How Does an Air Ionizer Work?


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People often express concern about outdoor air quality. But what about the air quality in indoor settings, like your work or home?

Airborne particles like dust, toxins, and germs can lead to poor indoor quality. This can affect your breathing and, over time, lead to unwanted health effects. It can also worsen existing conditions like asthma.

If you’re interested in cleaning indoor air, you might wonder if ionizers will do the job. Ionizers are devices that remove certain airborne particles using negative ions. The purpose of an air ionizer is to help air particles settle and collect out of the air.

Ionizers can help improve indoor air quality, but they may have potential drawbacks too. In this article, we’ll explore what ionizers do, along with their benefits and risks.

In order to understand what air ionizers do, it helps to know what air ions are.

Air ions are molecules with an electrical charge. They’re invisible molecules that float around in the atmosphere. Negative ions are molecules that have gained an electron; positive ions are those that have lost an electron.

An air ionizer is a device that releases negative ions into the air. The negative ions attach to tiny particles, like those in tobacco smoke.

This gives the particles an electrical charge, causing them to clump together and land on surfaces like:

  • walls
  • ceilings
  • floors
  • tabletops
  • curtains
  • carpets and rugs
  • metal collector plates in the device

Once the particles have landed on something, they can be cleaned up.

2018 scientific reviewTrusted Source found that negative ions can stop the growth of viruses. Another 2020 scientific reviewTrusted Source found that ozone, which is produced by ionizers, can inactivate viruses in the air and on surfaces.

Ozone is a colorless gas that’s formed when ions charge other particles. It inactivates viruses by damaging their genetic material and membranes.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been installing ionizers in offices and restaurants. The intention is to improve air quality and reduce levels of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

According to the 2020 review, it’s thought that ozone can work against SARS-CoV-2. It’s been found to be highly effective against other SARS viruses. But it’s unclear how well ionizers work against SARS-CoV-2. More studies are needed to determine if ozone specifically produced by ionizers can destroy SARS-CoV-2.

Ionizers use negative ions to remove small particles in the air. This can help reduce odors and make the air seem fresher.

According to a 2018 scientific reviewTrusted Source of ionization literature, negative ions have also been found to:

  • inhibit viruses, bacteria, and mold species
  • decrease stress
  • regulate sleeping patterns
  • increase immune function
  • support mood

Despite the potential benefits of using an ionizer, the device has some drawbacks. It’s important to keep these risks in mind before purchasing an ionizer.

Here are some disadvantages:

Ineffective for asthma and allergies

Ionizers are unable to remove large particles from the air, including those that trigger asthma and allergy symptoms.

These includes particles like:

  • dust
  • dander
  • pollen

Using an ionizer might not be helpful if you have asthma or allergies.

Ineffective for odors and gases

Ionizers don’t destroy odors and gases, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are released from products like paints, cleaning supplies, and adhesives.

VOCs are considered to be indoor pollutants and may cause health problems. Unfortunately, ionizers are ineffective for reducing VOCs in the air.

Emits ozone

As mentioned earlier, ionizers produce ozone. This happens when negative ions electrically charge airborne particles.

Although ozone may work against microorganisms like viruses, it’s also a lung irritant. Inhaling small amounts of ozone may cause short-term effects like:

In the long-term, ozone might cause health effects like:

There are a few types of ionizers to choose from. This includes:

Bipolar ionization

Bipolar ionization is a type of technology that produces positive and negative air ions.

It’s often used with other devices, like HVAC systems. Bipolar ionization is fairly new, so the research is limited.

Ionizer on fans

A fan uses rotating blades to circulate air. This is helpful for increasing ventilation in a room.

Some fans also have an ionizing setting. These devices circulate air and promote air flow while releasing negative ions.

Air purifier with ionizer

An air purifier is a device that removes harmful particles from the air. It’s also known as:

  • room air cleaner
  • portable air cleaner
  • air sanitizer

In general, air purifiers use a filter and fan to clean the air. Unlike an ionizer, an air purifier is effective at removing dust and pollen. It’s often recommended for people who have asthma or allergies.

Some air purifiers also have ionizer technology. This means the device cleans the air while emitting negative ions.

Ionizers are devices that release negative ions into the air. These ions electrically charge other particles, causing them to collect on surfaces like the floor and ceiling. They may also work against harmful microorganisms, like viruses or mold spores.

People use ionizers to remove small particles from the air and improve indoor air quality. Ionizers are unable to remove large particles, like those that trigger asthma and allergies. They might also emit ozone, a colorless gas that causes lung irritation.

If you’re interested in using an ionizer, do your research first. You should also talk with your doctor if you’re looking to improve indoor air due to a medical condition. When using an ionizer or any similar device, be sure to follow the directions.

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