Eye on Ions

Portable ion units are similar to whole-house electronic filters in that they both put an electrical charge on particles. In a whole-house system, the particles of dust and pollen are charged as they pass through the unit, then captured on an oppositely charged collector plate. Portable ion filters, which operate without fans, send streams of negative ions directly into the air. Charged airborne particles are then attracted to a collection rod in the unit (which needs occasional cleaning), or with some models allowed to land on surfaces in the house (where dusting removes them from the room).

As a by-product of the ionization process, these types of units may produce trace amounts of ozone, a lung irritant. (Ion air filters should not be confused with ozone generators, a different type of air filter that relies on ozone to clean the air and is not recommended by the EPA or the American Lung Association.) Ion filters are considered safe if they release less than 50 parts per billion of ozone, the government's threshold. But even smaller amounts could bother people with asthma or other breathing disorders. If you're considering a whole-house or portable electronic filter, check the product specifications to make sure it does not exceed safe levels for ozone emission.

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