Do portable ozone generators work?

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Ozone Generators Machine

ozone generator for car

Ozone generators, also referred to as ozone machines, are ozone-generating devices that intentionally produce ozone gas. When sold as air purifiers to be used in indoor occupied spaces, they are marketed to be safe and effective (though these claims are generally false). This article discusses devices that produce ozone on purpose and not as a byproduct. Ionizers and electrostatic precipitators end up producing ozone as a byproduct as a result of their internal mechanisms.

You may have heard about ionizers. They used to be quite popular and were often used in homes to clean the air and eliminate odors. However, in the spring of 2005, Consumer Reports Magazine exposed the units as potentially doing more harm than good–it was found that several of these devices could produce harmful levels of ozone. Though ozone is a byproduct of these ionizers, and tends to be produced at a lower level than ozone generators, the federal government began a stricter regulation process for any air purifier that produces ozone, whether intentionally or as a byproduct.

No federal agency has approved the use of ozone generators in occupied spaces, and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has very strict regularion for air purifiers sold to make sure that harmful ozone levels are not being produced.

Why are ozone generators used to purify the air?

If ozone is so dangerous, then why would anyone use it to purify the air inside a home? As discussed above, ozone is highly reactive and can change the chemical composition of some substances in the air. This principle forms the basis of manufacturers’ claims.

Companies who sell ozone generators may suggest that ozone is a healthy kind of oxygen, using terms like “activated oxygen” or “pure air,” though ozone is actually a toxic gas that is not the “same as air” like manufacturers may claim. Ozone-generating devices are often marketed as odor removers. Ultimately, they are used to remove organic compounds from the air. However, given its danger to health, it would be wise to use an ozone generator only if there are clear benefits.

How effective are ozone generators?

Manufacturers’ claims

Manufacturers say that the highly reactive nature of ozone allows it to easily attach to pollution, especially odorous compounds like smoke and organic matter such as viruses, bacteria and mold spores. However, these claims are not backed up by sound science.

Performance against mold and bacteria

Research has found that ozone generators were not effective at stopping mold or bacteria growth in a standard hospital room, and would require unsafe levels of ozone to do the job at all (Dyas, Boughton, & Das, 1983). For mold growth, public health departments do not recommend using ozone generators for clean-up, saying that ozone even at high levels cannot control mold.

Performance against VOCs

You may be asking yourself, if ozone gas is effective at anything, it should work on other gaseous pollutants (specifically volatile organic compounds, or VOCs) right? Well, it might not, unless you wait for thousands of years in some cases. A research study (Boeniger, 1995) analyzed how long it would take to remove 14 of the most common organic compounds found in the air. It was found that at ozone concentrations of 100 ppb, it would take 880+ years for six of these pollutants to be broken down into half of their initial concentrations (half-lives). In fact, it would take more than 4,400 years for formaldehyde! Only one pollutant, styrene, was found to have a half-life of about 4 hours.

Performance against particulates

You must remember that ozone generators do not remove particulate matter like dust or pollen (which are often allergens) from the air.

The EPA’s conclusion about effectiveness

The EPA concludes from a review of scientific research that at concentrations that meet public health standards, ozone is not very effective at removing indoor air contaminants.

What are the safety precautions using an ozone generator?

Ultimately, you need to know that no agency of the federal government has approved using ozone generators in occupied spaces. If you must use one or have no choice in a certain situation, you should take every measure possible to make sure they are never used when people or animals are present in the room. Plants also should be kept outside of the area.

Many times, if ozone generators are used, they are used for commercial cleaning in hotels, cars, etc. Many hotels use them inside a room just before new guests arrive, which can be harmful because of any residual ozone that lingers in the air. Manufacturers of ozone generators recommend they only be used by trained professionals for odor removal, and that all other steps, like cleaning the area and removing any sources of the odor, should be done first.

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