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An Overview of Ionizer Air Purifiers: What You Need to Know

An Overview of Ionizer Air Purifiers: What You Need to Know

It goes without saying that you want the air that you and your family to breathe to be as clean as possible; after all, the average person spends about 90% of their time inside and studies have confirmed that indoor air quality is markedly poorer than the outdoor air. The air inside your home can contain a number of contaminants, such as pollen, pet dander, dust mites, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), al of which can cause adverse health effects; they can aggravate allergies, asthma, COPD, and can even cause respiratory illnesses. Fortunately, there are ways to remove airborne contaminants and improve your home’s indoor air quality. How? – By using an air purifier.

There are lots of different types of air purifiers, including ionizers. In fact, ionizers have become extremely popular in the air purification market. That’s because the manufacturers of ionizers claim that their products are highly effective at removing airborne contaminants, can reduce the allergies, improve respiratory health, and even eliminate odors. But are these claims really true? If you’re looking to improve your home’s indoor air quality, you might be thinking about purchasing an ionizer. Before you do, however, you want to be sure that it will actually allow you to achieve your goal.

What is an ionizer? How does it work? To find the answers to these questions and more, keep on reading. Below, you’ll learn more about ionizers so that you can determine whether or not it will allow you to improve your home’s indoor air quality.

What Is An Ionizer Anyway?

Ionizers go by many names, including ionizer air purifiers, ionizing air purifiers, ion generators, ionic air purifiers, and air ionizers. There are also air purifiers that are referred to as electrostatic air purifiers and electrostatic precipitators, which are similar to ionizers (which we’ll dive into later). To keep things easy to follow, in the context of this article, all kinds of ionizing air purifiers will simply be referred to “ionizers”.

Unlike other types of air purifiers, which use a fan to draw polluted indoor air into a physical air filter, then passes the air through a filter and removes the contaminants before releasing the air, an ionizer uses a high voltage to generate an electrical charge – usually negative – to particles that either move through the standalone appliance, or into molecules in the air. The charged molecules are known as ions (or anions), which stick to particles in the air. Electrically charged particles are the final result.

The electrically charged particles are attracted to opposite charges that particles or surfaces contain, which makes the particles clump up, creating bigger, more dense particles that settle into the air on surrounding surfaces. Alternatively, the particles can be drawn to and stuck to charged surfaces, such as in pieces of furniture or rugs that have achieved a positive charge as a result of static electricity. Air purifiers that feature electrostatic technologies capitalize on this fact by offering a collector plate that is positively charged, which attracts various types of particles. Standard ionizers lack plates, and as a result, the particles wind up collecting somewhere else in a room, such as on a floor, on furniture, or on window curtains.

Types of Ionizers

There are two main types of ionizers:

  • Fanless. These types of ionizers rely on the air currents within the space the appliance is used in to waft the particles in the air through the device. The benefit of this is that their operation is virtually whisper quite, making them a good choice for rooms where minimal noise level is a must, such as in a bedroom or a baby nursery. However, the drawback is that fanless ionizers can take quite a while to purify the air.
  • Fan-based. These types of ionizers, as the name suggests, feature fans, which help to speed up the air purification process. The fan draws air and the pollutants they contain into the device, remove the pollutants, and then expel the cleansed air back out into the environment.

There are also hybrid ionizers that are outfitted with other types of air purification technologies. Some feature HEPA filtration, which removes small airborne particles. Others are outfitted with activated carbon filtration, which removes odors, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and other types of gaseous pollutants from the air. In some cases, the filters are charged, which allows it to function as a collector plate in an electrostatic purifier. In a lot of hybrid ionizers, the ionizing function operates independently, so you can turn it on and off as you’d like; for example, with an ionizer that features HEPA filtration, you can use both options together, or you can use it as a HEPA filter alone.

The Popularity of Ionizers

The popularity of ionizers came into the mainstream in the early part of the 21st century, when Sharper Image, an American-based electronics store, introduced the Ionic Breeze and sold the appliances in stores throughout the country. The Ionic Breeze was an innovative way of utilizing technology for air purification, and for a period of time, a lot of consumers were fascinated by them; however, the bubble was burst when Consumer Reports conducted testing on the Ionic Breeze. These tests determined that the Ionic Breeze did not effectively purify the air; in fact, it was found that the appliance had the potential to be dangerous, as it could generate ozone. Naturally, Sharper Image took a bit hit because of this testing and filed a lawsuit against Consumer Reports; however, they lost their suit and instead, a class action lawsuit was filed against them, and ultimately, they went out of business. The Sharper Image name still exists, but it is owned by a different company.

Do Ionizers Work?

Ionizers can minimize the size of airborne allergens to 0.1 microns. A micron is one-millionth of a meter. For comparison, HEPA filters can remove up to 99.97 percent of airborne particles that measure as small as 0.3 microns. In order to truly improve the quality of your home’s indoor air, two kinds of airborne pollutants need to be addressed: particulate and gaseous. In order to determine whether or not ionizers are effective, both types of pollutants need to be discussed.

  • Particulate pollutants. Standalone ionizers (not hybrid models, but those that only feature ionizing technology) does very little to remove airborne particulate matter. Though an ionizer does add an electrical charge to the particles, which causes them to clump up and rush out of the air, the particles wind up collecting in piles on surfaces, such as on the floor, on countertops, and on furnishings. Needless, this generates a mess, which has to be cleaned up, which can be difficult. Plus, even with routine cleaning, a great deal of particles, such as pet dander, dust mites, and mold spores, can get kicked back up into the air via currents. In other words, instead of cleansing the air, they can actually put pollutants back into the air.
  • Gaseous pollutants. Ionizers are not capable of removing gaseous pollutants, odors, or volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the air. They can only remove particulate airborne pollutants, so they are ineffective at removing gaseous pollutants. Additionally, ionizers can generate ozone, which can have adverse effects.

As standalone appliances, ionizers aren’t particularly efficient for any purpose. Fanless devices are only capable of cleaning relatively small amounts of air. Fan-based models may be more effective, but their clean air delivery ratings (CADR) are pretty low. Ionizers that feature electrostatic plates are more efficient, and do a pretty good job at removing airborne particles; however, the efficiency only lasts as long as the collector plate within is clean. As the collector plate becomes saturated with particles, the efficiency of the appliance dramatically decreases. Additionally, electrostatic precipitators draw in a great deal of electricity.

Are Ionizers Safe?

The process of utilizing an electrical charge in order to generate ions also generates ozone gas. While ozone is utilized to decontaminate and sterilize indoor air and surfaces; however, at high levels, they can be hazardous. Ozone is a toxic gas and even at low concentration levels, can irritate the lungs. Furthermore, it can interact with gaseous contaminants, yet there isn’t a specific way to determine what other types of chemicals the reaction will generate. Ozone, for example, interacts with various types of pollutants, and can pose serious health problems, such as lung irritation.

Should You Invest in An Ionizer?

Due to the fact that they are relatively ineffective and the fact that they can generate ozone, ionizers have the potential to pose serious hazards. Therefore, using a ionizing air purifier; particularly if someone in your home suffers from respiratory health issues, such as asthma or COPD. If you do decide to use an ionizer, here’s a look at some tips that you can use to improve their safety and efficacy:

  • Clean the collector plate that is connected to the electrostatic precipitator models as often as possible.
  • Cleanse the area that surrounds the ionizer on a regular basis. Ideally, you should use a vacuum filter that features HEPA filtration.
  • If you have a hybrid unit – an ionizer with a HEPA or an activated carbon filter, for example – make sure to keep the ionizer function as frequently as possible.

Arrange for Regular Mold Inspections

In addition to the above-mentioned tips, you should also consider having routine mold inspections performed by a reputable and knowledgeable professional. A Mold Inspection and Testing technician will conduct the most extensive test of the surfaces and the indoor air quality of your home. Based on the information discussed above, regular mold testing, combined with the use of an ionizer could help to improve the quality of your home’s indoor air.

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