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Air Purifiers and COVID-19: Do They Really Work?



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Ry Crist / CNET

COVID-19 has made most of us more aware than ever of the air we breathe. The idea of ​​coronavirus is spreading in our own homes or companies ̵

1; especially in poorly ventilated spaces – enough for most of us to start feeling a little paranoid. Is there a better solution than wearing masks and washing hands? Can air purifiers be that solution?

To answer the last question, we spoke to a number of air quality experts. We asked if air purifiers can solve – or at least alleviate – some of our air quality problems, if we talk about coronavirus virions floating in aerosol droplets around our house, or more everyday irritants such as pollen or pollutants such as bulbs and smoke.

After test a dozen of the market’s leading air purifiers, talked to specialists and read dozens of studies on the subject, we came to some answers.

If I want an air purifier, how do I find the right one?

For those of you who already want an air purifier and want the recommendations at the end, I have already written a comprehensive article that addresses this exact issue. There are plenty of air purifiers on the market, and some of them are really impressively effective given their reasonable price tags.

Continue reading about those who are still on the fence.

Does air purifier really work?

This is one of the most popular questions online, and it is also a reminder of why close reading and skepticism are such useful tools when researching products as a consumer. Developers of air purifiers are not allowed to market their devices as health products in the United States for any reason – mainly because their benefits are not simple. Instead of claiming incredible health results, cleaning ads usually focus on the number of harmful substances in the air and the effectiveness with which the devices filter them out.

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Molecule, which sells some of the most aesthetically pleasing cleaners on the market, was recently forced by the National Advertising Review Board to retract a number of misleading claims it has made since 2017.

David Priest / CNET

To answer the question in the most basic terms: yes, air purifiers generally filter particles from the air efficiently – especially if they use a HEPA filter (more on them in the next section). But most of us already have a mechanism for filtering air effectively: the respiratory system. As a microbiologist and Vice President of Scientific Communication at the American Council for Science and Health, Dr. Alex Berezow pointed out in a recent blog post: “Living in the small air sacs in the lungs (called alveoli) are immune cells known as macrophages. These” big eaters “gab up bacteria, viruses, fungi and all other debris that happens to find their way in. in the lungs. “

In short, air purifiers work, but if you do not live in a particularly polluted environment or if you or your children are immunosuppressed, you probably do not need one.

Do they protect against COVID, fire or other seasonal contaminants?

HEPA, which stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air, is the standard that describes most air purification filters currently sold in the United States. To meet the standard, a filter must remove 99.97% of particles in the air that are 0.3 micrometers in size (a particularly difficult size to filter). HEPA filters are usually more efficient with particles larger and smaller than that size. Pollen, smoke particles and aerosol droplets that can transmit COVID can all be filtered out of the air with such a filter.

That said, do not count on air purifiers to protect you if you are cohabiting with an infectious person. When I talked on the phone with Dr. Richard Shaughnessy, director of the Indoor Air Research University of Tulsa, said that the transmission of COVID usually occurs due to close contact with an infected person. If you sit on a couch and talk to someone who is infected, an air purifier across the room will not remove any harmful particles that they exhale before they have a chance to reach you.

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Coway’s air purifier is one of the best on the market. It includes ion filtration technology, but has been certified by the California EPA which emits negligible or no ozone over time.

David Priest / CNET

I have heard that ozone comes from air purifiers. Should I be worried?

Ozone is a type of pollutant that a narrow set of air purifiers has been shown to emit in the past. Before we dive into that, it is good to understand the basic types of air purifiers on the market now.

The three most popular filtration methods that air purifiers use to clean the air are these: HEPA devices remove particles by inserting air through a specially designed and standardized filter; activated carbon filter removes odor and gaseous pollutants by driving air over “sorbent media”, which traps it; and finally, ionic purifiers produce ions that adhere to particles.

Ionic cleaners work in a couple of ways. Some simply allow ionized particles to adhere to surfaces around the house (and thus “remove” them from the air). Others have a plate that collects the ionized particles and often needs to be cleaned. The latter are the units that have previously had problems producing ozone. Fortunately, standards have risen in recent years and third-party companies are now testing ionic air purifiers to ensure that they do not emit significant ozone into the home.

In general, I would avoid ionic air purifiers simply because they are not the most effective for the price. If you really want one, make sure it has a certification from Underwriters Laboratories or the California EPA, stating that it does not emit ozone.

Who would definitely benefit from an air purifier?

The research here is a bit complicated. Without getting too far into the weeds, one of the clearest demographics that benefits from HEPA filter air purifiers is children with asthma. Dr. Elizabeth Matsui, professor of public health and pediatrics at the University of Austin’s Dell Medical School, has researched the use of air purifiers in the homes of asthmatic children and talked about the value of air purifiers in such households.

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Even an excellent air purifier like Blueair’s 411 will not achieve as much as cleaning and ventilating your home.

David Priest / CNET

Air purifiers, she warned, do not replace what she calls “proximal source inserts.” For example, a HEPA air purifier can reduce particles in the home for a smoker and children with asthma by 25% -50%. But this is not the best solution: preferably the person should stop smoking completely in the house. A clean and well-ventilated environment – and of course proper medical care – is much more important than an expensive air purifier.

And to be clear, while air purifiers can help alleviate the symptoms of children’s asthma, says Dr. Matsui: “There is no good evidence that we can currently modify the environment in a way that reduces prices of asthma, whether it is with air purifier or in some other way. “In other words, air purifiers are useful devices for children suffering from asthma, but they do not reduce the chance of a child developing asthma in the first place.

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With so many air purifiers on the market, finding the right one can feel overwhelming.

David Priest / CNET

If you have any other questions that I have not answered above, be sure to ask them in the comments, and I will update the article with answers.


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