially eliminate all of those symptoms as well.

Asthma Relief

If you are affected by any respiratory conditions such as asthma, an air purifier can have some pretty drastic effects on your well being. Lightening the load on your already burdened respiratory by breathing ultra clean air will guarantee that you can experience the best health and breathing ease possible. Since an air purifier can easily be used with either a humidifier or a dehumidifier depending on your home’s conditions, you’ll be able to experience complete bliss with relief of your asthma symptoms.

Dust Mite Control

Nearly every type of air purifier will trap almost every speck of dust floating in the air. Not only will this make your air much healthier to breathe, but it will also reduce the amount of dust accumulating around the home so you don’t need to clean as often.

air purifier

Airborne Disease Reduction

Many bacteria strains and viruses can be carried around in the air. Certain types of air purifiers can trap or kill these pathogens in order to improve health outcomes in your home. If you find that you are struggling with sneezing, coughing, or frequent illnesses, an air purifier can dramatically reduce the frequency with which you get sick. With the current coronavirus concerns, even the CDC has recommended air purifiers for reducing risk in the home.

Eliminate Airborne Chemicals

All of the best air purifiers on the market will eliminate airborne chemicals from your home. Whether it is increased concentrations of formaldehyde and ammonia emissions from heating devices or cleaning chemicals that have found their way into the air, an air purifier can pull these out of the air you’re breathing to make you healthier and help your immune system protect you.

Neutralise Odours

Air purifiers that have adsorbent components such as a carbon filter can remove odours, gases, and other airborne pollutants that aren’t as solid as standard particles in the air. Strong cooking smells, cigarette smoke, and wildfire smoke are only some examples of what an air purifier can cleanse out of your air at home.

Improve HVAC Efficiency and Longevity

Believe it or not, adding an air purifier to your home can actually make your furnace and air conditioning unit operate more effectively. Removing contaminants from the air that can affect their operation will ensure that they are as energy efficient as possible and that they last for a long time. Some air purifiers can even be built right into these systems for the most positive effects in this area. As long as you keep up with the maintenance of washable filters in your air purifiers and whatever other requirements your machine may have, you’ll notice the effects in many other areas of your home.


Types of Air Purifiers And How They Work

air purifier

There are many types of air purifiers on the market that are effective air cleaners. There are a variety of filtration/purification methods out there, and they each have their strengths and weaknesses. Most types will be suited to be a single room air purifier, but there are a couple more obscure systems out there that can tackle the entire home effectively. Let’s explore some of the options.

HEPA Air Purifier

HEPA air purifiers make use of a high efficiency particulate air filter, commonly known as a HEPA filter. These filters can trap particles as small as 0.3 microns. As a result, they are incredibly effective at removing pollen, dust, pet dander, mold spores, and other allergens and airborne particles. In fact, they have more than a 99% effectiveness score.

HEPA air purifiers work by using a fan to draw contaminated air into the machine. The air is drawn through the HEPA filter which uses compact fibres to trap particulates. The cleaner air is then circulated back into the room. HEPA air purifiers may contain up to two extra filters; a pre-filter for catching large particles and reducing the load on the HEPA filter, or an activated carbon filter to make the machine more effective at trapping odours and gases.

A HEPA air purifiers filter will need to be changed on a regular basis to ensure it can continue to function at such a high level. If you don’t change the filter regularly, the airflow will be compromised due to the amount of particulate matter it is trapping every day.

HEPA air purifiers come in a number of sizes and price points, so everyone will be able to find a model that suits their home and budget. It is important to note that this type of air purifier cannot remove all pathogens (viruses mainly) from the air. At its largest size, the recent coronavirus is one of the viruses that CAN be removed with a HEPA filter, but there are no guarantees. However, HEPA filters can still help remove viruses from the air when they are contained in respiratory droplets, for example, and bacteria are large enough to be trapped easily be a HEPA filter.

Another weakness of HEPA filters is that they cannot trap any gases or odours on their own, including smoke and VOCs (volatile organic compounds). If those are two categories of contaminants that you wish to target, the next air purifier type is right up your alley. You may also choose to purchase a duo air purifier that contains both an activated carbon filter and a HEPA filter.

Activated Carbon Air Purifier

Activated carbon air purifiers are a type of adsorbent air purifier, meaning they use a filter that doesn’t really act as a filter. An activated carbon filter is a very porous form of carbon that is incredibly effective at binding invisible gases and odours. Tobacco smoke, cooking odours, perfume, smog, and various chemicals in the air can all be trapped in this kind of air purifier. Due to the nature of an activated carbon filter, these machines are not as effective at trapping particles like allergens or dust. Since most people want those things filtered as well, they will usually end up buying an air purifier that contains both a true HEPA filter and a carbon filter. You will rarely see an activated carbon air purifier as a standalone air cleaning unit in a home.

Activated carbon air purifiers are the best choice for people suffering from asthma or other respiratory conditions, as well as the elderly and young children. Removing all of the chemicals, odours, and VOCs (volatile organic compounds) from the air makes it much more breathable; everyone can benefit from this, but especially the ones with compromised or vulnerable respiratory systems.

Ultraviolet (UV) Air Purifier

Ultraviolet air purifiers use UV rays to kill various microbes including viruses and bacteria. While the light is very effective at its job, these air purifiers will almost always contain a pre-filter, usually a HEPA filter, to filter out the particulates first. Since many particulates can shield the pathogens from the UV light, they would be able to escape back into the room without that particulate filter.

If you find yourself suffering from illness on a regular basis or you just want to guard your home against microbe invaders, a UV air purifier is the way to go.

Ionic Air Purifier

Ionic air purifiers use negative ions to remove contaminants from the air. The air purifier will emit negative ions into the home rather than drawing air into the machine like most purifiers. These ions will bind to various compounds and particulates floating in the air. Since the ions add weight to the pollutants, they will drift out of the air and settle on ledges, floors, and furniture. Although this process does remove the particles from the air, they have the capacity to recirculate eventually, and you will have a lot more cleaning to do around the house. They are therefore quite inefficient machines for air purification.

One benefit of ionizers is that they don’t require any maintenance since they aren’t accumulating anything inside the machine; all of the action happens away from the machine throughout the home. They are also quieter than standard air purifiers.

One of the largest concerns with the use of an ionic air purifier is that they have a pretty high chance of producing ozone as they create the negative ions. While the concentrations of ozone should still be considered safe, it is recommended that you don’t use this type of air purifier.

Central Air Purifier

Central air purifiers are systems that are installed by professionals directly into your HVAC system. They are able to filter all particles larger than 0.1 microns, so they can filter out all of the pathogens, dust, allergens, odours, smoke, and more. They are the most effective air purifier on the market and they can also tackle the air throughout the entire home rather than just in one room/space. They will require regular maintenance just like other types of air purifiers, but they will also help extend the life of your ductwork and HVAC components by keeping them clean and free from interference by particulate matter, small and larger particles.

Ozone Air Purifier

Air purifiers that use ozone generators to create ozone that will theoretically react with the particles in the air and reduce growth of pathogens like bacteria and mold. However, ozone is a very toxic substance that can damage your health, and they aren’t even all that effective anyway. As a result, it is highly recommended that you ensure the air purifier you have your eye on does not produce ozone at all, whether it be on purpose like an ozone air purifier or as a by product of some other purification method.


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