An Air Purifier is a necessity, not a luxury: The Whys and Basics

Air pollution was the 4th leading risk factor for early death worldwide in 2019, surpassed only by high blood pressure, tobacco use, and poor diet. It was the leading risk factor for premature deaths in India in 2019, accounting for nearly 18% of all deaths – 1.67 million deaths due to air pollution in India in 2019.

Important Reasons to have an Air purifier

Indoor air pollution is ranked among the top 5 environmental health risks to the public by Environmental Protection Agency. Carbon-based gaseous pollutants (VOCs) could be 2 – 5 times higher than outdoors. In India, Indoor air pollution is one of the top 10 disease risk factors. It is invisible but no less a threat to our health. A large part of household items in our homes as well offices are sources of Indoor Air Pollution.

Clean and fresh air to breathe has become a necessity for a healthy life. This has become a scarce resource. People living in cities are at an increased risk of suffering from hazardous consequences.
Giving your body even a few hours of clean air will make your lungs stronger and well equipped to bear the onslaught of air pollution when you step outdoors. As we have become dependent on water filters to provide us clean drinking water, similarly air purifiers have become a necessity for our indoors (homes & offices).

What should be looked at when buying a good air purifier?

  1. Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) at a medium speed, where the noise level is acceptable and not high – it should be able to provide for atleast 2 air changes in one hour.
  2. HEPA filter quality: A good quality HEPA filter is an important factor to consider. A true HEPA filter should be of H12 or H13 grade.
  3. Carbon filter: A good quality carbon filter weighing 500 grams or above.
  4. Pre-filter: a good washable pre-filter to take care of larger particles.
  5. Noise levels: Below 50 dB, at medium speed, should be acceptable.
  6. Indicator for a filter change.

Air purifiers have two broad categories – passive filtration and active filtration

Passive filtration technology is one of the safe technologies used in an air purifier. Air purifiers with good particulate filtration ensure that no particles come through in the air that is released from the purifier. These are expensive because the filters need to be changed regularly. These machine filters simply block pollutants in the filters and allow the passage of clean air.
Active Purifier technology is primarily used these days. The filters here send out charged ions in the air i.e. chemically, change the molecular structure of the pollutants in the air, in the process, creating by-products of the very pollutants they are removing. Quite a lot of these cost-effective air purifiers use some type of active filtration technology. These remove basic odours well but are not capable of removing harmful gases like nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde & other VOCs.Most cost-effective air purifiers in the market today use some form of active filtration, with a basic particulate filter and an active carbon filter to remove trace odours. Some advanced active purifiers do remove all gases including and certain VOCs.

The air purifier should only absorb harmful and gaseous pollutants and not microbiological pollutants. It is fine to breathe in a small number of microbiological pollutants. We need to breathe in a certain amount of them so our bodies can battle them. If they are completely removed, that is, we stay in a completely sterile environment, we lose our immunity against them.

Passive purifiers are more efficient since all the dust and particulate matter is permanently removed from the air and collected in the filters.
Ideally, air purifiers for homes should be bought having passive filtration technology.

How do various types air purifiers work?

It is necessary to consider the type of air purifier while answering this question. There are five main types of air purifiers, each uses a different filtering system and mechanics to remove toxins, pollen, dust and smoke from the air.
  1. HEPA Technology
  2. Activated Carbon Technology
  3. UV Technology
  4. Negative Ion
  5. Ozone
  • HEPA air purifiers are the most effective at trapping airborne particles; however, they do not remove odours, chemicals or gases.
  • Carbon filters are used to remove odours & gases. They combat Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), like formaldehyde. These are hazardous gases that normally pass through a HEPA. Activated carbon filters react with these hazardous gases to remove them from the air.
  • UV technology air purifiers have a UV lamp installed and as microorganisms pass by the UV rays radiated from the lamp, microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses are destroyed. The challenge is to remove ozone which most of the cheaper purifiers are not able to do.
  • Negative ion air purifiers use chemical injections to clean the air. They merely mask the polluted air as opposed to cleaning it. The negative ion simply takes the airborne particles out of the air and transfers them to walls and surrounding solid items in the room instead of eliminating them. When they are stuck to walls and other surfaces, they have the ability to become loose and re-circulate themselves back into the air again causing air pollution.
  • Ozone air purifiers are very similar to negative ion purifiers, except that , they emit ozone into the air. While these air purifiers will force the heavier particles to the ground, these products are not right for everyone. Exposure to ozone may ignite asthma symptoms and a high enough level can even damage the lungs.

The Fact Card

Any air purifier with an ozonizer, negative ionizer, UV light, or any kind of ‘active filtration’ technology has the potential to emit ozone or other harmful by-products. In India, we already have high levels of ozone in the air in most parts of India. A small amount of additional ozone to an already high level will make the pollution problem worse having serious harmful effects on human health. Hence, any air purifier that can possibly emit ozone or any by-product should be avoided.

The bad news about air purifiers

Air purifiers, especially the ones using active particulate filtrations, are not best for your lungs. Most of the present air purifiers release ozone as a by-product. Except for air purifiers with passive filtration technology, most of the available air purifiers are either an ozonizer, releasing ozone, or an ionizer, releasing electric charge in the air that results in ozone. These machines are banned in the US and many other developed countries, but not in India.

In India, the normal levels of ozone are already high, so releasing more ozone into the air is adding to the already serious air pollution problem.
The other problem with air purifiers does not help in reducing carbon dioxide levels. So in a sealed room and with an air purifier running, carbon dioxide levels can rise fast, leading to headaches, drowsiness and reduced productivity and sick building syndrome?
Lastly, people who prefer natural air purification, one way to get rid of all these pollutants is indoor plants and loads of them.
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Know Your Home Air

Gas heating systems, leaking chimneys, fire places emits carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and other harmful pollutants. Plastics and common household cleaners, paints, paint thinner often placed under the kitchen sink, release Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), when used and stored. Overheating of non-stick cookware releases toxic fumes. Pesticides we use in and around the home also release various chemical and semi-volatile compounds.


Harmful effects
Carbon monoxide causes headache, dizziness and fatigue. These often cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, nausea, and can also damage the liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Fine particles are produced during all kinds of combustion which lead to acute and chronic effects to respiratory and cardiovascular systems.

Pet dander and hair, carpet, rugs, upholstery furniture are main source of dust mites, fungus, and bacteria. A dirty filter of air conditioners acts as a reservoir for dirt, dust and other airborne contaminants that are continuously circulated back into your breathing air. Secondhand smoke from cigarettes, other tobacco products and mosquito coil emits VOC’s and formaldehyde and various particulate matters. CO2 released from our lungs is exhaled in the air which pollutes the air if the place is too crowded or there is less ventilation.


Harmful effects
All these can trigger coughing, nosebleeds, shortness of breath, dry mouth, vomiting,
digestive tract problems, depression, allergy and asthma attacks, and other respiratory illness.

Shower, faucets and other water sources are main cause of humidity and mold. Bathroom cleaners and personal care products like toothpaste, soaps, facial tissues, detergent, fabric softeners, air fresheners, deodorizers, hair sprays, disinfectants, are full of VOC’s and chemicals which emits harmful pollutants.


Harmful effects
Mold can cause allergic reactions, asthma and other respiratory ailments. VOC’s and toxic chemicals released in the bathroom can causes eye, nose, and throat irritation, nausea and respiratory problems. All these products release harmful pollutants while they are used also when they are stored.

A bedroom contains many sources of indoor air pollution. Mattress, pillow and blankets, soft toys, are the reservoirs of dust mites, fungi and bacteria. Furniture, carpets, paints and beauty product like hairspray, nail polishes, perfumes, deodorants etc off gas VOC, formaldehyde and toxic gases into the air.


Harmful effects
These pollutants make the air unhealthy which leads to allergy, asthma attacks, dizziness, headache, fatigue and other respiratory ailments.

Second-hand smoke
Second hand Smoke is a mixture of the smoke given off by the burning of tobacco products, such as cigarettes, cigars or pipes and the smoke exhaled by smokers. Secondhand smoke is also called environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). Passive smoking can lead to coughing, excess phlegm, and chest discomfort. NCI (National Cancer Institute) also notes that spontaneous abortion (miscarriage), cervical cancer, sudden infant death syndrome, low birth weight, nasal sinus cancer, decreased lung function, exacerbation of cystic fibrosis, and negative cognitive and behavioral effects in children have been linked to ETS. Secondhand smoke exposure commonly occurs indoors, particularly in homes and cars. Secondhand smoke can move between rooms of a home and between apartment units.

Guest Bathroom

Central heating and cooling systems and humidification devices
The air filter in your HVAC system is the front line of defense against poor indoor air quality. A typical central heating and cooling system circulates over 1,000 cubic feet per minute of air through the filter. This means the entire air volume in your house passes through the filter multiple times every day. A dirty filter, however, can actually make indoor air quality worse by acting as a reservoir for dirt, dust and other airborne contaminants that are continuously circulated back into your breathing air. In addition to driving up your utility bill, a clogged air filter will allow all that dust and debris that should be filtered out to be re-circulated back into your home. This can cause chronic allergies and especially be dangerous for people with asthma or other respiratory conditions.

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