Buying an air purifier for your home or workplace is an important decision. It is easy to purchase just any purifier as they are available everywhere at stores, in catalogs, or online. It is harder to get past the mainstream price and marketing and find one that will do a good job at a reasonable price. Many people buy primarily on price. Once in the desired price range, features or perceived features are considered. Also important is how a purifier looks. These buying criteria seem logical on the surface, but should only be part of the overall decision making process. Initial price is only one consideration in long-term cost. Features are important, but should not be the deciding factor. uv air purifier inKirkwood, MO How a purifier looks is also important, but remember to look past skin deep. The two overriding factors that make a great purifier great are cleaning ability and cost effectiveness.
You may initially ask a question like this one “they are all air purifiers, don’t they all clean the air?” You may be implying that since they are all air purifiers, they must all do about the same thing and all do about as good a job as each other. This myth could not be further from the truth. Many inexpensive purifiers do such a poor job cleaning the air, that they could almost be classified as a waste of electricity. On the other end of the air cleaning spectrum, there are air purifiers that do a tremendous job of cleaning the air. The cleaning ability difference between top and bottom air purifiers is significant.
The “stuff” in our air:
• Particles (examples: dust, pet dander, pollen, tobacco smoke)
• Gases and Odors (examples: food smells, chemicals, aerosols, pet smells)
• VOCs (examples: paints, varnishes, cleaning supplies, glues, adhesives)
• Microorganisms (examples: viruses, antigens, pathogens, bacteria)
• Advanced Microorganisms (example: Avian Influenza A)
Another good question that I hear is “I don’t have all of these things in my air, do I?” Let’s examine this question. If you do not smoke or have pets you may be able to eliminate about 25% of the list above; however, many other types of particles enter and exit our homes everyday. These particles follow us in through the doors and blow in through our windows. Most houses are not air tight, so particles enter from other inlets as well. Many gases are invisible and some are odorless. Most everyday used items like clothing, food, furniture, computers, bedding, carpet, paint, toys and flooring outgas certain chemicals and VOCs. Many of the cleaning products we use contribute daily to our indoor air problems. Even the sink drain, toilet drain, and shower drain potentially let some pollution back into our household air. We have a virtual indoor air pollution “cocktail” floating around at all times in our homes and offices and we haven’t even considered the human factor yet. We carry all kinds of microorganisms in and out of our homes in and on our bodies. Do you have kids? Your exposure may double, triple, or quadruple. Fortunately, a great air purifier can clean most or all of these airborne pollutants.
There are technologies that are designed to reduce or eliminate all of these common pollutants. When you evaluate an air purifier, do these three things: 1) Identify if it is within your budget; more on that in a minute 2) Identify the purifier’s technologies and match them to the list of pollutants above 3) Make a decision if the technologies do an adequate job of cleaning the pollutants.
Let’s tackle these one at a time.
The main technologies:
• True HEPA filters – reduces particles; more is better; better is more expensive
• 99% HEPA or HEPA-Type filters – impostor filters; much less effective
• Carbon filters – reduces gases and odors; more is better; better is more expensive
• Pre filters – keeps larger particles from entering internal cleaning technology
• Germicidal or enhanced filters – reduces microorganism growth on filters
• Electrostatic precipitator – reduces particles; effectiveness varies with brand
• Ionization – reduces particles; 4 types; “negative only” is the least effective
• UV or Ultraviolet light – reduces microorganisms
• Ozone or other oxidizers – reduces gases, odors, VOCs, and microorganisms
• Combination/ advanced technologies – do research; some are good, some are bad
This list includes a very limited description of each technology. Consider doing more research on any given technology that you are not familiar with. Some of your research results may surprise you as you will find several varying opinions.
Selecting a great air purifier can be a little overwhelming with all the choices. Be careful, because this is exactly how the less effective air purifier brands want you to feel. They want you to purchase based on their marketing. In order to judge an air purifiers effectiveness, you must to do a little more research. On one end of the spectrum there are brands that “say” their purifier is great and on the other end there are brands that have “proof” in the form of clinical studies, university studies, quality studies, air flow studies, particle reduction data, microorganism studies, valid awards, and other valuable and factual data. Test to see if your purifier can back up what it is saying with something factual.
Additional research can be done through professional reviews, user reviews, independent reviews, marketing information, websites, in-home trials and testimonials. These can all assist you in your selection process. From a practical standpoint, an air purifier that is $69.99 has to have some differences from an air purifier that is $800. Do some comparisons to understand the differences. I’ll give you a couple of clear examples.
A HEPA filter vs. a 99% HEPA or HEPA-Type filter: The cleaning ability between the two is like night and day. One removes particles down to less than 0.3 microns and the other generally only down to 2.0 microns. This is a big difference. 1 micron = 1/25,000 inch.
A small/ thin carbon filter vs. a 6 lb air-tight carbon gas cell filter: The difference in cleaning ability is extreme. One may remove a few odor particles and let the rest pass by while the other traps a high percentage of all gas and odor particles that pass through the medium.
A UV lamp vs. an advanced combination UV cell technology: Without sounding redundant, a big difference. One only affects microorganisms that float nearby and the other produces an oxidizer that actively cleans around your entire home, protecting as it goes.
At this point most people say something like “I didn’t realize it was so complicated” and they either push forward and ask more questions, give up and make an uneducated choice or temporarily shut down and make no choice. Be the person that pushes ahead and asks more questions. There are great air purifiers out there. There are also poor air purifiers out there. Pick one as if it was a lifetime investment and/or a valuable addition to your household.
Ok, now let’s move ahead with the price question. With just a few exceptions, most air purifiers today under $200 are not worth a darn. They just aren’t. There are a few that are passable, but these may make up the initial price in reduced lifespan, added electricity cost or expensive filters. Generally they just don’t clean very well. There are also a few personal sized or specialty purifiers priced below $200 that are decent. The $200 to $500 price range includes a host of good, bad, and ugly air purifiers. Do your research. As you get into the $500 to $1000+ price range, the question is not so much does it clean well, but how does it actually do the cleaning. Your own preferences in technology may help make the choice for you.
After researching and narrowing your price range down a bit, consider not only the initial price, but also the long-term operational cost. I have researched air purifiers that cost little upfront, but will literally bankrupt you over the long haul. I have also researched air purifiers that cost a bit more upfront, but cost literally pennies to maintain. A complete long-term operational cost budget includes electricity, filters, bulbs, and other miscellaneous costs. Estimate your cost budget for at least 5 years; 10 years would be better.
It’s time to find your air purifier “sweet spot”. The sweet spot is the purifier that fits your budget and cleans the most for the money. Unfortunately many brands of air purifier would lead you to believe that cleaning the air is inexpensive. We all have different ideas of what inexpensive is. Ask yourself one final question, how valuable is your health? I overheard an air purifier sales person once say “you either have a good air purifier in your home or you are the air purifier.” Think about that. Our air is filtered by either an air purifier or by our respiratory system. Spend a little extra time and money and make your purifier selection a great one.