Every year during the holidays, you can count on a break from school stress. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get a break from your allergies as well? Cleaning the air inside your home may be a good way to reduce the sniffles. Dust, pollen, pet dander, and mould spores are all found in higher concentrations inside the home than they are outside.

Did You Know?
Many airborne substances like pollen and pet dander tend to get caught in carpets or upholstery.

One way to minimize unwanted airborne substances is by using an air purifier. The most common type are mechanical air filters. An air filter uses material such as pleated paper, foam, or glass fibres through which air is passed to trap things like mould spores, dust and pollen. Thus, filters must be replaced every so often.

Did You Know?
Energy efficient homes are designed to trap warm air inside the home; unfortunately, all the pollutants are also trapped with it.

Another popular device for removing air particles in the home are electronic air cleaners. One type, known as electrostatic precipitators, passes air through an ionization chamber where the particles get an electrical charge by adding or removing electrons. Two oppositely charged metal plates are then used to attract and pull these charged particles out of the air. A second type, ion generators (or ionizers), also emit ions, but instead of using collector plates, the charged particles are removed from the air by attaching to surfaces such as walls and furniture. Before you go out and buy these types of air cleaners, you should know that there is no clear scientific evidence as to their overall effectiveness for such purposes.

Ozone generators are also sold as air cleaners and supposedly work by reacting chemically with pollutants to make them harmless. Ozone (O3) is the unstable form of oxygen (O2) and can be created by exposing air to UV light or an electrical discharge. The problem with ozone generators, however, is that there are no industry standards for these types of purifiers, nor is there any clear scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of these products. Ozone itself is a toxic gas that, in sufficient concentrations, can seriously harm you. In fact, Health Canada advises against the use of ozone generators for air purification inside the home.

Did You Know?
Although ozone is harmful to humans if inhaled, it is also responsible for absorbing the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays before they reach us at the Earth’s surface. Sadly, this is getting thinner due to air pollution.

If you want the best in airborne particle removal technology, go with a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter. Found in factories, hospitals, airplanes and even vacuum cleaners, HEPA filters were originally designed to quickly remove radioactive airborne contaminants in the case of a nuclear accident or attack during World War II.

Air purifiers cannot remove all air contaminants and should not be the primary or stand-alone method of air purification. The best way to breathe right this winter is to remove the source of air contamination and ventilate your homes. Perhaps a brief walk or snow ball fight?

Learn more!

How Air Purifiers Work

Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers - Tips and facts about air cleaners

EPA - Residential Air Cleaners

Health Canada - Tips for Healthy Indoor Air

Ionizing air cleaners get zapped

Ozone Generators that are Sold as Air Cleaners

This article was written in response to a question submitted by one of our readers, Debbie. If you have a question or suggestion for an article, visit our Ask Us page.

Article first published December 30, 2011

Harlyn Silverstein

I am currently doing my Ph.D. at the University of Manitoba in chemistry. My research is on the border between chemistry and physics. I like to make new materials, growing single crystals whenever possible, and characterize their properties. Some of these properties these new materials exhibit are really important to us like superconductivity. Superconductors make things like MRI's and Japan's maglev train system (capable of reaching speeds of over 500 km/hr) possible. With more research, superconductors may one day allow us to create electronics that don't heat up, or allow us to send cheap electricity to the far north!

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