Air Purifier vs. Ionizer | What’s the Difference

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Written By Jamila W.

“It’s an air ionizer,” and the reply from the other side could be, “But is it an air purifier?” It’s understandable. Customers interested in purchasing air purifiers are left wondering about all the technologies available and which suits them the best. Topic answer:

Ionizer refers to the technology used in the air purifier model. There are many technologies in the market, but all their goals converge at one point, air purification. Ionizers rely on electrical charges to purify the indoor air, while there are models that use mechanical filtration to do the same.     

In this article, I will discuss air ionizers and other models of air purifiers and what they are good at. Each model is a unique piece of engineering, and there is no one size fits all (well, there is, but you will see). 

What’s the Difference Between Air Ionizers and Air Purifiers?

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Although their function is more or less the same, that is air purification, the way air purifiers go on to accomplish this process differentiates air ionizers from air purifiers. But for our convenience, I will mention that air ionizers are a type of air purifier. 

You will find many models of air purifiers that specifically mention “Ionizer” as a tagline. So what’s the difference? Before that, here is something you should know to understand their core difference:

Air Purifiers — What’s the Deal?

Air purifiers are a broad term that is used to address devices that remove airborne particles from the indoor air. That’s the simple definition. 

But for the sake of this article and to differentiate these from air ionizers, which also do the same thing, let’s talk about the working principles of the models available in the market so you can see the differences. 

First, there are several ways in which this process can be done. The two main ways are using negatively charged particles (negative ions) to attract positively charged dust particles, and in the end, the dust settles at the bottom of the floor, which can be removed manually.

The other process is by utilizing filters capable of filtering dust particles and collecting them inside the air purifier machines.

Air purifiers will list the type of purification mechanism involved in their sales page, such as ionizer, HEPA filter, and UV technology. And they all are air purifiers based on the definition we just discussed.

Ionizer Air Purifier

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So, the models that use charged particles for air purification are termed air ionizers. This mechanism is what makes the difference. It’s more about the technology used rather than being an entirely different device. But this should make it clear:

All ionizers are air purifiers, but not all air purifiers are ionizers. 

Since now you know about ionizers, here is some important information about other models if you’re looking to make a purchase:

Other Models of Air Purifiers

Although there are many different models of air purifiers, their functioning, and working principle usually revolve around the stuff we just discussed: based on how they purify the air. 

Sometimes two technologies can be used together to create air purifier models that have superior capabilities and address the needs. 

1. HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) Filter

HEPA air purifier models utilize advanced filters that can filter dust particles from the air, and they are collected inside the air purifiers. To certify as HEPA filter compliant, the model must be able to remove over 99.9 percent of air pollutants present in the room.

An important thing to note is that the process is mechanical and is very similar to manually filtering tea from tea leaves. Air is forced through the filters, and the bigger particles get stuck inside the machine while purified clean air exits on the other side and inside your room.

Since the filter captures all sorts of stuff, maintenance is needed to keep the HEPA air purifier clean and functioning at peak efficiency.      

2. Ultraviolet (UV) Technology

Its working principle is slightly different and addresses one aspect of air purification: biological pollutants. “Sunscreen is a must,” is something you hear quite often during the summer. And this is to protect you from the harmful effects of the UV rays of the sun.

The concept of these models is just the same as the harmful UV rays can be directed at biological pollutants such as bacteria, viruses, and other microbes that could be of health concern. 

These models come with UV lamb, which generates radiation. And the air is passed through inside the machine, and as the dust and pollutants come in contact with the UV, they are exposed to dangerous radiation capable of destroying them.      

3. Carbon Filters 

Models fitted with carbon filters are great at absorbing smoke, foul odors, and other unwanted gaseous pollutants in your room. The way these filters work is by using activated carbon, which is a material that has lots of holes that are sensitive and can absorb chemicals.

In an air purifier, these chemicals could be in the form of dust and airborne contaminants suspended in the air circulating your room.   

Where these models start falling behind is the pure filtration power of other models when it comes to larger particles. Hence these carbon filters are usually coupled with other technologies to create air purifiers that are also sensitive to larger pollutants.  

There are many more technologies, but their working principle will be more or less the same based on what we have discussed thus far.  

Personal Review of Each Air Purifier Model — Applications

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When comparing different air purifier technologies, such as air ionizers and UV, it’s essential to know which model is preferred, based on your needs, before you make a purchase. Here are some interesting facts about different air purifier technologies and what they are good at:

1. HEPA Filters Are Overall the Best

Each model has its advantages and disadvantages, but HEPA-fitted models walk on those fine lines, where they are good at almost all pollutants people want to be removed from their surroundings. 

Hence are the favorite choice among customers who quickly want an air purifier and don’t have the time to learn about all the nuances between 12 different technologies.

The only drawback I can think of is that filters that collect dust need to be maintained and replaced periodically. So HEPA filters need some care. And when biological pollutants such as bacteria and viruses are concerned, other models do a better job (1). 

2. Ionic Air Purifiers Are a Good Choice As Well

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Air ionizers usually don’t disappoint; their range of sensitivity to pollutants is high. Except for odors, air ionizer models are good at removing dust, allergens, viruses, bacteria, and pet dander from the air effectively.    

Where they shine is their longevity and low maintenance costs. These models are also comparatively cheap to buy. Hence, if you don’t want to break the bank and are just looking for cost-effective performance models for clean air, this is your best option (2).

3. Ultraviolet Air Purifier Models Have Niche Applications

Although HEPA filters and air ionizer models are great if biological pollutants are your chief concern, ultraviolet air purifiers can be a great addition to your room. 

Some of us can be allergic to things like mold and microbes that are present in the air. In those cases, these models utilize the UV lamp fitted inside them to expose those tiny lifeforms to radiation, which can kill most of them. But does it work?

Their effectiveness has been questioned multiple times, but these are still popular models, and the way they kill off germs has been time and time again tested in industries where sanitation is crucial such as the medical industry (3). 

Where surgical instruments are exposed to UV lights to do the same process an air purifier does: kill pathogens. 

4. Carbon Filters Are Great at Removing Odor 

As we discussed, the activated carbon that is inside their filters is superb for getting rid of gaseous pollutants. Other models that are great for gaseous pollutants are the ozone generator air purifiers. 

When given the choice between ozone generators and carbon filters, it’s easy to go for carbon filters as they don’t rely on ozone. But things are not that simple. Applications dictate where and when which model is preferred.     

5. Ozone Generators Have a Niche but Important Applications

These models are also great at removing smog and odors. The amount of ozone generated makes them unsafe to use in human presence. Ozone is harmful, yes, and these models solely rely on ozone for their job. But there are situations where ozone generators are needed to get rid of extremely difficult contamination. 

This usually comes in the form of chemicals that other air purifier models will not be able to handle, such as after a fire incident, environmental disasters, or toxic molds. Places of note are medical labs and hospitals, in which cleanness is of utmost importance.

Extreme caution is advised when using ozone generators. Cause ozone. 

Verdict:

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So yeah, that is how each model of air purifier works

And if you’re looking to make a purchase and are still thinking about choosing between the air ionizer and other models, I believe my topics on how these different air purifier models work in the previous section and their different applications in this section of the article will be useful.

It all does come down to your needs and the budget.    

Wrapping up

Air ionizers are air purifiers that use charges to remove dust particles from your room. There are over seven air purifier technologies that are currently on the market. 

When comparing each model and its respective technology, it’s necessary to understand what their intended application is. And ideally, your needs should neatly fit into their niche. 

While some models are all around great, they still have qualities that make them suited to remove a particular type of pollutant.  

Once you’re clear on “why you need an air purifier,” and the rough estimate of how much you want to spend on the model, it’s an easy choice to make, and I wish you the best!  

Further reading

1.Dubey S, Rohra H, Taneja A. Assessing effectiveness of air purifiers (HEPA) for controlling indoor particulate pollution. Heliyon. 2021 Sep;7(9):e07976.

2.Pushpawela B, Jayaratne R, Nguy A, Morawska L. Efficiency of ionizers in removing airborne particles in indoor environments. Journal of Electrostatics. 2017 Dec;90:79–84.

3.Eisenlöffel L, Reutter T, Horn M, Schlegel S, Truyen U, Speck S. Impact of UVC-sustained recirculating air filtration on airborne bacteria and dust in a pig facility. Heldt CL, editor. PLOS ONE. 2019 Nov 7;14(11):e0225047.