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Are Ionizer Air Purifiers Bad for My Health?

Are Ionizer Air Purifiers Bad for My Health?

Are you thinking about buying an air purification system for your home? It's a great investment into improving the air quality in rooms. However, air purification systems come with so many features these days that it's easy to get lost in what the air-con or HVAC can do.

One of the more elusive features of air-cons is the "ionizer." This function emits ions into the air, trapping particulate matter. They are more common on portable models, and many HVAC units have them as well.

However, are they worth it? Does an air ionizer actually improve the air quality, or is it a waste of time and money? Most models with ionizers retail for a higher price than those without the feature – So, are you getting value for your money, or is it all a fad?

This post looks to unpack everything you need to know about ionizers and if you need one in your air purification system.

How Do Ionizer Air Purifiers Work?

Ionic air conditioners and ionizers are basically two terms for the same machine. These devices produce ions that flow out into the air in the room.

When the ions interact with particulate matter in the air, they "stick" to it, pulling it down to the floor or walls as it settles out of the air column in the room.

The idea seems sound, and you'll find it's a function on many top-rated portable air conditioner models. There are different types of air ionizers; let's look at the properties of each.

Electrostatic Precipitators

These devices operate through a process of dispersing ions into the air through corona discharge. The ions produced by the machine collect on a flat plate with opposite charges.

Instead of pushing ions out into the room, the system runs the air between the plates, causing the particulate matter to adhere to the ions. Essentially, the unit sucks in dirty air and pushes out clean air.

Remove the plates and wipe them down to remove the dust and other particulate matter collected by the ions. Clean the plates, re-insert them into the system, and you're ready to go.

Ion Generators

As mentioned, these devices push ions out into the air in the room, where they stick to particulate matter and fall to surfaces like the floor and walls.

These models work using corona discharge or through UV-light production. Since there are no collection plates, the homeowner doesn't have to do any maintenance or cleaning on the machine like they do with an electrostatic precipitator model.

Buying an ion generator is a bit of a trade-off. These machines don't have any plates for cleaning, but they increase the accumulation of ions and particles on the floor and walls of the home.

If you select one of these models, you'll have to increase the cleaning schedule. The ions just remove the particles from the air, but they are still there on the floors and surfaces.

Ozone Health Standards in Air Purifiers

There's a significant hidden issue with these devices when you operate an ion generator or an electrostatic precipitator model. When these machines produce ions, they also create "ozone" as a byproduct of the process.

Ozone is a material containing three oxygen atoms bound together in a molecule. This gaseous material exists in the stratosphere, protecting us from the sun's harmful UV rays.

However, at ground level, ozone interacts with oxygen and other atmospheric gases to form smog. Brining an ionizer into your home increases levels of ground-level ozone in the air, leading to the onset of respiratory distress.

During the 90s, the "Sharper Image" air purification system was a popular fan-less device found in homes across America. The manufacturer claimed the Sharper Image could clean the air better than any air conditioner, and they got a huge market share.

However, a Consumer Affairs Report showed that the Sharper Image had low efficacy levels for removing particulate matter from the air. The same report also showed that the device increased levels of ground-level ozone in the air.

As a result, the ion generator lost interest with consumers, and more people moved onto portable air conditioning units instead.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), ozone causes harmful health effects like coughing, chest pains, throat irritation, and shortness of breath with just short-term exposure to the gas.

Most people won't be able to smell the presence of ozone in the air, but some individuals with sensitive noses can identify the presence of the gas if they are close to the source.

According to the FDA, the output of air-ionizer devices must exceed no more than 50-ppb (parts per billion). As a result, many ionizer manufacturers make an attempt to reduce the emissions created by their devices.

When shopping for an ionizer or air purification system with an ionizer feature, make sure you check the manufacturer's user guide. Look for information on ozone emissions to see if they conform with FDA standards. However, we recommend avoiding these models entirely where possible.

What Pollutants Does an Air Ionizer Remove from the Air?

Air ionizers effectively remove particulate matter like dust, mold spores, and pollen from the air. The ions stick to the particles, dragging them to the ground.

However, it's important to note that the amount of ions produced by the machine is usually smaller than required to consume all of the particulate matter in the air. As a result, it may take ionizers longer to clean the air than other purification systems, such as air-cons.

Ionizers are also unable to remove gases like volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) from the air. VOCs are a class of compounds that evaporate quickly after exposure to air and room temperature conditions. Formaldehyde is a good example of this pollutant, and prolonged exposure can lead to health complications in affected individuals.

Ionizers aren't effective in removing these gasses. If you have a problem with VOCs or smoke in your home, it's a better idea to go with a purification system that includes carbon filters. Carbon filtration scrubs odors, smoke, and VOCs out of the air. However, they don't o a good job of removing particulate matter. Therefore, we recommend you pair a carbon prefilter system with a HEPA filtration unit for best results.

Ionizer Air Purifiers Vs. HEPA Air Purifiers

The ionizer and HEPA filter are both common features in the modern air purification system. However, which one is the better choice for your home? If you had to choose between an independent ionizer and a HEPA filter, which one is the right buy?

The answer? The HEPA filtration system. HEPA filters remove up to 99.97% of all particulate matter from the air. They can remove particles as small as 0.3-microns in size, removing the majority of dust, pet dander, pollen, and spores from the air.

Scientists invented the HEPA filter when working on the Manhattan Project in the 1940s. The filter's purpose was to remove radioactive particles from the air in labs working on the atomic bomb.

HEPA filters also don't produce any ground-level ozone, and they are the gold standard in air filtration technology in the commercial sector, including in hospitals.

In contrast, ionizers are a bad choice for a solo filtration unit. As mentioned, they produce ground-level ozone that's bad for your health.

The Verdict – Avoid Buying an Air Ionizer

By now, you should understand how ionizers work and the effect they have on air quality in the home. You should also find yourself agreeing with us when we say that ionizer functions are not worth the money, and they add no value to the purification process.

While ions might benefit from trapping particulate matter, the ground-level ozone produced by the machine makes it somewhat of a health hazard to operate in the house. It's better to avoid the ionizer function if you can. If you purchase a portable model that includes an ionizer function, never use it.

Get an Air Quality Check of Your Home with MI&T

Before installing your new HVAC system or tuning on your portable unit, get an air inspection for your home. MI&T is the leading expert in air quality analysis, issuing you with a report on the current status of the air quality in your home.

We also specialize in mold detection. If you suspect you have mold in your home, give us a call. We'll visit your premises and use the latest tech in air detection to inspect every room in the house. We give you a comprehensive report on the air quality, and we'll track down any mold infestations.

We can't remove the mold if we find it, and we don't recommend any removal company. That might seem strange, but this strategy allows us to give you an impartial and unbiased air quality report. You can trust the team at MI&T because we have no affiliation or partnership with any removal company.

Removing mold from your home is critical to the health of you and your family. When mold gets out of control, it causes increases in allergy responses, as well as respiratory distress. Contact the team at MI&T and book your inspection today.