Residential air purifiers and cleaners can make important improvements to the home’s indoor air quality. A variety of whole-home systems and portable models are available to address unhealthy air caused by particulates and off-gasses.
What to Clean Air impurity is caused by two general pollutants: particulates and gasses. Within the first category there are a number of culprits, including organic and inorganic compounds, bacteria and viruses. Smoke, dust mites (and their feces), insect parts, pollen, dander and particles generated from organisms like
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mold and fungal spores all fall into the particulate pollutant category. These allergens are inhaled, can become deeply imbedded in the respiratory system and can even be absorbed by the bloodstream. Mechanical air filters, air cleaners and products designed for pollutant destruction can be used to address air quality issues associated with particulate pollution.
The off-gassing caused by products and materials in the home has become an important topic to address for homeowners and homebuilders exploring their “green” options. Alternative green products designed and manufactured to reduce or eliminate harmful off-gassing are marketed to those for whom indoor air quality (IAQ) is of great concern. Many green home certifications require minimum IAQ standards, and green home educational courses often list IAQ as a key curriculum topic.
Even in the “green” home, however, gaseous pollutants can be a concern. Gaseous pollutants can include gases released as a result of combustion (nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide are a few) usually associated with appliances like gas stoves and heating systems. Off-gassing products can include furniture, carpets and paints and varnishes that release chemicals into the air over time. The volatile organic compounds (VOCs) often mentioned in green home literature fall into the gaseous pollutant category. Even cleaning supplies and personal hygiene products can contribute to gaseous pollution in the home.
Unpleasant odors may not necessarily have an adverse effect on one’s health, but they can still be a nuisance. Some air purifiers and cleaners include features meant to reduce or eliminate foul odors caused by smoking and cooking.
How to Clean Your Air There are a few ways to clean the home’s air of its many potential pollutants. Here are the types of air cleaners available on the market.
Air filter solutions trap particulates as air passes through the filters. Filter systems can be found in whole-home HVAC solutions or portable single-room solutions. Filtered systems are given a minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) of 1 to20, with 20 being the highest (and best) rating. Low-MERV filters are common in HVAC systems but are only effective at preventing the buildup of large particulates on the system’s fan or elements. Filters in the 17 to20 MERV rating are considered high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters and must pass a test to be given the HEPA label. These filters trap a minimum 97.7 percent of particles of .3 microns. In other words, these filters are very effective at trapping a very high percentage of very small particulates.
Activated carbon air filters, sometimes known as gas phase air filters, are used to eliminate gases and odors from the air. These systems will use a sorbent—such as activated carbon—to absorb gases and odors associated with smoking and off-gassing materials. Activated carbon filters are not useful for particulate reduction but will complement such a system.
Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) systems or germicidal UV lamps use UV light to kill gaseous pollutants like bacteria, viruses and fungal spores that are airborne or on surfaces like ductwork. These systems can also eliminate odors, but they will not filter particulates.
Photocatalytic oxidation (PCO) is another method of purifying the air of gaseous pollutants. These systems use a UV light in conjunction with a catalyst substance to eliminate gaseous pollutants by degrading or oxidizing them.