The indoor air purification industry has certainly grown in the last several years. With the concern over outdoor air pollution rising, whether that concern is valid or not, it’s only natural that concerns about indoor air pollution are being raised, and in some cases exploited, by equipment manufacturers motivated more by profit than by safety.
Presently, there are two types of indoor air purifiers being offered for sale. One type is an “ionic fresh breeze purifier,” and another type is one that uses a HEPA filter. At a Better Living Alpine Air web site, the benefits from such indoor air purifying devices include “reducing allergy symptoms such as itchy eyes, difficulty with breathing, and runny nose.” First, let’s dispense with the “ionic” indoor air purifiers. All ionic purifiers emit ozone. The EPA categorizes ozone as “good ozone” and “bad ozone.” If the only “good ozone,” according to the EPA, that is to be found is that ozone way up in the atmosphere, and the only “bad ozone” is that which is found close to the ground, it follows that ionic air purifiers emitting ozone close to the ground are a bad thing. Why, you might ask? Because bad ozone can actually irritate the lungs and throat, and cause shortness of breath.
So what about the devices that use a HEPA filter? What is a HEPA filter anyway? First of all, the main difference between an air purifier that uses a HEPA filter and one that does not, is that a device using a HEPA filter is not going to emit any ozone. To understand exactly what a HEPA filter is anyway, HEPA is simply an acronym for “high efficiency particulate air.” When a HEPA filter is working properly, it is supposed to remove approximately “99.7% of airborne particles.” The science behind the use of HEPA filters in clearing the air is proven, in that HEPA filters are used on airplanes and in hospitals where the air quality must be kept as disease-free as possible (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HEPA).
The problem with using indoor air purifiers with HEPA filters is that the filter needs to be changed often in order to maintain optimal indoor air quality. While HEPA filter devices may not emit ozone, it is their primary selling point according to indoor air purifier manufacturers. How often do the filters need to be changed, you might ask? Here, the matter becomes a bit subjective. “About every six months,” according to Air Purifiers America, a retailer of indoor air purification devices. According to this vender, how often you need to change the HEPA filter “may vary, according to brand and model.” And then there’s this sage advice, while trying to ascertain the correct time to change the HEPA filter: “Signs that your air filter needs replacement include: bad odor or smell from the unit, increased signs of dust on furniture or increased sneezing or coughing due to allergies (http://www.air-purifiers-america.com/replacement-air-filters.asp)”. It’s entirely possible that one person’s sense of smell could be different from someone else’s, making the “bad odor” test recommended by Air Purifiers America, a completely subjective test of when a HEPA filter should be replaced. If the reason a consumer purchases one of these air purification devices in the first place is to help with allergies and remove airborne particles, what test should a consumer use to determine if their level of sneezing or coughing has increased to the point where the filter needs to be replaced?
Whatever happened to just opening up a window if you want fresh air? The cost of these indoor air purification devices seems quite high. Air Purifiers America asks anywhere from $299 to $899 for one of these air purification devices. And HEPA filter replacements, which must be replaced about every six months, cost about $189 per filter, using the Air Purifiers America website. Like a lot of things, the quality of your indoor air seems to be in the mind of the consumer. It’s interesting to see some venders of indoor air purification devices selling both the models that purify the air ionically, while simultaneously selling the devices that use HEPA filters, such as Better Living Alpine Air (www.betterlivingalpineair.com). The Better Living folks even have a “washable HEPA filter,” and claim that their HEPA filter devices can clean an area of up to “3,500 square feet,” utilizing something called “UV-C Germicidal Technology.” The cost for these devices were supposedly running around $1,299.00 for one of them, but Better Living seems to have altruistically reduced the price to only $339.95, and even includes “free shipping.” Frankly, these indoor air purification devices seem to be long on promises such as “reducing allergy symptoms,” and even “removing tobacco smoke,” from the air, at a cost that does not seem reasonable, given the subjective nature of how these devices work. In other words, the quality of the air you breathe after making the substantial investment in one of these devices seems to be completely dependent upon how you, the consumer, perceive it. Opening up a window still seems to be a more sane alternative.