Electronic Air Cleaner: How Does It Work?
Dust, dander, allergens, mold, and other harmful airborne particles have no place in your home. Unfortunately, it’s likely that your standard, low-grade filter isn’t doing much to capture these unwanted visitors. This isn’t good for anyone, but especially not for people living with allergies or asthma.
Electronic air cleaners fight to contain these particles and reduce the amount in your home. This air purifying device gives an electronic charge to things like dust and dander as they passthrough the device, while the air cleaner itself has an opposite charge, attracting and effectively trapping particles inside it. This means, with a simple science lesson on magnetism, an electronic air cleaner provides your home with better air quality.
How an electronic air cleaner filters indoor air
Ultimately, electronic air cleaners can improve air quality in your home. They’re typically installed directly into the ductwork of your home by an HVAC professional.
Once an electronic air cleaner is installed in your home, it will trap large particles of dust, dander, allergens, and more, depending on the device selected, as they pass through the filter. For smaller particles, you can think of the electronic air cleaners as a giant magnet. With magnets, opposite charges (positive and negative) attract. In electronic air cleaners, an electrostatic precipitator (ESP) removes particles from an air stream by using electrical energy to charge particles either positively or negatively. The charged particles are then attracted to collector plates carrying the opposite charge. This way, particles remain in the electronic air cleaner and can’t continue contaminating the air in your home.
Because contaminants stick inside the electronic air cleaner, maintaining and cleaning this device is crucial so incoming contaminants will have a clean surface inside to stick to. We’ll get more into the specifics on how to do that later, but for now just know cleaning your cleaner is important!
Pros and cons of using an electronic air cleaner
Let’s dive into the positives and negatives of using an electronic air cleaner.
Pro: Helps allergies and asthma
Like air purifiers, electronic air cleaners help alleviate triggers for allergies and asthma. These devices work by taking things like dust, dander, and pet hair out of the air in your home, all of which are common triggers for allergies and asthma. With an electronic indoor air cleaner, you can feel confident that the air you’re breathing is cleaner and filled with less harmful particles than before.
Pro: Reusable filters
All of the particulate matter gets stuck to a filter when it’s blocked from contaminating the air inside your home. If the filter is dirty and covered in harmful particles it’s less effective and particles may be able to slip through into your home. Luckily, electronic air cleaner filters are reusable and easy to maintain. Just like you would for other HVAC devices, try to inspect the filter in your electronic air cleaner about once every three months. If your filter seems to be dirty, simply rinse it off with warm water and allow it to dry completely before placing it back into your air cleaner. With consistent cleaning, it should stay good as new!
Con: Not effective against gases
Gases can pollute your air, too. While electronic air cleaners are great at stopping unwanted particles from entering your home, harmful gases can slip right through their filters. Some of the most common gases found inside of homes include smoke, pet odors, and VOCs from cleaning, cooking, painting or furniture and building materials. All of these gases are dangerous and electronic air cleaners do not stop them from entering your home.
Con: Ozone emissions
As we mentioned earlier, electronic air cleaners create electronic fields to trap unwanted particles and eliminate them from entering your home. While this technology is effective in providing your home with cleaner air, the downside is that it can create ozone emissions as a byproduct. A study published in 2013 by the U.S. Department of Commerce on the effectiveness of electronic air cleaners found that some electronic air cleaners can increase ozone emissions by six inside a household. This is harmful to the environment, and could potentially be harmful to a person’s lungs after prolonged exposure.
With that being said, many new air cleaners are engineered to meet UL Standard 2998requirements,which can only be achieved if an air cleaner produces essentially zero ozone emissions. As you’re researching air cleaners, look for one that is Standard 2998 certified before you buy to eliminate the concern of ozone emissions. You can find many that meet this standard -- like the CleanEffects air cleaner -- on the Trane website!
How does an electronic air cleaner compare to other home air purification systems?
Media air cleaners
Media air cleaners filter the air like electronic air cleaners, except they don’t generate electric fields. Instead, media air cleaners are made out of a particle-trapping material and most have a cardboard frame. The media air cleaner filter, like the electronic one, removes harmful particles from the air and traps them inside.
One downside of a standard media cleaner is that it uses a high MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) filter to capture particles from the air. This kind of filter is higher in density than an electronic air cleaner, which means it has a higher pressure drop that causes the motor of your HVAC unit to work harder. On the other hand, electronic air cleaners don’t have high pressure drop issues because the technology that fuels them doesn’t restrict airflow, which saves your unit’s motor from a lot of unnecessary work. But, a regular air cleaner does not release any ozone emissions, which can’t be said about some electronic air cleaners.
Multiple types of filters really shine for their ability to help people with allergies. Filters are a component of all air cleaning products and can be inserted into most HVAC systems. In any case, if you want cleaner air, a filter is essential, but it’s important to understand the different types of filters to determine which one you should buy. Some popular types of filters to consider include:
- High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) Filter: This is a highly effective filter that removes up to 98% of particulate matter in the air, making them the best air filter to reduce the triggers of allergies and asthma. But, because they’re so effective, they require an extra fan to push air through the filter.
- Traditional Fiberglass Filter: These filters can also be installed inside your existing HVAC system, but they aren’t nearly as effective as other kinds of filters. Fiberglass filters capture less than 10% of particles. While this number is small, they are low cost and could be worth a try for people who don't have breathing problems or allergies.
- Pleated Fiberglass Filter: Pleated filters are the upgraded version of the traditional fiberglass filter and capture up to 45% of particles. A licensed HVAC professional can install these filters in your unit, or you can buy them at local home improvement retailers and do it yourself. Pleated fiberglass filters are typically a good starting point for people who want to begin investing in cleaner air.
Air purifiers work a little bit differently to clean the air than everything else we’ve mentioned so far. While cleaners work to filter the air, purifiers work to sanitize the air. Purifiers still use filters and trap some particles, but their main function is to sanitize the air through emission of ions or with UV lamps. In some cases, purifiers can help fight against both particles and gases. But, a downside to purifiers is that they have the risk of producing byproducts as a result of oxidation, so it’s a good idea to look for purifiers that meet UL Standard 2998 as well!
Electronic air cleaner maintenance
The most important thing you can do when it comes to maintaining your electronic air cleaner is remember to regularly wash the filter. Like we mentioned earlier, when the filter is dirty, the air cleaner doesn’t have room to trap as many particles, so more get through into your home. Luckily, all you need to do is rinse the filter with warm water and let it air dry completely once every three months, and your electronic air cleaner will be ready to go. Remember, if you’re pulling the filter out of your HVAC device, ensure your unit is turned off completely before you retrieve it.
Along with cleaning the filter regularly, it’s also a good idea for homeowners to vacuum out the collection cells of their electronic air cleaner. Plus, make sure a licensed HVAC professional inspects your electronic air cleaner once a year. Your technician can determine if there are any problems with your existing device or if you might need a repair or replacement.
How do you clean an electronic air filter?
Cleaning an electronic air filter is an easy process homeowners can feel comfortable tackling on their own. After turning your HVAC unit off, remove the filter. You can rinse the filter off in warm water under the sink, soak it in a tub of warm water for about thirty minutes, or even throw certain types of filters in the dishwasher. Consult with your owner’s manual or an HVAC technician to see what the best cleaning option is for your filter.