You may have an unexpected ally in your efforts to clean and sanitize your office. Installing an office air purifier can offer more than a breath of fresh air. Air purifiers effectively reduce allergens, bacteria, and viruses in office air, creating a healthier indoor environment. And for those working from home, portable air purifiers can help bring in fresh air where it’s needed.
How do air purifiers work?
Air purifiers work in different ways. For example, they can use particle filtration, ultra violet germicidal irradiation (UVGI), or both. Particle filtration purifiers are the most common. They capture contaminants in the air and trap them in filters.
High-efficiency particle air (HEPA) filters are the gold standard for particle filtration. HEPA filters draw particles in via a fan and trap them in a web of fibers. This pleated mechanical air filter can snag at least 99.97 percent of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria, and any airborne particles with a size of 0.3 microns. It’s even more efficient with larger particles. So, most particulate matter that meets a clean HEPA filter will be trapped. You do need to clean and replace them occasionally.
Air purifiers that use activated carbon filters capture gasses or volatile organic compounds (VOCs), ranging from unpleasant odors to toxic chemicals. Whether using a purifier with a HEPA filter or a carbon filter, or both, efficient filtering systems are only as good as the amount of air that passes through them. Generally, when you set an air purifier’s fan on high and keep it on for hours, more air comes in contact with the filters, making the purifier more effective. The size of the space also matters. (Keep reading to learn more about that factor.)
Air purifiers that use UVGI disrupt bacteria, viruses, and molds at the cellular level by using short wavelength light (or radiation). Research suggests these types of air purifiers are effective in reducing pathogens on surfaces in institutional settings such as hospitals and classrooms.
They may also be effective in homes or office settings, although research is limited. You can install UVGI devices as part of an HVAC or forced air heating/cooling system or buy a freestanding unit to place in a room. The ability of these systems to clean the air depends on how long you expose the contaminants to the UV light as well as the intensity of the light.
According to the EPA, there are currently no standards for rating the effectiveness of UVGI cleaners. They recommend using UVGI in addition to—not as a replacement for—conventional particle filtration systems because UVGI does not capture or remove particles.
Can air purifiers protect against all pathogens?
Whether an air purifier is a good defense against viruses depends on how that virus is spread. HEPA filters easily capture bacteria and other pathogens, and some virus particles that circulate in a room’s air. For example, evidence suggests they can reduce the transmission of tuberculosis in hospitals.
Some viruses such as the SARS-CoV-2 (novel coronavirus) tend to hang in the air near the source, such as a coughing person. Ideally, you would want to place the air purifier close to the source and run it at a high speed to draw in the virus particles.
Ready to clear the air?
Opening a window is the best way to clear the air in an otherwise enclosed space. When that’s not possible or practical, you can use an air purifier to move and scrub indoor air. The number of air purifiers on the market can fit any space or budget. If you’re looking for the best air purifier for an office or want an air purifier for an office desk, consider the type of air filter and the mechanism used. Air purifiers can do the following.
When pollen is in the outside air, opening windows to the breezes won’t help your indoor air quality. Thankfully, an air purifier outfitted with a HEPA filter can capture pollen and help you breathe easy again.
Reduce dust and mold spores
Again, HEPA filters are rated highest for clearing dust and mold spores.
Eliminate volatile organic compounds
According to the EPA, the concentration of VOCs averages 2 to 5 times higher indoors than outside. VOCs include hazardous compounds from cigarettes, solvents, pesticides, and other pollutants that become gasses or vapors in the air. They may irritate the respiratory tract and cause damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. You need a high-filtration carbon filter to clear the air of VOCs.
Along with VOCs, air cleaners equipped with carbon filters can help clear out fumes from cooking and cleaning.
What to look for in an air purifier
For cleaners with HEPA filters, look for a high clean air delivery rate (CADR). The higher the CADR, the more particles the purifier will remove. For example, a CADR of 240 means the unit, at its highest speed, can produce 240 cubic feet of clean air per minute. Operating the unit at lower speeds reduces the CADR.
The air purifier specs or packaging should include CADR ratings for smoke (small), dust (medium), and pollen (large) particles. In terms of virus droplets, the smallest are similar in size to smoke particles, while the largest virus particles are closer in size to pollen. Make sure to purchase a true HEPA filter (tested and approved by the nonprofit Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technology) and not one labeled as “HEPA-type” or “HEPA-like.”
When it comes to air purifier effectiveness, room size matters, so you’ll need to calculate the size of the room to find an air purifier that will cover the entire area.
And if noise is a factor, look for a purifier with a low decibel level since purifiers are most effective at high speed which is often the loudest setting. Alternatively, you can run the purifier at lower speeds for longer.
Air purifiers can be a great way to freshen air and create a healthier indoor environment. When choosing the right device for your office, consider the types of air contaminants you’re most concerned about and look for air purifiers that target those sources. And then, take a deep breath.