Purchasing an air cleaner is a great investment to help maintain the cleanest and healthiest indoor environment. Knowing how these units work is the key to getting the best return on your investment. High-quality air purifiers need to be maintained in order to work most efficiently. With proper care and upkeep, your air cleaning system will work well for a lifetime. Unlike first-generation models, the top-of-the line units now on the market are much easier to use, and maintenance can be done in a snap.
How Air Purifiers Work
Air purifiers clean the air of harmful pollutants, such as dust, dander, pollen, chemicals, and odors. They work by pulling air through a series of filters, which cleans the air by trapping polluted particles. Then, the cleaned air is blown out by an electric fan. Although most units use only a filter process, there are some variations on air purifiers, such as the electrostatic plate units that trap particles within a magnetic field. These electrostatic units still employ filters at some stage. Additionally, some air purifiers use carbon filters to absorb chemicals and odors. The absorption ability of a carbon filter is directly related to the size (thickness) of this filter (or the amount of loose carbon that is present in the filter). Most air purifiers utilize pre-filters as well. These pre-filters help to collect large particles, such as hair, dirt, and dust, to preserve the life of the HEPA filter, which is the heart of an air purifier. Quality HEPA filters are able to filter between 97%-99% of all particles from the air. They are constructed of durable, professional-grade material designed to last a specific amount of time, based on use and indoor air conditions.
Why Maintenance Is Key
Maintaining your air purifier involves only a few steps, depending on whether you have an electrostatic unit or one that employs filters.
Electrostatic Air Purifiers
Electrostatic air cleaners are very easy and inexpensive to maintain. These units only require that you are committed to regularly washing the plates, generally once a week. To clean the plates, they can usually be taken out of system and placed in the dishwasher or submerged in the sink or bathtub. Having plates rather than a HEPA filter cuts down on the cost, because there are never any expensive HEPA filters to replace.
The electrostatic units work by pulling air into the unit and passing it through an electrostatic field that traps the particles onto the metal plates. You can actually see the plates become dirty, as more and more air pollutants are collected on the plates. Once the plates become covered, their efficiency starts to diminish. Therefore, it is crucial for them to be regularly cleaned, because if the plates are dirty they can't work effectively.
These electrostatic systems often have a pre-filter and a carbon filter to improve efficiency. The pre-filter helps to trap large particles before they reach the metal plates, extending the interval time between cleanings and keeping the plates cleaner and, thus, more effective. The pre-filters can also be washed regularly; once a month is a good schedule to stick to. Pre-filters don't usually need to be replaced unless they are torn or ripped. Carbon filters, which absorb odors, can be replaced once they no longer become effective. This depends on the amount of odors, chemicals, or smoke that is present in your environment. These filters are relatively inexpensive, and in most environments, they will last about six months. (See below for more information on carbon filters.) Additionally, some carbon filters serve as pre-filters as well. This cuts down on the number of filters you have to replace.
Pre-Filters, HEPA Filters, and Carbon Filters
Air purifiers that use filters to clean the air are the most common and the most popular units on the market. Pre-filters can either be washed or inexpensively replaced, depending on the model purchased. They are constructed with a weave looser than the dense design of a HEPA filter. This thinner construction traps only very large particles, fulfilling the pre-filter's main purpose–to extend the life of the HEPA filter by keeping it from getting prematurely clogged.
HEPA filters are designed to pull the tiniest of pollutants from the air and trap them permanently. Their ability to effectively trap these pollutants makes HEPA filters the heart of any filter-based air purifier. It also makes the HEPA filter the most expensive filter to replace. Therefore, keeping your air purifier's pre-filter clean and clear will keep your HEPA filter working better for a longer time–and it will keep more money in your pocket. Many of today's more sophisticated units, such as IQAir systems, have filter monitoring systems that let you know when to change each filter, or how much time you have left before the filter needs to be replaced.
Carbon filters, composed of activated carbon, work by trapping or absorbing the chemicals and odors from the air. Carbon filters come in a variety of densities and thicknesses, based on their level of purpose. Because the activated filter is the component of an air purifier that absorbs chemicals and odors, the bigger and thicker the filter is (or the larger amount of carbon present in the filter), the better the air will be cleaned of chemical or odorous pollutants.
When carbon becomes activated, it opens up or becomes porous, creating tiny holes within the carbon where pollutants will be trapped. As the unit's fan sucks the air through the carbon filter, the activated carbon absorbs the impurities. Overtime, the carbon's porous holes fill up, becoming inactive and, therefore, ineffective.
Regardless of the size of your carbon filter, it is important to maintain it. If your air purifier uses a thin carbon filter, then it will need to be changed more often, depending on how much you run the unit and the conditions of your indoor environment. For example, tobacco smoke will saturate a carbon filter quickly. With a small amount of maintenance, carbon filters will help you get the most out of your air purifier, eliminating chemicals and odors from your indoor environment.
Remember, maintaining your air purifier will keep your unit working at top efficiency and your overall costs down. With a regular schedule and proper upkeep, you will enjoy a lifetime of clean, healthy air from your air cleaner.
Still Have Questions?
For more information on a specific air purifier or other air treatment solutions, browse our products and visit our Knowledge Center. Not sure what's best for you? We can take the guesswork out of decision-making. Contact one of our air treatment specialists at 1-800-934-9194. We want to help make your indoor environment healthy and comfortable.