Five factors to look for when choosing an air purifier

TR Ganesh, General Manager, Blueair Middle East

As the weather begins to shift and the cool winters make way for fog and dust storms, UAE residents are bracing for another round of allergies, asthma and seasonal respiratory disorders. The problems are compounded by rising pollution levels, with major urban areas in the country exceeding the World Health Organisation’s guidelines levels for airborne particulate matter by more than three times. Thankfully, authorities are embracing change by adding monitoring stations and endorsing apps to empower residents.

Raising air quality is a key issue of the UAE National Vision 2021 agenda, which aims to raise air quality from its current level to 90 per cent by 2021. Yet, public action alone will not help and consumers must play their part. City residents spend as much as 90 per cent of their time indoors, but air within homes and offices can be between two to five times worse than it is outdoors, the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says.

Little wonder then that air purifiers have emerged as a potent new weapon in the battle for optimal health as individuals seek to ensure their own wellbeing. Air purifiers clear away dust, allergens and other pollutants such as smoke, odours and pet dander quickly and effectively – game-changing qualities that consumers have begun to realise. Global sales of these essential household healthcare devices are expected to grow over 30 per cent over the five years to 2024, according to the latest data from Research and Markets.

But what separates a great air purifier from the merely good? There are a number of factors buyers should keep in mind to reap the most health benefits with minimal discomfort.

Does it do what it promises?

As you might expect, not all air purifiers are the same. There are a wide range of technologies on the market, and buyers should do their homework before making a final decision. The key determinant should be the type of filter used. Activated carbon filters, for example, are made from wood, coal or coconut shells and are highly absorbent but do not effectively remove dust and many airborne particles. Air ionisers remove pollutants but do not carry away odours. Industry opinion appears to have settled around High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, which were first developed in World War II to remove radioactive contaminants. Made from fibreglass, they remove 99.97% of all particles as small as 0.3 microns and are thus considered the most effective products in their category today.

What particles does it filter out?

For those with asthma or respiratory allergies, it is important to identify what sets off an attack – and steer clear of these triggers. While pet dander may set one person’s nose running, another’s respiratory system may strenuously object to even the slightest speck of dust. Air purifiers are meant to refresh the indoor environment by removing airborne particles and keeping the airflow circulating within a room, but again, not all brands are equal. It is worth taking a few extra moments to find out if a specific trigger is filtered out or not – doing so saves you from making an expensive and pointless purchase.

How does it handle ozone?

With a wide range of air purifiers on the market, several brands fall on opposite sides of the ozone line. The oxygen allotrope has both positive and negative effects. Known for its protective qualities at the edge of earth’s atmosphere, the inherently unstable gas reacts with and eliminates strong odours and airborne chemicals, so some manufacturers market ozone generators that carry away unpleasant smells and kill mould and mildew. However, not only can ozone irritate the airways on sunny days, but at the levels required to be effective on these fronts, it can cause long-term health damage when it reacts with the eyes, skin, lungs and other exposed areas. The antioxidant can also be fatal to pets. For these reasons, the US state of California has banned ozone air purifiers, and healthcare experts recommend air purifiers that do not generate any level of ozone.

How quiet is it?

Whether it is street traffic or devices such as our smartphones and tablets, we live in a noisier world than ever before – and it is taking its toll on our health. Scientists now confirm that elevated workplace or environmental noise can result in hearing loss, irritability, hypertension, ischemic heart disease and sleep disturbances. Air purifiers are often prescribed to help improve sleep, but if the unit in question is noisy or plays music, it may not entirely deliver on those benefits. Question the retailer about the unit’s noise levels before purchase, and make sure to buy only whisper-quiet products.

Does it fit your style?

To borrow from Marie Kondo, why shouldn’t an air purifier spark joy? There is no reason health improvers should look like ugly boxes that detract from your interiors scheme. Technology has now evolved to the point where gadgets can be both beautiful and utilitarian, and thankfully for the house-proud who care about aesthetics, there are now a range of appealing air purifiers that add value to any design scheme. You can find products in bright colours that double up as a conversation pieces or pick an unobtrusive shade that blends into the background without looking ugly. After all, it is your home and it should reflect your tastes.