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Air Purifier 101: Types of Air Purifiers and How to Care For Them

Air Purifier 101: Types of Air Purifiers and How to Care For Them

When we think of air pollution, car exhaust, smog, and industrial waste tends to come to mind, but the most polluted air in America is not coming from smog; it is coming from inside your home. Between the fumes from cleaning chemicals, tobacco smoke, dust, mold spores, and the air pollutants we bring through the door with us, the air inside the average home is ten times more toxic than the air hovering over the nearest highway.

To compound this issue, asthma and respiratory diseases like COPD are on the rise. In the past year alone, more than eight percent of the adult-American population suffers from asthma (nearly 19 million). Childhood asthma is even more common, coming in at a whopping ten percent. This means one out of every ten children experiences wheezing, severe airway obstruction, and misses out on necessary physical activities. Their symptoms are exacerbated (and sometimes caused by) the pollutants residing within the home.

The problem is that dusting and cleaning surfaces isn't going to fix the air pollution problem. On the contrary, studies have shown that cleaning agents that are not properly eliminated from the environment are just as hazardous to breathing as dust and mold. With asthma and other breathing conditions like COPD looming over our families, air pollution needs to be addressed in order to live a happy, healthy lifestyle.

To decontaminate the air you breathe, getting an air purifier is the best way to set your mind at ease. Since the invention of the first generation of air purifiers, there have been several advancements in air filtration technology, making it difficult to decide which type of air purification system is best for you and your home. This guide is designed to help you navigate buying and maintaining the most effective air purifier for your needs.

Air Purifier 101: Types of Air Purifiers and How to Care For Them
What is an air purifier?

An air purifier is an electronic appliance that improve indoor air quality by reducing unwanted particles in the air such as dust, pollen, and mold . Other models filter out chemical contaminants and carcinogens as well. There are two main types of air purifiers: whole house purifiers and area purifiers. Whole house purifiers are attached to your home's central air system and purify the air in every room. Area purifiers are small units with a limited range that purify the air in a target room.

Keep in mind, having an air purifier doesn't mean your home will become dust free. The dust that collects on furniture, counters, and other surfaces is made up of heavy particulates that don't stay in the air long enough to be pulled in to the purifier. The same is true for many species of pollen and dust mites, so dusting and vacuuming will still be an important part of your regular clean air regimen. Fresh air exchange will still be important as well. Open your windows a few times every week, for about an hour, to keep your air from becoming stale.

Types of air purifiers?

Air purifiers rely on an ever growing list of technologies to purify air of allergens, carcinogens, and bacteria. There are two main kinds available for home use: electrostatic and filter-based.

Electrostatic air purifiers work by passing polluted air through an electrostatic field chamber that traps the particles using metal plates. They're relatively inexpensive and extremely easy to clean and because they don't have a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Absorption) filter to replace, their yearly maintenance costs are extremely low.

Filtration-based air purifiers rely on HEPA filters. Wheras normal filters can only eliminate particles big enough for the human eye to see, HEPA filters collects micro particles too small for the average filter to catch. Air purifiers usually have what is called a "pre-filter" to catch all of the larger particulates like pet hair and dirt that would clog a HEPA filter.

Carbon filters are often used as pre-filters because they can trap large particles as well as odors from the air like tobacco smoke and chemical fumes. They're comprised of active, porous carbon that traps pollutants in tiny holes within in the carbon structure. The impurities bind to the carbon's pores and fill them up over time until they're eventually filled completely and rendered inactive and in need of replacement.

Air purifiers often pass air through their HEPA filters multiple times. Some may filter air up to five times before recirculating it. Newer purifiers can also kill bacteria with UV light filters. As the air passes under the UV light, the bacteria is sanitized and the cellular remnants are trapped within the HEPA filter or on the metal plating. This helps keeps germs at a minimum and is a tremendous benefit in a children's' playrooms during cold and flu season.

How long before I notice the effect of my air purifier?

Depending on the size and pollution levels of the room, you may notice a change in air quality in as little as a few hours, especially if you set the fan speed to its highest level. The higher the airflow through the filter, the more pollutants and particles the purifier will be able to remove from the air. If the room is large, close the doors and windows for a few hours after you install it in order to get the maximum cleaning effect. The effectiveness of your air purifier drops whenever the windows are open and the filers are exposed to the open air.

What rooms can you place an air purifier in?

Air filters should be in rooms that experience high traffic, like family rooms and bedrooms. This is particularly important for people living with allergies. Make sure the filter runs all day long in bedrooms to minimize nighttime symptoms.If noise is an issue, set the fan speed to "Low" when you're in the room and turn it back to "High" when you leave.

Do not place an air purifier in a patio or a garage. They are designed only for indoor use.

Air Purifier 101: Types of Air Purifiers and How to Care For ThemHow many times should you change the filter?

HEPA filers are easily damaged, so it's not recommended that you clean them by hand, but you can vacuum the pre-filter component of your air purifier with a wand attachment every few weeks to make them last longer and save you money on expensive HEPA replacements.

In general, the HEPA filter and the pre-filter will need to be replaced once every 18-24 months. Replace it earlier if you notice the filters are black and the purifier makes more noise than usual when you run it. It may indicate the unit's struggling to pull air through a clogged filter.

What is the best way to care for your air purifier?

If you have an electrostatic air filter, you will need to clean it every few weeks. Once the metal plates are completely covered in dust they will no longer work. Take them out of the unit and submerge them for a few minutes in lukewarm water, then rinse them with clean warm water. The dust should come right off. It if doesn't, soak them for a few more minutes. DO NOT USE SOAP. It can disturb the electrostatic field and any residue left on the plates will make them less sticky and less effective.

Electrostatic air purifiers also have a pre-filter for large particles, or carbon filter to trap odors. If there is a pre-filter, wipe it down gently when you wash the metal plates. Carbon-filters need to be replaced every six months, but are extremely inexpensive.

What else should I consider when buying an air purifier?

Your Needs

If you and your family have dust mite allergies, then a filtration-based air purifier might work better than an electrostatic model. It is also important to figure out whether you need UV light filtration or not, as this can be a pricey add on. If you suffer from asthma, getting an air purifier with a triple filtration system will be better for your symptoms than a single filtration system.

The Size

Make sure that the air filter you buy is big enough to clean the room effectively, but small enough that it doesn't obstruct traffic or create a tripping hazard.

The Cost

More so than the initial cost of your air purifier, find out what kind of HEPA filter it uses and do some research on how much replacements cost. This is the hidden cost of air purifiers that catches many people unawares. The HEPA can be quite expensive, even if the air purification unit was not. Doing this research ahead of time can save you hundreds of dollars.

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