How Do Ionic Air Cleaners Work?



  • The idea of air purification is by no means a new concept, and in fact dates back over 200 years to provide a protective barrier to firefighters battling through smoke. The concept of using ionization of particles to clean air derives from an experiment conducted in 1974 by the Swiss Meteorological Institute. The Institute discovered that different seasonal winds blamed in their country for causing headaches, depression and even heart attacks were full of positively charged particles. A further study found that areas that naturally seemed to make people feel better (waterfalls, the mountains) had a high concentration of negatively charged particles. They deduced that pumping negative ions into the air not only would cancel out the negative effects of the positively charged particles, but also generate the positive effects of living in an environment with a high concentration of negative ions.

The Science Behind

  • The primary function of an Ionic Air Purifier is to emit a steady stream of small negatively charged particles (molecules) into the surrounding environment. The air purifier does this by passing air over a charged electric coil which steals electrons from the air molecules creating negatively charged particles. In a normal environment, the vast majority of particles floating in the air surrounding us are positively charged. The small negatively charged particles emitted by the Ionic Air Purifier collide with the larger positively charged ions floating around in the air. Because of the difference in charges between the two, the particles cling together forming an ionic bond, which means the ion with too many electrons shares its extra electrons with the other particle (this is like lint sticking to clothes in a dryer, but on a much smaller scale.) This process continues until the clumped particles become too large to remain airborne and fall to the floor. Meanwhile, the Ionic Air Purifier continues to pump a steady stream of negative ions into the air eventually causing a negatively charged air environment.


  • The cheaper models of purifiers that do not employ fans have repeatedly been shown to not significantly clean pollutants from the air. This was first reported by Consumer Reports magazine back in 2005 (which launched an unsuccessful lawsuit from Sharper Image against the nonprofit magazine.) Also, as reported in 2008 by the L.A. Times, air ionizers also create ozone as a waste product. Other reports from MSNBC stated that ionic air purifiers do not create a significant amount of ozone and should not be a problem for a person with a healthy respiratory and immune system; however, the people who usually buy the system do so because of lung or immunity problems.

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