Clean air is one of the most important factors for robust health. Unfortunately, the air we breathe is filled with thousands of chemical pollutants and allergens that float freely throughout the atmosphere. Frequent exposure to air pollutants can trigger an immune response in the body, often in the form of allergies.
While we may not be able to control the polluted outdoor air, we can reduce the number of air pollutants inside our homes. With the help of electronic air filtration systems and air-cleaning plants, we can purify the air indoors. But do air purifiers work for allergies?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), concentrations of certain air pollutants can be two to five times higher indoors than they are outdoors. Couple that with the fact that the average American spends up to 90% of their lives inside, it's no wonder allergies are so common.
When we breathe in polluted air, toxins and particulates are absorbed into the bloodstream. These pollutants accumulate in the body over time, placing stress on the kidneys and liver as they work to filter out contaminants. Because the liver and kidneys were not designed to filter out plastics and synthetic chemicals an immune response, often in the form of an allergy, can be elicited. Beyond allergies, airborne toxins can also affect blood pressure, bone density, mental health, cholesterol levels and stroke risk, as well as increase the incidence of birth defects.
Many of the most dangerous pollutants are invisible, so we're not always aware of when they are present. Toxic fumes from industrial products, like paint and gasoline, however, are more easily detectable due to their unpleasant smell. Mold, pollen, pet dander, and dust, while not synthetic chemicals, can also trigger an allergic response.
Typical outdoor pollutants include:
Indoor sources of pollutants often include:
Many of these contaminants include toxins, like flame retardants, dioxins, benzene, formaldehyde and other dangerous solvents that the body absorbs.
Portable air purifier units work to remove tiny contaminant particles in your home, whether they snuck in from the outside or originated indoors. The most effective air purifiers draw in contaminated air, trap particulate matter using a HEPA filter and expel clean air into your home environment.
HEPA is an acronym for a type of "high efficiency particulate air" filter. This type of air filter has been shown to remove at least 99.97% of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria, and any airborne particles with a size of 0.3 microns (µm). This value is helpful in comparing the performance of different filters. All air purifiers require periodic cleaning and filter replacement to function properly. You should follow the manufacturer's recommendations for maintenance and replacement.
Many air purifiers also include built-in ionizers that act as static electricity, attracting contaminants from the air. Activated carbon filters, in addition to a HEPA filter, can remove harmful VOCs and toxic fumes. You may also want to look for a unit with the Allergy Standards asthma and allergy-friendly certification for purifiers focused on allergy reduction.
It's important to consider the size of the room you need to purify. The EPA recommends an air purifier with a clean air delivery rate that is large enough for the space you need to clean. Most units have different settings, to keep them running all day and at a quieter speed in the bedroom at night. Price ranges vary widely depending on the types of filters it uses as well as the square footage it covers.
To keep allergies at bay, there are other ways to keep indoor air clean in addition to utilizing a filtered air purifier. By replacing toxic household and personal care products with natural or environmentally friendly products, you will reduce common toxic contaminants in your home environment. Allergies can be triggered by synthetic fragrances and chemical compounds or gasses in cleaning products, hair sprays and home improvement products.
Choose natural cleaning and personal care products that are unscented or contain essential oil-based fragrances and that use environmentally safe ingredients. Select household maintenance products that have low to no VOCs.
Plants are also effective indoor air purifiers. A large study on the air purification qualities of plants conducted by NASA found that several plants have the ability to filter out harmful toxins when placed in the home. The study tested highly toxic chemicals typically found indoors, such as benzene (found in plastics, dyes and synthetic fibers) and formaldehyde (found in furniture, flooring and building materials), as well as solvents, such as trichloroethylene, xylene and ammonia.
The following is a partial list of the plants with the most beneficial properties for air quality:
Before bringing any plant into your home, be sure to check if it's safe for pets and children!
By following these tips, you can help keep your indoor air as clean as possible and free of any harmful contaminants that may affect your quality of life. Air purifiers can go a long way toward improving air quality, but if price is a barrier, there are plenty of free, easy and natural ways to keep your air fresh.