Take a deep breath because we've got everything you need to know!
If you live in a big city, close to a major highway or just have some unbearable allergies, chances are, you've probably considered buying an indoor air filter at some point. Maybe you were overwhelmed at the amount of choices that the internet offered, or just weren't sure which brands were safe and actually worked. Take a deep breath, we're here to help you pick out an air purifier that works for you and lessens the amount of air pollution in your house!
Here are the basics
The most important thing you should know is that most air cleaning devices will not filter out all the air pollution indoors. Rather, they are targeted at certain types of pollutants (think dust, pollen, pet hair, etc.), so you'll want to take time to think about what you or your family specifically need. Air filters are also not a replacement for regular vacuuming and wet dusting. You can think of air filters as the "cherry on top" after vacuuming and wet dusting takes care of the majority of the dust. The air filter will get those smaller particles that aren't visible to your naked eye.
There are generally two types of air filters – ones that can be fitted into your central air system, and ones that are used in air purifiers (portable filters). Both of these types of filters need to be changed out once in a while or cleaned to ensure the filter continues to work properly. Most filters that are on the market use the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating. The rating falls between 1-20, and the higher the rating, the better. Basically, the higher the number, the smaller the particles the filter can remove. You probably want to get one with a higher MERV rating because smaller particles are more harmful for your health. The smaller they are, the better they can travel, meaning they get further into your lungs and cause the most damage (1).
Here's how to choose an air filter that works for you
- Choose synthetic filters over fiberglass ones as they do not emit formaldehyde, which has been shown to cause cancer and also irritates the nose and throat, pretty much the opposite of what you want an air filter to do (1,2)!
- Make sure to avoid purchasing ozone generators. These machines only cause indoor air pollution. Ozone generators were originally thought to be effective because ozone safely destroys microbes in water. However, when ozone is used out of the water to destroy bacteria, the ozone level in the air must reach levels hazardous to humans to effectively kill microbes. Studies have shown that ozone generators can produce ozone levels that reach up to three times that of California's outdoor air quality standard (2). To illustrate how much ozone this is, it's enough to trigger a Stage I smog alert if that amount of ozone was produced outdoors. Yikes! Bottom line, breathing ozone is harmful, especially for children, the elderly, and people with asthma, bronchitis or other respiratory diseases. Short-term exposure to ozone irritates the nose and throat, and may trigger asthma attacks. Long-term exposure might permanently reduce a person's breathing ability (1). We definitely don't recommend purchasing air filters that intentionally generate ozone.
- Often times, you can simply change the type of filter on your central air or furnace to one with a higher MERV rating, and that is enough to improve the air quality of your home (1). This will save you from having to purchase portable air purifiers for multiple rooms in your house (yay for money saving hacks!). If you don't have central air, placing portable air purifers in just the rooms that you spend a lot of time in is a good alternative.
Here's what we do recommend
It's pretty simple! Purchase mechanical air purifiers – we recommend high efficiency (HEPA) filter-equipped mechanical models. These air purifiers can remove smaller particles of concern by forcing air through a very fine filter. Another plus, they don't generate ozone (1)! A roundup of our favorite air purifiers can be found here. Like we mentioned before, staying away from ozone generating air purifiers is super important. Some air purifiers still produce ozone as a byproduct even if they aren't marketed as ozone generators. These are usually electronic air purifiers. A list of ones to avoid can be found here. If you've got an air purifier at home now, and aren't sure if it produces ozone, it's worth double-checking to make sure!
Some tips on purchasing and placement of air purifiers
- Before going to the store (or ordering online), figure out how many air purifiers you might need, or where the key areas of activity are in your home. All air purifiers will list the amount of square footage they can cover.
- If you've purchased an air purifier, do your best to place the unit away from doors, windows, and foot traffic (avoid putting them next to walls or corners, too) so that air can easily get to the filter, and it can effectively clean all the room's air. We know, it sounds like pretty much the only place it can go is next to you on the couch, but trust us, once you have the air purifier in your house, you'll be surprised at how many places it can go!
- We can't emphasize this one enough! Make sure to follow manufacturer instructions to clean or buy new air filters when necessary to ensure that your air purifier continues to work properly.
Now that you're pretty much a pro at picking out an air purifier, what are you waiting for? Go spread the wealth on how to improve your home's air quality! Hopefully now you feel a lot more prepared and a lot less stressed about purchasing an air purifier!