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Is An Ionic Air Purifier Right For You?

  • Apr 09, 2022
  • 65

How Ionic Purifiers Work

The Ionic air purifier was first designed by the Swiss in the early 1970s. It was a vast improvement over screen filters used in air duct systems to try and control dust and debris in the air of private homes. By infusing the air with negative ions, these machines canceled out the effects of positive ions that cause many symptoms of “ill air” such as fatigue, headaches, and even depression.

Ionic purifiers do not filter the air the way filter-driven air purifiers do. Instead, they emit low levels of negative ions into the room in order to form a bond with positive ions that causes them to literally drop out of the air. Now, you will never see this happen. The particles are typically very small. However, what often happens, as a result, seems counter-productive to air purification: there’s more dust to clean up when an ionic machine is on the job. Think about the ramifications of this seemingly ironic side effect—the more dust on the floor, shelves, and other surfaces of the home mean the less there is in the air.

What Ionic Purifiers Won’t Do

There is a lot of confusion when consumers look for air purifiers. Ionics work well to a point, and even though there may be more dust about for you to clean up, a lot is attracted into the purifier by the metallic plates designed to pull in the bonded, neutral particles. However, ionic air purifiers on their own do not generally have fans, so air does not circulate through them.

The Silent Treatment

Silence is golden, but not always the best. Many ionic air machines proclaim silent function, and they’re not lying. Because the majority of iconic purifiers have no fans, they make little to no sound while in operation. That is a pleasant feature and makes for a better night’s sleep, or easier conversation or entertainment enjoyment in your home. However, the better ionic air purifiers have fans in them to help push the air through the plates, gathering more of the particles and trapping them, making the overall air quality better than simply letting the bonded pairs drop.

Ozone Considerations

Old-fashioned ionic units are not used anymore, and many that have not modified their machines have gone out of business because early models produced a fair amount of ozone that is even more harmful than “dirty air.” Look for air purifiers that have an ionic function that can be turned on or off to lessen the levels of ozone released by the purifier.

Limitations Of A Stand Alone Ionic Unit

While they are generally “prettier” machines, being sleek, and not requiring bulky filters, ionic purifiers lose efficiency quickly. They must be kept very clean and can lose as much as 20% of their efficiency after just three days vs. the months of operation between filter changes in a HEPA filter model.


The best solution for total air quality in your home is to find a combination of HEPA and ionic air purification. Many modern purifiers combine the effects of both to produce truly clean air in the home. While these units are not silent, most are relatively quiet at the lower speeds, and you can run them on high when you are out of the house to ramp up the cleansing.

Watch The Wording

Some air purifiers that combine HEPA and carbon-activated filters with ionic filtration claim zero ozone emission. These machines do not emit ozone as long as the ionic feature is not in use. However, all ionic air purifiers on the market today must meet the EPA standards and are considered safe for use in the home. Be aware that if you have breathing problems, lung disease, or heart problems an ionic air purifier may not be a good choice for you due to the ozone emissions no matter how limited.


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Julie Powell By, Julie Powell
Julie Powell was born and raised in Austin, Texas, where she first fell in love with cooking — and her husband, Eric. She is the author of a cooking memoir, Julie & Julia, which was released in 2005. Her writing has appeared in Bon Appétit, The New York Times, House Beautiful, and Archaeology Magazine, among others. She lives in Long Island City, Queens.
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