In our ongoing pursuit of cleaner and healthier indoor environments, a multitude of technologies and devices have surfaced in recent years. One new emerging technology available on the market are “air ionizers”. You may have encountered these compact gadgets claiming to improve air quality and provide numerous health benefits. But what exactly are air ionizers? In this blog, we will explore the world of air ionizers, exploring their purpose, functionality, and potential advantages.
What are air ions?
In order to understand what air ionizers do, let’s first learn what “air ions” are.
Air ions are molecules with an electrical charge. They’re invisible molecules that float around in the atmosphere. Negative ions are molecules that have gained an electron; positive ions are those that have lost an electron.
An air ionizer is a device that releases negative ions into the air. The negative ions attach to tiny particles, like those in tobacco smoke.
This gives the particles an electrical charge, causing them to clump together and land on surfaces like:
- carpets and rugs
- metal collector plates in the device
Once the particles have landed on something, they can be cleaned up.
Are there benefits of an air ionizer?
Air ionizers use negative ions to remove small particles in the air. Releasing these ions can help reduce odours and make the air seem fresher.
According to a 2018 scientific review of ionization literature, negative ions have also been found to:
- Inhibit viruses, bacteria, and mould species
- Regulate sleeping patterns
- Increase immune function
- Support mood
The negative impacts of air ionization
While an ionizer may offer some limited advantages, this technology also has considerable downsides. It’s crucial to be aware of these drawbacks before considering installing this type of technology.
Ionizers produce ozone when negative ions electrically charge airborne particles.
Although ozone may work against microorganisms like viruses, it’s also a lung irritant. Ozone can cause the muscles in the airways to constrict, trapping air in the alveoli. This leads to wheezing and shortness of breath. Depending on the level of exposure, ozone can:
- Cause coughing and sore or scratchy throat.
- Make breathing deeply and energetically more difficult, causing pain when taking a deep breath.
- Inflame and damage the airways.
- Make the lungs more susceptible to infection.
- Aggravate lung diseases such as asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis.
- Increase the frequency of asthma attacks.
Long-term exposure to ozone is linked to the aggravation of asthma and is likely to be one of many causes of asthma development.
Ineffective for odours and gases
Ionizers don’t destroy odours and gases, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are considered to be indoor pollutants and may cause health problems and are released from products like paints, cleaning supplies, and adhesives. Unfortunately, ionizers are ineffective in reducing VOCs in the air.
What are the experts saying?
The EPA says air ionizers are relatively ineffective at removing larger particles like dust and pollen, and they are more suited to removing smaller particles such as tobacco smoke and smog, which measure between 0.01 and 0.1 µm/microns.
Ionizers cannot remove large particles that trigger asthma and allergy symptoms from the air. These include particles like:
The main concern is the long-term health effects are largely unknown with many potential adverse effects in sight. ASHRAE and the CDC have not explicitly addressed ionizers in their standards or guidelines. While ASHRAE does not address air ionizers directly in its standards, it promotes the use of proven technologies and approaches to enhance IAQ. The CDC acknowledges that some air cleaners may generate ions in their operation but does not endorse their use. It suggests selecting air cleaners certified by reputable organizations to ensure their effectiveness and safety.
It is important to consider the drawbacks of air ionizers before deciding to install this technology into your HVAC system. One significant concern is their emission of ozone, which can be a lung irritant and lead to respiratory issues such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Long-term exposure to ozone can aggravate asthma and other lung diseases. Additionally, air ionizers are relatively ineffective at removing larger particles like dust and pollen, making them even less suitable for individuals with asthma or allergies. We also reviewed their ineffectiveness in reducing odours and gases, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are indoor pollutants that can cause health problems.
Therefore, while air ionizers may offer some advantages in terms of air quality improvement, it is crucial to weigh their benefits against their potential risks. It is advisable to consider alternative technologies and approaches that are proven to enhance indoor air quality and have been endorsed by reputable organizations.