Ionic Breeze

 
What is the Ionic Breeze?

The Ionic Breeze is an air purifier marketed by Sharper Image, a company well known for its popular series of infomercials featuring the product. Over the past several years, it has become regarded as one of the most recognized brand names of air purifiers on the market. The marketing of the Ionic Breeze focuses a slick demo showing its effectiveness at removing what appears to be smoke from the air in a small chamber on the set, its lack of filters (no filters to replace), the fact that it is completely silent during operation, and its relatively low power consumtion. While these are certainly desirable attributes in an air cleaner, the fact is that there may very well be far better and more cost effective technologies available.
How the Ionic Breeze Works

The Ionic Breeze brand of air purifier is an electrostatic precipitator which charges airborne contaminants as they enter the purifier, causing them to stick to oppositely charged collected plates thereby removing airborne dust and allergens from your air. In many ways, it is similar in concept to the various whole house electronic air cleaners that use electrostatic charges to attract airborne contaminants to a metal collection plate or grid in your furnace or central heating ducts. Newer versions of the Ionic Breeze also create and distribute negatively charged particles called ions throughout the fresh air stream. These negatively charged particles are intended to latch on to any dust or allergens in your air and draw the contaminants to the more powerfully positively charged collection plates in the machine.
Ionic Breeze problems

However, many indoor air quality specialists believe that, as with most ion generators, the negatively charged dust and allergens will simply be attracted to whatever positively charged item that is nearby (your homes floors, walls, ceilings, furniture, or even your lungs). This may become a particular problem if the collection plates become fouled or completely covered with contaminants as more and more charged particles will begin to escape the purifier unit and pass through into the air in your home. This technology will definitely make your air smell cleaner as all the dust and other contaminants in your air will quickly attach to the nearest surface, but the particles may easily be stired up again by somebody walking by, sitting down on the furniture, etc. As the collection grids become fouled, most electrostatic precipitators quickly begin to lose their efficiency, whereas other types of air purifiers including HEPA air cleaners actually increase in efficiency!

There have been reports that many homeowners have reported significant headaches and migranes associated with the use of the Ionic Breeze air purifiers (ex. http://www-tech.mit.edu/V123/N58/gadget_58.58f.html). Many electrostatic precipitator air cleaners emit small amounts of ozone into the air it has also been blamed for causing respiratory problems and could certainly also cause headaches. It is not known what, if anything, emited by the Ionic Breeze is responsible for the reported headaches, but due to the frequency of the reporting of these symptoms, it would seem to worth additional investigation. Ozone, while very benefitial high in the atmosphere, is harmful to humans in even relatively low quantities. Some people with asthma and and other lung conditions have found that exposure to ozone increases their symptoms significantly, and the EPA and other public health bodies recommend that ozone generators not be used as a home air purifier.
Ionic Breeze and smoke

If you are considering purchasing the Ionic Breeze air purifier to clear smoke from your air we'd recommend that you reconsider. Apparently, Sharper Image even publishes a warning in the Ionic Breeze operating manual about using the purifier with a lit candle in the room. Whether the smoke comes from a candle or a cigarette or cigar, the effect is reportedly very similar. The collection plates on the Ionic Breeze quickly become covered in tar residue and it is almost impossible to clean off. The effectivness of the plates is also greatly decreased by this build-up of contaminants.
Ionic Breeze Maintenance

Sharper image states that the maintenance of the Ionic Breeze is a breeze. According to their website and infomercial, you simply wipe the contaminant grid to clean the unit. Many customers have found that it takes more than a simple wipe to clean it, and that a real cleaning often involves intensive scrubbing to remove the contaminants. The fact that Sharper Image prominantly advertises replacement collection screens on its website would seem to suggest that this is the case. Cleaning of the collection plates must be done as frequently as each week or the unit will stop working effectively. I ask this question to the marketing people at Sharper Image?: You say that the the Ionic Breeze has less maintenance and no filters to hassle with as compared to a home HEPA air cleaner, but many HEPA filters last for several years with no maintenance, yet the Ionic Breeze requires cleaning on virually a weekly basis... how is this less maintenance?

While you are cleaning the collection plates, you are also exposing yourself directly to the very contaminants that you were trying to remove (on a weekly basis)! With a HEPA filter, you can carefully discard it in your trash (some filters last 5 years!) and replace it with a fresh new cartridge, thereby limiting your exposure to the allergens, etc.
Ionic Breeze Alternative

The Ionic Breeze starts at about US$349 (depends on the model). Rather than spending your hard earned dollar on an Ionic Breeze, you'd be much better off to spend it on an high quality HEPA air cleaner with proven results, such as the Austin Healthmate HEPA Air Purifier. These high end air purifiers combine an activated carbon filter with a medical grade HEPA filter to super clean your air. With a filter lifespan of 5 years, these air purifiers offer far less maintenance than the Ionic Breeze, provide better removal of dust and allergens, have far better odor reduction, do not produce any ozone, and cost only marginally more than the cheapest Ionic Breeze model.

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