Are air scrubbers safe?

This article discusses whether air scrubbers are safe for usage. We discuss how air scrubbers work, what they are effective against, and how they help to prevent certain diseases.

Are air scrubbers safe?

Yes, air scrubbers are perfectly safe for use in your houses. Indoor air pollution is also a growing issue, given the ever degrading state of outdoor air with each passing day.

Given the adverse effects air pollution can have on our health, it is a high priority to employ methods to keep the air in our house clean and fit for breathing. 

An average adult spends more than eighty percent of their total lives in an indoor environment. This includes buildings as well as vehicles. Out of this, more than ninety percent of that time is in buildings such as our houses, offices, and so on.

What are air scrubbers and how do they work?

The term ‘scrubber’ refers to a liquid that is used to remove contaminants from the air. In other words, the contaminant is removed from the air. 

A wet scrubber is a form of air cleaner in which a liquid is sprayed into the air to clean it. Water is frequently used as the cleaning liquid in wet scrubbers. 

The other form of air scrubber is the dry scrubber, which cleans the air with a cloth or mechanical filter. A HEPA or carbon filter, for example.

The most common method for removing gases is to use an air scrubber. An air scrubber was initially used to remove carbon dioxide from the air, and it is still a common air filtering device in submarines.

The air scrubber continually creates negative ions as air passes through your ducting system. Those negative ions are dispatched on a mission to locate and return impurities floating in your air that are too tiny to be collected by your standard air filter.

An Air Scrubber uses microscopic metal tubes to produce negative ions. The tubes, which are formed in the shape of a honeycomb and have a specific coating, are placed in a honeycomb pattern.

The air goes through the tubes before passing through a segment with ultraviolet (or UV) radiation. Negative ions are formed as a result, and they are dispatched on their way to purify your air.

When negative ions are present in your home’s air, they seek out positively charged particles such as germs, pollen, and other allergies.

When negative ions and positive particles come together, they form bigger, heavier particles that can’t float in the air. They instead fall to the ground or land on surfaces.

When the fan on your air handler turns on, it pulls the freshly produced, bigger dirt particles through your ducting system, eventually resting on and clinging to your air filter.

What are air scrubbers effective against?

Air scrubbers were initially designed to get rid of particles as well as gases that are emitted from certain processes. This application helped in their translation towards their usage in homes and offices.

Broadly speaking, air scrubbers work against:

  • Particulate matter (PM)
  • Odors and gases

We shall talk about these in more detail.

Particulate matter

PM refers to particles, either solid or liquid, that are mixed and suspended in the air. They are a major part of air pollutants, and have a variety of natural and anthropogenic sources. They usually range between 2.5 to 10 microns (PM10 and PM2.5).

Particulate matter is a major contributor to both long term and short term illnesses. There are many well-documented studies that have shown progression of illnesses with an increase in the concentration of PM. 

PM2.5 is of a major concern, as it can easily enter the lower respiratory tract, therefore causing more serious cardiac and respiratory issues.

Moreover, PM is also linked to premature deaths of people who had pre-existing health issues such as people with cardiac or respiratory issues, obesity, asthma, and so on.

They can also act as adsorbents, allowing various elements to be stuck to their surface, which in turn can prove more harmful when inhaled.

Various sources of PM in a house

In a household, PM can arise from many sources. Some of these sources include:

  • Spores from mold
  • Asbestos
  • Allergens, such as animal dander, pollens
  • Smoke

Let us discuss these in more detail.

Spores from mold

Mold refers to the growth of fungal material on items such as walls, clothes, etc., in places where temperature is low and the relative humidity is high.

These are commonly seen in areas of the house where seepage occurs, or rooms such as the kitchen, bathroom, or the basement, where the ideal conditions exist.

The spores generated from mold have adverse effects on human health, and certain mold species can even prove to be fatal.

Air scrubbers help to remove the spores from the ambient air. Although care should be taken as to not run the device in high humidity levels, as its efficacy gets reduced considerably.

Therefore, it is ideal to pair your air scrubber with an air dehumidifier, which first brings down the humidity levels of the room, thereby allowing the air scrubber to work efficiently.

Asbestos

Asbestos is a mineral fiber that was used earlier in a variety of construction materials since it acts as an insulator and a flame retardant. 

Although it is now banned in 55 countries, it is still used in major countries such as China, India, Russia, Canada, and the United States, although the EPA and CPSC have banned several asbestos products. 

Asbestos is purely an indoor air pollutant, as it concentrates in the indoor air due to activities such as remodelling, cutting, and sanding of asbestos-bearing products.

Elevated concentrations of respirable asbestos particles can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma (a cancer of abdominal and respiratory linings), and asbestosis (irreversible scarring of lung tissues).

Air scrubbers can pick up asbestos particles from the indoor air, although it would be better to eliminate asbestos particles by repairing old asbestos-bearing materials by sealing or by covering them.

Allergens

Allergens include substances such as dander from animals, pollen, and dust mites, which cause irritation to the respiratory system, with symptoms such as running nose, irritation in throat and nose, watery eyes, and so on.

These particles are comparatively larger than other types of PM pollutants present in the air, hence get easily entrapped by an air scrubber.

Odors

There are certain sources  of odor that can emanate from various areas of the house. These include:

  • Smoke
  • Pet odor
  • Food odors

We discuss these in more detail.

Smoke

Smoke is one of the worst pollutants, in both outdoor air as well as indoor air. It is generated by combustion of fuels such as gasoline, firewood, coal, dried dung, and from other sources such as cigarettes.

Various studies have shown how exposure to smoke can adversely affect human health, and can even cause illnesses related to the cardiovascular and respiratory system.

Cigarette smoke is the most toxic pollutant. Studies have shown that active smokers, as well as people that are subjected to secondhand smoke, are at a much higher risk of developing cancer of the mouth, throat, or lungs.

Smoke particularly affects certain groups of individuals, such as children and older people, people that use solid fuels for their energy needs, and so on. In children, there are higher reported cases of hospitalisation due to illnesses caused from exposure to smoke. 

Furthermore, it was also shown that respiratory illnesses such as asthma, emphysema, COPD, etc., were reported in much higher numbers for smokers, secondhand smokers, and people subjected to combustion-based pollution.

Air scrubbers serve an important purpose of getting rid of the smoke particles present in the indoor air, and along with it, get rid of the odor associated with smoke.

Pet odors

If you have pets, especially furry ones like dogs, cats, rodents, etc., you would notice a particular stench emanating from them. This is due to the natural processes, as well as their saliva.

This odor can be an even bigger problem for visitors who do not have pets and therefore, are not accustomed to those smells.

Furthermore, there are certain seasons, particularly in those seasons when the relative humidity is quite high, when the smell can get even stronger.

Luckily, air scrubbers help to get rid of the stench, therefore, keeping your house odor-free.

Food odors

Certain foods on cooking can release unpleasant odors which can also spread to the other parts of the house. This can also apply when food gets burned.

Luckily, air scrubbers trap the molecules responsible for the odor, thereby preventing the smell to spread, as well as getting rid of it for good.

FAQs

Are air scrubbers effective against coronavirus?

Air scrubbers are not completely effective against the virus that causes COVID-19. Coronavirus transmits in various ways, which are:

1. Direct or indirect contact: 

The virus can be transferred by contacting an infected person’s mouth, nose, or eyes after touching an infected object or surface. 

For this type of transmission, air scrubbers are ineffective. For this type of transmission, good hygiene, which is a sort of source control, is beneficial.

2. Droplet spray in short range transmission:

When an infected individual exhales, the virus can spread through respiratory droplets (breathes, coughs, sneezes, sings, yells, or talks). 

These droplets are often bigger (>5 microns in diameter) and fall out of the air in seconds to minutes. For this type of transmission, air scrubbers are ineffective. 

This type of transmission may be prevented through social distance and masks, as well as customised filtration pressure differentials, which involves creating a negative air pressure in a certain area in order to keep all pollutants from spreading.

3. Aerosol in long-range transmission (airborne transmission):

When an infected individual exhales, little respiratory droplets (less than 5 microns in diameter) are produced. Smaller, aerosolized viruses can linger in the air for a long time and move long distances on air currents. 

For this type of transmission, air scrubbers and customised filtration pressure differentials might be beneficial.

How long should you run an air scrubber?

An air scrubber should remain in the environment for 24 to 48 hours to properly clean the air, according to industry guidelines. 

These air exchange machines typically do 4 to 6 air exchanges each hour, assisting in the filtration and cleaning of the airspace.

Are air purifiers better?

Air scrubbers although are more expensive in terms of an air purifier, they are more effective in terms of cleaning the indoor air.

Air purifiers can only get rid of the particulate matter associated with indoor air, while the mechanism through which air scrubbers work also help to get rid of odors and gaseous pollutants with ease.

Furthermore, although air purifiers are relatively cheaper, they require a higher frequency of maintenance and replacement of air filters, which can be quite expensive.

On the other hand, air scrubbers require a one-time installation, and continue to work for a longer period of time, before the need to change the filters arise.

Other FAQs about Air Quality that you may be interested in.

how to remove musty smell from basement after flooding

how to remove stale air from basement

how to get stale air out of lungs

References

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