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How Do Air Purifiers Work?

From removing dust particles to killing viruses, here are how air purifiers work.

By Monica Cull
Dec 14, 2022 8:00 PMDec 14, 2022 8:05 PM
Air Purifier
(Credit:220 Selfmade studio/Shutterstock)


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The air inside our homes is supposed to be clean and safe. However, allergens, pet dander, tobacco smoke, mold, gasses and other air particles can find their way in and lower the air quality. This especially happens during the winter months when windows aren't open as much and fresh air isn't coming into the home.

According to the American Lung Association, these particles can lead to allergies that cause itchy eyes, nose, and throat and difficulty breathing. In more extreme cases, they can even lead to side effects, including asthma and emphysema. 

While most homes and Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems have air filters that prevent many of these harmful particles, sometimes they aren't quite enough to prevent them from circulating a home. Using an air purifier can help ensure the air in the home stays fresh and clean. 

Read more: Do Air Filters in HVAC Systems Offer Protection Against Coronavirus Indoors? It Depends

How Air Purifiers Work

Unlike most air filters, which are typically found inside a home's HVAC system — usually between the air return and furnace/air conditioner — air purifiers are often portable. Instead of trapping harmful allergens or particles like a filter, some air purifiers neutralize those particles. 

There are a few common air purifiers, including ionic, absorbent, High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) and UV light purifiers.

Ionic Purifiers  

Ionic air purifiers form an electric field so that ionic particles become positively or negatively charged. These ions then attach themselves to bacteria in the air and are pulled towards the opposite charge of the air purifier. 

Absorbent Purifiers

Absorbent air purifiers use a filter made of porous material like activated charcoal or carbon. This material is great for absorbing toxins or chemicals in the air and releasing only clean air. These types of purifiers are great for removing unwanted odors from the home as well. 

HEPA Purifiers

HEPA Purifiers usually use a fan to pull in polluted air through a filter that's made of fiberglass. This filter traps particles between the fibers of the filter and then releases the clean air back into the room. 

UV Purifiers

UV air purifiers suck air into the purifier and expose it to UV light. This purifier is great for minimizing the spread of illness. UV light helps break down chemical bonds between DNA and makes a virus inactive. It can also help kill bacteria and mold. 

While there are several different ways air purifiers work, the best way to keep the air in a home clean is to utilize both an air filter and an air purifier. Air purifiers work great to neutralize toxins and particles in the air, but once particles settle on the floor or furniture, they won't be able to get rid of them. Making sure the air filters are changed regularly will help keep harmful particles out of the air, and vacuuming or washing furniture, bedding, pets and the floor often can help reduce harmful allergens or air particles. 

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