UV or Not UV: What Is the Difference in Air Purifiers?

One of the most common questions people have when they decide to buy an air purifier is whether or not they should get a model that features a UV germicidal lamp. While these air purifiers are often seen as a better approach to killing mold spores, bacteria and even viruses, there are also certain drawbacks. Today, we’ll look at the case for both UV and non-UV air purifiers so that you can choose the best unit for your needs.


The Case for UV Air Purifiers


The case in favor of UV air purifiers is fairly straightforward. High-intensity UV light kills viruses, bacteria and mold spores by disrupting chemical bonds in their DNA. Once neutralized by UV radiation, these pathogens lose the ability to cause disease in humans and effectively become inert solids.


When applied in an air purifier, this principle requires a special bulb that emits UV radiation. Typically, these bulbs emit a special type of ultraviolet light known as UVC, which represents the most germicidal range of wavelengths in the UV spectrum. To prevent harm to humans, the UV light emitted by these bulbs is carefully contained within the body of the air purifier. Air being pulled through the purifier is passed under the bulb, thus exposing any microorganisms in it to the UVC light. Through this simple mechanism, a UV air purifier can kill up to 99 percent of pathogens present in the air.


The Case Against UV Germicidal Lamps


After seeing the benefits of UV germicidal lamps, it would seem that there’s an open and shut case in favor of UV. However, there are also some drawbacks to using UV bulbs in air purifiers. According to a report prepared by an environmental engineer working on behalf of Austin Air which we’ve reviewed, the addition of a UV bulb increases costs for both initial purchase and maintenance, and significant steps must be taken to ensure that airborne microorganisms are exposed to the light long enough to neutralize them. Because UV bulbs wear out fairly quickly, they also require continuous monitoring to ensure that they are effectively irradiating the air that passes through the air purifier.


UV air purifiers must also be carefully engineered to prevent insulated wiring or other plastic parts from being exposed to UV light. Because of the high-energy nature of UV radiation, it can cause plastics to deteriorate. This, in turn, can release chemical radicals into the air. Ironically, a poorly designed air purifier with a UV bulb could potentially result in more airborne contamination, rather than less.


Finally, there’s a case to be made that HEPA filtration is enough to capture most microorganisms on its own. With a required efficiency of 99.97 percent of particles down to the 0.3 micron diameter, HEPA filters are actually capable of capturing most mold spores and bacteria quite effectively. Even small solid particles, such as viruses, can be captured by HEPA filters a majority of the time thanks to a phenomenon known as diffusion, which causes the tiniest particles to become trapped in a filter’s fibers. As a result, UV lamps represent only an extra layer of protection beyond what HEPA filters are already capable of.


So, Is a UV Air Purifier Worth It?


This isn’t a strictly yes or no question. For most customers, buying a UV air purifier is likely overkill, though it won’t do any harm if you don’t mind the added expense involved. If you’re buying an air purifier for medical purposes or you have a compromised immune system, though, the added protection of a UV germicidal lamp could still be worth having.


If you do decide to go with a UV unit, be sure to buy from a trusted brand that is engineered to apply UV light safely and avoid chemical contaminants. Here at US Air Purifiers, you’ll find a wide range of high-quality UV air purifiers that will meet your needs safely and reliably. If you’re looking for more general protection, you can also browse our selection of HEPA air purifiers.


Still have questions about which type of air purifier is right for you? Don’t worry, we’re here to help! Feel free to contact us with your questions, and we’ll be happy to provide you with answers and personalized product recommendations to help you find the perfect air purifier for your home or office.