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Does an air purifier make sense? When the device is worthwhile and when not

Air purifiers filter house dust, fine dust, mold spores, bacteria and the like from the room air, but their use is not always sensible. For whom and when the device is worthwhile, read here.

Does an air purifier make sense? When the device is worthwhile and when not
Does an air purifier make sense? When the device is worthwhile and when not

When is an air purifier useful? The most important things at a glance

  • Air purifiers filter pollen, mold spores, fine and house dust, odors as well as bacteria and viruses out of the air. However, even the most powerful devices only remove some of the pollutants.
  • An air purifier is useful for allergy sufferers, asthmatics and people in areas with a high level of particulate matter.
  • HEPA filters of classes H13 or H14 are built into high-quality air purifiers. The way they work is similar to that of seven. With the exchangeable filters, HEPA systems clean thoroughly and air purifiers are useful for allergies. EPA filters also remove particles such as dust from the air, but less efficiently.
  • Air purifiers are often equated with air washers and ionizers. How they work, however, is very different.
  • Air washers wash and humidify the air with water. Some combination devices combine the function of air washers and air purifiers.
  • Ionizers are chemical cleaners in which ions bind the pollutants. However, their use has disadvantages, since allergy sufferers in particular can be sensitive to the by-product ozone. The ionizer is also less useful in households with smokers.

For which pollutants and particles are air purifiers useful?

Asthma and allergies have been increasing in all age groups for years. Medical professionals identify air pollution as the most common cause. Air purifiers do not cure the diseases, but they do reduce the pollution and thus the symptoms. An air purifier can be useful for the following pollutants.

Are air purifiers useful against pollen?

Anyone suffering from a pollen allergy has to struggle with constant colds, itching, burning eyes and more problems, especially in spring and summer. The pollen load is often higher indoors than outdoors. Air purifiers with highly efficient HEPA filters remove even the smallest particles from the air and significantly reduce the allergen density, so they make perfect sense. However, they do not completely eliminate pollen - only those that are floating in the air, not those that are lying on the bed, for example. Allergy sufferers with severe symptoms should therefore not only rely on an air purifier, but also resort to other living tips for allergy sufferers.

Are air purifiers useful for mold?

If there is mold in the home, fungal spores put a strain on the respiratory tract and the immune system. Here, too, the use of air purifiers proves to be useful. The best air purifiers filter over 99 percent of mold spores out of the air. However, they do not eliminate the cause of mold. Therefore, you should definitely remove the mold.

Are air purifiers useful against house dust?

House dust consists of organic parts such as skin flakes and inorganic parts such as textile fibers. Dust mites are tiny animals that feed on the organic parts. Around 10 percent of Germans suffer from a house dust allergy. Your immune system overreacts to certain proteins in the mite droppings. The consequences are headaches, dry coughs and, in the worst case, asthma.

Air purifiers remove the dust in the air and reduce the transport via air eddies. However, they are powerless against the dust on objects. Allergy sufferers and asthmatics should therefore above all wipe the floors with a damp cloth and clean textiles more often. However, air purifiers can still be a useful addition. For example, when you re-cover the bed, the dust that is blown up brings the device into full swing.

Are air purifiers useful against fine dust?

Fine dust is generated during combustion processes. The main producers are motor vehicles, industrial plants, power plants and heating systems. The fine aerosols are divided into PM10 (maximum 10 micrometers in diameter), PM2.5 (maximum 2.5 micrometers) and ultra-fine particles (less than 0.1 micrometers), depending on their diameter. In comparison, most bacteria reach a size of 0.5 to 6 micrometers.

Fine dust accumulates in the bronchi and lungs and causes respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Studies from recent years show that the concentration is higher in closed rooms than in the outside air.

Efficient air purifiers reduce the fine dust pollution in rooms by up to 50 percent. However, they by no means eliminate all particles. They are also powerless against gaseous compounds such as nitrogen oxides. However, if you live on a main road or near an industrial area, an air purifier is still useful.

Did you know? The Federal Environment Agency offers an interactive map on which you can see the particulate matter pollution in your region.

Do air purifiers help against viruses and bacteria?

While the diameter of the most common bacteria is between 0.5 and 7 micrometers, viruses are on average a hundred times smaller. Even the most efficient air purifiers are therefore not a silver bullet against pathogens. Although they can lower the virus concentration in the air a little, they cannot kill all pathogens. The effectiveness of air purifiers is also limited with bacteria. Some bacteria get caught in the filters, but just as many slip through.

Do air purifiers help against the spread of corona?

According to the Bundesverband Schimmelpilzsanierung e. V. use air purifiers with pre-filters and HEPA filters of at least class H13. This class must be guaranteed across all performance levels. In addition, three times the air throughput per hour is necessary. Pay attention to the information given by the manufacturer in cubic meters per hour (m³ / h). To get the necessary minimum value, calculate the room area times the room height and take the result for three times the air throughput times three. Example: Your room is 20 square meters and 2.5 meters high - then calculate 20 m² x 2.5 m = 50 m³ x 3 = 150 m³, which the air purifier should manage per hour.

But be careful: In living rooms, offices, doctor's offices and shops, air purifiers can at most be a supplementary measure, but can never replace common methods such as disinfection and regular, correct ventilation. The Bundesverband Schimmelpilzsanierung e. V. to set up several devices with medium air throughput instead of just one device with high performance. This way you can capture the large amount of room air more effectively.

Air purifier vs. air washer vs. ionizer: what makes sense? What can harm

Not all air purifiers are created equal. The devices on the market differ in how they work and, accordingly, their ability to remove pollutants and tiny, harmful particles such as pollen. Some models have disadvantages. As an alternative to an air purifier, you can use an air washer or ionizer. However, their mode of action is different and caution is advised with the latter.

Air purifier with HEPA filter: The most effective type of air purification

The abbreviation HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air Filter. The filters consist of close-meshed, stacked mats made of glass fibers or cellulose. In contrast to a sieve, in which the mesh size remains the same, the meshes of the different layers are differently narrow.

In the case of air purifiers with HEPA filters, a fan ensures that the room air is circulated, which is sucked in by a nozzle. Small particles that move with the air flow stick to the fibers due to the diffusion effect or the barrier effect. Particles with a greater mass, in turn, have greater inertia. Sooner or later you will therefore hit the mesh. HEPA filters are divided into classes from 1 to 17 depending on their efficiency. Class H13 filters remove more than 99.95 percent of airborne particles that are larger than 0.1 micrometers.

HEPA air purifiers are useful in every household with increased pollution. The HEPA filters remove pollutants and harmful particles such as pollen, mold and dust mechanically and do not use harmful chemicals. This means that there are no side effects. Many air purifiers with HEPA filters also have activated carbon filters built into them, which also remove unpleasant odors and gases. You must replace both types of filters at least every six months. The filters can often also be cleaned.

Air washer: useful for cleaning and humidifying

Air washers also clean the air mechanically. In contrast to air purifiers, however, they do not have a filter. Inside, disks rotate on the surface of which there is water. A fan sucks in the air that flows over the panes. The dirt particles remain in the water.

The advantage of air washers is that they increase the humidity at the same time. They are particularly useful in heated rooms in winter to maintain healthy humidity. On the other hand, they are not as effective as air purifiers with HEPA filters on the smallest particles. They are therefore more suitable for cases in which air purification is not the focus. However, there are also air washers with HEPA filters.

Ionizers: Less useful for allergy sufferers and smokers

An ionizer is a chemical air purifier. The device generates negatively charged ions that attract the positively charged pollutants in the air. Heavy molecules form and sink to the bottom or stick to a metal plate in the device. Ionizers do not have filters. Compared to air purifiers and air washers, they are more compact and often cheaper.

Their major disadvantage is the formation of ozone through the ionization of oxygen in the air. Ozone breaks down odor molecules and kills bacteria. However, if the concentration is too high, it irritates the mucous membranes and causes headaches. High-quality ionizers generate little ozone, but asthmatics and allergy sufferers should choose other devices for air purification. Ionizers are also unsuitable for smokers who want to get rid of the smell of cigarettes. This is because ozone combines with the breakdown products of tobacco and forms aerosols that are harmful to health.

air cleaner

Air washer

Ionizer

Type of
cleaning

mechanically

mechanically

chemically

Efficiency

very high

medium

high

maintenance

Filter change each
according to manufacturer information,
average
every 6 months

  • regular
    cleaning
  • Exchange of the
    Water in
    Water tank

no

advantages

filters even the smallest
Particles out

automatic humidification
the air

no maintenance necessary

disadvantage

  • not suitable
    against
    gaseous
    Odor molecules
  • low
    Effect against
    Bacteria,
    Particulate matter,
    Smells
  • volume
    mostly over 40
    decibel
  • irritant effect of the
    By-product ozone
  • harmful to health
    Aerosols in
    connection with
    Degradation products
    of tobacco burning

Three popular air purifiers in comparison

Phillips AC2887 / 10

According to the manufacturer, the powerful air purifier from Philips removes 99.97 of the pollutants with a diameter of over 2 micrometers from the air. This is ensured by a HEPA filter, an activated carbon filter and a pre-filter (three-filter system). The device also has an allergy mode that is particularly effective in removing pollen and mite excrement. It's also efficient in large rooms thanks to its cleaning rate of 333 cubic meters per hour.

In sleep mode, the AC2887 / 10 reaches a maximum of 20 decibels, which corresponds to the volume of breathing sounds. So nothing stands in the way of a restful sleep. Another advantage is the display of the PM2.5 value (fine dust pollution) in real time. The only disadvantage of this device is the high price of around 300 euros without an app or around 380 euros with an app. Nevertheless, the investment is particularly worthwhile for allergy sufferers who want a top air purifier. The European Foundation for Allergy Research (ECARF) confirmed the effectiveness of the AC2887 / 10 against allergens.

Levoit LV-H131 S air purifier

The Levoit air purifier is also equipped with a three-filter system. When it comes to eliminating allergens, it can keep up with the more expensive model from Philips. Another advantage of this device is that it can be controlled via smartphone. The VeSync app is compatible with Alexa and enables the air quality to be conveniently visualized on the mobile phone display.

At 230 cubic meters per hour, its cleaning rate is lower than that of the AC2887 / 10. Accordingly, it only effectively purifies the air in rooms that are smaller than 55 square meters. Still, it's a good compromise for those on a budget who want an efficient device.

JINPUS air purifier

The compact air purifier is particularly suitable for small rooms. Its strengths are the low price and the compact dimensions. With a diameter of just 12.5 centimeters and a weight of just 520 grams, it can be transported anywhere. A HEPA filter of class H13 and a pre-filter are built into the device.

With a maximum volume of 30 decibels, the JINPUS air purifier is louder than the Levoit and Philips models. However, if you don't necessarily want to switch the cleaner on overnight, you don't have to compromise here either. At 150 cubic meters per hour, the cleaning rate is lower than that of the other air purifiers presented. Nevertheless, the price-performance ratio is absolutely convincing.

We present more models in our air purifier test.