Guide to air cleaners

Find out what will and won't help when it comes to protecting yourself and others from airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 with portable air cleaners.

This fact sheet explains the basics of air filtration and what to look for (and avoid) when purchasing an air cleaner. We have linked particular terms and ideas to pop-up boxes with definitions or additional information.

What do air cleaners do?

Air cleaners (also called air purifiers or scrubbers) use high efficiency particulate air (HEPA (H13 or H14)) filters to remove 99.97% of aerosolized virus particles in the air. Consisting of a fan and a layered filter, they work very effectively to clean the air of aerosols. They can provide an extra layer of protection in indoor settings where occupancy is high and there’s increased risk of airborne transmission.

How do I know if I need an air cleaner?

Air cleaners reduce virus particles in the air when ventilation is poor. Air cleaners do not remove CO2: they remove particles very effectively. A CO2 monitor showing levels greater than 800 ppm indicates that the air indoors is not being refreshed fast enough with outside air?. Improving outdoor air ventilation of our indoor spaces through opening windows/doors, creating cross ventilation, improving mechanical (HVAC) ventilation is required. Air cleaners are an extra tool in our arsenal to reduce the risk further and to get the effective air changes to where we need them to be.

For healthy indoor air, we are aiming for 6 Air Changes per Hour (ACH),? or much higher if 90%+ clearance is desired.

Unfortunately, this target is hard to achieve with our current buildings and existing ventilation systems, as well as how we currently use our indoor spaces and while maintaining heat and energy efficiencies.

You can calculate your risk of airborne transmission by downloading the Queensland University of Technology's Airborne Infection Risk Calculator or the University of Colorado's COVID-19 Aerosol Transmission Estimator.

What to consider when purchasing an air cleaner

Things to look for

If you decide an air cleaner will help reduce risk in your space, these are what you should consider when purchasing one:

  • A HEPA (H13 or H14 only) air cleaner
  • The Clean Air Delivery Rate needs to be sufficient for the room volume
  • Maximum tolerable noise – fans are noisy, and it can sometimes make sense to have two quiet (<40dB) portable air cleaners rather than one large cleaner (>50dB)
  • Cost
  • Australian-made products and expected delivery times.

Things to avoid

  • Directional fans without any filtration that blow air from person to person could lead to unintended transmission
  • Ionisers, plasma/ozone/photocatalytic oxidation/precipitators and UV purification
  • Air disinfection or air fresheners that introduce chemicals to the air to destroy biological threats such as virus, bacteria and mould (technically, these are pesticide products). Such devices distribute ozone, hydrogen peroxide or essential oils/fragrances to the air.

These are unproven/untested technologies, and in some cases dangerous technologies?, significantly degrading the air quality by producing ions, ozone and oxidation products. Ozone and ions can trigger asthma so these technologies should be avoided. Air circulation without filtration has been shown to lead to super-spreader events.

Tools to help you purchase an air cleaner

Declaration: Robyn Schofield and the University of Melbourne does not receive any funding from air cleaner manufacturers.

Indoor air does not have regulatory standards in Australia. Currently no standardised and independent testing of air cleaning devices is required or performed to protect consumers. If you found this information useful and would like to support our University of Melbourne ventilation and filtration work, please consider a donation.

© 2022. This work is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 license. Attribution – These graphs were produced by Robyn Schofield, University of Melbourne and can be used and improved upon with attribution under the creative commons license.