Dangers of Ionic Air Purifiers

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Written By Jamila W.

You have your eyes on a cool new ionizer air purifier; upon searching for reviews and stuff, you hear some cautionary tales about how air ionizers are dangerous and should be avoided. What’s the deal? And should you be worried? Here is the answer:

Ozone is a harmful gas; everybody agrees with this. And ionizers do generate small amounts of ozone, which some consider a risk. Here is the difference of opinion: government and safety control agencies all agree these tiny amounts of ozone generated pose no health hazards and new ionizer models are safe (1).

In this article, I discuss the dangers of ionizer air purifiers, and you can come to a solid conclusion on this topic before you go in for a purchase or simply to satisfy your curiosity.  

What Are the Dangers of Ionizer Air Purifiers?

I will be honest; if what official science and safety regulations agencies say are true, then there are little to no dangers associated with ionic air purifiers. Yet, as they say, “no smoke without fire.” And I will discuss where the smoke comes from for these “claims” of danger with ionizer air purifiers (1). 

Just Some Basics — Are Air Ionizers Safe?

Ions

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Ionic air purifiers are simply devices that generate negative ions (charges) in your room; hence the positively charged dust particles are attracted to them. Once both these charges latch onto one another, the dust particle weighs more than before and can no longer float in the indoor air (4). 

These heavy dust particles settle on the floor, and your room feels free of dust, but of course, it’s just collecting on the floor, and you can remove them by vacuuming. Now, where is the part about the danger, you ask? 

Here it is; electric charges that the device generates are capable of breaking down oxygen present in the room; when this oxygen again combines, it can create ozone. And there is the smoke that I talked about. 

Ozone — What’s the Deal?

ozone layer

It could be a new name that you’re hearing after a long time, but it’s just oxygen. To simplify, the oxygen we breathe in has two elemental oxygen (O2), and ozone has three elemental oxygen (O3). 

With this one extra oxygen, ozone has some interesting properties; where and how it shows up makes it either the hero that we love or the villain we love to hate. Here are some facts about ozone:       

1. Ozone Protects the Earth

Ozone is responsible for shielding our planet from the harmful ultraviolet rays that our sun periodically ejects, and without this protective layer of ozone, we all would be exposed. 

Remember? The name was popularized when there was a huge hole that appeared in this protective layer, and planet-wide efforts were and are undertaken to fix the issue. 

2. It’s Also an Atmospheric Pollutant

Yes, you heard that right. What protects you well above the sky also becomes a pollutant on the earth’s surface. Several studies have pointed out that ozone, when inhaled, is toxic to the human body. 

Although the entire process by which ozone affects the human body has not been completely figured out, ozone gas affects the lungs and multiple organ systems of the body. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has indicated ozone as a toxic substance that causes lung diseases and increases the risk of death. And ozone is also capable of reacting with other chemicals that are usually found in the household, such as cooking oil (1).

So yeah, there is a lot of controversy surrounding the ozone gas.  

3. Ozone Acts as an Excellent Oxidizing Agent

Alright, what that means is ozone is capable of accepting electrons from other chemicals and easily reacting with them and breaking them down. 

And in the case of ozone generators, a model of air purifiers that rely chiefly on ozone to remove bad odors and allergens. Hence ozone has been in use in several models of air purifiers for air purification. 

With caveats and precautions, ozone generators have various applications in places like medical labs and chemical industries.

Dangers of Air Purifiers That Utilize Ozone 

head, brain

With the main topic of the article aside, ozone, you should now know there are other models of air purifiers that utilize and produce ozone, and only one of the models has been singled out as potentially hazardous. And that model is:

1. Ozone Generator

An ozone generator is the only model of air purifier that you can’t operate while you’re inside the room. It can only be used in an empty space because of the sheer amounts of ozone generated. But, as I mentioned, the model is more suited for industrial usage. 

2. Other Air Purifier Models That Utilize Ozone — Fully Safe

Other air purifier models produce ozone as a byproduct. And I want to repeat these models are considered completely safe as they can be used even in your presence as the ozone generated is so tiny; it is of no consequence. Here are some of the safe models:    

  • ROS air purifier
  • Ultraviolet (UV) air purifiers
  • Ionizer air purifier

So, yes, ionizer models come under the classification of devices that are considered “safe.” 

3. Models That Don’t Generate Ozone at All

Some models don’t rely upon or produce ozone at all and have excellent purification capabilities. If you’re rather particular about ozone, why not check out these models and remember each model has its advantages and disadvantages. 

Some may not be as cost-effective or useful as ionizer models, but they don’t generate ozone, so there is give and take there. Here are the models to look out for:   

What’s the Controversy? — Ionizer Air Purifiers

law

The controversy has its roots in one of the newly produced models of ionizer air purifiers that came out in the early 2000s. Reviews after reviews were published claiming there were health hazards following their usage. 

Some even questioned their effectiveness in purifying smoke and odor (two of which the air ionizers models are not good at clearing). 

This scene was followed by lawsuits against reviewers from the manufacturers (Sharper Image), which the manufacturers lost.

The damage was already done! Following the reviews, alarms were set across the country on the effects of ozone; Sharper Image then experienced a severe fall in sales and eventually went bankrupt. 

The Clean Air Act was put in place, and for a product to obtain FDA approval, a device cannot generate more ozone over the threshold of what’s considered safe. 

So the air ionizer models used today are strictly monitored, and their ozone emission levels are controlled through sensors (2, 3).   

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) 

When I was taking notes for this article, many questions started popping out of my mind, once I learned the facts about the dangers of ionic purifiers, and here are some of them with their answers:

Is Ionized Air Healthy To Breathe?

As far as mainstream science is concerned, there are no ill effects that have been associated with breathing ionized indoor air. Your body and lungs are sturdy enough to handle those charged particles.
Ozone is an entirely different matter that should be dealt with separately.  

Is an Ionizer Air Purifier the Same as an Ozone Generator?

Despite generating small amounts of ozone, ionic air purifiers are not the same as ozone generators. 
The working principles are different: Ionizer air purifiers rely on charges to remove dust particles from the air, while ozone generators depend on large amounts of ozone to clear foul odors and other chemical pollutants. 

Should You Use an Ionizer Air Purifier?

Now comes the million-dollar question: are you ready to trust the evidence-backed reports after reports, the safety regulations put in place, and sensors inside air purifiers to monitor ozone emission levels?
If you do, you can safely go for an air ionizer model; and at the end of the day, it’s a personal preference. And I would choose one if it suits my needs without worrying too much about the ozone and stuff. Some of their benefits are:
Excellent air quality from dust filtration 
Improved quality of life — mood
Helps to filter triggers for lungs diseases such as asthma  

Should You Use an Ionizer Air Purifier?

Now comes the million-dollar question: are you ready to trust the evidence-backed reports after reports, the safety regulations put in place, and sensors inside air purifiers to monitor ozone emission levels?
If you do, you can safely go for an air ionizer model; and at the end of the day, it’s a personal preference. And I would choose one if it suits my needs without worrying too much about the ozone and stuff. Some of their benefits are:
Excellent air quality from dust filtration 
Improved quality of life — mood
Helps to filter triggers for lungs diseases such as asthma  

Why Did They Stop Making Ionic Breeze Models?

Remember the controversial part of this article? It’s about Sharper Image losing its sales and eventually going bankrupt. 
Their flagship model of ionic purifiers was given the name “Ionic Breeze.” They stopped making these models due to the fall in sales after the controversy that is the main topic of this article — ozone.  

What Is the Safest and the Best Type of Air Purifier?

I would love to throw some questions back at you; to help you, of course. 
Why do you need an air purifier?
What type of pollutants do you think are parking around your room?
What’s your budget?
What are your expectations?
If you can answer all these questions, it’s rather easy to figure out which model suits your needs best. If safety is your number one priority, go with the HEPA models. But do remember they are not as cost-effective as the air ionizers. 
Since they require periodic maintenance, the filters should be swapped based on your usage. 

Wrapping Up

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Strictly from a scientific perspective, the newer models of ionizers are all safe; and their ozone levels are thoroughly monitored by multiple safety regulatory agencies. If they fail the test, their FDA clearance would have been revoked. 

Yet, some believe the tiny amounts of ozone produced as a byproduct from the device can lead to health complications. Air ionizer models are still very popular due to their cheap maintenance and cost-effectiveness.    

There are other air purifier models that don’t generate ozone at all. Depending on your needs, they can easily fit into your demand for air purification if you want to avoid models that produce ozone. 

Further reading

1.US EPA O. What are ionizers and other ozone generating air cleaners? [Internet]. US EPA. 2019 [cited 2021 Jan 5]. Available from: https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/what-are-ionizers-and-other-ozone-generating-air-cleaners