Updated May 2022
This explains why I think EVERYONE should have an air filter regardless of outdoor air quality. This post also includes information about EMF output of air filters.
One study found children exposed to air pollution have lower test-scores and suffer permanent brain damage.
Indoor air quality is usually worse than outside, because of all the toxic chemicals and off gassing of furniture, flooring, paint, and other materials. Do not be fooled into thinking that off gassing happens quickly; for some items such as mattresses and couches, it can actually worsen over time as the foam starts to break down and release more chemicals.
It is sometimes recommended to ventilate with outdoor air, but unless you live in a pristine environment with no close neighbors, no farms, gas stations, golf courses, etc. AND you live in a super non-toxic house, I still recommend getting an air filter.
Why? What do you do every second of every day of your life? Breathe. For this reason, breathing is the number one way that toxins get in our bodies. Water, food, and topically through skin are other ways, but breathing tops them all for the simple fact of how often you do it. So if I were to recommend only ONE product for the biggest way to lessen toxicants, it would be an air filter.
THE MOST EFFECTIVE AIR FILTERS
My favorite blogger, Natural Baby Mama (NBM), wrote more about why air filters (she refers to them as purifiers) are needed, and my picks for air filter brands: IQAir and Austin Air.
All HEPA filters must meet the same specifications (99.97% efficiency rate at particles as small as 0.3 microns) but NBM explains why not all machines with HEPA filters are the same (although other experts claim they are), and why cheaper brands aren’t as good. Performance in a home situation (not a lab) can also be validated with the CADR rating- Clean Air Delivery Rate. Be sure to get a filter appropriately sized (or intended for even bigger rooms) for the room.
IQAir has created its own Hyper HEPA filter which claims to filter 99.97% of all particle sizes larger than 0.3 microns and 95% of all particles larger than 0.003 microns. IQAir filters particle sizes 100 times smaller than a True HEPA filter.
Austin Air combines HEPA technology with Carbon and Zeolite minerals to remove 99.97% of VOCs, odors, and particles larger than 0.3 microns and 95% of all particles larger than 0.1 microns. Austin Air filters particle sizes three times smaller than a True HEPA filter. The filter can last 5 years. If it doesn’t, I heard they give a 40% discount for a replacement filter. If you smell a vinegar or paint smell, that could indicate it needs to be changed.
NBM writes: “The IQAir Purifier uses a Hyper HEPA technology to trap viruses like the SARS and COVID-19 virus. Austin Air claims to filter particles as small as 0.1 microns in size (the coronavirus is larger at .12) microns. Both of these are great options to buy for your home or for your child’s classroom if you are concerned about your kids going back to school. Other air purifiers don’t capture particles this small and aren’t held to both U.S. and E.U. standards when it comes to particle testing—like the IQAir.”
The biggest differences between IQAir and Austin is that IQAir is bigger and has a bigger EMF radius (1.5-3.75 feet vs Austin at 1 foot), but captures a finer particle size.
More about the EMF testing: It’s the magnetic radiation that is the concern. For IQ Air, it was high up close, but drops to ambient levels (the level when measured with the unit off): On level 1, at 1.5 feet away
On level 6, at 3.75 feet away. So as long as you stay 3.75 feet away you are not getting increased radiation from it. If it’s at a lower level, you can get even closer. This was tested by myself at my home so I can’t guarantee the levels would be exactly the same at your house, but this gives a good estimate to go from. Bottom line is, I wish I wasn’t so concerned about this when I first purchased and I don’t think it should be for anyone unless you somehow can’t get that far away ? I have mine in a place I rarely walk by and the kids don’t play around. Electric radiation was only high if touching it. It dropped to ambient levels at 2 inches away.
I have one IQAir Health pro Plus (amazon affiliate link: https://amzn.to/3KDvmYT) and three Austin Airs (Healthmate PLUS amazon affiliate link: https://amzn.to/3KFdixk)and Healthmate PLUS JR) in my house. I also have two Amaircare travel purifiers that can also be used in cars, linked below (but my car has very high grade filtration so I don’t use an additional one).
NBM also has discount links. As usual, I get absolutely nothing for sharing, although I think IQ and/or Austin Air have a referral program; if you heard about it through me and you’d like to, let me know if you purchase one. I have also added links below if you’d like to purchase through Amazon.
People often ask about Air Doctor. From reviews I read, they are expensive, filters need changing frequently, and have high EMFs (the company itself confirmed it is 2.5 mG at 3 feet. For reference, Austin is .2 at 3 feet and .8-1.0 right next to it.). Customer service is notoriously hard to reach (check the BBB reviews). I’ve also seen a review that claimed that the Air Doctor emitted formaldehyde, as measured by an air quality meter. There was also a lawsuit because they were making improper claims about filtration. They are also made in China, whereas the ones I recommend are not.
I’ve read that if you or anyone in your household have allergies or asthma and you have a health savings account, you can ask your doctor to write a prescription for the air purifier and replacement filters and save a little $ that way.
Since the starting prices for the best options run at $400-800 each, people often ask if there are lower cost options. Unfortunately I can’t assume you these are equivalent to the top brands, but the Honeywell HSA series is rated well by Consumer Reports and I have purchased them as gifts for family. Amazon affiliate link: https://amzn.to/3rQaxkn. Another expert I saw recommends the Honewell H300 Tower. See the links in the section above and the mold section for more about why these may not be as good as the more expensive ones.
Do keep in mind with cheaper machines, the filters need to be replaced several times a year, so costs add up. The filters in IQAir and Austin Air can last up to five years. In any brand, it depends on air quality, so the worse your air quality, the more often you will need to replace. Also keep in mind that bigger machines will filter the air in your house more efficiently, so do note the specs about sq feet coverage. Some of the smaller machines are designed for tiny rooms only.
Avoid machines with Bluetooth (for EMF reasons), and ionizers/ozone (because it is a pollutant).
TRAVEL / CAR PURIFIERS
1. I bought an Amaircare Roomaid Mini (amazon Associates link https://amzn.to/3qTrpax and it seems to work well for travel, though I ended up not needing it for the car even though I bought a car adaptor, available separately.
2. I’m not sure about the cord to plug into a car, but I also have this even smaller one just for cars. Amazon Associates link: https://amzn.to/3fQwb2p
3. There is also this portable one by IQ Air which is known for high quality filters. I can connect you to someone else’s discount to IQ Air (no benefit to me) if anyone is interested.
WHAT DOES “FILTER” OR”PURIFY” MEAN? AND WHICH TO USE FOR MOLD?
The short answer for mold is to use an air filter with a HEPA filter. Although Mycotoxins are smaller than particles, they absorb into particles, which can be removed by HEPA filtration. For optimal results, get a HEPA filtered device rated for a room larger than where you want to use it (because most are rated better than they actually perform).
This section is mainly from a post called “AIR CLEANERS (air filters and air purifiers), UV LIGHTS & MORE” from Kendra Seymour from Mold & Toxins: Healing your Home and Body Facebook group, with additional notes I added in square brackets :
“In addition to properly maintaining and cleaning your HVAC unit and ducts, what other steps can you take to improve your indoor air quality (IAQ)? Let’s talk air cleaners.
*It’s important to note that using an air cleaner while living in an active mold situation is a band aid solution. The end goal should be remediating (correctly) or moving to a safer environment.
According to Carl Grimes, an indoor environmental consultant, the terms air filter and air purifier are often used interchangeably but there are very important differences (both are AIR CLEANERS.) I’ve summarized some major points from his document on what air cleaner to buy. I definitely recommend you read it (link attached)! Since the terms are often incorrectly swapped for one another, focus on finding out what the actual machine does and how it works.
AIR FILTER = cleans the air by removing the pollutant. [An alternate way to say this is: “A “mechanical filter”, such as HEPA (pleated cloth/paper, sometimes using MERV rating) removes PARTICULATE Pollutants. HEPA can capture down to 1/10 micron or smaller, at efficiency of greater than 99.99% for some of these sizes.”]
AIR FILTERS & WHY TO BUY A HEPA FILTER– Air filters work by separating larger particles form smaller air particles. Air filters can only clean the air that passes through them (this is difference between an air filter and air purifier). So, they don’t clean the mold/dust/dander that has settled on your furniture, walls, etc.
So are all air filters equal? The short answer, no. Having a HEPA filter is important. HEPA filters are defined as “99.97% removal of 0.3 micron diameter particles.” HEPA air filters can remove dust, pollen, mold spores, etc. Be aware of tricky marketing that uses phrases like “HEPA like”, “HEPA Style”, or even “HOSPITAL HEPA,” as these are NOT the same!! These inferior filters claim to remove 99% (compared to HEPA at 99.7%) Does that 0.7% make a difference? Yes, it does. Carl Grimes goes into great detail (including the math!) on why that 0.7% makes a difference so I won’t even attempt to summarize it. (The document is linked below.)
So is having a HEPA filter the only thing to worry about when selecting an air cleaner? Short answer, no. Grimes states, “While all HEPA filters work the same, not all air cleaners with HEPA filters perform the same.” In addition to a HEPA filter, its important that your air cleaner clean all the air in the room faster than dust/contamination can accumulate. The rate of cleaning a room is known as the air changes per hour (ACH). For example, one ACH per hour means the total volume of air went through the machine in one hour. You want a minimum of 8-10 ACH to reach an 80% reduction. IMPORTANT: please note that this assumes you are running your machine on HIGH! If you lower it, this ACH doesn’t apply.
ACH is rated in hours but air purifiers are rated in minutes (because this isn’t tricky enough!) So, to figure the ACH of your unit, you will have to do some conversion to determine the if the machine you chose is appropriate for your space. One air cleaner may not be enough for your home depending on square footage and layout. See the Carl Grimes document below for more information and the steps on how to do this.
So what is the a good way to compare two machines with HEPA filters? The Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) can be used to compare machines. Machines with a similar CADR will perform the same even if one is more expensive! So buy the cheaper one! A 300-400 CADR number is the best.
WHAT CAN’T HEPA FILTERS DO?: HEPA filters can’t remove odors, fragrances, and chemicals whose molecules can be as small as .0001. This is where charcoal comes into play as the molecules attach to the charcoal. The efficacy of the charcoal component is roughly 30%, so far less efficient than a HEPA filter.
AIR PURIFIER = [Air “purifiers” don’t physically remove anything. Instead they claim to chemically break down contaminants using ions, ozone, Hydroxyls, PCO, UV and other non-HEPA methods. This is partially possible but only under certain conditions possible only in a lab. Even then, they can produce unpredictable breakdown particles, adding to what’s already in the air and potentially having unintended health effects. The marketing claims by companies have not been independently validated; there are no studies in homes vs the lab.]
[Consumer Reports: What Air Purifiers Don’t Do. An air purifier can remove allergens only while they’re floating in the air. Larger, heavier allergens, such as mites, mold, and pollen, settle to the ground so quickly that the air purifier can’t capture them in time.]
Ozone generating technology became popular to compensate for the fragrance, odor, and chemical molecules missed by HEPA filters. Ozone works by oxidizing the molecule. The problem is it can be extremely irritating to the lung, degrade materials, etc. After growing health concerns and lawsuits, manufacturers of these ozone machines eventually used creative marketing to rename ozone as “ions.” Ozone is ozone no matter what new nickname (ions/oxidizing) it is given. Once again, see Grime’s document for more on this. Future generations of these machines have been modified. They can claim to produce no ozone if 1. It’s below a certain threshold (50ppb) or 2. Ozone is not the primary factor in cleaning the air, something else is.
Ozone certainly has some important uses but research thoroughly before buying a machine that produces ozone to determine if it’s a good fit for you. Make sure you understand how to use it and the pros and cons. **NOTE: I am referring only to air cleaners that produce ozone. Some people have their homes and cars professionally ozoned requiring them to leave the house or car while the machine is running and allow for ample time to air it out after. I am also not addressing the use of ozone in the medical field or as treatment, so please don’t bite my head off if you are a proponent of such uses.
Carl Grimes’ document containing the information above at far greater detail. Definitely worth the read when you have time. [Another thing he has said is “All the different air cleaners, air purifiers, and air filters can only affect the air that goes into, through, and back out of the device. None can clean surfaces – despite the marketing claims of a few.”
USING UV LIGHTS IN YOUR HVAC UNIT/DUCTS- It is well documented that UV lights can kill mold, bacteria, and viruses. So, is this something you want to put in your HVAC unit/ducts? Let’s discuss. Several factors are important when considering how effective a UV light might be. The first deals with light intensity (which diminishes the further something is from the bulb). The second deals with something known as dwell time (the time the mold spores are exposed to the light.) The amount of time a mold spore needs to be exposed to the UV light will vary depending on the type of mold (I have found estimates ranging from a few seconds to hours!). We can estimate that the air moving through your ductwork is going at about 100 feet per minute. The chance that the mold spore will be exposed to the UV long enough to kill it is slim. Third, installation location matters. UV lights installed in the duct work won’t provide enough dwell time to kill mold. UV lights installed above the coil that shines on CLEAN and DRY coils may inhibit mold growth on the top of the actual coil (but miss the bottom where all the gunk accumulates). Installing the UV light under the evaporator coil but above the drip pan is a sweet spot because the light comes into direct/unbroken contact with the coil and drip pan. There are downsides to this location and installation is very tricky as you need to avoid damaging expensive coils. NOTE: This post focuses on UV lights and mold, not its effectiveness against bacteria and viruses.
Want to see the science to back this up? This ASHREA document discusses UV lights in section 2.4. The document provides numerous scientific studies to support its claim:
“…the best results were obtained for the long-term irra- diation of downstream coil surfaces to avoid fungal amplification on wet surfaces. Experience suggests that control of a moving airstream does not provide favorable killing rates because of the short dwell time. “
Certain UV lights work as air purifiers (adding something to the air, whether it is done on purpose or as unintentional byproduct.) You can search the web for more information on these type of machines (REME HALO is one.) Some people report having to have them removed due to the small amounts of hydroxyl/ozone that is released. These are known lung irritants and depending on individual sensitivity and situation, may be a problem for some.
Links on photocatalytic air purifiers (PCO/ [hydroxyl] machines) that use a combination of the technologies mentioned above [Note that after reading many things about this from many sources, some say it’s great and some say it can make problems (mycotoxin removal) worse, so I personally decided against it. Same goes for ozone.]
AIR SCRUBBER: Typically used during remediation and construction. These are loud and ideally not something you want running 24/7 as a general day to day air cleaner. [According to Carl Grimes, “Air scrubbers are a name given to HEPA filtration equipment designed for use in the dirty air of mold and asbestos remediation. They are 500 CFM to about 5000 CFM – compared to the 50 CFM to 300 CFM of room units for homes. Because they are used in work environments rather than living rooms and bed room they aren’t as attractive looking and are much noisier.” In ordinary rooms in houses they can do 20 to 50 ACH instead of 5 to 10 ACH like regular home filters. It is not recommended to rent or utilize used air scrubbers.]
BEST BET: Buy an air cleaner with a true HEPA filter and a CADR of at least 200 (300-400 is better). A HEPA filter (.3 microns) will captures mold spores, dust, pollen, etc. . If odors, chemicals, VOCs, and fragrances are problem, look for one with a charcoal component.
SO WHICH AIR CLEANER SHOULD YOU BUY? Here [link below] is a great reference guide breaking down specific air cleaners with explanations on what to buy and what you might want to avoid. These groups are full of ample posts of people giving their experiences (good and bad) with various air cleaners. Also, I did not address EMFS or dirty electricity in relation to any air cleaner so you will have to investigate that on your own. Note: the links below refer (incorrectly) to all air cleaners as air purifiers. Don’t get bogged down by that. Focus what the machine does and how it works. [Note that I still stand by the recommendations for IQAir and Austin. The rest get mixed reviews depending who you ask. I personally decided no ozone.]
[Be sure you are properly and thoroughly cleaning up dust, that will contain mold spores and mycotoxins.]
Another website with information on specific air cleaners, with particular focus on mold:
Another non-toxic blogger talking about what to look for in an air filter. She recommends Austin the most.
Environmental tidbit about forest fires and forest management: Why are we seeing an increase in forest fires? The answer is a combination of factors including forest management (a misnomer) and climate change.p I had to read some very obscure books in grad school to learn about the travesties of “forest management.” Basically, over-prevention of fires leads to over buildup of flammable matter, and when fires do happen they get out of control huge instead of small fires that usually naturally periodically clear out the underbrush. This is an example of humans trying to control nature and it backfiring. 🌲 🌳 🌲
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Hi thank you for the great report on air purifiers I love your website. I have a question. Considering the high cost of owning several machine for the home why not ordering a whole house system. I was reading on thy IQAir website and that is an option for HVAC systems. I can see that this is might not be a good option in case of a move.
Thank you for all you do. I will share your website with other moms.
Thank you so much! There are a few reasons I found when I looked into it:
-Having multiple individual units seemed more efficient/ Filters the air better.
-easier ongoing maintenance.
-You can take them with you if you move.
-Whole house systems can be more expensive, but it depends on the size of your house and how many individual units you’d want.
However, I looked into this a few years ago so it is possible that new systems might have improved. I also feel they haven’t been tested as much, so it’s harder to believe the claims they make. IQ air does make a whole house system, so if I were to get one it would probably be that.
There would be some benefits to a whole house system:
-Presumably less EMF
-The individual units wouldn’t be taking up space in the house.