Ionic Air Cleaners: Are ionic air cleaning systems all they say they are?

December 24, 2012
Ross and Witmer

No matter what time of year, whether fall, winter, spring or summer, allergens populate the air and create misery for untold numbers of people who battle the spring blooms, the fall foliage and the real live Christmas tree magic with stuffy heads and blocked nasal passages.

In an effort to thwart allergens (and curb attacks for asthma sufferers), people invest millions in ionic air purifiers. But is that money well-spent? Do these fancy ionic air cleaning devices really work?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the first to say no. The EPA says, ozone [which is emitted from ionic air cleaners and spun to consumers as a positive] has little potential to remove indoor air contaminants. Some manufacturers or vendors suggest that ozone will render almost every chemical contaminant harmless by producing a chemical reaction whose only by-products are carbon dioxide, oxygen and water. This is misleading.

Dr. James Sublett, of the University of Louisville and co-chair of the 2007 American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Healthy Indoor Environment conference, is in agreement. He told the Los Angeles Times in April 2008, “We [allergists and immunologists] generally don’t recommend them [ionic air purifiers],” Sublett says. “They don’t really improve air quality; ozone is a pollutant and an irritant. Even small amounts are too much.”

His advice for allergy sufferers is to install high-efficiency HEPA filters in their heating and cooling systems. These filters actually trap allergens and don’t allow them to circulate throughout the household.

Another downside to ionic air cleaners is the cost. Sharper Image, which sells the Ionic Breeze, charges $150-$400 for the ionic air purifiers in the product line. It’s a one-time cost, but based on expert testimony, it’s essentially throwing that money into the wind.

While HEPA filters should be replaced annually, they actually DO work. You should plan on spending about $400 annually on replacement HEPA filters, but you’ll very likely notice a true difference in your air quality.

If you are concerned about costs, but need to address the problem of allergens and pollutants in your home, contact your HVAC contractor, who can offer you air purification recommendations based on your personal needs.

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