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How Does an Air Purifier Work?

Your home air quality has a major impact on the health of all those who live in it. Without proper air flow or filtration systems being used, indoor air can quickly become laden with allergens and other harmful contaminants. If you’re concerned about your home environment, we’re here to help. As a dedicated HVAC company, we do more than service your heating and cooling. We also pay close attention to the quality of air in your home and help you maintain your comfort and health.

In our experience, one of the best things you can do to improve your indoor air quality is to install an air purifier. Despite the similarity of their names, there’s actually a difference between an air filter and an air purifier. An air filter simply catches and removes stray contaminants from the air, whereas an air purifier can also kill any viral, fungal, or bacterial matter as it passes through.

By incorporating an air purifier into your existing HVAC system, you can clean your air while you control your climate. Curious how it works? We’re happy to shed some light on it. Here are some of the tools an air purifier can use to keep your indoor air clean.

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Particulate Filters

One of the most basic methods an air purifier employs is filtering the air. A filter can be made from a variety of materials, such as foam, cotton, or various synthetic materials. As an HVAC system draws in air from a home, it passes it through said filters. The density of the material catches particulate matter in the air, preventing it from being reintroduced to your home. Filters are also used to maintain the health of your HVAC system itself, preventing foreign matter from entering other appliances, like your furnace.

HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) rated filters meet the standards set by the Department of Energy for removing particles from the air. In order to qualify, a filter must have a penetration rate of less than 0.03 percent of particles 0.3 micrometers in size or larger. HEPA filters are utilized not only in private homes but in medical and utility facilities as well. They work off a simple principle, but as long as they’re maintained and replaced regularly, the results can be profound.

Adsorbent Materials

Many air purifiers utilize adsorbent—yes, adsorbent, not absorbent—materials in their designs in addition to other purification methods. Adsorption allows materials to work like a sponge on a molecular level, trapping external substances in it as they pass through. In an air purifier, this is used to contain odors or chemicals that may be floating through your air. Particulate filters help trap larger contaminants, but adsorbent materials can catch harmful gases like CO2 or other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that may be present in the indoor air.

There are many different types of materials used, but activated charcoal is the most common. Its porous structure has a large number of microscopic structures that catch and contain foreign molecules. Some contaminants are even drawn in and trapped by the buildup of static electricity. Adsorbent materials help an air purifier work double-time to contain contaminants in the air, making the quality fresher than ever.

Ionizing Purifier

One higher-tech method of air purification is an ionizing purifier. By creating a small but powerful electrical field, they can alter a contaminant’s very atomic structure. As air passes through the air purifier, it enters the electrical field. The electrical field bombards the atoms with stray electrons, altering their charge from neutral to positive or negative. Larger particulate matter or contaminants make for bigger targets, meaning they’re more likely to be caught by this field.

When charged, the atoms are drawn to materials of the opposite charge. This helps filter the air in two ways. First, charged particles are drawn toward each other, making particles clump up together. As these particles gather, they eventually become too heavy to flow through the air easily and settle out of circulation. Second, an ionizing purifier also employs two charged paddles, one positive and one negative. These paddles attract and trap particles as they pass through the field, containing them within the air purifier.

If it sounds a bit like science fiction, you’re not far off! This technology is actually used by NASA to maintain clean air environments in their spacecraft. Even if you don’t live on the International Space Station, the air purifier technology is available for you to improve the environment in your home.

UV Light Decontamination

One of the most common ways of decontaminating air is through the application of ultraviolet (UV) light. UV light has been used to disinfect surfaces in medical facilities for years and has proven an effective method of decontamination. If you’ve ever had a sunburn, you know firsthand the power of UV light. While prolonged UV light exposure may just result in a nasty burn for us, it can be fatal to microbes. Since microbes are invisible to the naked eye, it’s incredibly hard to know if you have any harmful pathogens being circulated through your home. With a UV light purifier, you can take direct action.

As air is forced through the HVAC system, it passes through UV lamps that try to disinfect the air through germicidal irradiation. This helps to not only clean the air you breathe but also to prevent microbial growth from taking root in the system’s air filters. UV germicidal light has been used and trusted by hospitals to provide clean air for years, and with the help of an HVAC professional, the same technology can be implemented in your own home.

Modern HVAC technology gives homeowners more options than ever before for improving their indoor environment. With advanced air purifier technology that can be implemented directly in any existing heating and cooling, you can bring hospital-grade air into your very own home. If you’re interested, feel free to get in touch with Entek. As your local HVAC experts, we’re here to provide you with the information and services you need to keep breathing easy.


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