What Is an Ionizer and What Does It Do?

It's understandable to be concerned about the air quality you and your loved ones are exposed to — whether in your home, office, or in public. Poor air quality can impact your health through exposure to pollutants, allergens, and pathogens like viruses and bacteria. One way people try to mitigate this is by using air-cleaning devices, like ionizers.

Key takeaways:

However, are ionizers an effective way to improve the air quality around you?

What is an ionizer?

Air ionizers help remove pollutants and improve air quality. They work by releasing negatively charged ions into the air. Simply put, negative ions are electrically charged molecules that float around in the air or atmosphere.

These ions then attach to airborne particles such as dust, pollen, and other pollutants. Once attached, these particles become too heavy to stay in the air, causing them to fall to the ground — and out of your way.

With fewer airborne particles, a room’s overall air quality improves, reducing the number of harmful pollutants you inhale — making it easier to breathe. There are several kinds of ionizers, but before you rush to order one, be sure to keep reading to see the best option for you.

Can ionizer kill viruses?

Before we get into how different types of ionizers work, we need to address one of the most common questions — do ionizers kill viruses?

No, not exactly. Ionizers don't “kill” viruses per se, but they do a great job of getting them out of the air, so you don't have to breathe them. This has become even more important in the COVID-19 era. People are now understandably more concerned about viruses being transmitted through the air.

While ionizers don’t kill viruses, they are fairly effective at removing them from the air you breathe. One study found that using an ionizer prevented 100% of influenza infections in the guinea pigs used in the study. Research suggests that ionizers are not completely effective on their own in preventing airborne infections from viruses, but can be helpful when used with other methods.

Ionizer vs air purifier: Are they the same?

Another area of confusion when it comes to air-cleaning devices is the difference between an ionizer and an air purifier. An air purifier is a device that cleans the air by removing allergens, pollutants, and other contaminants from the air. They use different filters to trap pollutants and other particles like dust, pet dander, pollen, and mold, cleaning the air around you.

An ionizer, however, is a type of air purifier. You now have a good idea of how ionizers work. For example, they use negative ions to clean the air versus a filter in other types of air purifiers. This answers the question, “What is an ionizer air purifier?”

All ionizers are air purifiers, but not all air purifiers are ionizers. They use different methods to clean the air, and both have benefits and drawbacks.

Ionizer benefits: What contaminants it combats?

Ionizers have grown in popularity thanks to their ability to help improve indoor air quality and support people’s health. With fewer allergens in the air, people have a reduced risk of experiencing:

  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Respiratory problems

They can even be helpful in high-risk public spaces like hospitals and healthcare offices, thanks to their ability to help reduce the concentration of harmful viruses and bacteria in the air. Using ionizers has also been found to provide unexpected health benefits like reduced stress, improved mood, a positive effect on the immune system, and enhanced cognitive performance. This makes them a great option for homes and offices.

Types of ionizers

Another common question about air purifiers is, “What is an ionizer fan?” An ionizer fan is a rotating fan with an ionizer on it to help clean the air while cooling it down.

Let's take a look at some other types of ionizers and air purifiers to get a better understanding.

Plasma air purifiers

Plasma air purifiers use electrically charged plasma, which is a type of matter, to neutralize airborne pollutants. When air passes through the device, the plasma reacts with pollutants, breaking them down into harmless components.

Ozone generators

Ozone generators produce ozone gas that reacts with pollutants to remove them from the air. These should only be used in well-ventilated areas or industrial settings, as ozone can be harmful to human health.

UV-C light air purifiers

Germicidal UV, or Ultraviolet-C (UVC), light air purifiers use ultraviolet light to kill viruses and bacteria in the air. These devices are not ionizers on their own, but they often have one built in to help remove other airborne pollutants.

Electrostatic precipitators

Electrostatic precipitators use a charged plate to attract and capture airborne particles. When air passes through the device, this charged plate attracts pollutants and particles, removing them from the air.

Negative ion generators

This is your standard ionizer — the negative ion generator. You’ll remember that these work by producing negatively charged ions that attach to airborne particles so that they become heavy and fall to the ground.

Air purifiers with ionizers

Ionizers are a type of air purifier, sometimes with built-in fans. What does an ionizer do on a fan? Ionizing fans can be helpful if you need to cool down your environment while also cleaning pollutants from the air.

Ionizer side effects

Ionizers seem like a great way to clean up your environment, but they do come with some potential risks.

Here are some potential ionizer air purifier side effects:

  • Maintenance. Ionizers require regular cleaning to work with utmost efficiency. They won't operate as efficiently without regular maintenance and can cause unpleasant odors or potentially harmful byproducts.
  • Air quality reduction. Counterintuitively, ionizers can potentially reduce air quality by releasing ions that attach to and re-release pollutants back into the air.
  • Electrostatic discharge. They can produce a small electrical charge that can cause a static shock when touching metal surfaces or other objects. While not necessarily dangerous, this can be uncomfortable for some people.
  • Ozone production. Some ionizers emit a small amount of ozone as a byproduct, which can be harmful to people with respiratory problems like asthma.

Knowing the potential benefits and side effects of an ionizer can help you make an informed decision about your health.

Is an air ionizer right for you?

Are you thinking about getting an ionizer for your home or office? Based on the potential benefits and drawbacks of ionizers, it’s up to you whether it’s the right choice for your life.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that ionizers may help remove small particles from indoor air like tobacco smoke, but they don’t remove gasses or odors and may not be that effective at removing larger particles like pollen and dust allergens. Given this is one of the main reasons people buy ionizers, that is something to keep in mind.

Other concerns from the EPA surround the potential exposure to ozone, which can harm human health, especially those with respiratory issues. This is not meant to sway you one way or the other but gives you something to keep in mind as you look for the best-suited air-cleaning method for your home.

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