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Types of Car Air Purifiers

Allergens, odors, pollution, and Covid-19 are just a few reasons you may want a car air purifier. But whether it will work depends on the type of purifier and what you want it to remove. Here's everything you need to know.

Why the air in your car matters ?

Let’s face it: We spend a lot of time in our cars. Whether it’s shuttling our kids to school and after-school activities or commuting to work, our vehicles often become a second home.

According to the 2021 Daily Ride Index by communications firm Ketchum, Americans spend almost 11 hours in their car per week. That means the quality of the air in our cars matters.

And while some people have spent less time spent in their cars with the Covid-19 pandemic, the virus brings up a new concern: How do you stop Covid-19 from spreading if you’re riding in a car with other passengers?

Compared to other indoor spaces, like homes, car interiors have unique air-quality concerns, according to a study published in AIMS Environmental Science. Their small size plays a role, but it’s not the only contributing factor. The manufacturing process of the car itself, passenger behaviour, and the outdoor air that comes inside all affect air quality.

New-car smell

Some people love it and some people hate it, but there’s no question new cars carry a certain scent. Unfortunately, the new car smell might not be that good for you. A recent study in Environmental International found that most commuters in California are exposed to levels of benzene and formaldehyde, used in car manufacturing, at levels that exceed cancer-causing thresholds.

Outdoor air pollution and cars

Driving in urban areas with your windows down or your ventilation system set to bring air in from outside can lead to high particulate pollution levels in your car, according to a 2016 study in Environmental Science & Impacts. These airborne particles have been linked to poor health, such as respiratory illnesses and cardiovascular disease. Your car does have an air filter for the cabin, but you have to change it regularly to make sure it’s doing a good job—and the filtration won’t be as thorough as that of some types of air purifiers.

Odors and cars

Cars are notorious for locking in bad smells. think of a smelly dog, sweaty sports equipment, discarded food, and tobacco smoke—all these can make the air in your car less than fresh. If any of those scents ride along with allergens (like the dander on that smelly dog or the tobacco smoke particles), they can circulate in your car’s air and irritate allergies and asthma.

Types of car air purifiers

If you’re shopping for an air purifier for your car, it’s important to pay close attention to what technology it uses to make sure it will do the job—and won’t harm your health.

Ionizer car air purifiers

Many car air purifiers use ionization. These purifiers often work by plugging into the cigarette adapter. Other times they are compact devices that can sit in a cup holder or similar spot in the car and are powered by USB.

Rather than using a filter, ionic air purifiers rely on a chemical process in which they emit negative ions to create charged particles. These charged particles attract oppositely charged particles and accumulate, becoming heavy and falling from the air, explains Emily Jones, a researcher in the Healthy Buildings program at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

While ionizers do tend to do what they advertise—they take allergen particles out of the air. For starters, they don’t remove the particle from the environment entirely. When the particles fall from the air, they land on surfaces (your dashboard or floor, for instance). But unknowingly rub against them and they could be resuspended.

HEPA filter car air purifiers

Other car air purifiers use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to remove particles from the air. HEPA filters are considered the gold standard in air filtration and are effective at removing 99.97 percent of dust, pollen, bacteria, mold, and airborne particles as small as 0.3 microns.

Air cleaners with HEPA filters don’t produce ozone, although some include ultraviolent-C (UVC) light technology or ionization, and these features could produce ozone.

HEPA-type air purifiers come in models that can sit in cup holders or attach to a part of the car, like a headrest, and may be powered by USB.

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