Who needs an air purifier? What’s the point of them? Well, in this article we will give you a good reason and argue there is a point to them. The reason is wildfire smoke.
That’s right, wildfires and wildfire smoke may be rare events, but the smoke is truly bad for you, like all the worst pollutants rolled into one big bad black cloud which seeps all around your neighborhood. And wildfires are becoming more common, making for episodes of terrible air quality.
Although indoor air is often more polluted than outside air, because of cigarette smoke, flame retardants in our furniture, off-gassing electronics, and so on, when it comes to wildfire smoke, the tables are turned, and you are wise to stay at home with windows firmly shut.
Imagine when a wildfire breaks out and the wildfire smoke particles billow across the skyline. It fills the air not just with particulate matter (tiny burnt fragments), but with a range of other toxins picked up along the way. Toxins from the burning of homes, cars, pesticides and even the chemicals used to fight the flames.
Wildfire smoke, air quality & air purifiers
Studies of the aftermath of the devastating October 2003 wildfires in California confirm how bad it can get. The fires raged over 750,000 acres of land, burnt down 3,640 homes, 33 commercial properties and 1,141 other buildings (and their contents) sending a noxious smoke all around the Los Angeles metropolitan area.
In one of the largest studies of its kind, the effects of this toxic wildfire smoke was assessed on children in the affected area. The findings revealed that exposure to wildfire smoke in children was associated with the following: increased eye and respiratory symptoms, medication use, and physician visits.
One of the most interesting findings was that asthmatic children were ‘shielded’ from the wildfire smoke more than non-asthmatics because their parents took more preventative action, and they knew what to do – they made their kids wear a mask, stay indoors, and they used air cleaners.
The lesson was clear, and the results also: effects on children were directly related to their wildfire smoke exposure level and staying indoors and breathing cleaner air was key.
The study concluded that wildfire smoke has a considerable impact on both a child’s short-term (e.g. wheezing/sore throat) and long-term health. And this can be lessened by “staying indoors, wearing a mask, or using air conditioners [air purifiers] during wildfire smoke periods” (a quote from the study)
The deadliness of wildfire smoke
So, you would be very wrong to assume that the smoke from forest fires is harmless because it’s “just burnt trees”. In fact, when analyzed, wildfire smoke is shown to be truly nasty, and dangerous to breathe. It is certainly not your typical pollution.
In fact, it is so deadly, it has been linked to premature death, with experts saying as many as 600,000 people every year suffer premature death as a result of wildlife smoke – very nearly the population of Baltimore.
There’s also more wildfire smoke around. As the EPA state, of the ten years with the most wildfire smoke, 9 have occurred since 2000, so it’s linked to climate change and set to become more regular.
This makes for a bit of a health crisis, because as studies say, wildfire smoke causes a range of health problems: respiratory morbidity, cardiovascular morbidity, birth outcomes, and mental health. For asthma sufferers the problem is worse, and babies and young children are especially vulnerable. In fact, a baby’s lungs is acutely sensitive to wildfire smoke, so new parents may want to take note – see this link for more info.
How an Air Purifier can help
Wildfire smoke can travel long distances, affecting your indoor air quality even if you can’t see it. If you are close to a wildfire, things are even worse. Airtight modern homes can shut out some of this wildfire smoke, but an air purifier can give those inside a precious source of clean air.
In conjunction with a humidifier (for more info on humidifiers see this link), your family can limit the impact of a wildfire on their health, reducing what studies show wildfire smoke does to you – i.e. reduced lung function in non-asthmatic children, oxidative stress, cell damage, premature death, and stress to those with heart disease.
The fine particles from wildfire smoke can penetrate deep into your lungs and the long-term health effects could be worse than you might think. In the short-term wildfire smoke may sting your eyes and make your nose run, which you can easily feel. But also, it will aggravate chronic heart and lung disease, and truly can provoke an early death – EPA.
Air purifiers lessen the threat by removing particulate matter circulating in your indoor air. They can be strategically placed next to sleeping children or within well-sealed rooms. Advances in technology mean they can eliminate nearly 100% of this tiny matter, before it reaches sensitive lungs.
Sadly then, there is a growing and unavoidable need to protect yourself from wildfire smoke because fires are becoming both more common and the smoke more polluted. Maybe this has changed your mind on air purifiers? If so, read on.
How does air purification work?
Air purifiers eliminate pollen, mites, dust, tobacco smoke, VOCs, and other pollutants from the air in a way that ‘deactivates’ the bad stuff. In this way, they are different from general filters and cleaners like you might find in ventilation units because they don’t just filter, but carry out a kind of ‘reaction’.
First, they do it by directing the air their way with a fan, then they use one of various technologies to purify the air in the unit. This can be ultraviolet light, a type of reactive filtration ( HEPA filters), ionization, or even catalytic conversion (e.g. airocide).
The last one (using catalytic conversion) does not use filters at all, so promises the joy of lower maintenance. But they are more expensive.
Best Air Purifiers for Wildsmoke
Ultimately, some air purifiers are more effective than others. Some use air filters and some don’t. The decision like with everything, boils down to a cost and intended use. Below is a selection of 5, some with HEPA filters, and some with alternative technologies.
The Levoit LV-H135 Tower Pro Air Purifier uses HEPA filters and retails at around $299 so is a mid-range option. We had previously recommended the LV-H134 with a conical design but they are now out of stock at many retailers. Features include:
- A preliminary/ true HEPA filter/ activated carbon filter/ 3-layer combination
- 360°- filtration (it is a round tower) which promises to clean more air
An indicator light that changes color based on the quality of the air. Red = Bad, orange = moderate, green = good, and blue = very good, and rated at removing 99.97% of particles. It is quite large (25” tall), so not as small as other available units. One thing to consider: the filters will need to be changed about every 6 months and currently cost around $60 – $70. In sum, the unit processes a lot of air and at the lowest fan speed, is very quiet (26dB), so is a very practical option for large family spaces.
Honeywell HPA – 300
The Honeywell HPA300 is very similar in terms of price and performance as the LEVOIT LV-H134. It sells for just under $300 and like with all the HEPA filter units featured here captures up to 99.97% of allergens above 0.3 microns. It is also quite large, standing at 20” tall, and 22” wide. The big difference is in design: the unit is more industrial looking and heavy, so may suit different types of interiors to the LEVOIT units.
The key features:
- Can process large volumes of air (a rated 5 air changes per hour in a large room)
- 4 cleaning levels (Germ, Allergen, General Clean, Turbo)
- Has an activated carbonpre-filter as well as a HEPA filter
The model uses three Type-R HEPA filters at once, as well as one Type-A odor-reducing pre-filter. A package of three HEPA filters will run you $90 MSRP, but Honeywell recommends replacing them just once a year. The carbon pre-filter should be replaced every three months (or more often, if needed) and retails for under $20. Indicator lights on the unit will remind you when it’s time to check each filter.
DYSON Pure cool™
The third one on the list – by DYSON – again uses HEPA filtration, but the design is way different: it is futuristic looking. The price is around $400 for the entry model, the TP01, so maybe you pay a premium for the looks. Maybe also, for its range of features:
- A gas sensor which detects volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like those from vehicles
- Humidity and temperature sensors
Dyson claims it is the only purifying fan to clean a whole room properly. A bit of a bold statement but they base it on the sensors – they say to clean an entire room properly, you need to sense pollution events automatically and project cleaner air around the room using Air Multiplier™ technology. However, there are other units with smart sensors (see below).
Alen BreatheSmart Classic P1000 Large Room Air Purifier
The Alen Breathesmart is a step up because it can purify larger spaces, up to 1,100 sq ft, around the size of a large living room. Compare this to Dyson’s model above which has figures based on a room of 290 ft sq.
The Breathesmart claims to purify the air in under 2 hrs and like with the Dyson model, has an auto mode (smart sensor) which adjusts operation based on pollution levels.
As it is larger (more powerful) and packed with features, it is no surprise this model is more expensive than the previous 3 models ($649 on Amazon). Some of the standout features are:
- The unit has both a HEPA filter and ionizer (which can be turned on/off)
- Alen offer a choice of HEPA filters (HEPA Pure, HEPA Fresh, HEPA Silver & HEPA OdorCell) and they offer a choice of unit color finishes
The Airocide air purifier is interesting because there is no filter at all. Instead, it uses catalytic converters in little glass tubes where ‘photocatalytic oxidation’ removes the impurities. Reportedly developed by NASA no less, this unit is the perhaps the most innovative of the 5, but the price reflects this – the APS-300 costs $999 but their largest unit (APS-1000) costs $2,499.
For this extra cost you get a unit that can purify smaller particles like at the virus scale (below the 0.3 microns that a HEPA filter can tackle). This means it is more effective. Also, there is no need to change or clean filters, so offers the joy of lower maintenance (changing dirty filters can be a real chore).
Standout features of the unit are:
- The sleek design
- The scope of air purification (below 0.3 microns)
- No filters – so no dirt trap build up and less maintenance
Ultimately, if you live in an affected area, wildfire smoke may be a hazard too big to ignore because your air quality may be seriously compromised. These units give you a choice, and don’t have to be on all the time, for example if you think your air is already fine, so you can just use them if a wildfire breaks out in your area, or hire one perhaps, in order to clean your indoor air during the emergency.
Like with anything, it pays to explore your options when choosing the best air purifier for you. So, check out the choices, consider the options e.g. HEPA air purifiers. If possible, find out which company has the best environmental policies, and remember, the manufacture of these devices also impacts the environment, which in turn affects the air quality for all of us. Remember, air purification units can be used in conjunction with other methods to purify your indoor air, like filling your house with more plants, vacuuming more regularly, and smoking outside.