Indoor air quality is a crucial aspect of our health that often goes unnoticed. With the rise of urbanization and industrialization, our homes are increasingly exposed to various air pollutants, including dust, pollen, pet dander, mold spores, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). To combat these pollutants, many households turn to air cleaners and air purifiers. However, the distinction between these two devices is often blurred. This article aims to shed light on the differences between air cleaners and air purifiers, their effectiveness in improving indoor air quality, and factors to consider when choosing the right device for your home.
Definition and Purpose of Air Cleaners
Air cleaners, also known as air purifiers, are devices designed to remove impurities from the air. These impurities can include dust, volatile organic compounds, dander, mold spores, smoke, dust mites, and pollen. Air cleaners can be standalone units or larger systems that can be attached to HVAC systems.
Types of Air Cleaners
There are several types of air cleaners, each with its own unique method of purifying the air:
- Mechanical Filters (HEPA Filters): High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters are a standard of filtration designed to capture 99.97% of particles that are 0.3 microns in diameter. They work by drawing polluted air into the device using a fan, where airborne particles become ensnared in a maze-like tangle of fibers.
- Activated Carbon Filters: These filters are designed to eliminate odors, chemicals, fumes, smoke, and gases from the air. However, they are less effective at removing pollen, dander, dust, or mold from the air unless the model includes a HEPA air filter.
- Electronic Air Purifiers (Ionizers, Electrostatic Precipitators): Electronic air cleaners work with your furnace or air conditioner to charge and trap airborne particles using static electricity. They can remove up to 99.98% of allergens from the air in your home using HEPA filters and positively charged ions.
Effectiveness of Air Cleaners in Removing Pollutants
Air purifiers with HEPA filters are highly effective in removing biological aerosols in indoor environments. Studies have shown that HEPA filters can reduce particle number concentrations by more than 50%, with some achieving a removal efficiency as high as 68% for airborne bacteria.
Factors to Consider When Choosing an Air Cleaner
When choosing an air cleaner, several factors should be considered:
- Room Size: Air purifiers are optimized to clean specific-sized rooms. Air Changes per Hour (ACH), a measure of their power, is how frequently they can exchange all of the air in the space. The higher the ACH, the more powerful the air purifier.
- Filter Replacement Cost: Air purifiers need filter replacements every few months. The frequency and cost of filter replacements should be factored into your long-term budget.
- Noise Level: The noise level of the air purifier is an important factor to consider, especially if the device will be used in a living or working space. Many air purifiers on the market operate at a noise level ranging from 24 to 30 decibels.
- Energy Consumption: Some air cleaners, particularly those with HEPA filters, can create additional energy costs by restricting air flow through the unit.
Definition and Purpose of Air Purifiers
Air purifiers, also known as air cleaners, are devices designed to remove contaminants from the air in a room to improve indoor air quality. These devices are commonly marketed as being beneficial to allergy sufferers and asthmatics and reducing or eliminating second-hand tobacco smoke. They can be manufactured as small, stand-alone units or larger units that can be affixed to an air handler unit (AHU) or to an HVAC unit found in the medical, industrial, and commercial industries.
Types of Air Purifiers
Mechanical Filters (HEPA Filters)
High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters are highly effective in removing biological aerosols in indoor environments. They work by forcing air through a fine mesh that traps harmful particles such as pollen, pet dander, dust mites, and tobacco smoke.
Activated Carbon Filters
Activated carbon filters are designed to eliminate odors, chemicals, fumes, smoke, and gases from the air. However, they are less effective at removing pollen, dander, dust, or mold from the air unless the model includes a HEPA air filter.
Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI)
UVGI air purifiers use UV light to kill or inactivate airborne pathogens. They are particularly effective against bacteria and viruses.
Photocatalytic Oxidation (PCO)
PCO air purifiers use UV light in combination with a catalyst to produce a reaction that breaks down harmful gases into harmless substances.
Ozone generators produce ozone gas that reacts with certain chemicals and pollutants to change their chemical composition. However, it is not healthy to breathe ozone gas, and one should use extreme caution when buying a room air purifier that also produces ozone.
Effectiveness of Air Purifiers in Removing Pollutants
Air purifiers with HEPA filters are highly effective in removing biological aerosols in indoor environments. They can capture 99.97 percent of airborne particles. However, the effectiveness of air purifiers can vary depending on the type of filter used and the size of the particles they are designed to capture.
Factors to Consider When Choosing an Air Purifier
The size of the room is a crucial factor to consider when choosing an air purifier. The Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) determines how well air has been purified and the efficiency of area coverage.
Filter Replacement Cost
The cost of the replacement filters is another important factor to consider. Some filters are washable and reusable, while others must be replaced every few months.
Another thing to take into account is the noise the purifier makes on the various settings. Some air purifiers are extremely quiet and operate without a motor.
Another factor to take into account is how much energy air purifiers use. Some air purifiers are energy-efficient, while others may consume a significant amount of power.
Comparison between Air Cleaners and Air Purifiers
Air cleaners and air purifiers are often used interchangeably, but they have distinct differences in their operation and purpose. Both are designed to improve indoor air quality, but they do so in different ways.
Similarities in Technologies Used
Air cleaners and air purifiers both use filtration technologies to remove pollutants from the air. Air cleaners typically use a passive system, allowing air to pass through a built-in filter to remove particles. This system is usually integrated into your HVAC system.
Air purifiers, on the other hand, can use a variety of technologies. Some use filters, similar to air cleaners, but others use different methods, such as ionizing air purifiers, which use negative ions to create charged particles that bind with other particles, making them larger and heavier so they fall from the air onto nearby surfaces. Ultraviolet air purifiers render viruses and bacteria inactive by damaging their DNA.
Differences in Their Primary Focus
Air cleaners primarily focus on larger particles such as dust, mold, and other microscopic pollutants. They are installed between the air return duct and the furnace or air conditioner, ensuring all air flowing in your home’s ductwork is cleaned.
Air purifiers, however, target smaller particles and gases. They are designed to sanitize the air and kill airborne pathogens such as viruses and bacteria. Some air purifiers can be freestanding devices or installed directly into your HVAC system.
Effectiveness in Removing Various Pollutants
Both air cleaners and air purifiers are effective at removing a variety of pollutants. Air cleaners filter out pollutants such as pet dander, tobacco smoke, pollen, dust mites, dust, soil, ash, mold, mildew, and fungus.
Air purifiers, particularly those with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, are highly effective in removing biological aerosols in indoor environments. Studies have shown that HEPA filters can reduce particle number concentrations by more than 50%.
However, it’s important to note that air purifiers can only remove allergens while they’re floating in the air. Larger, heavier allergens, such as mites, mold, and pollen, settle to the ground so quickly that the air purifier can’t capture them all in time.
Cost and Maintenance Considerations
The cost of air cleaners and air purifiers can vary widely. Most models recommended by Consumer Reports cost more than $200 and up to $900. They can be expensive to operate, too, because they typically require filter replacements once or twice a year and should be run around the clock. Some models have multiple filters that need replacing, which can add to the cost.
Air cleaners, being part of the HVAC system, can also have associated costs. Replacement filters can be expensive to purchase regularly. However, by protecting the HVAC system from debris and contaminants, they can prolong the life of your unit and save you costly system repairs.
|Aspect||Air Cleaners||Air Purifiers|
|Definition and Purpose||Designed to remove pollutants from the air, focusing on larger particles like dust and pollen.||Designed to remove smaller particles and gases from the air, targeting allergens, bacteria, and viruses.|
|Types||Mechanical filters (HEPA filters), activated carbon filters, and electronic air purifiers (ionizers, electrostatic precipitators)||Mechanical filters (HEPA filters), activated carbon filters, ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI), photocatalytic oxidation (PCO), and ozone generators (not recommended)|
|Effectiveness in Removing Pollutants||Effective in removing larger particles, depending on the type of filter used and room size.||Effective in removing smaller particles and gases, depending on the type of filter used and room size.|
|Factors to Consider||Room size, filter replacement cost, noise level, and energy consumption||Room size, filter replacement cost, noise level, and energy consumption|
Both air cleaners and air purifiers can improve indoor air quality, but they do so in different ways and have different cost and maintenance considerations. The choice between the two will depend on your specific needs and circumstances.