Air Purifiers : An Introduction
July 25, 2022 Average reading time: 9 minutes
We all need pure air 24/7
Air pollution, whether chemical or biological, pervades our society and our homes, and it’s not getting much better. Because we spend 80-90% of our time indoors, especially during pandemics, breathing fresh clean air is even more vital every day of every year. It’s equally important for the elderly as well as young children, and women as much as men.
The EPA says our indoor air is more polluted than our outdoor air. Indoor air quality (IAQ) is more critical during pregnancy, illnesses, or pandemics like we’ve experienced from SARS to Coronavirus COVID-19. It can also be critical when building or remodeling a home or office where exposures to hazardous air pollutants are often higher than normal.
Everyone reacts differently
According to the EPA, airborne pollutants can create either acute allergic reactions or long-term chronic diseases. These include coughing, sneezing, nausea, headaches, abdominal pain, difficulty in breathing, asthma, genetic mutations, decrease in fertility, etc.
For certain types of people, a small amount of dust or formaldehyde may be enough to trigger strong allergic reactions. Young children, the elderly, pregnant women, or those with allergies, chemical sensitivities, respiratory or immune disorders are often far more sensitive to particles and gasses than others. If you or someone in your family has reactions to specific chemicals, you need an air purifier that will deal with those particular types of chemicals or particles.
What if I’m not sensitive or don’t have allergies, do I need an air purifier?
The answer is a firm YES. You don’t have to be sick or sensitive to need an air purifier. We are all exposed to indoor air pollution every day, but just because you are not reacting today does not mean inhaling toxic chemicals, even in small amounts, will not harm you over time. Hazardous air pollutants (HAPS) are always bad for your health and the cleaner your air, the longer you’ll stay healthy. Air purifiers deal with a wide range of pollutants and therefore can be advantageous in every home even if there are no special needs.
Air purifiers are one solution
There are different ways to improve indoor air quality—from purifying the air, to wearing masks, to increasing air circulation and ventilation, to encapsulating chemical emissions, to strengthening our immune systems. All of these objective and subjective approaches are useful and should be employed as needed.
What air purifiers can and cannot do for me?
Air purifiers can reduce almost all indoor air contaminants such as mold spores, dust, bacteria, dust mite allergens, pet dander, smoke, soot, viruses, formaldehyde, VOCs, and most HAPS. Some are general and do a good job of removing all types of odors and contaminants, while others are more specialized at removing specific types or amounts of particles or gasses. Air purifiers clean up the ambient air over the course of several hours, but they cannot perform miracles. They cannot remove the source of the pollutant.
For example: the source of mold spores could be a damp basement. The source of formaldehyde or VOCs could be particle board or paint. The source of pet dander could be a friendly dog, cat, or bird. Let’s be clear: air purifiers significantly reduce some or all types of airborne contaminants near the source but they cannot remove the actual source of those pollutants.
What pollutants are in my home or office?
There are two basic categories of indoor air contaminants: particles and gasses. Both are in every home or office to various degrees.
Common types of airborne particles (from largest to smallest):
- Pollen and mold spores: Coarse particles (apx. 1% of all airborne particles)—100 to 2.5 microns.
- Household dust, bacteria, dust mite allergens, and pet dander: Fine particles (apx. 9% of all airborne particles)—2.5 to .1 microns
- Tobacco smoke, soot, and viruses: Ultrafine particles (90% of all airborne particles) — .1 to .003 microns.
- Medical Grade HEPA filters can remove most of these particles.
Common types of gases:
- VOCs from cleaners, sealers, paints, stains, and adhesives used throughout the home.
- Formaldehyde from particle board, plywood, furniture, carpeting, laminate, and vinyl flooring.
- Nitrous Oxides from gas stoves, fireplaces, cigarette smoke, smog.
- Carbon Monoxide from gas ranges, gas furnaces or boilers, fireplaces, grills, autos.
Gasses are more difficult to remove because they can evaporate quickly. They require a strong fan and a large porous filter to capture them before they reach your lungs.
Activated carbon filters are granular or powdered blocks of carbon that have been treated to be extremely porous—so porous that one gram has a surface area of 500 square meters or more. A filter that uses activated carbon will absorb most gasses and exponentially more than traditional carbon.The larger the filter medium, the larger the capacity to absorb and the longer it will last before replacement.
However, some gasses require a special filtration medium. To achieve this, activated carbon filters are combined with other safe ingredients like potassium permanganate, potassium iodide, or magnesium dioxide and copper oxide.
How do I know what type of contaminants are in my home?
It’s not always easy to determine, even for environmental consultants who have expensive meters. That’s because the contaminants can smell different and can vary from room to room. There can also be a variety of pollutants all converging in one room at one time.
How about a serious chef who has just moved into a freshly painted kitchen that was previously owned by smokers. The chef could be faced with a variety of chemical odors from VOCs to smoke, food, and ammonia odors all in one room! How do you get rid of all of those at one time?
How about an elderly person living in a home that was full of black mold that has just been cleaned with some natural essential oils that smell and then are sealed up with some unknown sealer from the local hardware store that is reacting with the cleaner and smelling even worse than the mold! How would you deal with that?
Or how about a child who has allergies and just received a new bed, blanket, and a pillow that’s making his eyes water, and he can’t sleep so his parents move him into a room that just had a new synthetic carpet installed. So they opened the windows to air it out but they live 100’ from a busy freeway. What would you do?
These could be real stories. Yours may certainly be different, but all require careful examination before choosing the right air purifier. Our eco-advisors can help you choose the correct units for your application.
7 Basic Types of Filters
Each Air Purifier comes with various types of filters that suck air into the machine, trap or neutralize the contaminant, and then deliver fresh air out the other side. The type of contaminant they filter, how much they capture, how fast they capture it and for how long, is what makes each filter type different.
Most air purifiers utilize one or more of the following types of technology:
- Pre-filters capture large particles, hair, and dirt, and prevent the primary filters from clogging.
- Medical-grade HEPA particle filters (the Gold Standard) effectively remove approximately 99.97% of all coarse particles larger than .3 microns such as the following: pollen, mold spores, and 95% of all fine particles larger than .1 micron, such as household dust, bacteria, dust mites, and pet dander.
- Activated carbon filters remove smoke, odors, gases, VOCs, formaldehyde, etc.
- Military grade HEGA Carbon Cloth provides extremely large surface area for adsorption of chemicals, gases, viruses and bacteria.
- Electronic filters that use static electricity to charge and trap airborne particles.
- Ionic and Ozone produce negative ions that oxidize pollutants.
- Ultraviolet light breaks the molecular bonds in the DNA of pathogens.
How do I sort through all of this and choose the right air purifier?
Choosing the best air purifier(s) that satisfy your individual needs and circumstances depends on the following:
- Type of pollution — must have the right filter type and size to efficiently handle the amount and type of contaminant.
- Size of the room(s) — must have a large enough filter and motor to purify effectively without requiring filter replacements too often.
- How allergic or sensitive you are — must offer special models.
- Reliability — must be hard working, dependable, proven.
- Best value — reasonably priced over the long term.
Other things to consider before you purchase:
- Money back guarantee — Air purification systems are an important investment in your health. They need to be reliable, perform well, and last long. Because the number of products on the market all sound better than each other, you need to be able to test out different ones to be sure which ones work best for you. If it doesn’t work well, make sure you can return it and try something else.
- Ease of replacing filters — How complex is replacement, how fast can you replace the filters, and how hard is it to order new filters?
- Longevity of filters — Most smaller filters only last 1 or 2 years and have to work much harder, but larger filters with more media can last 3-5 years, which saves time and money. Filter replacement is an expense (and a big business for the manufacturers) and the primary reason why many customers switch brands and try something larger and more robust.
- High quality motors — Air purifiers are made to run all day and night, and therefore higher quality motors that are CSA (Canadian Standards Certification) or UL (Underwriters Laboratories) approved will run smoother and last longer.
- Is the pre-filter washable? — Pre-filters capture hair, insects, and large amounts of dust and dirt that should be easy to clean once a month.
- How long and how good is the warranty? Most are one year, some go to five years, or are pro-rated.
- Proven track record — Clinically tested, great reviews, and certifications.
- Simplicity of operation — Some offer electronic air quality sensors, timers, sleep mode, filter replacement lights, etc., all of which are convenient but not necessary for the performance of the machine. Others offer extra UV filters and antimicrobial filters, which are not needed to kill viruses or microbes because the primary filters already remove them. Extra filters mean more replacements, too.
As we have all learned from purchasing other electronics, extra bells and whistles are not always useful, can give false information, or lead to a malfunction of the machine’s basic operations.
- Different environments and people or larger spaces may require additional air purifiers. While there are general-purpose air purifiers, they rarely can do everything for every type of person all the time in all places. Most people have more than one air purifier because of special needs and circumstances. New baby? Or new allergies, new furniture, new flooring, fresh paint, mother-in-law moves in, etc.
- Output in CFM (Cubic Feet per Minute) — Higher CFM means faster reduction of contaminants and more air changes every hour. That sounds good, but applies mainly to airborne particles that are being removed. Activated carbon filters, which remove the smallest particles and most dangerous gases, are most effective at low to medium speeds, which allow the chemicals a better chance of attaching themselves to the filter medium.
- Don’t be fooled — Large motors and high fan speeds may increase CFM numbers but they don’t tell the whole story of performance. It depends on the type of pollution, size of the room, and type of filters employed.
- Know your room — Calculate the required CFM of a bedroom as follows: (length x width x height) x 7 air changes/60 minutes. For example: 12 x 14 x 8 = 1344 x 7air changes = 9408/60 = 156 CFM needed.
- Energy efficiency — How much power is used at each speed may not be that useful of a tool, as larger filters require more energy to push air through them. A small machine may be more energy efficient, but the main goal is not to save energy, but to remove air contaminants. Again, it’s not simply a matter of measuring wattage.
- Noise output — Some machines are quieter than others, which is nice when working or sleeping, but may not clean much air. If noise is an issue, run the machine on medium or high before you enter the room.
- Value — The initial cost (how many CFMs/$$$) vs. the long term cost (energy efficiency and filter replacement). Inexpensive machines may be ideal for small rooms and cost less today, but you may need many of them around the house and have to replace filters frequently.
Why Choose an Austin Air?
Hopefully you’ve read the introduction above and have evaluated what type of equipment you will need for your home or office.
Why are we selling Austin Air purifiers, and why should you consider buying them?
When vetting new products, we always look at the company behind them. How solid are they financially, how well managed, how easy is it to do business with them, how many warranty claims do they have, how do they deal with warranty claims, have they had any lawsuits, and what is their motive for selling these products? So far, Austin Air has passed all of our tests and satisfied our inquiries.
What makes Austin Air Purifiers different and a better value, in our opinion?
- The only clinically proven air purifiers by John Hopkins University, FEMA, American Red Cross, University of Washington, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.
- Made in the USA for 30 years with American-made parts.
- Long-lasting high-performance medical-grade HEPA filters to handle extra fine particulates.
- Long-lasting military-grade carbon filter and/or activated carbon with zeolite or potassium iodide to handle all types of gases, VOCs and chemical odors.
- The best warranties for their products and filters: 5 years on parts and labor and 5 years pro-rated on all their filters.
- 30-day no-nonsense money-back-guarantee — So you can relax.
- Simple, reliable, dependable — Plug and play and user-friendly. No frills, old-school design with no bells or whistles, and no 50-page manual; just hard-working performance all day, every day.
Check out our Austin Air Healthmate Plus Air Purifier.