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How to use an air purifier during the COVID-19 epidemic?

September 21, 2020

September 21th, 2020

Are Air Purifiers more than just hype?

We are in the grip of an international pandemic and since its outbreak, we have become more conscious of the fact that many diseases can be spread through the air.

Face masks are now the order of the day and wearing them has been proven to be a very effective defence against the spread of the virus.

Most of us don’t give a second thought to the air that we breathe. We are for the most part completely unaware of the magnitude of microscopic particles that is present in the atmosphere. As long as we do not see or smell anything in the air, we go about our business unperturbed.

However, those of us who are more sensitive to allergens will be quick to point out how fast an allergic reaction can manifest itself. Unbeknown to us we are exposed to a myriad of airborne pollutants, many of which can have serious health risks.

Our industries, modes of transport and farming practices are pumping tons of harmful gasses and toxins into the atmosphere and there is no denying the fact that increasing numbers of people are complaining of respiratory infections and related conditions.

The truth of this was illustrated during the massive, global lockdowns. There was an enormous reduction in measured air pollution across all the major cities. This came about simply because we stayed at home and was not commuting to and from work every day. Just the decline in traffic brought about it a dramatic decline in CO² immersions and the smog cleared from our city skies.

But as devastating as our own impact on the environment maybe, the Covid 19 virus has alerted us to how fast airborne viruses can spread. We all share the same air and anything and everything in it. One does not need to be a specialist on infectious diseases to see the benefits of air purification.

The obvious and undeniable benefits of Air Purifiers.
- Kurt Vonnegut

In my introduction, I was hinting at people suffering from allergies. There are endless amounts of miniscule particles present in the air that we nonchalantly breathe. Our houses and work environments are awash with pollens, spores of various fungi, tiny flakes of our own dead skin, dust mites, pet’s hair and dander, not to mention germs and bacteria.

Luckily for us, our immune systems have evolved to offer us adequate protection against most of the likely medical conditions that may arise out of contact with the majority of these microbes.

Yet, even the healthiest among us can at any time succumb to infection. The air quality in our cities are alarmingly poor and as for those living in rural environments, the commercial use of herbicides and insecticides used in agriculture renders the air quality almost just as bad.

Chronic respiratory diseases (CRDs), those diseases affecting the lungs and airways are especially prevalent among children and the aged and are on the increase.

Allergies are often brushed aside as a minor irritant that will go away by itself. Yet, allergic reactions leaves the sufferer feeling drained, exhausted and unable to lead a normal productive life. As with any illness, allergies impact negatively on every aspect of a person’s wellbeing and should be prevented as a mater off course.

Air purifiers can have a dramatic effect on the lives of people who suffers from allergies. By removing the causes of the allergic reaction from the environment, and providing you with clean air, you will find that your quality of life is improved.

No more red swollen eyes, runny noses or congested sinuses. Breathing freely, you will appreciate that you are able to concentrate better on your tasks, have more energy and feel less irritable.

The impact of being constantly exposed to poor air quality is subtle and we do not immediately realise just how badly we are affected. Headaches, poor sleeping patterns, low immunity, dry skin, hair and eyes are just a few indications that we may be subjected to unhealthy air.

Given that poor air quality also leads to an increase in stress levels it is easy to see that it is not only people who are prone to hyper sensitivity that stands to benefit from air purifiers. We are all exposed to increasing amounts of harmful toxins, bacteria and pollutants in the air and we owe it to ourselves to take the necessary actions to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

Asthma and Chronic respiratory diseases (CRDs)

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) an estimated 235 million people are suffering from asthma, most of whom are children.

Good quality air purifiers capture and remove microscopic airborne particles and microbes from the atmosphere by filtering the air through High Efficiency Particulate Arresting filters (HEPA). These special filters extract 99,9% of all the lightly causes of asthma from the surrounding air, greatly reducing the probability of developing asthma in the first place and preventing the likelihood of an asthma attack in those who are suffering from the disease.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, it is especially children and the elderly who are most at risk of developing asthma and chronic respiratory diseases and now with the current Covid 19 pandemic they are also the ones that require our greatest consideration.

In addition to HEPA and carbon filtration, some air purifiers also make use of Ultra Violet light to not only filter out germs, bacteria, viruses and other airborne organisms, but to actively kill them. As the air is filtered through the system, it passes through a yet another process where it is exposed to direct UV light, killing any viruses, bacteria and germs that might have been present in the environment.

This way, you are getting the best possible protection against airborne infections and diseases and the benefits to the elderly, growing children and expectant mothers are unmeasurable.

Unpleasant odours, tobacco smoke and pet smells.

We love our pets and share our homes with them, yet they thank us by leaving their unmistakable smell behind where ever they go. We are not faring much better ourselves. Cooking, smoking and our physical activities contribute to the myriad of smells and odours that lingers on in our homes.

HEPA and carbon filtration eliminates bad odours from the air, creating an environment that is pleasant to be in. Few things are as unpleasant as the smell of stale smoke, body odour, animal scent and greasy food.

It is of putting to walk into a room where the air is stuffy and were bad smells seems to cling to the very air that you breathe. It immediately has a negative impact on your mood and desire to be there. Inviting guests into such an atmosphere would also embarrassing and trying to mask stale air through the use of air fresheners and incense only serve to make matters worse.

By filtering the air through an air purifying system, you are removing the greasy particles that is fouling up the air. There is no further need to try and mask offensive odours, since the cause has been removed and you are left with only clean fresh air.

How does air purifiers work?

Having read this far, you now understand and appreciate the value that air purification will bring to your life. It is clear that not only does air purifiers help to create a far more pleasant living environment through the removal of odour causing bacteria from the air. Air purifiers play a vital role in eliminating allergens and toxins from the home environment and help fight disease and promoting general health and wellbeing.

All said, air purifiers should be seen as an invaluable necessity rather than an additional luxury in every home and office.

The different types of air purifiers.

Before we jump right in and see how air purifiers go to work at removing impurities from the air, we have to take a closer look at the different types that are available to you.

  • UV Air Purifier

    These air purifiers use short-wave ultraviolet light (UV-C light) to inactivate airborne pathogens. The aim is to eliminate bacteria, viruses and mold by UV irradiation.
    UV-C light gives of much more energy than visible light, to such an extent that it is capable of altering the DNA structure of molecules that absorb it. Think of it as being over exposed to too much sunlight, and suffering the consequences of sunburn.

    As a means to disinfect large areas, germicidal UV light is often used in hospitals, laboratories, kitchens etc. and has been in use for a surprisingly long time.

    There are however certain drawbacks to this technology to consider:

    Certainly, the most important negative aspect of UV-C radiation is that it transforms oxygen into ozone.
    We are all aware that life as we know it will not be possible without ozone, yet being exposed to even moderate levels of ozone in the air that we breathe can have serious negative implications to our health.

  • For instance, Ozone can:
  • Make it more difficult to breathe deeply.
  • Cause shortness of breath, and pain when taking a deep breath.
  • Cause coughing and sore or scratchy throat.
  • Inflame and damage the airways.
  • Aggravate lung diseases such as asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis.
  • Increase the frequency of asthma attacks.
  • Make the lungs more susceptible to infection.
  • Continue to damage the lungs even when the symptoms have disappeared.
  • Cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

If these air purifiers are so dangerous, why are we even considering it?

Most air purifiers that incorporate UV-C radiation technology also make use of HEPA and carbon filtration to remove airborne particles from the air and although UV-C radiation has only a limited effect on viruses, it does do more to eliminate dust mites and mold.
UV-C lamps used in these types of air purifiers are also treated with a special coating that prohibits the breakdown of oxygen, thus these models do not produce ozone and are safe to use.

- HEPA Air Purifier

High Efficiency Particulate Arresting (HEPA) dates all the way back to the 1950s. The US Atomic Commission was looking for a solution to capture small radioactive particles and came up with the concept that we now know as HEPA air filters.

Three separate filtration methods are at play in removing the tiny particles from the air:

  1. The first phase interceptsparticles from the air as it is passed through the system.
  2. Any remaining particles are then slammedinto the material of the filter, were it gets imbedded into the material from where it can’t escape.
  3. Thereafter that what has managed to bypass the previous two filtration processes, are diffused, and with their flight paths interrupted these particles are easilyintercepted and captured into the system.

The simplicity of the HEPA air purification system and its proven reliability has made this the most popular choice of air purifiers on the market. These purifiers have very few drawbacks, the only one being that you will have to replace the filters on a regular basis.

Due to the high density of its construction and the way in which it goes to work filtering the air through the various layers of its membranes, these filters cannot be washed and reused.

In order to derive the maximum benefit from this type of air purification system, it is essential that you replace the filters regularly in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations. It is also strongly advised that you only buy genuine HEPA of a high quality as substandard filters will not perform adequately to ensure that your home/work environment is clean and healthy.

- Carbon Filtration

Activated carbon, comes in either a granular form or it is produced as a powdered block. It is extremely porous, so much so that a single gram may have a surface area of up to 500m² allowing it to absorb large amounts of allergens, pollutants and toxins from the air.

Carbon, once activated, absorbs organic compounds from the air through a chemical reaction that causes the pollutants to stick to its surface, thus removing it from the atmosphere.

The technology behind it stems from gasmasks as it is used in toxic environments. The main benefit of carbon filtration is that it effectively removes smoke, bad smells, and other odours from the air. It eliminates toxins, hazardous gasses and household chemicals.
As it is with HEPA filters, carbon filters only real drawback is that you have to replace the filters regularly in accordance to the manufacturer’s specifications in order for you to fully benefit from its capabilities.

The best Air purifiers will be those that combines carbon filtration alongside HEPA air filters as is the case in most of the top brands.

- Ionic Air Purifier

I am only adding Ionic air purifiers to the list for the sake of thoroughness. During the 1990s ionic generators were popular, but their popularity has subsequently declined when it came to light that they are not nearly as effective as HEPA and Carbon filter systems.

The singular advantage of Ionic purifiers is that it offers a filter less operation. It works by producing a steady source of negatively charged ions. These ions attract airborne particles, dust, allergens and so forth that in turn attach itself to the negatively charged ions in the same way as metal filings attach itself to a magnet.
Once these ions with its accumulated load of allergens becomes too heavy to stay airborne, it settles on the floor from where you can vacuum or sweep it up.

Furthermore, Ionic air purifiers are in actual fact very efficient when it comes to eliminating stale tobacco smoke from the environment. They are also much less expensive to buy and since they do not make use of filters to remove pollutants from the air, they are also inexpensive to operate.

The biggest drawback to Ionic purifiers is that they too produce ozone as a by-product of their operation and it is therefore imperative that you avail yourself of all the technical specifications of the device that you intend to purchase.

Choosing the right air purifier to suit your needs.

From the previous section, you now have a much better understanding as to how the various air purifiers work and what their individual characteristics are. You have also been shown how these devices can better your quality of life by improving the very air that you and your family breathe.

Before you make a final decision on which model and type you wish to purchase, there are some pointers to bear in mind.

The size of the unite should correspond to the size room in which it is going to be used. Installing a small air purifier in a large room with a great volume of air that needs to be filtered will simply not heed positive results. The device will have to work much harder, its filters will need replacing more frequently and you will not be guaranteed satisfactory results.
All in all it will be a costly mistake that can easily be avoided from the start.
Having said that, small units does have their rightful place in areas that are matched to it capabilities, it is a matter of matching the air purifier to the room where it is going to be used.

Measure the room in which the air purifier is going to be placed. Once you have determent the sq. ft. of the room, you can match it to the specifications of the various available models.
CADR stands for Clean Air Delivery Rate and is indicative of how quickly a specific model will be able to clean the air of a particular size. The CADR rating is given in Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM)

This boils down to the higher the CFM rating on a specific model, the faster it will be able to clean the air of a corresponding size. For example a unit with a CFM rating of 300 will clean the air of a 300sq. ft. room almost 50% faster than a unit that only has a CFM rating of 200.

Still on the subject of size. The effectiveness of carbon filters correspond directly to its size. The larger the filter the greater is its absorption ability. This implies that larger filters can remove foul odours faster and for longer, with the benefit that it will need to be replaced less frequently.

Last thoughts and observations.

There is no doubt that air purifiers can and will improve the quality of the air in your home and work place. Increasing amounts of air pollution is a factor in our lives and until such time as we have found ways in which to produce enough clean energy to sustain our growing populations we will have to content ourselves with it. The health implications that comes from pollution is set to still be with us for generations to come.
It is up to us to protect our families as best as we can and air purifiers have been proven over the years as a positive intervention against exposure to the harmful allergens that are associated with dirty air.

The fight against common colds and flu is far from over and with respiratory illness on the increase the necessity of purifying the air in our homes are becoming more and more prevalent.

I started off by making mention of the Covid 19 pandemic and would like to conclude with the same topic.
UV-C radiation can render viruses and bacteria impotent, in fact, UV light can kill viruses, but the viruses in question needs a much longer and more directed exposure than what it is subjected to in air purification systems.

One should therefore not rely on air purifiers to safeguard one against the current pandemic. Certainly any improvement to one’s environment will contribute greatly to the general health and wellbeing of you and your family, but it remains important that we continue to abide to good hygienic practices.

Written by Colzer

Choose the air purifier that suits you