dangers of air purifiers

Are Air Purifiers Dangerous? Everything You Should Know

dangers of air purifiers

When I was exploring suitable air purifiers for my home, I got curious about the safety of air purifiers and whether they would be of danger to me and my family. Accordingly, I went and did some research and here is what I discovered.

So in short, are air purifiers dangerous? Most air purifiers are safe as long as they are used as instructed by their manufacturer. However, certain types of air purifiers emit ozone and other by-products as part of their cleaning process which with prolonged exposure, can harm humans and animals.

Air purifiers can be dangerous in a variety of ways. Based on my findings the way air purifiers can be dangerous can be split into 2 categories namely, direct dangers and indirect dangers. Direct dangers include the dangers that arise directly out of the air purifier's normal day to day function while indirect dangers are dangers that arise as a result of improper use of your purifier.

You will encounter both the direct and indirect dangers mainly depending on the type of air purifier you have. Keeping this in mind, I will first take you through the direct dangers, then the indirect dangers and finally give you my thoughts on how you and your family can stay safe and out of harm's way when using an air purifier.

Direct Dangers Of Air Purifiers

The direct dangers of air purifiers strongly depend on the type of air purifier you have. I call these dangers direct because you get exposed to them as a direct result of your purifier producing harmful by-products.

Now like I said before, not all purifiers produce harmful by-products. The ones that are well known to do so include ionic purifiers, ozone generators, UV germicidal irradiation purifiers and some but not all photocatalytic (PCO) air purifiers. All of these produce ozone as a direct result of their air cleaning process and therein lies their danger.

It is well documented that ozone has harmful health effects and most especially respiratory health consequences. It is especially dangerous if you or even your pet has any pre-existing respiratory problems such as bronchitis or asthma. Ozone will cause you throat, nose and eye irritations, and headaches, chest pains and shortness of breath.

In ionic air purifiers, ozone is unintentionally produced as a by-product of the electrostatic reactions that occur between the negative ions generated by your purifier and contaminants in the air. On the other hand, as the name says, ozone generators are intentionally designed to produce ozone to take advantage of their strong antibacterial and cleaning properties in cleaning the air.

UV air purifiers create ozone when a wavelength at 254 nm (nanometers) from their UV light hits an oxygen atom.  The normal oxygen molecule splits into two atoms, which join other oxygen molecules to form ozone (e.g, they change from O2 molecules to O3). Some research shows that through a similar process, PCO air purifiers also produce ozone. However, with technological advancement, some PCO purifiers now produce no ozone at all and some are even being designed to remove ozone from the air.

Besides ozone, ionic and UV air purifiers have some additional direct dangers. Through their electrostatic reaction, many ionic air purifiers, mainly the fanless ones. actually, create particles that stick to walls and other surfaces in your home. Ionic purifiers do indeed get contaminants out of the air, but these charged particles are often just left to fall to the ground rather than being collected by the purifier.

As a result, you will find a common complaint around the internet is that these particles create a thin film of dust on various surfaces around your home. These particles are still dangerous to your health after settling and when you decide to remove them from affected surfaces around your home, you are at risk of making them airborne again and inhaling them. Moreover, ionic air purifiers produce a lot of other by-products and until these things are studied more, we don't really know how safe they are.

As for UV purifiers, though the lamps are often shielded within an air purifier with switches that automatically shut off the UV lamps if you open the system, you are in danger if this system fails in any way and you get exposed to the light. If your skin is exposed to germicidal wavelengths of UV light, you will get a painful rapid sunburn. Even worse, if you stare at the light, its radiation can produce extremely painful inflammation of the cornea and temporary or permanent vision impairment,  and in some cases, you can go blind.

Indirect Dangers of Air Purifiers

Unlike the direct dangers, the indirect dangers of air purifiers apply more broadly across the different types of air purifiers with minor differences between filter and filterless air purifiers. Remember that these are dangers that arise as a result of using your device incorrectly. With this in mind, I will start with the dangers that apply to all purifiers.

First on my list, is the risk of electrocution. Like all electric appliances, air purifiers are not unique, they will electrocute you if you tamper with them. So, don’t be preoccupied by other things while trying to clean your device, or try to replace parts while the device is on, and make sure the device is properly earthed when plugged in.

You are asking for trouble if you place your purifier near a place that is often wet like your laundry area or kitchen sink. You also want to avoid placing your air purifier in areas were kids and pets can mess with the device. The idea that keeps coming to my head is a dog peeing on the device or kid poking a wire into it.

If you have a portable or rechargeable purifier, I have heard one too many stories of these devices blowing up. This happens if the device is overcharged, being charged incorrectly or in the case of devices that use replaceable batteries, if the device is  using the incorrect batteries. If you don’t take precautions here, you could end up with a device blowing up in your face.

Now for indirect dangers unique to certain devices, the only dangers I found apply to filter based air purifiers. Because filtered air purifiers work by trapping and collecting air contaminants in a compartment of the filter that you often have to clean or replace once its full, every single time you replace the filter you are at risk of reintroducing the contaminants back to your air and inhaling them.

If you make any false move like banging or accidentally dropping a full filter while you are replacing it, this could send a bunch of pollutants back into the air. Besides, whatever type of filter mechanism your purifier has, if your filter is not properly sealed for any reason, unpurified air could leak all around the filter and escape back into your room. All you will be doing is pumping and recirculating pollution all over your home. With that said, these are all real dangers I discovered you will face with air purifiers.

One other concern I have seen people raise about the danger of air purifiers, is whether they dry the air or not and as a result cause dry skin, nosebleeds and all sorts of problems that come with dry air. From my observation and research, the short answer is that air purifiers do not dry air and you don’t need to worry about this. 

In any case, if you feel somehow your air is dry while using your air purifier, you can safely run a humidifier concurrently with your purifier or even better, get a combo air purifier which comes joint with a humidifier.

6 Steps You Can Take to Stay Safe and Avoid the Dangers of Air Purifiers

Looking over, the different dangers of air purifiers, here are some steps you can take to make sure you avoid the hazards of air purifiers.

1. Choose air purifiers which do not produce dangerous by-products

Time and again, the air purifiers I have found to not produce ozone or harmful by-products are PCO air purifiers and HEPA air purifiers. If you go the HEPA route, stick to true HEPA air purifiers. I personally avoid ionic type air purifiers.

2. Do not operate your air purifiers around wet areas of your home

This is quite straightforward and common advice with electrical appliances that are not water resistant. So I don’t need to explain this further.

3. Keep your air purifier out of reach of children and pets

If you have pets and kids running around the house, get a wall mounted air purifier or place your air purifiers in a place where kids can’t accidentally bump into it or tamper with it.

4. Wear a mask and go outdoors when cleaning or replacing filters on your air purifier

To avoid inhaling and spreading air contaminants back into your home, wear a safety mask and take your device outside when cleaning or replacing the filter on your air purifier.

5. Only use an ozone air purifiers when no one is at home

As I mentioned earlier, ozone is actually a powerful cleaning agent. It actually works well in cleaning the air, especially for musty smells and mold but the only time you should use it is when there is no one at home for the day. Normally ozone is used by professional home cleaners as they know how to take all the safety precautions.

So if you know ozone can solve you poor indoor air problem but you are not sure what you are doing with an ozone generator, rather have a professional come in and do the cleaning for you. You can have this kind of job done every 6 months or so while you and your family go away for the day.

6. Read and follow your manual

I don’t know how many times this is said, yet people overlook and ignore this basic principle. My guess is your mind is saying, “Ya RIGHT”, even as you read this but this is important. Not only will you know what not to do with your air purifier but you will also discover all the cool functions and features it comes with.

I have shared everything I know about the dangers of air purifiers with you. If you have any questions or want to add anything I missed out, or you think I got something wrong, do share your thoughts in the comments section.

About the Author

Jean-Baptiste

Jean is a research economist by profession and he runs Fresh Air Genie. He is enthusiastic about maintaining good air quality at home and on the go and he shares his knowledge about this here at Fresh Air Genie.

Comments

  1. Do you have any information on EMF radiation generated by different air purifiers? Many home appliances generate EMF radiation – any idea if certain categories of air purifiers would generate more EMF radiation via certain technology used?

    1. Author

      Hello Marianne, I will write an article on this soon. The short answer is all-electric appliances generate EMF. With air purifiers, it varies and largely depends on whether their motors are well shielded for EMF or not and whether they work with DC or AC current. Usually, DC has lower EMF emission but if I am not mistaken there are some inefficiencies with using DC. So this is not really category-specific but more of how your air purifier motor is shielded for EMF.

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