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Air Purification Systems

We all want to breathe clean air. During a global pandemic, air purification systems have started marketing themselves as a way to protect you from dangerous viruses. They seem like a good idea, but they're not going to help the way most people want. Here's what the different systems can do.

Room Air Purifiers

These units draw the air in, run it across a filter and blow cleaner air out. Some include a UV-C lamp to kill viruses and bacteria that are drawn through the device.

Most do clean the air they pump out, with varying levels of effectiveness. According to Consumer Reports, here are the things air purifiers can help with.

Pollutants such as smoke from tobacco, wood burning, and cooking; gases from cleaning products and building materials; dust mites; mold; and pet dander all contribute to an unhealthy indoor environment that has ill effects on human health.

Fine particles 10 micrometers in diameter or smaller, including those found in dust and smoke, are especially a concern because they can find their way deep into the lungs. Breathing in particles for just hours or days is enough to aggravate lungs and cause asthma attacks and has been linked to heart attacks in people with heart disease. According to the EPA, long-term exposure to high particle levels is linked to bronchitis, reduced lung function, and premature death.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including formaldehyde, that are released into the air from adhesives, paints, and cleaning products can cause nose, throat, and eye irritation; headaches; nausea; and damage to the liver, kidney, and nervous system. Some gases, such as radon, cause lung cancer and death.

Consumer Reports found that air purifiers do these things well.

The air purifiers that do well in our tests are proved in our labs to be good at filtering dust, smoke, and pollen from the air.

They don't do these things.

An air purifier can remove allergens only while they’re floating in the air. Larger, heavier allergens, such as mites, mold, and pollen, settle to the ground so quickly that the air purifier can’t capture them in time.

And these things we still don't know.

Radon is another blind spot for air purifiers and other air cleaners, according to the EPA: Studies are inconclusive on air purifiers’ ability to tackle this dangerous gas. And in fact, there is insufficient research on air purifiers that address gaseous pollutants as a group, so it’s unclear how effective air purifiers are. There is also limited data on the effect of ionizer air purifiers on health.

One other thing we know for sure, air purifiers aren't designed to protect you from dangerous germs like the virus that causes COVID-19. Let's assume you have a device with a filter that can capture viruses. Then assume it has a UV-C light in the unit that's powerful enough to kill viruses. That only guarantees you air that's clean the moment it leaves the machine.

Now go in a room with someone who's got COVID-19, and they aren't wearing a mask. Every breath they take is spraying viral particles around the room. If you're between the infected person and the air purifier, those infectious droplets are moving right toward you, getting inhaled deep in your lungs before they can ever make it to the air purifier. Every time that infected person exhales, they're contaminating everything and everyone they're near.

Unless you're sitting directly in front of the air purifier's exhaust, and you know it's a unit that can kill viruses, you shouldn't count on them for protection against germs.

If you're looking for an air purifier, we suggest you start by going through the Consumer Reports Buying Guide here: https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/air-purifiers/buying-guide/index.htm

Room Air Purifiers
Room air purifiers.

UV Germicidal Lights for Heating and Air Conditioning Systems (HVAC)

Air conditioners use filters to clean the air they move. For an extra level of protection, you can install a UV-C light to kill bacteria and viruses. Those lights also kill mold and fungi, preventing them from growing inside your AC system. That means cleaner air coming out of your vents, and fewer harsh chemicals need to be used when the units are cleaned.

However, you can't count on those lights for protection from viruses. Just like room air purifiers, the air is only clean when it leaves the vents. Once it crosses the path of someone breathing germs into the air, everything mixes, and the contamination can spread.

For healthier air coming out of your vents and lower maintenance costs with air conditioning systems, UV-C lights work great. For protection against viruses? Not so much.

The video below is an excellent explanation of what they do and how they work.

Outside Air

Increase circulation of outdoor air whenever possible by opening windows and doors, using fans, etc. Do not open windows and doors if the temperature outside is too hot or cold. You should also keep windows and doors closed if they pose a safety risk to children using the facility.

Other Air Cleaning/Scrubbing systems like misters and disinfectant foggers have shipped that are problematic.

Something called "dwell time" is essential. That's how long a disinfectant must remain in contact with bacteria or viruses to kill it. It is unclear if many of these products will remain airborne or in contact on surfaces to do the job they promise.

There are also no studies showing sufficient concentrations of these chemicals to properly do their job.

Before you invest in any of these products, you should check with the Centers for Disease Control and Infection (CDC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Can UV-C light be used to kill coronavirus lingering in the air? Click Here: UV Lights - UV-C and FAR UV Light Options

What is CO2, and why should you monitor it? Click Here: CO2 Monitoring

What should you keep your humidity levels at? Click Here: Humidity and Coronavirus

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Updated 10/15/2020
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