Allergy & mold & indoor air quality products for cleaning & allergen or particle removal:
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In our experience [which includes the detailed visual inspection and excruciatingly careful testing of a large number of buildings for IAQ and other environmental concerns] there is no free-standing air cleaner, HEPA cleaner, UV, ionizer, breeze machine, or any other free-standing plug-in air "purifier" that is really demonstrably effective at cleaning up an indoor air contamination issue. The problem source needs to be identified, located, and removed.
Some of our IAQ clients report some improved relief when using an air cleaner in a small enclosed bedroom with the room doors kept shut. How likely is it that the effect they describe is real?
In a small room with the door shut and with no local mold reservoir right in the room, portable equipment might be capable of producing a measurable effect on the airborne particle level. But based on actual field inspections and measurements of particle levels in quite a few buildings, I'm doubtful of any significant reduction in particle levels, mold, pet dander, or otherwise.
My measurements have not borne out the claims of the machine's makers/sellers. On the other hand, I have seen sick and anxious people for whom any stress-reducing measure produces some self-reported improvement in their environment.
Since the science shows portable "air purifiers" to be ineffective at removing much from the air, I believe that the improvement reported by consumers who use portable air cleaners could be a placebo effect. In rooms with air purifiers, particle levels look about the same as the rooms (in the same area of the building) without them.
Consumer Reports Magazine (Consumers Union) looked at indoor air cleaners in 2003, as have many others, both as neutral and in some case as biased researchers.
CU found that the devices were generally ineffective and expressed concern that they continue to sell well. The New York Times Magazine [22 January 2006 -- Rob Walker], reported on the CU article and on this phenomenon.
The Times ascribed continuing strong "air cleaner" sales (as did CU) to public "concerns about allergies and indoor air contaminants, coupled with heightened worries over terrorism." Sharper Image came in for particular criticism, probably because of their high-profile visibility in the marketplace and their aggressive promotion of such products.
We agree with CU and most other researchers that these devices do almost nothing about mold and allergens in buildings. I've tested buildings where frightened consumers have four or five of them running, sometimes two or three in a room in a NY City Apartment. I have not seen any significant reduction in the total airborne particle level with or without their use.
Research for one manufacturer, conducted by a university professor, concluded that the machines were effective, but the construction of the experiment involved putting a fixed amount of particles into a closed test chamber, running the machine therein, and extrapolating from the direction of the particle reduction curve.
This was an unrealistic experiment. In the "real world" of buildings and humans occupying them, if there is a significant indoor mold, allergen, or other indoor particle reservoir, for all practical purposes, there is an infinite particle source forming a stream of airborne particles moving through the room towards the air cleaner. (The manufacturer built a $1M test chamber for this respected prof.)
According to the Times article, Sharper Image sued Consumers Union. The case was dismissed by a California judge in 2004. The disagreement and the marketing of what clearly appear to be ineffective devices continues with ionizing air cleaners produced by a variety of manufacturers. (See our ozone warning below).
Our award for the stupidest of all of these products is the little battery powered "air cleaner" to be worn around the neck, presumably the neck of an anxious asthmatic. We have been unable to find, from any manufacturer of such a product, or from any other source, independent research supporting the effectiveness of such devices.
If Portable Air Purifiers Seem to be Ineffective, How Can We Clean Up Indoor Air Dust & Debris?
Improve Air Filtration at a Central Air Handling Unit for Heating or Air Conditioning
If your building uses a central air conditioning or warm air heating, you can indeed make a significant reduction in airborne dust levels and some odor levels by installing improved filtration at the air handler - since warm air heat or central air conditioning systems, unlike portable air cleaners, do move enough cubic feet of air to be effective
In our forensic lab (which does not have a mold reservoir problem) we were able to reduce the total level of airborne (and surface) dust in the building by installing a central air handler which combined multiple levels of filtration along with a heavy-duty multi-speed blower which can if necessary, run constantly.
This particle reduction was in a generally clean building with little carpeting, low occupancy use, and where there was no significant mold or allergen reservoir. The approach used central air handling equipment that moves very high volumes of air through the equipment.
and AIR FILTERS, OPTIMUM INDOOR for more details on using central air handlers for improved air quality indoors.
Also see CONTINUOUS BLOWER FAN OPERATION - to make maximum use of improved central air handler filtering systems.
Remove the Source of Problem Particles or Odors
With a large problem particle source, the effective solution is to remove the problem reservoir. Trying to clean up such a problem with an air cleaner is about as effective as trying to dust the bookshelves by waving your vacuum cleaner wand at them from across the room! Worse, some machines deliberately or accidentally put out measurable levels of ozone.
We have more to say on insulation [working on the text] since for certain problem locations such as over damp crawl spaces or exposed to moisture, some insulation products appear to work better than others at avoiding mold, rodents, insect allergens, and general deterioration.
We will compare current and historic materials used for insulation in buildings: air, solid brick, straw, cotton batts, asbestos, fiberglass, solid foam (of various types), blown-in cellulose (paper), mineral or rock wool, blown or pumped UFFI, Icynene, and other products. Meanwhile see the links below for more information.
We have more to say on crawl space and attic ventilation. Meanwhile see the links below for more information.
Vacuum Cleaner & Steam Cleaner - OPINION & Advice from an IAQ Investigator: These devices are used as household (or professional) cleaning tools for environments with high levels of settled dust containing allergens, mold, etc. One can not fix an allergen or mold problem by vacuuming, but one might be able to reduce the particle load in your air by careful cleaning.
A wide range of HEPA-filter vacuum cleaners and HEPA vacuum cleaner bags is now on the market, all of which are likely to be of some help. Beware: some particles such as certain toxic mold spores (Penicillium/Aspergillus, for example) are so small (1-2 microns) that ordinary household vacuum cleaners simply aerosolize them, making you suffer more not less.
As we get reports of products people like some of them will be listed here, but any web search will turn up many more hits. Read the product literature carefully as machines vary widely in cost, in ease of cleaning, noise level, effectiveness, as well as sometimes unpleasant and high-pressure salesmanship such as is found at our local Poughkeepsie New York Main Street vacuum cleaner dealer.
Ultimately, no amount of vacuuming wall to wall carpets indoors will eliminate an allergen or mold problem. To our clients who have asthma, allergies, or other respiratory concerns I recommend elimination of wall to wall carpets entirely. However even with all carpets out of a home, housecleaning of dusty surfaces is still needed. A HEPA vacuum cleaner can help in this task, but check the unit that interests you for leaks and blow-by since even if the filter is HEPA rated, if the cleaner leaks it's stirring up unwanted particles. I'd also compare not only purchase cost but ease and cost of bag or filter cleaning or replacement.
What does "HEPA" mean? HEPA is an acronym for 'High Efficiency Particulate Air'. HEPA filters originated in the 1940's, and HEPA became a registered trademark.
A HEPA™ filter should remove least 99.97% of ultra-fine particulates such as dust, animal dander, smoke, mold and other allergens that are down to 0.3 microns, from the air. Since the smallest indoor mold spores are around 1 micron, they pass right through ordinary filters and vacuum cleaners - vacuuming in a moldy environment using the wrong equipment can make matters worse!
Try a web search, Keywords such as HEPA Vacuum Cleaners or Dust Mite Covers to return up-to-date product sources to check. Try including your zip code or town name in a search for local supply sources.
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