There seems to be some confusion about whether air purifiers are able to get rid of carbon monoxide. Some sources say yes, while others say no. Everyone seems to have their own reasoning, but the question still remains –
Do air purifiers really get rid of carbon monoxide? Many air purifiers do trap carbon monoxide, but it’s not as easy as a definitive yes or no. There are a lot of things that have to go right for an air purifier to really help you eliminate carbon monoxide. You’ll primarily need to pick the right size and the right kinds of filters.
Let’s take a look at what you need to look for.
It Takes a Certain Kind of Air Purifier to Eliminate Carbon Monoxide
There are so many things that have to go right for your air purifier to be able to help remove carbon monoxide in a noticeable way. It’s not as easy as going to your local store and picking the air purifier that seems to be the best one. You’ll need to go beyond the fancy marketing and branding and pay attention to detail to pick the features that will really remove carbon monoxide from your home.
Here’s what really matters.
Airflow Matches Your Room Size
Before you even start wondering about whether the air purifier will be able to clean the air at all, you first need to measure the volume of your room. The best and most advanced air purifier in the world won’t be able to help you if it’s fan isn’t powerful enough to draw in the air that’s across the other side of your room. It also won’t help you if it can only cycle the air in the room just once or twice per hour.
This test by the Wirecutter showed that 99.9% of the smoke can be cleared inside a room within just an hour, but only if the air purifier has enough airflow and can exchange the air quickly.
Unfortunately, the problem with this picture is that many manufacturers are overexaggerating what their air purifiers can do by picking and choosing a “standard” that suits them. Carbon monoxide is a serious issue, so you have to weed out those manufacturers. You’ll have to pick the right kind of air purifier, or else you just won’t be able to replicate these kinds of results.
There are a few areas where you could easily trip up and make the wrong purchase.
Ceiling height and the layout of the space is something a lot of people ignore. The square footage recommendations are based on an 8-foot ceiling. If your room has high ceilings, your air purifier fan has to be even more powerful. Also, those recommendations are based on an empty, rectangular room without any obstructions. If your space is broken up into half walls or has heavy furniture, know that your air purifier won’t be as effective.
Other things that are important are how many times the fan can cycle the air in your room per hour, as well as the ambient temperature in the room.
Rather than take you off-topic here, I recommend that you read this post as an additional resource. It breaks down all those potential pitfalls and helps you choose an air purifier that’s the right size for your room.
Filters That Can Remove Carbon Monoxide
Once you’ve found an air purifier that can cycle all of the air in your room several times per hour, next you have to look for the right kinds of filters. If you want to remove carbon monoxide with an air purifier, I encourage you to be realistic here. It will take good quality filters to achieve this, so you can’t exactly expect your air purifier to be cheap.
Look at it as a long-term investment and a task to pick an air purifier that will give you peace of mind rather than make you wonder if it really works.
Here’s what you need to look for.
A True HEPA Filter
A True HEPA filter, by definition, can eliminate 99.97% of particles as small as 0.3 micrometers in size. As far as the main mechanical filter, this is as good quality as it gets for most homes.
But if you ask anyone who knows a bit about chemistry, you’ll realize that carbon monoxide is a gas and gases are much smaller than 0.3 micrometers. In other words, gases will just pass through a True HEPA filter. So why would you need a filter like this?
Carbon monoxide is just one result of incomplete combustion. If you have faulty appliances, fireplaces, or other issues in your home, you’ll also have debris, soot, and other particles in the air. Those need to be trapped as well. Where there’s carbon monoxide, there’s typically also smoke.
Most smoke is between 0.1 and 1.0 micrometers in size. A True HEPA filter will be able to trap a large portion of it.
An Activated Carbon Filter (A Good One)
Once the True HEPA filter has trapped the smoke, soot, and other dust particles, you’ll need an even finer filter to eliminate carbon monoxide and the other gases. To do this, your air purifier will also need an activated carbon filter.
Most air purifiers have an activated carbon filter, so it may seem easy to pick one at first. But don’t let that fool you. You’ll need a high quality activated carbon filter. The inexpensive, spray-on kind will do little to eliminate carbon monoxide. Look for an activated carbon filter with actual granules. Many experts will tell you that this filter needs to weigh at least 5 pounds to really make a difference. The heavier the filter, the better.
Pick a True HEPA and heavy activated carbon granule filter to help you eliminate smoke and carbon monoxide. Keep in mind though that an air purifier should be seen as just one step in protecting your home against carbon monoxide. It shouldn’t be seen as the end all, be all solution.
You still need to maintain your appliances and have them checked annually. You still need to have your fireplace cleaned regularly. You still need to be aware of the air pollution in your region and be careful to limit the smoke you produce in your home personally. You still need to have at least one working carbon monoxide detector on every level in your home (I recommended the Nest Protect detector in this post).
How do I know if I’m affected?
Carbon monoxide isn’t called the “silent killer” without reason. It’s a little like being a frog in a pot of slowly boiling water. It’s odorless, colorless, and virtually undetectable by the five senses. Being exposed at low levels over a long period of time can sometimes be just as dangerous as being exposed at high levels over a short period of time.
Low-level exposure tends to cause fatigue, lethargy, and chest pain, followed by an inability to concentrate and blurred vision. At high concentrations, headaches, dizziness, and nausea are common. Hopefully, your carbon monoxide detector will alert you if this happens in your home. Carbon monoxide can cause irreparable damage to health (and even be lethal) at high concentrations if you don’t evacuate your home within 15 minutes or less.
Where does carbon monoxide come from?
In theory, there’s no reason for a home to have any carbon monoxide whatsoever. Carbon monoxide is a sign of combustion gone wrong. In a healthy home, this chemical reaction produces carbon dioxide. But when there’s not enough oxygen in the air, incomplete combustion occurs instead and we get carbon monoxide instead of carbon dioxide.
You might be asking, how could this incomplete combustion happen?
If your home isn’t properly ventilated, the same poor quality air is circulating in the home, allowing carbon monoxide to build up. Some examples of this are:
- An idling car in an attached garage is allowing for carbon monoxide to build up, regardless whether the garage door is open or closed.
- A faulty dryer (or another gas appliance) isn’t properly vented to the outside because of a clogged vent, allowing the exhaust fumes to stay in a small, airtight laundry room. Other appliances that may be causing an issue are gas stoves, heaters, furnaces, and kerosene or gas heaters.
- A backdraft in your fireplace allows fumes to accumulate in the room when the chimney is obstructed or clogged.
- Carbon monoxide is created by occupants in your home in the form of tobacco smoke, incense and candle burning.
Illustration of possible sources of carbon monoxide inside a home (source).
There’s a common theme here – your home needs to have fresh air to bring new oxygen in and all exhaust vents need to work properly.