I’m writing this much earlier than expected – this year, the smog from the hundreds of forest fires burning in nearby Indonesia has shrouded Singapore from the onset of March. Typically, this phenomenon happens in the 3rd quarter of the year when Indonesian farmers slash and burn to clear land to prepare for the planting of fresh crops. This inconsiderate action has drawn ire and condemnation from neighboring South-East Asian countries year after year including Thailand (Yes…that’s how far the smog travels!) yet there is only so much (or rather so little) the 10-member nation Ministerial Steering Committee on Trans-boundary Haze Pollution can do.
Incorrectly termed as ‘haze’, the sudden onset of smog last July has left many Singaporean households scrambling to buy 2 essential items: Masks (specifically the 3M N95 variety) and Air Purifiers. When we read the Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan’s warning in February that Singapore faces threat of early, prolonged haze this year, we immediately set out to buy an Air-Purifier for Dana’s Great Grandma as her birthday gift. While we were shopping for a suitable one to buy, we were inducted into the confusing world of Air Purifiers. We hope our short account here will help to clear the air… in more ways than one.
There are many machines out there that claim to ‘clean’, ‘purify’ and ‘freshen’ the polluted air. While they all profess to improve the quality of air we breathe, the extent to which they actually do so, vary considerably. Allow me to clarify:
|Welcome to the confusing world of Air Purifiers! Picture Credit|
Air Fresheners: From cars to rooms, these merely alter the smell. Some of these emit ozone that may worsen the greenhouse effect.
Air Coolers: Like portable air conditioners, these merely lower the temperature of the room.
Humidifiers: These come with water-tanks attached and seek to add more moisture to the room. Handy for those who may find an air-conditioned environment too dry and stifling.
Air Cleaners (Ionizers / Ion-Generators/ Plasma-clusters): These clean the air of bacteria and viruses but not air borne particles. They can be effective also in removing odour.
Air Diffusers: These help to vaporize essential oils, allowing them to remain suspended in the air for extended periods of time. When inhaled, the oils are easily absorbed through the lungs. Depending on the oil used, diffusing can reap different health benefits; some cleanse the air of odor and impurities, some calm overactive children, and others support respiration and so on. In these hazy days, the wife diffuses Purification oil daily to help the family breathe better.
Air Purifiers: These come with a series of filters that will trap fine air-borne particles and allergens. Effectiveness of these purifiers depend on the type of filter it uses.
The smog (or haze) that shrouds Singapore contains fine ash particles and allergens which are measured by the PM 2.5 pollutants index. PM2.5 (the acronym for fine Particulate Matter 2.5 micrometres in diameter or smaller) refers to the tiny minute particles which pollute the air. These include combustion particles – from motor vehicles and the forest fires in Indonesia and Malaysia. Small, yet potentially deadly – PM2.5 is one of the reasons why the haze-filled air around us appears murkier and more acrid-smelling than the Pollution Standards Index (PSI) number suggests.
|Groups sensitive to PM2.5 | Picture Credit|
To combat the harmful effects of PM2.5, we combine the use of an Air Purifier (with ‘True HEPA’ filter) and a Young Living Air Diffuser in our home.
During our recent hunt for a good Air Purifier for Great Grandma, we came across many new competing brands and models of Air Purifiers o retail – some equipped with ‘True HEPA’ filters while others only ‘HEPA-like’ filters. To qualify as ‘True HEPA’ by US Government standards, the filter has to be able to remove 99.7% of the particles as small as 0.3 microns such as dust, pollen, tobacco smoke, mold spores and cat dander. In addition, independent lab tests done in USA have shown that it helps reduce airborne bacteria and viruses. We went shopping with the common assumption that only ‘True HEPA’ filters are good but a study conducted by Consumers Association of Singapore (Singapore’s Consumer Watchdog) in June 2013 uncovered some ‘HEPA-like’ Purifiers which can deliver surprisingly effective performance too.
Therefore, the main factors to take into consideration when buying an Air Purifier are your budget, your needs, the area coverage and the life span of the HEPA filter. A typical Air Purifier using ‘True HEPA’ filter ranges from S$490+ to a few thousands. A ‘True HEPA’ filter (used in reputable hospital grade Purifiers like Honeywell) can last for 2 to 3 years with daily 8 hours continuous usage so be prepared to fork out more.
So how do all these information help you when you go Air-Purifier shopping? Consider:
1) Be specific about what you are looking for – Are you looking for an Air Purifier, Air Cleaner, Air Cooler or Ionizer?
2) If it is an Air Purifier you’re looking for, consider the type of filter you prefer. ‘True HEPA’ filters are most effective in trapping fine air-borne PM2.5 particles but they cost more. Others with only ‘HEPA-like’ filters are most economical and still be reasonably effective. If the Air Purifier is meant for young children, elderly or family members with breathing/respiratory or allergy issues, then purchasing one with a ‘True HEPA’ filter would be a worthwhile investment.
3) What functions do you really require in the Air Purifier? With improved technologies, many Air Purifiers now come packaged with multiple functions (e.g. dehumidifiers, UV light sanitising, 4 step light indicators, 5 step fan speed, smart night mode etc.) all which are fancy but may not be essential.
4) Consider the area coverage you would be using the Air Purifier for. Understandably , you’ll need a larger and stronger capacity model to ‘purify’ the air for a larger sized room (or floor area).
5) An Air Purifier (regardless ‘True HEPA’ or otherwise) is unable to remove smoky or unpleasant odor, gases and insecticide fumes hence you might want to look for a model that comes equipped with an activated carbon pre-filter (which might cost more) or combine its use with an Air Diffuser, like what we do.
A Straits Times Article published recently also sheds some light on the classification of Air Purifiers. I hope all these information will help clear the air for us as we continue to pray for the return of clean air and clearer skies soon.