I live in a city where the air is polluted through various ways including, traffic, dust from construction and industrial processes. So, as my wife and I plan to have a child, one of our major concerns is that the air quality in our house, and more especially in our babies nursery is good for our baby when it arrives. As I looked for solutions, in my mind I knew that air purifiers can help ensure that indoor air is of good quality but I was still not too sure if they would be ok for my baby. Accordingly, I went and did a deep dive into this question and here is what I found.
Are air purifiers safe for babies? Air purifiers are generally safe for babies but this depends on the type of purifier. Some air purifiers emit dangerous ozone particles, which may prove harmful for adults and babies alike by causing various respiratory problems but most of those that do not emit ozone are generally safe.
Beyond being safe, using the right kind of air purifier goes a long way in minimizing the chances of your baby catching respiratory problems and other airborne diseases. Babies are so susceptible to respiratory diseases and allergies and if you are able to get an air purifier for your baby’s room, it only makes sense to get one.
So now you might be asking what type of air purifier is not safe and what is the right type for your baby? There are about 16 types of air purifiers available to consumers. Some of the most common you will definitely come across when considering one for your baby include True HEPA, Carbon Activated, Photocatalytic, HEPA-Type, Ozone Generator and Electrostatic/ Ionizer air purifiers. Of these, Ozone Generators, Ionizers and some HEPA air purifiers are not safe for your baby and you need to steer clear of them. Let me explain why in detail then afterwards I will briefly tell you about the safe options.
Unsafe Types of air Purifiers for Babies
HEPA-Type Vs True HEPA Filters
Firstly, don’t get confused between HEPA-Type and True HEPA air purifiers. Not that HEPA-Type purifiers are dangerous in themselves but they are less efficient in cleaning the air than True HEPA purifiers. HEPA-Type air purifiers do not have standards or restrictions and are inferior substitutes to True HEPA. Many HEPA-Type filters can only catch particles that are five microns or larger which misses a majority of the toxins that can impact your child’s health and therein lies their danger.
HEPA-Type filter air purifiers will not completely protect your baby and if you don’t know that they are different from True HEPA purifiers you could accidentally get the HEPA-Type and later be surprised that your purifier is not making the air quality in your house or nursery room good enough for your baby. To avoid this, make sure when you’re buying an air purifier that the specifications and labels on the box and manual actually use the words “True HEPA filter” and not “HEPA-Type filter” for the filter. This minor difference makes a huge impact on the effectiveness of the device and the safety of your child.
Electrostatic or Ionizer Air Purifiers
All ionic air purifiers emit some level ozone as a by-product when cleaning the air and ozone can cause serious health risks to you and your baby even in small amounts. Ionic air purifiers work by emitting ions into the air which bond with contaminants particles in the air, making them heavier and eventually fall to the ground or into a collector within the purifier device.
This process emits ozone and if babies let alone adults breathe in this ozone long enough, it will cause irritations in the throat and lungs. This is mainly why you want to keep away from ionic air purifiers. Besides the ozone, some ionic air purifiers that are not designed to collect the charged particles allow the particles to settle on walls and various surfaces around your home or room creating a thin film of dust which can be harmful to the baby.
You should also be on the lookout with some air purifiers that are labelled True HEPA as they might just include an “ionizer” or “ionizing” function to enhance the air cleaning function. Check the labels carefully when buying and if you find one these, go for it only if it has a switch to turn on or off the ionizer so you can safely use it around your baby. Personally, I would avoid any purifier with an ionizer but they serve a purpose especially when it comes to eliminating odours as ozone is actually a cleaning agent but if you are getting one for baby, play it safe and just buy an air purifier without this an ionizer.
If you thought ionizers were bad, for sure ozone generators are even worse as they are designed to purify the air by purely using ozone. The whole idea with this type of air purifier is that ozone gas is an effective antibacterial agent and does actually clear the air of contaminants really well. You see, ozone is actually very good at killing mould, and removing odours, bacteria, viruses, and other biological pollutants in the air.
However, as I briefly mentioned for ionic purifiers, due to the strong antibacterial properties of ozone, prolonged exposure to it flares up respiratory problems and more so if you or your baby has preexisting chronic respiratory conditions such as asthma. Beyond irritations, ozone is also known to cause coughing, shortness of breath, and chest pains in both adults and babies and it compromises the ability of your baby’s immune system to fight respiratory infections.
So you need to avoid any ozone-generating air purifier and your alarm bells should go off about anyone who tries to tell you that ozone from a purifier is harmless for your baby. What put the nail in the coffin for me about ozone was an article by the Environmental Protection Agency which said that ozone has little potential to remove indoor air contaminants, odours, as well as bacteria, viruses, mould or other biological pollutants. (i.e produce safe indoor air for baby) at levels safe enough to meet general health standards.
All in all, ozone generators have their place. They are best used for once off spring cleaning and removal of indoor odours and this is usually done by professional air cleaning services who will advise you not to be at home while they do cleaning because ozone is dangerous. So the bottom line is to stay away from anything Ozone for baby.
Safe Types of Air Purifiers for Babies
Now that you know the types of air purifiers that are dangerous for babies, let's briefly look at some safe options for baby and how they differ.
True HEPA Technology
If you ask scientists or air purification experts about True HEPA technology, they will tell you nothing like that exists. This because the name came about for marketing purposes. After HEPA purifiers started becoming widely recognised by consumers, various shady companies started making substandard HEPA lookalike devices and to distinguish between these less efficient filters and actual HEPA filters the industry developed a certification standard which now classifies and allows for the marketing of proper HEPA filters as True HEPA filters.
That said, an air purifier with a True HEPA filter can rid the air of up to 99.7% of particles as small as 0.3 microns. To give you a clearer picture of what this means, hair is about 50 microns. This means a True HEPA air purifier can capture particles about 1000 times smaller than hair. True HEPA filters clean at a microscopic scale, stopping viruses, bacteria and mould spores. This is why they are used in hospitals and computer server rooms where air needs to be as clean a possible and if you get one of these you can rest assured you are providing your baby with good enough air. However, with this kind of purifier, be financially prepared to change purifiers on a regular basis.
Activated Carbon Technology
Activated Carbon air purifiers rid the air of contaminants using airflow through a porous filter material. They work very well at removing volatile organic compounds (VOCs), chemicals and bacteria that usually produce odours or allergens. They are good for dealing with smoke, smells, fumes and gases such as the ones that come from paint, new carpets e.t.c. Such purifiers work by trapping and keeping the bad air particles inside the filter and keeping them there.
The drawback with activated carbon air purifiers, however, is that they fail to filter particulate common pollutants like dust or pollen from the air. Also, because they merely work by changing contaminants from a gaseous phase to a solid phase and store the solids within the filter, if ever you harshly tamper with the filter the captured contaminants can disperse back into your air.
Lastly, activated carbon purifiers need regular filter changes and compared to HEPA air purifiers, will only remove about 50% of dangerous air particles in a given room. Activated carbon air purifiers can be useful for protecting your baby from poor air quality but only if your pollution concerns are specifically about VOCs, smoke, gases and the limited list of contaminants it can filter out of the air.
Instead of trapping contaminants, UV air purifiers actually operate by completely eliminating germs and bacteria. They suck the germs and bacteria into a filter where concentrated UV is shone on them and then they are eventually destroyed. The challenge with UV based air is that they do not remove most allergen, dust, or solids in the air. They are also useless for gases and smoke. With UV purifiers, be prepared to occasionally replace the bulbs. Only go for UV air purifiers for your baby if all you are concerned about is your baby catching airborne, germs, viruses and bacteria.
Photocatalytic (PCO) air purifiers work by sucking pollutants air into the filter and dispersing in the sucked air across a densely packed matrix of hollow glass tubes which provide a catalytic surface. When they touch the tube the contaminants are broken down at a molecular level and the catalytic surface strips away their carbon atoms until they are destroyed. This process is largely a form of oxidation and it removes particles that even the best HEPA purifier cannot remove.
Photocatalytic air purifiers are also known for their energy efficiency and are very low maintenance compared to other types of purifiers with occasional replacement of the glass catalyst tubes. They destroy all kinds of particulate air pollutants and are highly recommended for babies. The Airocide PCO air purifier is one of the best examples I have seen for babies.
Combo Air Purifiers
Lastly on my list of safe air purifiers for babies are the various combo air purifiers. The deal with combo air purifiers is that you can get the best of both worlds. For example, you can get an air purifier with both a True HEPA filter and an activated carbon filter or a True HEPA filter which contains UV sterilization lamps.
The craziest air purifier combination I have seen includes a HEPA, Carbon, UV and Photocatalytic filter. I am not sure how effective this is and I am yet to check out the reviews but I would think such a device would give you super clean air.
Anyway, other cool combos you can try are True HEPA filter with either a humidifier or a dehumidifier to control air moisture around your baby depending on whether you live in a dry or humid area. This is a good route to go mostly because baby skin can be highly sensitive to air humidity with high risks of your child getting skin problems.
Final Considerations in Ensuring your Baby Breathes Safely
I have covered a lot of information in this post all to make sure you get the best out of air purifiers for your baby and I think the most important lesson I learnt about the safety of air purifiers for my unborn child is to stay away from anything that emits ozone.
We get pollution indoors for many reasons. It could be pollution from traffic, pollen in the air or some complicated air contaminants you have never heard of like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that can make your baby sick but you can rest assured air purifiers can safely help minimize their effect on your baby.
However, air purifiers on their own will not ensure good air quality around your baby. You obviously have to keep your home clean, open windows as often as possible to let fresh air in and if you are smoking parents kick the habit until your child's old enough to deal with the pollution. On this note let me end this post.
I hope you found the information useful and please do share your thoughts and questions on this topic in the comments and I will get back to you as soon as I can.