Health Notes, Minis

Love Your Lungs: Air Cleaning Gizmos

By Alice Toler

Negative ion generators

Negative ion generators work basically by creating an electric charge on plates that attract pollutants out of the air. There is good research backing up the science of negative ion generators. Britain’s National Health Service trialled some high-grade machines and found that they could eliminate new infections of airborne acinetobacter in hospital wards.

Negative ion generators have also been found to be effective for the treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) if the ions are released in large enough amounts—small amounts were not better than placebo. There are dozens, if not hundreds of generators out there, at all different price points and for all different sized rooms.

One thing to keep in mind is that even the best ionizers produce a little ozone as they do their work, though generally not enough to harm you. This brings us to…

Ozone generators—not!

A lot of ozone generators are promoted as air cleaners and you should buy none of them. In the upper atmosphere it’s very good for shielding the planet from UV rays, but in your lungs this highly corrosive gas will create irritation and chronic inflammation. Ozone generators don’t even address non-biological pol­lu­­tants or particulates.

High-ozone shock treatment is sometimes used to help clean mold and unpleasant odors from contaminated buildings, but the ozone is aired out before the building is re-occupied.

HVAC/HEPA air filters

By far the most common method for purifying indoor air is the good old fibrous-material air filter for a standard HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) system. If you have  ducted forced air heat or ducted air conditioning (and it’s likely you do), you are already using some kind of filter.

In this case, you’ll want to get up right now and go change that filter, because you probably haven’t done that yet this year, have you?

The key concept to grasp with HVAC filters is the MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) rating. A higher MERV rating means more pollutants are filtered out. Decent MERV ratings start at about 7.

HEPA (High Efficiency Particle Arrestance) filters are slightly different, and are used in vacuum cleaners, industrial systems and NIOSH face respirators. You won’t get a “true HEPA” filter for your furnace; however, any filter with a 7-13 MERV rating will be almost as good.

But it won’t help if it’s dirty and clogged! A dirty furnace filter can actually make the air inside your house more contaminated. It also makes the furnace fan work harder, shortening its lifespan.

When the fiter is new, check monthly to assess your dirt progress. More red air days (and more long-haired pets) mean sooner replacement. Replacing a dirty filter (or washing a washable model) can lower the energy consumption of your HVAC system by up to 15% in some cases!

Freestanding air cleaners

These are for houses without forced air ducting, or for any room where you would want a little extra cleaning of the air.

In the CATALYST office we have an Air Free Onyx 3000 filterless air purifier. Air is drawn in to the ceramic core and heated to 400 degrees, which zaps dust mites, bacteria, fungi, viruses, pollen and other airborne microorganisms. Again, it has no effect on our unique PM2.5 particulate problem. However, it is good for overall lung health.

The arrival of this device has clearly correlated with less sneezing. However, our beloved Schnauzer, Tesla, died around the same time, so we can’t be 100% certain it was only the machine’s doing.

Note: We make a fair amount of fermented foods around here, where the natural yeasts in the air help flavor the outcome. For this reason, we would not use this device in the kitchen.

Available at Sharper Image, Bed Bath & Beyond, Home Depot. $300.

Propolis vaporizers

These are rather fun. Propolis is a resin gathered by bees, used to sterilize the inside of their hives. They use this gluey substance to seal up any gaps in the hive walls, and to disinfect any foreign biological material that they can’t physically haul out.

Egyptians used propolis in their embalming, and the Soviets used vaporized propolis for treating tuberculosis prior to the discovery of antibiotics. Stradivarius even used it in his violin-making.

Many studies show that propolis is  antibacterial, antifungal, anti-protozoan, anti-tumor, anti-ulcer; it also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. But can it clean your air?

A propolis diffuser won’t clean particulate pollutants out of the air in your house (in fact, diffusing it will add to the particulate load). But it might help kill airborne pathogens. There is no real science on its air-cleaning properties. Propolis certainly smells wonderful; you may wish to experiment and see if you can notice a difference for yourself.

Note: As propolis contains pollen and other botanicals, some people may have an allergic reaction to it in either solid or vapor form.

The Propolair car propolis vaporiser is $70. Household devices are upward to $300.

Himalayan salt lamps

These lamps clean the air by attracting humidity, which creates a buildup of ions, according to Salt Lake naturopath Dr. Todd Cameron’s newsletter last month. “Salt lamps ultimately generate negative ions, which draw positive ions out of the environment. Negative ions help neutralize electromagnetic chaos and radiation which then decreases allergens and irritants in the air. Sources of electromagnetic chaos (excess positive ions) include: television, computers and cell phones. The frequencies associated with these causes vibrations that are 20 times faster than brain waves. This lends to nervousness, sleep disturbances, lack of concentration and increased free radical damage.”

We’ve recently seen Himalayan salt lamps at Dave’s Natural Health and Turiya’s Gifts. $18-80

—Alice Toler

View the full “Love Your Lungs” article here.

This article was originally published on February 7, 2017.