Many of us opt for various air quality solutions in order to keep the air we breathe safe, but are air purifiers safe for pets, and how can we ensure that they aren't harming our furry friends when we install them in our homes?
The best air purifiers work to remove toxic chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other environmental nasties, such as carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, from the air. Unfortunately, the air quality issues that affect people can affect pets too, with harmful airborne particles linked to poor health for animals. We delve into whether the benefits for pets outweigh any risks, and what you can do to keep everyone (pets and humans alike) safe.
Are air purifiers safe for pets?
When assessing the central question of whether air purifiers are safe for pets, there are two aspects to keep in mind. The first is the physical safety of using a mechanical device around pets; the second is whether the purifier improves or damages the health of our animals.
Air purifiers come in various shapes and sizes, from small desk-top units to large, free-standing models. In terms of physical hazards, there is an existing risk of your pet becoming trapped in the electrical cord of your air purifier. This is a risk shared with any other electrical devices within your home.
Most air purifiers on the market are sealed units that draw air in from the outside and purify it. Purifying happens by passing air through a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, activated carbon, or an electrostatic filter. Once cleansed, the purified air gets expelled back into the atmosphere. Air purifiers are designed to be used in the home around children and their internal mechanisms should be safe from prying paws and wagging tails. Even small pets like rodents shouldn't be able to access the insides of air purifiers.
Many of us choose to buy air purifiers because we're worried about pollutants in the air affecting our health. These same environmental nasties can affect our pets too.
A 2008 study published in Brain and Cognition showed that dogs' brains were adversely affected by the heavy pollution levels in Mexico City. In the study, 57% of dogs exposed to higher pollution levels developed frontal brain lesions and showed signs of neuroinflammation. Another study from the journal of Toxicologic Pathology found DNA damage in the nasal and brain tissues of dogs exposed to air pollutants, in addition to respiratory tract inflammation and neurodegenerative damage.
In a more recent study from the journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine involving canines and felines, researchers found that cats with respiratory diseases were more likely to live in households with higher indoor air pollution, meaning levels of particles of 2.5 μm or less. Interestingly, they also found that dogs with respiratory diseases were more commonly exposed to incense burning than the control group of dogs in the study.
Air purifiers can clean the air and indoor environment, making the air safer to breathe for you and your pet. As well as reducing short-term irritation, air purifiers can reduce the impact of long-term exposure to pollutants that can lead to the development of serious health conditions.
- Related: How do air purifiers work?
Features to look for in pet-safe air purifiers
As we've mentioned above, all air purifiers currently available for sale will have passed stringent safety tests and are safe to operate in a home alongside pets.
Floor-standing air purifiers may be at risk of falling and causing injury to you, your children, your pet, and your home. Our advice is to consider your pet when purchasing an air purifier and find a safe location for it for the safety of everyone in your family. Situate the air purifier somewhere it can't be accessed or accidentally knocked over by your pet.
Some pets may find the noise of an air purifier distracting or distressing. Air purifiers can vary in the noise they emit, from a low-level 40dB (comparable to a home computer) to a loud and uncomfortable 70dB (the sound of a vacuum cleaner operated at full strength).
Each manufacturer should provide information on how loud their air purifier is while operating. Be aware that the dB isn't linear but logarithmic – which means 70dB is more than four times as loud as 40dB, for example.
Do air purifiers help deal with pet hair?
Air purifiers help to improve air quality, but they cannot suck up all the pet fur around your house. If you have an allergy to pet hair, dander, or fur, we recommend selecting a machine with a high-quality HEPA filter. HEPA filters are proven to remove 99.7% of airborne particles, including microscopic allergens and dander. In addition, many manufacturers offer special pet purifying filters that can reduce and even remove the odor associated with pet fur.
Some air purifiers come with a pre-filter that weeds out pet hair in the environment. While useful at collecting pet dander, anyone with a cat or dog will know that fur sticks to surfaces, particularly fabric, and even the most exemplary filter won't be able to remove it all.
When investing in an air purifier to improve the indoor air quality for your family, it's essential to understand what it can and cannot do. Air purifiers can and do filter allergens, contaminants, and pollutants from indoor air but cannot remove pet hair from surfaces in your home. For that job, you should invest in a portable vacuum cleaner powerful and flexible enough to handle your pets and perform a thorough cleaning of surfaces regularly.
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Lawrie is a journalist and editor who writes about healthcare, science, technology, engineering and design. He's worked for some of the UK and Europe's leading titles, making complex science as simple as possible. He also owns content agency 42group where he helps household brands, academic institutions and charities to grow through engaging, informative and inspirational words.