Ion generators act by charging the particles in a room so that they are attracted to walls, floors, tabletops, draperies, occupants, etc. Abrasion can result in these particles being resuspended into the air. In some cases these devices contain a collector to attract the charged particles back to the unit. While ion generators may remove small particles (e.g., those in tobacco smoke) from the indoor air, they do not remove gases or odors, and may be relatively ineffective in removing large particles such as pollen and house dust allergens. Although some have suggested that these devices provide a benefit by rectifying a hypothesized ion imbalance, no controlled studies have confirmed this effect.
Ozone, a lung irritant, is produced indirectly by ion generators and some other electronic air cleaners and directly by ozone generators. While indirect ozone production is of concern, there is even greater concern with the direct, and purposeful introduction of a lung irritant into indoor air. There is no difference, despite some marketers' claims, between ozone in smog outdoors and ozone produced by these devices. Under certain use conditions ion generators and other ozone generating air cleaners (see www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/ozone-generators-are-sold-air-cleaners) can produce levels of this lung irritant significantly above levels thought harmful to human health. A small percentage of air cleaners that claim a health benefit may be regulated by FDA as a medical device. The Food and Drug Administration has set a limit of 0.05 parts per million of ozone for medical devices. Although ozone can be used in reducing odors and pollutants in unoccupied spaces (such as removing smoke odors from homes involved in fires) the levels needed to achieve this are above those generally thought to be safe for humans.
- The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality EPA 402-K-93-007, April 1995
- Indoor Air Pollution: An Introduction for Health Professionals EPA 402-R-94-007, 1994
- Residential Air Cleaning Devices: A Summary of Available Information EPA 400/1-90-002, February 1990
- Guide to Air Cleaners in the Home EPA 402-F-07-018, October 2007
- Ozone Generators That are Sold as Air Cleaners (only available via the web site)