Can Air Purifiers Make You Sick? Here’s 5 Things to Consider

Air purifiers can be a fantastic tool for those who suffer from allergies, asthma, or ill health. These clever devices work to clear the air of dust, smoke, pollen and other unpleasant pollutants that can cause discomfort and disease. When researching air purifiers, though, you may have come across some reports that air purifiers can make you sick and wondered: can air purifiers cause illnesses?

The truth is, air purifiers should not make you sick. After all, they are specifically designed to improve your health by reducing the number of contaminants in the air. That said, it is very important that you choose the right air purifier for your needs and use it correctly. Otherwise, there is the potential that you may make matters worse.

In this article, we take you through five of the most important things to consider when choosing and using an air purifier so you can be sure your air purifier is helping your health, and not hindering it.

1. Use Your Air Purifier Correctly

Air purifiers can only improve your air quality and your health if they are used correctly. Many people make the mistake of rushing out to buy a new air purifier, only to feel no benefit as they are not running the unit in the right way or for an adequate amount of time.

The best way to use your air purifier is to keep it switched on day and night. When you first get an air purifier, you should use it on its strongest setting at first so that all the nasty airborne particles in the room are cleared as quickly as possible. If you are using your air purifier in a small room, the air could be cleaned in as little as 30 minutes. Larger rooms, though, or those with higher ceilings may need as long as 2 hours to complete the first clean.

Once you feel the benefit of your air purifier, whatever you do, don’t turn it off! If you switch it off, the air quality in the room can quickly return to what it was previously. If you are very sensitive, this can cause kickstart your allergies or irritate your airways to leave you feeling worse than before. To avoid this, simply turn the power down a couple notches instead to maintain the quality of the air in the room.

2. Avoid Ozone Generating Air Purifiers

Some air purifiers emit the unstable gas ozone when in use. This can be a part of their air purifying method or simply a side effect of their functioning. Ozone gas is made up of three oxygen atoms, instead of the usual two oxygen atoms which we need to breathe to stay alive. Some air purifiers use this gas because it is believed that ozone can react with and destroy unwanted chemicals, irritants and disease-causing microbes in the air.

Ozone gas is toxic, however, and causes inflammation of the throat and lungs. Overexposure to ozone can be very damaging to your health and can result in breathing trouble, coughing, and tightness in your chest. Babies and young children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of ozone. In serious cases, breathing in ozone over long periods can cause irreversible damage to your lungs and even early death in weak individuals.

While ozone is safe in very small amounts, it is still better to avoid air purifiers that use ozone or use these models only in empty rooms. When shopping for an air purifier, be wary of any product which uses terms such as “activated oxygen” or something similar. This can be used as a marketing ploy to make the product sound healthier.  If you’re in any doubt, ask the storekeeper or contact the manufacturer to clarify whether or not a particular model uses ozone. It is also important to be aware that ozone air purifiers are very different from dedicated ozone generators, which are designed to be used to eliminate odors in empty rooms.

Keep in mind that some types of ionic air purifiers can also release ozone. These air purifiers work by using electricity to create negatively-charged ions which capture and weigh-down unwanted particles in the air. This electricity can interfere with oxygen molecules and turn them into ozone. That said, newer versions of ionic air purifiers have been designed so that they do not produce any ozone. In fact, some models actively work to capture ozone molecules and convert them back to oxygen, such as the top ionic air purifier in our review.

If you want to be sure you are avoiding ozone altogether, look for air purifiers which use “High-Efficiency Particulate Air” or “HEPA” filtration systems. This means that the filters are capable of removing 99.97% of particulate matter down to the incredibly small 0.3 microns. Clearly, a HEPA filter is a very efficient alternative method of capturing allergens and irritants without using ozone emission or ionization.

3. Maintain Household Hygiene

One of the most common misconceptions about air purifiers is that you will no longer need to clean your home as frequently since your air purifier will suck up all the dust and particles for you. This is completely incorrect, and if you suffer from allergies and follow this logic, you will likely find yourself feeling worse than before.

Cleaning your home thoroughly is essential as many purifiers, like ionizing air purifiers, help to rid pollutants from the air by disturbing the pet dander, dust, pollen and other troublesome pollutants that have settled in the room so that they can be attracted to the negatively charged ions it has created. Once these negative ions have bound with the pollutants, they become very heavy and fall to the floor or onto other surfaces. Therefore, if you fail to clean your home thoroughly, all these allergens and pollutants will simply remain where they have fallen, waiting to be picked up on your hands or clothing and potentially making you feel unwell.

4. Change The Filters Regularly

Not performing regular maintenance, including changing the filters regularly, could also cause your air purifier to make you feel worse. If your air purifier uses a HEPA filter to collect pollutants, it is very important that you clean or change them regularly. If you fail to to do so, the filters can become clogged, which can lead to a myriad of issues that can affect the efficiency of your air purifier as well as your health. How frequently you need to change your air purifier filter depends on a number of variables, so it is essential that you check these elements regularly.

Dying bacteria that have become clogged and trapped in the filter can release toxins into the air, which are then blown back into the room. Mold spores which have also become trapped will stay alive. They can grow and feed on the dirt which is stuck in the filter, potentially releasing spores which are then circulated back into the air. This issue can also be seen with electrostatic air purifiers that use electrically charged plates to attract and capture pollutants. These plates will stop working effectively if they get too dirty, but the fan will keep going, disturbing pollutants and blowing them around the room for you to breathe in. Therefore, you could certainly find yourself feeling unwell if you don’t take the time to clean and maintain your air purifier.

5. Check Air Purifier Ratings and Standards Carefully

When choosing your air purifier, you should check the ratings and standards it has to make sure it is of a good quality. One of the most important ratings to look for is the clean air delivery rate (CADR), which describes how efficient the air purifier is at filtering out pollen, dust and smoke from the air. The higher this rating, the more effective the air purifier will be. Any air purifier with a CADR rating of under 100 could make your air quality worse, by simply circulating allergens and irritants around the room even more. Not all air purifiers will have this rating, as it is a voluntary test undertaken independently by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers.

In addition, if you are shopping for an air purifier which uses a HEPA filtration system, you need to be wary of misleading marketing terms. If the air purifier is described as “HEPA style” or “HEPA-like,” this means that the filters inside haven’t passed the HEPA standard and will not be as efficient as you are expecting. These models may have a loose casing around the filter which allows air to avoid the filter altogether. This means they will disturb and circulate pollutants but will not do very well at actually removing them, which can contribute to you feeling unwell.

Final Thoughts

Overall, air purifiers are very safe to use. Like any product, though, you must do your research first and make sure you use them correctly to avoid any mishaps. If you shop carefully, avoid ozone generating models, keep on top of your housework, and clean the filters regularly, your air purifier should not make you sick. Instead, a high-quality and well-maintained air purifier will provide many benefits; prevent allergies, improve your health, and generally make your home a much purer and pleasant place to be.

Further Reading