Electronic Air Cleaners: Everything You Need to Know

Rose Morrison

Jul 10, 2024

Electronic Air Cleaners - a home with cleaner air

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If you spend most of your time indoors, a quality air purifying system must have been a top-of-mind matter. Many homeowners install electronic air cleaners to improve air quality and protect their loved ones from irritants that may trigger asthma or allergies. Find out how they differ from conventional air purifiers with HEPA filters, how they work and whether they’re worth it.  

What Are Electronic Air Cleaners?

Electronic Air Cleaners - white electronic air cleaner

Electronic air cleaners are air purification systems that use electric fields to capture dust, pollen and other particles circulating in the air. Also known as electrostatic precipitators or EAC, these devices have become a staple residential fixture, allowing homeowners to boost indoor air quality and minimize the causes of potential respiratory irritants.

How Do They Differ From Mechanical Air Cleaners?

Mechanical air purifiers use standard filters to clear air contaminants. Although they come in different types, the mechanism of how they work is nearly the same — contaminated air passes through filters, trapping polluting particles and releasing cleaner air into the breathing zone.  

The best example is an air purifier built with HEPA filters that claim to remove dust, bacteria, and other airborne contaminants under 0.3 microns that are invisible to the eyes. These filters are efficient and have an outstanding minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) rating, which measures their effectiveness.  

How Do Electronic Air Purifiers Work?

While mechanical air purifiers use conventional filters, their electronic counterparts use electric voltage to inactivate airborne particles through a process called bipolar ionization. How does it work? The air passes through a series of charged plates or meshes during the cleaning process. The device then generates positive and negative ions that attach to the air pollutants, destroying the pathogens and germs. The captured particles are then pulled into the metal collection plates, which require regular cleaning to maintain. 

Electronic air purifiers are filterless, making them an excellent choice for homeowners looking for a budget-friendly air purifying solution. 

What Are the Types of Electronic Air Purifiers?

Electronic Air Cleaners - a white electronic air purifier

The kinds of electronic air cleaners come in two major categories. 

1. Electrostatic Precipitators (ESPs)

These filter-free tools sanitize air particles using positive and negative electrical charges. The device is equipped with plates that release positive and negative charges. During the purifying process, positively charged particles get trapped in the plate with a negative charge and are pulled into the collector cell as dry material. These cells are reusable and washable. 

ESPs are classified as dry or wet, referring to the method of cleaning the collector sheets. Dry ESP maintenance involves applying vibration to the plates to knock loose the trapped particulate matter. Wet ESPs entail cleaning the plates by rinsing them with water.  

ESPs are highly efficient. They’re commonly installed on coal-fired power plants to capture over 99% of ash particles from a million cubic feet per minute of fumes. They can also be installed at home to get rid of air impurities. 

2. Ion  Generators

Ion generators or ionizers release negative ions in the air that clump together with pollutants to increase their weight and make them fall to the ground or land on the walls and ceilings. They can clear away dust, toxins and germs contributing to poor indoor air quality. In addition to inhibiting the growth of certain bacteria, viruses and mold species, negative ions also have impressive health benefits. Exposure to these particles can change how the body metabolizes amino acids to reduce inflammation and antioxidation and promote energy production. 

While ionizers can sanitize indoor air, they can’t remove large particles, including dust, pollen and dander that trigger asthma and allergy symptoms. What’s more concerning is that they produce ozone, which may work against viruses but irritate the respiratory system, causing symptoms like throat irritation, chest pain and coughing. To negate these disadvantages, many combine ionizers with other air purifying systems instead of using them as standalone devices. 

Do Electronic Air Cleaners Work?

Yes, they’re effective at regulating the particulate matter in your home. Many choose them because of these benefits: 

  • Highly efficient: They purify indoor air well and neutralize irritants, eliminating viruses, bacteria and other airborne particles that may trigger lung irritation. 
  • Low maintenance: Some designs are equipped with automatic wash systems that clean the collector plates in place, allowing you to skip the maintenance. Meanwhile, those installed in homes only require cleaning once every one to three months of continued use. 
  • Cost-effective: Some models are portable and don’t need installation. Their filter-free feature also makes them more budget-friendly. 

While these cleaners are effective alternatives for decontaminating indoor air, they’re also criticized for producing traces of ozone. This gas changes the chemical composition of other gasses to make the air seem fresher and cleaner. It can remove nasty odors but also irritate the lungs. Direct and extended exposure to ozone can be harmful to health. 

Unfortunately, the FDA may regulate only those air cleaners that are considered medical devices, setting a limit of 0.05 parts per million of ozone emission per device. Most electric air cleaners release ozone at a higher level than this, posing a health risk to occupants. 

The OSHA set a permissible exposure limit (PEL) of 0.1 parts per million on an 8-hour total weight average in the workplace. Residential ozone levels must be lower than this volume. Consider the ozone emission when buying an electronic air cleaner. Do your research to ensure it’s safe to use.

Are Electronic Air Cleaners Worth It?

Electronic Air Cleaners - an ionizer

Electronic air cleaners can help reduce the volume of harmful particles inside your home. If you’re looking for an affordable air purifying system, they’re your best bet since they’re filterless — you won’t have to purchase replacements every few weeks. The collector cells are washable, reusable and can last for years, provided you follow the maintenance instructions. 

Enjoy Cleaner Air With Electronic Air Purifiers

Several solutions to clean indoor air are available in the market. What makes electronic air cleaners stand out is their filter-free feature. Conventional air purifying tools require you to buy and change filters regularly to maintain their function. It may not be ideal if you’re on a budget. Electronic air cleaners have particle collector plates you can remove, clean and wash. After attaching them back, you’ll have an air purifying system that’s ready to go again. Consider them an option if you want something that gets the job done without overwhelming your budget.   

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