Good indoor air quality in the home is vital if you have children. The development of a child’s lungs and immune system can be affected by allergens and pollutants in the air, and some outdoor toxins can even hinder brain development. Therefore reducing pollutants in the home should be a top priority for any parent.
An air purifier is one way to remove pollutants from the air and improve your indoor air quality. If you are trying to find the best air purifier for kids, you will want to know what pollutants affect children the most and which air purifiers are most effective at removing them. Where kids are concerned, safety is very important, so we will look at what air purifiers are safe as well as which ones are effective for use in a kid’s room and anywhere else in the house you want to keep the air clean and healthy.
Indoor pollutants that can affect kids
Compared to adults, children are more sensitive to the effects of air pollution and poor indoor air quality. A 2006 review of pediatric studies found that ambient air pollution was connected to an increase in respiratory problems, school absenteeism and immune system diseases (Buka, Koranteng & Osornio-Vargas). Though the origin of these pollutants is outdoors, they are very much connected to levels inside. Often, indoor air pollution can build up, and types of pollutants like airborne chemicals and tobacco smoke can be especially harmful to children. While pollutants in a child’s own bedroom will obviously be a major concern, anywhere in the house that a child spends significant time should also be addressed.
Some pollutants that can cause problems for kids, especially in a kids room, include:
- Pet dander
- Dust mites
- Formaldehyde gas emitted by carpets or furniture
- Types of airborne chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), emitted by cleaning products or paints
- Tobacco smoke, if a smoker is present in the house
The pollutants come in two forms: particles and gaseous pollutants. An air purifier should be able to handle both types of pollutants to be effective for kids. If your child is more sensitive to one type of pollutant, then an air purifier that is especially good at removing those pollutants will be the best choice.
What type of air purifier is best for kids?
HEPA – A HEPA filter is designed to remove 99.97 percent of particles at 0.3 microns in size from the air. This would remove the large particles of pet dander, dust mites, pollen and mold spores to some extent, though some of the most harmful, tiny pollutants present in tobacco and wood smoke can pass through. A HEPA filter needs regular changing to maintain its effectiveness; and if the filter becomes damp, it could grow mold and end up releasing mold spores instead of filtering them out. HEPA filters do not remove gaseous pollutants from the air, including toxic VOCs.
Carbon filters – These filters are designed to remove VOCs, including some of the VOCs in tobacco smoke. However, because tobacco smoke is so harmful to breathe, and gases like carbon monoxide cannot be filtered, it is best to avoid cigarette smoke in the home at all. Note that carbon filters become saturated quickly, requiring frequent replacement, and that VOCs stick to the filter surface and potentially can “unstick” given a change in environmental conditions.
Ionizing air purifiers and UV air purifiers – Ionizing air purifiers purportedly clean the air, but whether or not these air purifiers can effectively remove pollutants from the air is irrelevant, because they can emit ozone as a side effect. Ozone is a toxin that can cause damage and development problems in the lungs of young children [Ihorst et al., 2004]. Ionizers and electrostatic precipitators create ozone as a result of the high-voltage charge they use. UV air purifiers also emit ozone, and studies have found that devices which emit ozone can cause unsafe ozone concentrations indoors, especially in small enclosed spaces such as a kid’s room [Zhang & Jenkins, 2016].
Ozone emitters – These air purifiers simply produce ozone as their principal means of cleaning the air. However the EPA recommends not using them for the health and safety reasons explained above.
PECO – Molekule’s PECO air purifier uses Photo Electrochemical Oxidation (PECO) technology that can destroy pollutants like allergens and harmful airborne chemicals at the molecular level, unlike traditional air filters that simply trap pollutants on a filter surface.
Do air purifiers help with reducing indoor pollutants?
Allergies are triggered by the presence of allergens in the air, which are inhaled and can cause an allergic reaction. Pollen, mold spores, pet dander and dust mites can all trigger allergic reactions. Removing these particles from the air will reduce their levels, and several studies have shown that this reduction may have a health impact.
Asthma is different from allergies and pollutants can trigger asthma attacks or worsen asthma symptoms. In children, pollutants can even cause lifelong respiratory effects due to asthma (Breysse et al., 2010). The pollutants that contribute to asthma symptoms can be both particulate and gaseous.
Ozone is known to exacerbate asthma, so any air purifier that emits ozone should be avoided.
Should I use a humidifier/air purifier combo?
Increasing the humidity of dry air can have positive health effects, keeping your skin and respiratory system from getting too dry in winter or in dry regions. However, excessive moisture can lead to mold growth. Mold and mold spores are pollutants that are not healthy for your kids. Therefore a humidifier with a humidistat that monitors humidity levels and shuts down when they get to high is recommended.
If you plan to use a humidifier in areas where your kids frequently stay, you may want to use a “cool mist” evaporative humidifier. Humidifiers that boil water into steam are a bad idea for a kid’s room or any area where children will be playing, since an accidental spill could cause severe burns. Ultrasonic humidifiers can emit aerosolized mineral dust (from the mineral content in tap water), which can be harmful if inhaled.
It is important to wipe down a humidifier regularly and allow it to dry out once a day. This will prevent the formation of mold or bacterial growth in the humidifier.
Other factors for kids and air purifiers
To get the most benefit from an air purifier, it should be run 24/7, or at least whenever the child is in the room. However an air purifier used in a kid’s room should not be too loud, because excessive sound can damage hearing, especially in developing children, and some children may be bothered by the “white noise” of the unit when it is left to continuously run all night.
Some portable air purifiers can be heavy. Make sure you place yours in a stable location, preferably on the floor, so it cannot accidentally get tipped over or fall onto kids who are playing nearby.
If you plan to run an air purifier in your kid’s room while they sleep, consider covering up any lights on the unit with a piece of tape.
What is the best air purifier for kids rooms?
Taking into account safety and effectiveness, the best air purifier for using around kids is one that removes the pollutants that affect kids the most and does not emit ozone, while also being relatively quiet. For allergy and asthma concerns, a HEPA filter with a quiet fan is a common option. If a tobacco smoker is in the house, a hybrid air purifier that combines a HEPA filter with a carbon filter for removing VOCs is a better choice.
Our solution, the Molekule air purifier, which uses PECO technology, is what we believe to be the best because it can destroy allergens and airborne chemicals that pass through the device, unlike other air purifiers that temporarily remove them. The device also has a silent mode that will be quiet and effective for kids’ rooms.
Using the right type of air purifier safely can have a significant positive impact on the indoor air quality in your home, and help keep your kids healthy while they grow up.