green parrot

Are Air Purifiers Safe for Birds?

cockatiel  parrot with yellow and orange dot cheeks

One of the big challenges, if you have birds in your home or as a pet shop owner, is dealing with the pollution they produce. In searching for ways to deal with this, you may have come across the idea of air purifiers. However, you might have also heard air purifiers are potentially dangerous for birds and this has left you wondering,

Are air purifiers safe for birds? The short answer is, yes, but not all air purifiers are safe for birds. Some air purifiers are designed to specifically deal with indoor air pollution caused by pets, including birds. However other air purifiers, especially those that emit ozone are not safe and can actually kill birds.

Let me start by saying that, if you have a pet bird in your home, I highly recommend you invest in an air purifier, especially if you have powder down species like the African grey or cockatiel among others. You should also further consider one for your bird if you smoke.

You see, birds have highly efficient respiratory systems and inhale way more air per body weight than us. Accordingly, they are way more sensitive and vulnerable to airborne toxins in their environment than we are and you really have to ensure they have the best air quality possible.

In their natural habitat, plant life, and rain clean your bird’s air and they have ample good-quality air. However, in captivity, you expose your bird to unnatural levels of pollutants, including, cigarette smoke, traffic pollution, dust, cleaning chemicals and much more. 

Besides human pollution, you also expose your bird to higher than normal levels of pollution from their own dander and fecal matter than in their natural environment. So, if you don’t do anything to improve their air quality, you put their health at risk.

This is where air purifiers become very important and in the rest of this post I guide you on how to use air purifiers safely and ensure you are giving your bird the best air quality. If you read on, I start by showing you in detail all the potential threats of air purifiers to your birds.

Thereafter, I show you which air purifiers you should use and how to use air purifiers safely and optimally for your birds. Lastly, I show you a couple of extra things you should be doing, if you aren’t already, to get good air quality for your bird.

Threats Of Air Purifiers To Birds You Should Know Before Using An Air Purifier 

The biggest threat to your bird’s safety when using an air purifier has got to be ozone. When looking for an air purifier, you are bound to come across devices called, ozone generators, ionizers or plasma cluster air purifiers. All these produce ozone.

The reason why air purifiers that produce ozone are not safe for your bird is that ozone is a corrosive chemical that can damage your pet’s respiratory system. Minimal regular exposure of ozone over a long period can lower your bird’s immune system’s ability to fight respiratory infections.

Though ozone does have some strong air sanitization properties it is not advisable for use in a home with birds. What’s more, not only birds are affected by ozone but also humans, especially babies and toddlers or people with respiratory issues such as asthma or COPD

Some air purifiers are actually designed to produce ozone while others like plasma cluster and ionizer based purifiers, produce it unintentionally as a by-product of their air cleaning process and sometimes manufacturers don’t mention this.

Besides ozone, the other obvious danger of air purifiers to birds is the possibility of an air purifier catching fire due to an electrical fault or short-circuiting. Now, this threat is rare, but I have read about one too many stories of air purifiers short-circuiting and catching fire. 

If your air purifier is placed too close to your pet in this instance, there is a potential risk of your bird getting burnt or electrocuted in the process. Air purifiers can also be dangerous when placed in close proximity to your bird’s cage because they can create a draft.

Most air purifiers use a fan to suck and release air as part of their air purification process, and this airflow can create an uncomfortable draft for your bird.

If your bird is caught in the middle of your air purifiers airflow, as a caged animal, there is no way it can escape this and with a sensitive respiratory system, the cold air draft can get your bird sick. 

Though the airflow from your purifier may seem insignificant to you, your bird cannot take the cooling effect and dryness it may create over a long period of exposure.

Lastly, if you use an ionizer or plasma cluster air purifier, you will notice over time a thin film of dust starts to collect on surfaces around your home. The film of dust is a collection of neutralized pollutants that are a by-product of the cleaning process of these types of air purifiers. 

If this film of dust settles around your bird’s cage, your bird is at risk of inhaling or even consuming this unhealthy waste product. 

So these are all the ways that air purifiers can be unsafe for your bird that I have come across.  In summary, air purifiers can be unsafe for birds in four ways as follows,

  1. If they produce ozone directly or as a byproduct,
  2. Through an electrical fault,
  3. By causing a draught, or
  4. If they leave behind unhealthy waste products on surfaces

Keeping these dangers in mind, we can now have look at and better understand which air purifiers are suitable for you, if you are a bird keeper.

Which Air Purifiers Should You Use For Birds?

What To Avoid

I think if you have read this far, by now it’s quite obvious which air purifiers you should not use when you have birds. You have to avoid anything that produces ozone. The three types of air purifiers, I know that produce ozone includes, ozone generators, ionizers and any air purifier which has a plasma cluster. Don’t bother with these for your bird.

Furthermore, you also want to stay away from plasma cluster type devices and ionizers because of the thin film of byproduct they leave behind on surfaces around your home. You certainly do not want these by-products on your bird’s cage. 

Next, you want to stay away from any purifier below the US$100 price point. Most devices I have seen likely to catch fire or have an electrical fault while being used are under this price point. 

I have found the ideal price point for pet air purifiers, including birds is above US$150. Above that price point, you should be able to get a decent device.

Another common mistake I have seen people make when ordering an air purifier online is ordering a device with the wrong voltage for their country. Your device is sure to short circuit and potentially blow up should the country you live in operate on a higher voltage than your device is designed for. So please double check this.

Lastly, you want to avoid filtered air purifiers that have no activated carbon layer. This is because activated carbon helps you get rid of the unwanted odors your bird may produce. Unless of course odors are not an issue, then you can get any filter-based device that will help with just the airborne dust and dander.

What To Go For

The two types of air purifiers I have found work well for birds include activated carbon HEPA air purifiers and Photocatalytic Oxidation (PCO) air purifiers. Activated carbon HEPA purifiers are the most common type you will come across.

They get rid of both odors and solid pollutants released by your bird. Activated carbon absorbs gaseous pollutants in your air including odors while the HEPA part of the purifier captures the solid particulates.

When it comes to HEPA air purifiers though, just make sure you go for a True HEPA filter. If your device is not labeled True HEPA you should be questioning its ability to filter out ultrafine particulates released into your air by your bird.

As for PCO air purifiers, these types of purifiers are usually used in an industrial setting. Accordingly, you will see they are not as commonly available with retailers and online stores as other types of air purifiers. 

These devices are not widely produced, and they are not yet standardized and so you will find even ordering replacements parts for them can be a bit of hustle as you cannot find generic parts for them or even retrofit spares when you need to maintain your device.

Unlike filter-based air purifiers, PCO purifiers work by using wide spectrum UV light together with a thin titanium dioxide metal which acts as a catalyst to create a chemical reaction that burns airborne pollutants. The reaction burns pollutants turning them into harmless carbon dioxide and water.

The reaction happens within a reaction chamber in the core of the device while the device sucks in dirty air and blows out clean air into your home like the usual air purifier. You have to be careful with PCO air purifiers though as some older versions are reported to produce ozone. 

If you need to be absolutely sure of which air purifiers produce ozone or not, a good place to check is on the California Air resource boards website. They list pretty much every ozone-producing purifier you may come across.

PCO air purifiers get rid of smaller sized airborne pollutants than any other type of air purifier currently can. They will get rid of all pollutants that your bird produces. When I compare the two purifiers, I would go with a PCO air purifier because it’s a minimal maintenance device. 

However, in the long run, this type of purifier can become difficult to maintain as your model gets outdated, as usually, only your device manufacturer can provide you with spare parts. Activated carbon air purifiers, on the other hand, have to be maintained more frequently but spare parts for these are much easier to come by compared to other types of air purifiers.

If you weigh the costs over the long run, PCO air purifiers can be costlier than most HEPA purifiers because of their high initial purchase price. But if your HEPA purifier costs more than a PCO air purifier, I would choose the PCO purifier any day. 

That said, in terms of helping you and your bird, either of these two will work well. If you would like more in-depth information about all the different types of air purifiers available, you can find that here.

How To Best Use Air Purifiers For Your Bird

Once you have got the right air purifier for your bird, the next step is to use it properly. For me, the first step when it comes to using an air purifier for birds is to keep your bird's cage out of direct exposure to your air purifiers airflow. 

For your bird’s peace of mind, I would position the air purifier as centrally as possible in the room but at least 5 feet away from your bird. Besides minimizing draft, this will minimize the level of noise from the air purifier that your bird has to endure.

Whatever air purifier you decide to get, make sure you get the correct size to cover your whole room. If you don’t you are not really going to see any improvement in your air quality and you would have wasted your money. 

Should you have multiple rooms where you need the air cleaned because of your bird, it’s a good idea to invest in an air purifier for each room. Alternatively, you can get an HVAC based PCO or activated carbon HEPA air purifier. 

This will clean the air in all the rooms of your house where your HVAC reaches. You can then further supplement this with a portable air purifier in the room where your bird resides. 

Oh and another thing I should have mentioned earlier is that, should you find yourself with an air purifier with an ionizer or plasma cluster, don’t be quick to throw it out. Sometimes these types of air purifiers do come with a switch that allows you to turn off the ozone producing function making your air purifier safe for your bird.

Lastly, when cleaning your purifier’s filters, it is wise to do this outdoors. Clean your filter by vacuuming it with a HEPA based vacuum cleaner once per month or as instructed in your appliance manual. Make sure to use the lowest speed setting of your vacuum cleaner as filters are fragile and can be damaged easily. 

That said, also note that most air purifier filters cannot be cleaned. You will get some with washable filters but consult your manual before attempting to wash any filter. Maintaining your device as advised in your manual is very critical to ensuring the best performance of your purifier in providing you and your feathered friend with good air quality.

Other Things To Consider When Using An Air Purifier To Improve Your Bird’s Air Quality

Besides playing around with your air purifier, you need to address your air quality issues as much as possible at the source. Your birdcage has to be cleaned often to minimize bad odors. You should also maintain your vacuuming routine and use a HEPA based vacuum cleaner.

Lastly, to reduce the level of dust your bird produces, you should provide your bird with regular bathing opportunities. In their normal habitat, birds get a chance to clean themselves in the rain or natural pools.  

For small birds, you can neatly install a pool in their cage. I found this one at Amazon quite cool. With bigger birds, like parrots, you can actually get them a shower perch which you can also get here at Amazon and take a shower with them. 

By Implementing these three basic pet hygiene measures while using an air purifier, you should have much better air quality in your home in no time. On this note let me leave you with a video of a parrot showering I found quite amusing. 

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.

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