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Consumer Scams

Portable Air Purifiers- Are They Worth Buying?

Watch Out for Air Purifier Scams and Frauds.

People naturally fear, germs and polluted air.  Arizona city air contains, dust, pollens, hydrocarbons, metals and other pollutants.  People want to breathe clean air in their homes, and some have come to believe that air purifiers are the answer. Do portable air purifiers sold for homes solve the problem?  This article is intended to explore that question.

Portable air purifiers have become big business, but be sure you need one before you buy.  Beware of scams and pushy salesmen who gloss over details.  The Better Business Bureau (BBB) has reports of high pressure sales tactics, false and inflated performance claims, and nonexistent prizes.  Many homeowners report being plagued by door to door vacuum cleaner salesmen who claim their vacuum doubles as an air purifier by removing allergens and pollutants.  Homeowners claim the salesmen are very aggressive in pushing their product.  One elderly woman told the BBB two salesmen sat on her porch, refusing to leave until she let them in.

The BBB reports some air purifier companies offer free prizes for allowing a product demonstration, but the prizes never materialize.  When the BBB tried to contact the company to inquire about the status of outstanding prizes, the company stonewalled and never answered the questions.  

Another air purifier company offered $100 to charity if you purchased one of its units.  When BBB contacted the charity, it knew nothing about the offer and never received any money.  Another scam involves claims that the air purifier will never need a new filter.  That is simply not true.  All air filtration systems require filters to be replaced periodically. In most instances, they must be changed every 6-9 months, depending on the unit.  Another area of deception is the cost of filters.  For example:  one company sells its air purifier for $210, but its HEPA filter costs $78 per filter.  Between the cost of filters and the cost of electricity to constantly run the device, operating these air purifiers can be costly.

Educate Yourself on What the Product Can and Cannot Do.

Before you invest in a portable air purifier, you need to decide if it will offer you real health benefits.  You also need to learn about the various types of air purifiers and how they work.  Portable air purifiers will only clean the air in one closed off room.  House-wide systems installed as part of the HVAC (heating and air conditioning) system are far less common, and we will not be discussing them in this article.

Particle Removers

The most common, portable air purifier is the particle remover.  These come in two types.  The lesser known type is the electronic air filter which uses electrostatic attraction to attract dust and spore particles.  Depending on the type of electrostatic cleaner, the attracted particles, either collect on a series of flat plates or fall to the surface of floors, furniture and walls. Electronic air cleaners produce ozone which is very irritating to the lungs.  For that reason, they are not recommended for home use.

The other type of particle remover is the mechanical air filter.  These use high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters to filter the air.  Air purifiers with HEPA filters are good for removing particles like dust, pollen, dust mites, cockroach allergens, and some molds.  Particle removers are less effective in removing large particles, bacteria and viruses.  

The Other Types of Air Purifiers are Rarely Used in Homes.

Gas-phase air purifiers are expensive, too large for most home ventilation systems, and the filters have a very short lifespan.  UVGI cleaners use ultraviolet light to destroy viruses, bacteria and molds.  However, their effectiveness is quite limited.  They are not capable of providing sufficient UV exposure to kill many viruses and bacteria.

If someone wants to sell you an air purifier, it is most likely a particle remover of some type.  The EPA and health care experts advise consumers to steer clear of the electrostatic air cleaners.  Because they emit ozone, these air purifiers can make asthma, allergies and lung conditions, worse, rather than better.

When you consider a mechanical filtration system, the key components are the fan and the filter.  The best air purifiers use high quality HEPA filters, which trap 99.97 of particles 0.3 microns in size.  Be aware; “HEPA type filters” are sometimes advertised for the product.  HEPA type filters are not true HEPA filters and will not be up to the job. 

Because air purifiers run 24/7, the fan is always on. These fans can be very noisy, especially when on high speed.  Many air purifiers are only effective when the fan is on high.  Before you buy, check out the EPA’s website and Consumer Reports air purifier ratings.  Both these sources will give you test results that tell you which air purifier units work well with the fan on the quieter, low speed, which ones have the best filters, the energy costs to run the units, and the price of replacement filters.

The better quality units will clean the air in a 400 to 500 square foot room, with the door closed.  None are effective in a large, open area.  The EPA cautions buyers that air filters will not solve all your air quality problems.  They do not remove odors, bacteria, viruses, or large particles like dust mites and many allergens.  Doctors warn that people who suffer with seasonal allergies will not get much relief from an air purifier.

Other Options to Consider Before You Buy.

Before you invest your money in an air purifier, consider other ways to clean your indoor air.  First, and most important, keep your house well vacuumed and dusted.  Open the windows when weather permits and invest in a vacuum with HEPA filters.  An air purifier is no substitute for cleaning.  Consider buying better quality filters for your HVAC system.

Filters on HVAC systems are rated for their efficiency according to their “minimum efficiency reporting value” or MERV.  MERV ratings run from a low of 1 to a super high efficiency value of 20.  We all buy filters for our air conditioning/heating systems.  We open a louvered panel in the ceiling or wall and insert a new filter every month or two.  There are two types of filters we can buy for our AC return system.  The less expensive, flat paneled filters, containing spun fibers have a MERV rating of 1-4.  They may be beneficial in protecting your HVAC equipment, but do little to improve the quality of indoor air. 

The other type you can buy are the pleated or extended surface filters.  These tend to be medium efficiency filters with a MERV rating of 5-13, and are nearly as effective as HEPA filters in controlling indoor air particles.  The next time you change your AC filter, check the MERV rating on the side.  A better quality filter means fewer particulates in room air. 

There is little data to support the idea that portable air purifiers reduce adverse health effects.  While they may remove larger particles from room air, they have no impact on health effects from second hand smoke and will not remove cat dander.  They do not remove most bacteria and viruses from the air.  Portable air purifiers may be of benefit to vulnerable people – those with chronic airway disease or asthma, but healthy adults living in the United States may not receive a substantial benefit.

Resources

www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/guide-air-cleaners-home

www.consumerreports.org/cro/air-purifiers.htm?searchToken=Air%20purifiers

www.bbbconsumereducation.com/door-to-door-vacuumair-purifier-sales-what-to-know/

 

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