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Are Home Air Cleaners Worth the Money?

Consumer Reports Rates Popular Home Air Cleaners
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Sept. 6, 2005 - The product testing group Consumers Union says even the best home air cleaners may not be worth the money when it comes to improving your health.

In a report published in the October issue of its magazine, Consumer Reports, the group rated the effectiveness of the popular room air cleaners and whole-house air cleaning devices. Though a few performed well, many air cleaners tested, especially room models, scored fair or poor in at least one of the group's four cleaning tests for dust and smoke.

Some of the best selling tabletop models, including those marketed by Sharper Image and Oreck, were rated as "not recommended" by the testing group. Both models were "ionizing" air cleaners that use electrostatic precipitators to trap air pollutants.

Consumers Union Vice President and Technical Director Jeff Asher, PhD, says the cleaners that performed the worst either had no fan to move air through the device or had fans that were inadequate.

"If an electronic precipitator has a small fan or no fan at all, it is probably not a good bet for removing particulates from the air," he says.

The tabletop models that had strong fans were noisier than the other models, but they also tended to work better, Asher says.

Continuing Battle

In an October 2003 report, Consumers Union researchers concluded that many of these devices do a much poorer job of cleaning the air of dust and smoke than their advertising suggests. The report led to a lawsuit against the consumer group by Sharper Image Corp, which makes the top-selling Sharper Image Professional Series Ionic Breeze Quadra SI737 (and its similar S1637 model).

The suit was dismissed on First Amendment grounds in 2004, and in May of this year Consumers Union came out with a report questioning the safety of many table-top air cleaners, including the Ionic Breeze.

The testing group contended that the product, along with a few other tabletop air cleaners, emitted harmful levels of ozone, which can actually aggravate allergies and asthma.

Sharper Image is now offering a catalyst for the Ionic Breeze Quadra SI637 designed to reduce ozone. Consumers Union is in the process of testing the updated device.

"But even if it reduces ozone, you'd still have an air cleaner that does little to clean the air," the newest report states.

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