What Is An Air Scrubber and The Top 15 Signs You Need One

Blue Portable Air Scrubber

With an increasing emphasis on air quality due to concerns with mold, VOCs, and other air pollutants, homeowners are looking for strategies to improve the air quality in their homes. Poor air quality in your home can lead to a number of major and minor health issues. Air scrubbers have been proven to be an effective and low cost option for making the air in your home safer and healthier. 

But what exactly is an air scrubber and how do you know if you need one?

In this blog post, we will explore what an air scrubber is, how it works, and the top 15 signs that indicate you may want to get one. We’ll also cover which ones to get in different situations.

What Is An Air Scrubber?

An air scrubber is a device that removes most of the contaminants and pollutants from the air. Air scrubbers use a series of air contaminant removal steps including the use of several different filters and UV light. Depending on the type of air scrubber, these contaminants include bacteria, viruses, dust, smoke, odors, fungal spores, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), allergens, and others.

Air scrubbers can be installed inside of your home’s heating and cooling ducts (HVAC), but also can be found as a free standing unit.

How Does An Air Scrubber Work?

Air scrubbers work by using a series of filters and UV lights to capture and remove pollutants and contaminants from the air. Each air scrubber is different, but some common methods include high-efficiency HEPA filters, activated carbon filters, UV light, photocatalytic oxidation, and ionic purification.

How Is An Air Scrubber Different Than An Air Purifier?

The difference between an air scrubber and air purifier is an average air scrubber will clean higher volumes of air than the average air purifier. Also, an air scrubber usually utilizes several air cleaning methods, while many air purifiers only use a single filter.

In fact, if you look at the top 10 air scrubbers on Amazon, you’ll see they all have 3 filtration methods and can filter at least 500 cubic feet of air per minute. Of the top 10  air purifiers on Amazon, most have only 1 filtration method and even the best one can only achieve a maximum filtration of about 140 cubic feet per minute.

Some air scrubbers are powerful enough to be used in industrial settings, while others are used in commercial or residential spaces. A home air scrubber can be used to clean the air in the entire home. 

On the other hand, air purifiers are mainly used within a single room of a home. Since air purifiers are usually used in this way, they are quieter, smaller, and cheaper than air scrubbers. They will also have more features geared towards homeowners such as quiet mode, smart apps, and essential oil infusion.

Despite these differences, many air purifiers today contain the same 3 air cleaning strategies as popular air scrubbers. These strategies are using a pre-filter for larger particle removal, a HEPA filter for smaller particle removal, and a carbon filter for odor removal. 

Even with the use of similar filters, air purifiers are not often made to clean the air of an entire home. If you tried an air purifier and it’s not working for you or you are facing any of the issues below, you may want to get an air scrubber.

15 Signs You May Need An Air Scrubber

1. You Have Allergies

Air scrubbers are effective at removing allergens, the particles that cause allergies. This is partially due to the use of a HEPA filter, which can remove at least 99.5% of all particle pollution, including allergen particles. Allergens are often larger than 0.3  microns, which means HEPA filters will capture at least 99.97% of larger allergens. Allergens that are 0.3 microns or larger include pet dander, dust mites, pollen, and some dust.

HEPA Filter Particle Filtration Capabilities

Air scrubbers often have a pre-filter to capture some particles in the “dirty air” before it hits the HEPA filter. Pre-filters are good at capturing larger particles such as pet dander. This helps keep the HEPA filter functional longer. Since the HEPA filter works by capturing air contaminants, you’ll have to replace it from time to time. This is typically easy and inexpensive.

Some signs of airborne allergies include itchy eyes or nose, water eyes, and sneezing. If you are someone who has trouble with allergies in your home, it could be a sign to install an air scrubber.  

2. Your Home Has Bad or Strong Odors

Air scrubbers are effective at removing odors from your home because they often use activated charcoal filters. Activated charcoal filters have millions of pores that capture air pollutants, allowing clean air to continue flowing. 

Activated charcoal filters are so effective at capturing odors, you will often find them in use around strong odors such as compost bins and diaper pals with little to no odors escaping. In fact, in our own testing of bamboo activated charcoal filters, we found them highly effective at removing odors from smelly shoes.

Air Purifier Bag Impact on odor
Air Purifier Bag Impact on Odor

Other tactics for deodorizing, such as using air freshener spray, contain ingredients that make your air quality worse. Activated charcoal does not emit harmful contaminants, making it a better option for those with chemical sensitivities, as well as for the environment.

Other tactics for deodorizing, such as using air freshener spray, contain ingredients that make your air quality worse. Activated charcoal does not emit harmful contaminants, making it a better option for those with chemical sensitivities, as well as for the environment.

If you have bad odors in your home from cooking, pets, smokers, neighbors, or other sources, you may want to consider getting an air scrubber.

3. You Are Concerned About Mold or Mildew

Air scrubbers can help remove mold spores from the air through using a HEPA filter, as well as through UVC lights. UVC lights emit a specific wavelength of light that destroys the DNA of microorganisms, including those of mold. This prevents them from multiplying and causing health issues. 

UVC lights are only safe under certain conditions, so it’s important to make sure you purchase the right air scrubber. You can learn more about this at the bottom of this article. Air scrubbers can create molecules such as ozone if they use a certain wavelength of UVC light. They will still be effective at controlling microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, and pathogens, but come with the tradeoff of producing ozone. 

Many manufacturers produce air scrubbers that use a safe wavelength of UVC light that does not produce harmful emissions while still controlling micrograms. It’s also important to not have direct exposure to UVC light because it can work on you, pets, plants, and other living things as well. An air scrubber typically keeps all UVC light contained, making it a much safer option then other home devices which may expose you to UVC light. 

Air scrubbers won’t stop mold and mildew from growing or at the source, so if you do suspect issues with mold and mildew in your home, it’s important to address the source. Still, you may want to consider getting an air scrubber if you have issues with mold or mildew.

4. You Are Concerned About Pathogens, Viruses, and Bacteria

Air scrubbers that are equipped with HEPA filters and UVC light are effective against pathogens, viruses, and bacteria. HEPA filters alone can remove a high percent of viral and bacterial particles. UVC light adds an even more effective and additional component of sanitization. 

In fact, one study found that UVC light “killed 99.999% of all of the tested  fungi, coronavirus and bacteria”. This makes UVC light alone a more effective tool than a HEPA filter alone. According to Aerus,  another study found that air scrubbers were able to reduce microbes found on surfaces by 80% in just 2 hours, 95% in 6 hours and over 99% in 24 hours. As noted above, UVC light can come with negative impacts when not fully contained. For this reason, an air scrubber is usually safer than a UVC light on its own. 

If you are concerned about viruses and bacteria, including if HEPA filters alone have not worked for you, it may be worth considering installing an air scrubber.

5. Your Home Is Dusty

Air scrubbers are capable of removing dust from the air. Dust comes in a range of particle sizes and HEPA filters are a great tool for capturing dust. Dust accumulation can lead to dust mites, which are a source of allergies.

However, certain studies show that HEPA filters may not be sufficient alone at controlling dust mites if you have asthma. In that case, you may find that an air purifier does not provide enough air filtration. 

Also, some air scrubbers release charged ions into the air to help dust and other particles clump together and fall on surfaces. This makes it easier for the air scrubber to capture. However, these devices create ozone as well. The EPA notes as ozone levels generated are generally not safe for humans.  In addition, one study found little to no benefit of using ionic purification, as it was no more effective than simply using a HEPA filter. 

If you are concerned about dust or are not satisfied with the amount of dust in your home, you may want to consider installing an air scrubber. Don’t forget to check the bottom of this article for recommendations for safe and effective air scrubbers.

6. You Are Immunocompromised or Elderly

Those who are immunocompromised or elderly may be in need of the cleanest air possible in order to prevent significant health issues. Similar to the point above, if this is true for you, a HEPA filter alone may not be enough filtration. It’s important here as well to ensure any use of UV light is not creating additional health issues. 

Also, air scrubbers can clean the air in entire homes, whereas other air cleaning methods, such as air purifiers can only do a single room at best. Many people only use an air purifier in the room they spend the most time in, a bedroom. With that said, an air scrubber may be a more convenient option for those who are concerned about the air quality in their entire home, rather than a single room.

7. You Get Frequent Colds, Illness, or Respiratory Issues

If you get sick frequently, an air scrubber could help to protect those around you. Similarly, if you live with or around others who are frequently sick, an air scrubber can help you as well. Some examples of illnesses or health issues include:

  • Coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath
  • Headaches and fatigue
  • Cough
  • Eye irritation
  • Respiratory infection
  • Sleep disturbances 
  • Nausea and vomiting

8. You Are Concerned About VOCs

Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are emitted from a number of household items such as paint, furniture, sealants, and carpeting. While VOC levels will drop over time from these sources, they are a harmful pollutant to live with. VOCs can sometimes come from outdoor air as well. The activated charcoal filter on an air scrubber can remove VOCs.  

Some air scrubbers may utilize photocatalytic oxidation to remove VOCs, but some models can create ozone as well, so it may be best to stick with the activated charcoal filter.

Impact of Conventional Cleaners on VOCs
Cleaning Products Spike VOCs

Our own tests found that VOC levels can range naturally in a home from normal activities such as cooking. In some cases, simple solutions such as activated bamboo charcoal bags can reduce VOCs. However, they are typically only effective against small volume areas, such as a gym bag. Some air purifiers have activated charcoal filters, but they are not capable of whole house filtration. 

If you are concerned with VOCs in a larger area such as a home, you might want to get an air scrubber.

To get a better understanding if you have high levels of VOCs in your home, you can get an air quality monitor, such as the Airthings View Plus

9. Your Area Has Poor Air Quality

The Canadian wildfires back not too long ago blanketed much of the US in poor air quality. Given how quickly it happened, many people found it hard to find air purifiers. However, many areas around the world are constantly exposed to equally or worse air pollution all year. This is mainly the result of living near fossil fuel power plants, industrial areas, or high traffic roadways. 

If your outdoor air quality is poor, there’s a good chance the air in your home will be poor as well.  You won’t simply be able to clean the air in just one room either, as dirty air will infiltrate that room again. For this reason, an air purifier may not be sufficient.

If your area has poor quality or an air purifier hasn’t provided enough filtration, you may want to consider an air scrubber. You can check your outdoor air quality with various online maps, including IQ Air.

10. You or People Around You Are Smokers

Air scrubbers are effective against smoke, may it be the result of smokers or cooking. Smoke particles can cause premature death and disease. If you live with smokers, or smoke yourself, it may be worth installing an air scrubber.

11. You Have a Pet

Pet allergens and odors can be controlled with an air scrubber. This is accomplished with the use of HEPA filters to capture allergens and charcoal filters to capture odors. According to the American Lung Association, pet dander may linger in the air longer than other allergens. 

If your pet has access to your entire home, air purifiers may not be sufficient. In fact, many pet centers will utilize air scrubbers so their employees and customers don’t have to worry about allergies or bad smells.

If your pet is causing your allergies to flare up or creates bad odors, you may want to consider using an air scrubber.

12. You Have Chemical Sensitivities

People with chemical sensitivities may be interested in installing an air scrubber to remove chemical vapor from the air. While source reduction is always best, it may not always be possible due to a need for certain products, for example cleaning products. We recommend Force of Nature as a cleaning product because many people with chemical sensitivities claim its both effective and does not have sensitivity issues. In our own testing, Force of Nature was much less harsh smelling and didn’t spike VOCs at all compared to conventional cleaning products.

Impact of Force of Nature on VOCs
Impact of Force of Nature on VOCs

13. You Live In An Air With High Radon Levels

Radon is naturally occurring in the ground. You cannot smell, see, or taste radon, which makes deduction hard without an air quality monitor. Radon can cause health issues if not addressed. The HEPA filter of an air scrubber can provide whole house filtration of radon particles.

 If you live in an area that has high radon levels, you may want to consider an air scrubber.

14. Concerns About High Humidity

Air scrubbers don’t control humidity directly, but they can help remove the harmful mold spores associated with high humidity. To control humidity, you’ll need to depend on other means such as a dehumidifier. If you’re concerned about the impact high humidity levels are having on your home, an air scrubber could be helpful in addition to finding ways to lower humidity levels.

15. You Want To Save Money On Heating And Cooling

An air scrubber may help save money on your heating and cooling bills by reducing dust and other particles that clog up your system. These clogs slowly cause your system to run less efficiently and may even cause it to stop working properly. 

Which Air Scrubber Is Right For Me?

Check out the top air scrubbers on Amazon.

If you’re not concerned about viruses, bacteria, and pathogens we recommend an air scrubber with these features:

  • Pre-Filter
  • HEPA Filter
  • Carbon or Charcoal Filter

If you are concerned about viruses, bacteria, and pathogens we recommend an air scrubber with these features:

  • Pre-Filter
  • HEPA Filter
  • Carbon or Charcoal Filter
  • UVC light (253.7nm wavelength)

You may also be interested in an air scrubber that uses PCO, as long as it’s been tested for ozone creation.

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