My Home Stinks. Is My Air Purifier Broken?

There are so many reasons to purchase an air purifier. Clean air can improve your mood, make it easier for you to learn new things, and even extend your lifespan. But, how can you tell if your air is clean? For many of us, the most obvious sign that the air purifier is working is the smell. So, if your house smells stinky, does that mean that the air purifier isn’t working properly? Not necessarily.

What causes bad smells?

Most of the common odors in our homes are actually airborne chemicals that arise from volatile organic compounds, commonly known as VOCs. When these VOCs enter your nose, tiny receptors register them as smells. While most VOCs are just a nuisance, some, like formaldehyde, can pose a real health threat. 

The more accustomed you are to particular scents, the less your notice them. So, for example, while you might not notice the smell of your dog on a regular day, you definitely would notice if he came home after being sprayed by a skunk.

Which types of air purifiers are best at handling bad smells?

While all purifiers are designed to remove pollutants from the air, they don’t all do it in the same way or remove the same types of pollutants.

Here are the most common types of purifiers and how they rate for odor control.

Ionizer

How it works:

Ionizers, also known as negative ion generators, work by using high voltages to give an electrical charge (usually negative) to molecules in the air. These charged molecules are called ions. The ions are attracted to particles or surfaces with the opposite charge, causing them to clump together into larger heavier particles that fall out of the air or get stuck to charged surfaces like curtains. Unfortunately, while your air may feel fresh when using an ionizer, the pollutants are not gone.  They’re just stuck to surfaces around the room where they can then be recirculated into the air.

Odor control:

Ionizers only remove particulate pollutants, not VOCs, so they do little to remove odors from the air.

Ozone Purifiers

How it works:

Ozone purifiers work by taking in oxygen from the air (O2) and giving it a strong electrical charge. This electrical charge allows the oxygen molecules to rearrange themselves and form O3, also known as ozone.

The ozone is then released into the air where it collides with pollutants like dust and smoke. The extra oxygen molecule attaches itself to the pollutants and changes their chemical composition, effectively destroying them. The problem is that just as the third molecule of oxygen can interact with organic material outside of the body, it can also interact with substances inside the body, causing a range of health problems.

Odor control:

Ozone generators are primarily designed to remove particulate matter, not VOCs. However, some research has shown that ozone may be effective for removing certain types of VOCs, particularly those found in cooking oils, air fresheners, cleaning agents, etc. Unfortunately, other dangerous byproducts like formaldehyde can be released into the air when ozone reacts with these substances.

But… even though ozone purifiers may not remove most types of VOCs, they can still give your home the illusion of freshness. That’s because ozone itself has a scent that is often associated with rain or clean air. But, while the smell of ozone may be pleasant to some, the health effects can be debilitating. Even relatively low amounts can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, and throat irritation… and the longterm effects of ozone exposure are even more severe.

UV purifiers

How it works: 

UV purifiers use short wave ultraviolet light (UV-C) to destroy airborne pollutants by breaking down their DNA or RNA, so that they’re unable to perform vital functions or reproduce. But, because microbes have to spend a lot of time in front of the UV light before they’re destroyed, UV purifiers aren’t very effective at eliminating contaminants. 

Odor control:

While UV purifiers are not able to remove VOCs from the air, they do emit low levels of ozone, which can mask some bad odors. 

HEPA filters

How it works:

Although HEPA filters only need to be able to filter out 99.95% or more of all particles which are 0.3 microns in diameter to meet the standard, they are actually capable of filtering out particles of almost any size. Larger particles (bigger than 1 micron) get trapped between the filter fibers, while mid-sized particles follow the airflow stream as it bends towards the filters’ fibers where they are intercepted and caught. 

Because of a phenomenon known as Brownian Motion, the smallest particles (smaller than .3 microns) bounce wildly off of other larger particles in the air in random patterns that send them careening off into different directions where they get stuck in the HEPA filters. 

Odor control:

While HEPA filters are excellent at removing particulate matter of all sizes, they are unable to remove VOCs.

Activated charcoal filters

How it works:

Activated charcoal filters work by using charcoal that has been heated to very high temperatures to trap pollutants. When the temperature of the charcoal is raised, the elements and compounds that were bound with the carbon atoms are removed and all the binding sites for carbon become “free” for binding with other molecules and atoms These open pores between carbon atoms are useful in trapping odors and VOC’s in the air.

Odor control:

Activated carbon filters are extremely effective at removing odors.

Is an activated carbon filter enough to keep your indoor air clean?

When an activated carbon filter is working properly, the air around it should be free of bad odors or harmful chemicals. But, while your air may smell clean, there can still be dangerous pollutants in the air. Fine and ultrafine particulate matter (PM2.5 or smaller) are one of the most serious health hazards, resulting in over 4.2 million deaths a year worldwide.

aeris purifiers use a combination of True HEPA filters and activated carbon filters to ensure your home is free of both chemical and particulate pollutants. That means that with an aeris purifier, your air won’t just smell clean, it will be clean. 

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