Air pollution chokes India, can air purifiers help you breathe easy? If yes, how do you buy the right one
Today it's Delhi and India's northern towns in Haryana and Punjab. Tomorrow it will be some other city or region. Air pollution in India is increasing and while October and November are the worst months because they see the onset of winter and the practice of stubble burning in the states of Haryana and Punjab, dirty air in cities like Delhi, Noida and Gurgaon is a problem that is always there. On days like today, when Air Quality Index (AQI) closes on to 1000 mark, virtually turning air poisonous, you can see the pollution. On other days the AQI is 400 or 500, which too is hazardous even though air may seem clean.
Chances are that it's going to get worse, in near future as well as in long-term. Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has warned of a significant increase in the level of pollutants, such as PM2.5 and PM10, starting November 5 in Delhi.
The rapid deterioration in outdoor air quality affects indoor air quality. Gaseous pollutants clouding outside also choke homes and workplaces. the problem is apparent. So, the solutions too have been offered, particularly by technology companies that now sell smart air purifiers. Xiaomi sells the Mi Air Purifiers. Dyson has some futuristic looking air purifiers. Philips, Honeywell... almost all appliances maker are into air purifiers.
The question then is: Do these air purifiers work? With air pollution so high, so perennial and potent, can spending Rs 10,000 or Rs 15,000 -- or in case of Dyson Rs 40,000 or so -- help you breathe easy? Do these air purifiers make a difference or are they just gimmicky smart gadgets?
Before I answer that question, it is important to understand indoor air pollution.
What is indoor air pollution?
Indoor air pollution is the degradation in the quality of air inside a room, caused by harmful chemicals present in our homes and offices. This includes fumes emitted from furniture varnishes, cleaning agents, dry cleaned clothes, paints and perfumes among other things. According to WHO statistics, an estimated 3.8 million people die every year due to indoor air pollution.
Pollutants from sources located within our homes coupled with pollution from outside can prove to be catastrophic for our health. While one can plant indoor plants, vacuum clean carpets and rugs, use natural products for cleaning, and put dry cleaned clothes and carpets in the sun before using, for reducing the indoor air pollution, in the present time when air pollution is painting cities in the hues of sepia or is making them grey, these steps are often not enough for producing a relatively safe environment inside our homes.
Can air-purifiers help in controlling indoor air quality?
Air purifiers can provide proactive support in decreasing the amount of pollutants inside our homes and supplement us with the much-needed clean air. This is something experts agree with.
"Air purifiers can make significant impact in changing the quality of indoor air. However, it is important to choose the right kind of air purifiers with right technologies as it has become a business with brands making all sorts of claims. An air purifier should be able to detect and remove particulate matter such as 0.1 micron. It should also be able to detect and remove VOCs and harmful gases including formaldehyde, benzene and NO2 as well as bacteria mold spores and other indoor pollutants," Dr Priyanka Kulshreshtra, who heads research and communication at Indian Pollution Control Association, told the India Today Tech.
Notably, while the clean air from the air purifiers is beneficial for everyone, it is particularly rewarding for elderly people and kids, who are at a higher risk of contracting air-borne diseases. "It (air purifiers) will definitely have an impact on patients who are already suffering from respiratory illnesses... It definitely helps patients," Dr Rajesh Chawla, a leading pulmonologist at Apollo Hospital in Delhi, told the India Today Tech. "It (air pollution) definitely has an impact on children. And having air purifier if you have small children is not a bad idea."
One can of course argue if limited exposure to filtered air is beneficial or not. And while there are no studies to support the claim, experts do suggest that even limited exposure to clean air can be beneficial for our health.
So, what makes a good air purifier?
As a appliance that provides us with clean air and helps in maintaining the quality of air inside our homes, air purifiers have become a necessity that no one, especially the people living in the metro cities, can ignore. Both medical experts and environmentalists recommend using an air purifier, along with a host of other measures, to keep air clean inside rooms. Even so, their effectiveness can always be questioned. If you have used an air purifier before, you would know that it is a complex machine and there is more to it than a mere numbers.
We at the India Today Tech spoke with the engineers at Dyson to understand this device in detail. The effectiveness of an air purifier is generally determined by its CADR rating. However, folks at Dyson have developed an ingenious method called POLAR test, which they claim is better at measuring the efficiency of an air purifier than the conventional test.
"The CADR test is conducted for 20 minutes in a compact chamber of just 11.8m2 (127 sq.ft) in size, with only one sensor to measure air quality and with an added fan to artificially circulate the air. On the other hand, POLAR test is conducted in a larger, more representative, living room (290 sq.ft), with no additional fan. Instead, the machine being tested is given the task of mixing the air in the room itself," Hugo Wilson, senior design engineer at Dyson, told the India Today Tech. Basically, the idea is that air purifiers tested with POLAR test or something similar are better.
But having an air purifier with high CADR or POLAR rating is not enough. You also need to look for factors such as the air quality sensing system, the filters inside the body of the device and its projection system to assimilate if a particular device is right for your home. You can read more about the factors you need to consider while buying an air purifier here.