What Does an Air Purifier Do? An Easy Guide

what does an air purifier do

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We’re all aware of how important it is to be able to breathe clean air no matter where we are.

To that end, many people purchase air purifiers to ensure that the air in their homes is as clean as can be.

Air purifiers can work in a couple of different ways and the science behind just how they work isn’t too complicated.

If you’ve been considering buying an air purifier but find that you’re indecisive, it’s not a bad idea to learn a bit more about how they work in order to make a better educated decision.

So what does an air purifier do?

What does an air purifier do

The Basics of Air Purification

A quick and easy explanation of just what an air purifier does is this: an air purifier reduces the amount of contaminants in the air that you breathe.

“Contaminants” is a term that encompasses several types of particles that are commonly found in the air, including:

  • Pollen
  • Dust mites
  • Allergens
  • Mold
  • Dander

No matter how clean your house is, chances are good that there are still at least a couple of these contaminants floating around inside.

As Ed Grabianowski of How Stuff Works explains, forced air cooling and heating systems, pets, cigarettes, and moisture all contribute to air contamination.

What does an air purifier do?

By removing these contaminants, an air purifier makes the air safer to breathe, particularly for people who suffer from respiratory ailments such as asthma, coughs and allergies.

The Science Behind Different Purification Types

There are a few different methods of air purification, and these methods can vary in effectiveness.

If you’re interested in purchasing a purifier it’s helpful to know more about these methods, including their pros and cons.

  • Negative Ion Purification – This method of purification uses ions to clean the air.Negative ions are oxygen atoms that have an electron.They have a magnetic effect on certain kinds of air contaminants, such as dust and pollen.

    They attract these contaminants until they become too heavy to stay airborne.

    Once that happens, the newly formed particle will drop and attach itself to nearby surfaces. A negative ion purifier has a collector plate that collects these particles to remove them entirely.

  • Activated Carbon Purification – Activated carbon is carbon that has been processed to the point that it is very porous and has a large surface area.Filters made of activated carbon are highly absorbent and a have large potential for forming chemical bonds.This makes them very effective at capturing airborne particles such as cigarette smoke, odors, and chemicals that stem from household cleaner usage.
  • HEPA Filter Purification – High Efficiency Particulate Air, or “HEPA” filters, are the most common type of purification used in homes.They’re also considered to be one of the most efficient methods.All HEPA filters must meet certain standards in order to be classified as such.

    Those standards state that they must be able to trap at 99.97 percent of all particles that are bigger than 0.3 microns, points out the editorial staff of Allergy & Air.

    What does an air purifier do? - hepa

    These filters are made of very thin, fibrous material that is folded into an accordion shape.

    The shape of the filter creates more surface area for contaminants to be caught on, and the fiber-like material makes it difficult for particles to pass through.

    Unlike other types of purifiers, HEPA purifiers can trap bacteria and mold, making them highly beneficial for people that have respiratory issues.

  • Ozone Purification – This type of purifier uses either a filter or electrostatic plate in order to collect airborne particles.In addition, it utilizes ozone to remove odors.Ozone purifiers are not recommended for households because ozone can be dangerous for small animals and, at higher levels, humans.

    Ozone purifiers aren’t as effective as other purifiers, either, as they are unable to remove pollen or dust.

  • UV Purification – This type of purification technology is most commonly used in conjunction with other types of purification.This is because it doesn’t excel at removing common contaminants, especially mold spores.As the editorial staff of Air Purifier Guide explains, mold spores can prove to be resistant to UV purification.


    Where UV purification does excel is at removing viruses and bacteria.

    The UV lamp inside the purifier irradiates microorganisms as they pass through, ultimately eradicating them.

    A UV purifier is best used in tandem with an activated carbon or HEPA filter purifier.

    Some UV purifiers actually have separate stages of filtration before the UV lamp, which makes them highly effective.

Knowing What Works Best

Once you’ve gained a better knowledge of how air purifiers work, you can choose one for your home or workplace based on your requirements.

If you or someone you live with smokes, or if you have small pets, you’ll want a purifier type that can deal with odors and dander.

If on the other hand you’re frequently in an environment where you’re concerned about inhaling chemicals or bacteria and viruses, you’ll want to choose a purifier that can eliminate those.

Knowing a bit about the science behind air purifiers means you’ll be able to purchase the right kind of system instead of wasting money on one that won’t remove the contaminants you need it to.


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