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What Makes a Professional-grade Air Cleaner?
by Bridget Kelly

Poor air quality can create a host of health problems. Exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) has been linked to respiratory tract irritation; eyes, skin, and lung sensitivity, and may cause suppression of the central nervous system. Elevated levels of respirable particulates have been associated in several studies with a higher rate of heart attacks and strokes. Dust mites, whose feces and sheddings (body parts) are small enough to be inhaled, are potent allergens and contact with them can bring on asthma attacks. Studies have linked infant exposure to dust mite allergens with the onset of asthma in previously healthy babies. Cockroach allergens have a similar effect. And cat and dog allergens are made up of very small particles that tend to remain suspended in the air, perpetuating a sensitized reaction within the lungs, making the sufferer less and less able to tolerate a beloved pet.

It's not just asthmatics and allergy sufferers who need their air cleaned. Studies show problems associated with shortcomings in indoor air quality may be one of today's most common environmental health issues facing doctors and their patients. Because of these factors, air cleaners are no longer the specialty item they were considered 20 years ago. Everyone needs an air cleaner.

While Austin Air may not be the only company to provide air cleaners, those that they provide are of professional grade. The Austin Air is the machine chosen by the American Red Cross for their air quality program in New York City after 9/11. And HealthMate+ Juniors have been deployed in large numbers to help ease the problem of formaldehyde in mobile homes and trailers often used for temporary housing.

WHAT DOES THIS MACHINE DO?

The mechanisms by which the Austin Air machines remove substances from the air are centered around an effective and reliable material to remove particulates: the High Efficiency Particulate Arrestation (HEPA) filter. Properly installed, a true medical-grade HEPA filter is 99.97% effective at removing particles down to 0.3 microns from the air forced through the filter. That is small enough to include cat, dust mite, and cockroach allergens; mold; and most of the particles discussed above that cause respiratory discomfort. More square footage of HEPA allows more air to pass through simultaneously, meaning the machine can process a greater amount of air per hour. Austin's standard-sized machines (the HealthMate, HealthMate+, Allergy Machine, and The Pet Machine) have 60 square feet of pleated HEPA medium in each filter, while the smaller machines (the HealthMate Jr., HealthMate+Jr., Allergy Machine Jr., and Baby's Breath) use 30 square feet. The larger machines can clean all the air in a large living room or master bedroom suite three or four times in an hour; and the juniors can process the air in an average-sized child's bedroom approximately four times an hour.

The other component of the filter is activated carbon. Activated carbon is charcoal that has had its pores opened and its interior exposed, usually by the means of high temperatures and steam. The exposed pores of carbon adsorb molecules, like those that make up odors, chemicals, and gases, as they pass through, adhering to the inner surfaces of the pores. This enables a carbon filter to remove many different types of chemicals from the air passing through it.

THE MORE CARBON IN A FILTER THE BETTER.

A large amount of carbon in effect forms a maze that air has to wander through, meaning there are more opportunities for the molecules of pollutants to become trapped. Another is that more activated carbon means more surface area, so there is more space for molecules to adhere.

Most Austin Air filters use granular carbon, mixed with zeolite, a natural mineral which serves the dual function as a molecular sieve and as a desiccant, attracting water molecules so they do not clog the carbon. In the HealthMate, this mixture is used for the removal of common household contaminants. The carbon in the HealthMate+ is impregnated with a special compound to attract and trap VOCs, such as formaldehyde. The Pet Machine's carbon is similarly treated with a compound to help it trap pet odors and ammonia. These granular-carbon machines are loaded with 15 pounds of these mixtures in the standard size and 7 pounds in the junior size. The carbon in the Allergy Machine, Allergy Machine Jr., and Baby's Breath have their carbon in filament form, which is carbon woven into a highly efficient, light-weight cloth medium. This affords roughly the same surface area as their HealthMate counterparts' carbon filters, but at a fraction of the weight.
You do not need a degree in chemical engineering or to have studied filtration technology in any detail to benefit from an Austin Air. But Austin is the brand that educated consumers prefer. The more you know, the easier you can breathe.