Advise Me

Are Air Purifiers Worth It? The Pros and Cons

Like food and water, we need air to survive. While we are well aware of air pollutants outdoors, could the air in your home be bad for your health too? Surprisingly, yes!

“In most cases, air quality in terms of particulate burden are far worse indoors, especially for those with pets,” said Greg Golden, DO, a pulmonologist and critical care specialist at Banner Health in Colorado. “For those with asthma, allergic rhinitis or other diseases, there are many things in your home, pets included, that can exacerbate or even cause symptoms.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans spend 90 percent of their time indoors where concentrations of pollutants can be two to five times higher than outdoors.

If you suffer from respiratory ailments, such as asthma, COPD or seasonal allergies, you might have considered or have invested in an air purifier for your home. It’s now estimated that 1 in 4 American households own an air purifier.

While they can help neutralize some of the threats in your home, are air purifiers worth it?

How do air purifiers work?

When indoor air is sucked into the air purifier it passes through a filter inside. The filters capture airborne pollutants like dust and then pushes clean air back out into the room. Some purifiers are designed to remove specific types of contaminants and others remove gases.

What are the benefits of air purifiers?

Some companies claim their air purifiers can help you breathe better, prevent air borne viruses, improve sleep and your skin—and even increase your life expectancy. Is what they say true, or is it a bunch of malarkey?

“This is a tricky question as there is very little evidence that air purifiers actually do anything,” Dr. Golden said. “Most filters on the market are good at filtering out particles like dust and pollen, but they aren’t great at removing gaseous pollutants like VOCs (volatile organic compounds) or radon.”

“That being said, I still suggest that my patients who suffer from allergies or asthma use an air purifier with a HEPA filter in locations where they spend lots of time to help remove some fine airborne particles,” he said.

What are the downsides of air purifiers?

There aren’t a lot of downsides to having an air purifier in your home aside from the financial investment. Many ionizers, especially older models, can generate ozone when they are operating, which is known to exacerbate asthma. However, some manufactures have stated their newer models do not produce ozone or other reactive oxygen species.

Dr. Golden said to also evaluate claims with a grain of salt. “Claims from manufacturers with statements like ‘99-percent’ effective are in controlled situations, which means they can’t mimic real life where things like open and closed windows, paints and allergens in pillows and embedded into furniture will not be captured by them,” he said. “New particles are constantly emerging, so the air purifier might not filter as much as the company claims it will.”

What things should you consider before buying an air purifier?

Before you take the plunge into air purification, Dr. Golden shared these suggestions:

  • Look for True HEPA filters. These are the most effective at removing ultra-fine particles, such as dust mites,pet dander, pollen and mold.
  • Avoid purifiers with HEPA-like or HEPA-type as these are just marketing ploys.
  • Find a unit that meets the size guidelines for the area you will have it in.
  • If you can find one, a unit that has an Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) Verifide mark is a good choice. This is a voluntary certification program, but most reputable programs have undergone this process.

Other ways to improve air quality

If you’re looking to improve the air quality in your home, don’t leave it to the air purifier alone to do the job. Take these steps to help you and your family breathe easier:

  • Encase your pillows and mattress with allergy-proof covers.
  • Wash bedding weekly in hot water.
  • Keep pets out of the bedroom, especially cats.
  • Sleep with the windows closed to prevent irritants from entering the home.
  • Change the air filter in your home's HVAC system regularly.
  • Avoid smoking in the home as well as passive or secondhand smoke on your clothing.
  • Avoid standing water and damp areas in your home. Water condensation leads to mold growth which can be a trigger for sensitive individuals. Live plants and live Christmas trees are often a “hidden trigger” that people forget about.
  • Vacuum your home regularly, especially in your bedroom.

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