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The most common misconception that many people make is to rely on their HVAC system to provide both comfort and air purifying elements in their house. While many of us enjoy the cold air that our air conditioner provides, it may not be as safe as we think it is. In this case, we usually install or carry around an air purifier.
An air conditioner is a system designed for controlling and maintaining a stable indoor temperature. Some ACs are also built with air filters that can remove airborne pollutants such as dust particles and foul odors. However, its filtration system may not be enough to fully purify the air we breathe. If this is the case, then can we use an air purifier to substitute an air conditioner fully? If not, then how can we effectively use it alongside our AC system?
Unfortunately, air purifiers have a totally different mechanism than air conditioners. It’s designed to purify the air we breathe by removing airborne pollutants. Unlike most aircon filters, an air purifier can also remove harmful bacteria, and to some extent viruses, that pose a much greater threat to our health. This means that it can’t cool the temperature inside our house, but it can certainly keep the air fresh.
An air purifier works in different ways. Most of it uses activated carbon to remove the bad odor. Some use electromagnetic fields and ionization mechanisms on the filters, to trap and purify the pollutants more efficiently. And many of these have High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filtration system, which is the same technology present in vacuum cleaners.
Using its built-in fans, it creates an airflow that gets into the filtration system. However, it’s not guaranteed that the air will be 100% purified. For instance, if the projected airflow is 300 cubic feet per minute (CFM) the ideal amount of purified air that will come out of the purifier is also 300 CFM. However, most air purifiers can only maintain at least 40-60% of clean air.
Aside from the obvious reasons stated above, air purifiers can only handle a certain degree of airflow. The extent to which it can allow air to flow decides how much air will be purified and how much air will be left as is.
Air purifiers are built with powerful fans that suck air into the filtration system. Generally, they have at least 3-4 fan speed settings that we can control. However, this does not work the same way as air conditioners. The fan speeds are used to create the right amount of airflow for the filters. It is measured as CFM and an average air purifier filter can only handle up to 300 CFM. Hence, if you go beyond the bare minimum CFM, the filters will become saturated and the amount of purified air will decrease tremendously.
While it stands that air purifiers can’t be used as a substitute for air conditioners, it’s still worth noting that it has different types. The variation depends on what air purifying technology it incorporated and how it works in the long run.
In most cases, the varying mechanism is all present in one air purifier to increase its efficiency. As a kickstart, here are the types of technology most used in air purifiers nowadays.
As previously discussed, HEPA filters or mechanical filters work by trapping air pollutants in their filtration system. It only works best if it’s trapping a pollutant that’s not more than 0.3 μm in size. This means that anything that’s smaller than one strand of human air cannot pass through the filters. The air pollutants must be relatively 100 times smaller than human hair. Examples include smoke, mold spores, pollen, and pathogens.
However, if it’s 200 times smaller than a strand of human hair then the HEPA filter cannot trap it too since the size is too small. Generally, HEPA filters only work at low airflow levels. It means that the ductwork or vents are small for the air to pass through. The HEPA filters work best in this type of condition due to their size and density. Because of this, it can’t be fitted on any split-system AC units, especially central air conditioners.
A more advanced air purifying technology makes use of the ionization properties of air pollutants and pathogens. Our general chemistry lesson taught us that ions can be positive, negative, or neutral charges. These ions are present in all things.
Using this concept, ionization filters use an electric field to accelerate and force the ions in these pollutants to interact with each other. With enough energy, it can cause the ions to be attracted to one another or gain a charge for those which are neutral at first. Like charges attract, while opposite charges repel each other.
Simultaneously, positively charged ions will be directed towards a negatively charged metal plate, and vice versa. This plate is part of the entirety of the ionization filter. It can target the pollutants that are too small more effectively.
An activated charcoal or carbon filter works best with other filtration systems. In this case, it’s most partnered with HEPA filters. It uses the concept of adsorption, wherein the smaller molecules that pass through the first filtration system get attached to the activated carbons.
It also follows the concept of positively and negatively charged ions, but this time it includes the pollutants’ size. It’s used as a second filtration system to ensure that the air is thoroughly purified. Thus, it works well with HEPA filters since it can make up for the smaller air pollutants that are able to pass through it.
Ultraviolet light filters work best in purifying microorganisms such as molds, viruses, mold spores, and bacteria. It neutralizes the growth of these pathogens, which prevents the continuous spread in the indoor air. The UV-light filter kills the bacteria and viruses before they can even multiply and affect your health.
It may seem that there is a lot to take in when considering investing in an air purifier, but all of it is important. Despite the varying technology, its job is still to clean the indoor air from harmful pathogens and pollutants.
With the recent surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, an air purifier is a good choice in ensuring clean air inside the house. It’s easy to install, and most of them are portable and can be carried around like a necklace. However, keep in mind to properly check its inner workings before deciding to buy one.