Numerous techniques have been developed over the years for reducing aerosol exposure in indoor air environments. Among indoor air purifiers of different types, ionic emitters have gained increasing attention and are presently used for removing dust particles, aeroallergens and airborne microorganisms from indoor air. In this study, five ionic air purifiers (two wearable and three stationary) that produce unipolar air ions were evaluated with respect to their ability to reduce aerosol exposure in confined indoor spaces. The concentration decay of respirable particles of different properties was monitored in real time inside the breathing zone of a human manikin, which was placed in a relatively small (2.6 m3) walk-in chamber during the operation of an ionic air purifier in calm air and under mixing air condition. The particle removal efficiency as a function of particle size was determined using the data collected with a size-selective optical particle counter. The removal efficiency of the more powerful of the two wearable ionic purifiers reached about 50% after 15 min and almost 100% after 1.5 h of continuous operation in the chamber under calm air conditions. In the absence of external ventilation, air mixing, especially vigorous one (900 CFM), enhanced the air cleaning effect. Similar results were obtained when the manikin was placed inside a partial enclosure that simulated an aircraft seating configuration. All three stationary ionic air purifiers tested in this study were found capable of reducing the aerosol concentration in a confined indoor space. The most powerful stationary unit demonstrated an extremely high particle removal efficiency that increased sharply to almost 90% within 5-6 min, reaching about 100% within 10-12 min for all particle sizes (0.3-3 microm) tested in the chamber. For the units of the same emission rate, the data suggest that the ion polarity per se (negative vs. positive) does not affect the performance but the ion emission rate does. The effects of particle size (within the tested range) and properties (NaCl, PSL, Pseudomonas fluorescens bacteria) as well as the effects of the manikin’s body temperature and its breathing on the ionic purifier performance were either small or insignificant. The data suggest that the unipolar ionic air purifiers are particularly efficient in reducing aerosol exposure in the breathing zone when used inside confined spaces with a relatively high surface-to-volume ratio.

Practical implications:

Ionic air purifiers have become increasingly popular for removing dust particles, aeroallergens and airborne microorganisms from indoor air in various settings. While the indoor air cleaning effect, resulting from unipolar and bipolar ion emission, has been tested by several investigators, there are still controversial claims (favorable and unfavorable) about the performance of commercially available ionic air purifiers. Among the five tested ionic air purifiers (two wearable and three stationary) producing unipolar air ions, the units with a higher ion emission rate provided higher particle removal efficiency. The ion polarity (negative vs. positive), the particle size (0.3-3 microm) and properties (NaCl, PSL, Pseudomonas fluorescens bacteria), as well as the body temperature and breathing did not considerable affected the ionization-driven particle removal. The data suggest that the unipolar ionic air purifiers are particularly efficient in reducing aerosol exposure in the breathing zone when they are used inside confined spaces with a relatively high surface-to-volume ratio (such as automobile cabins, aircraft seating areas, bathrooms, cellular offices, small residential rooms, and animal confinements). Based on our experiments, we proposed that purifiers with a very high ion emission rate be operated in an intermittent mode if used indoors for extended time periods. As the particles migrate to and deposit on indoor surfaces during the operation of ionic air purifiers, some excessive surface contamination may occur, which introduces the need of periodic cleaning these surfaces.