How Do UV Light Air Scrubbers Work?

If we were to ask you whether you think the air quality inside your home is better or worse than the air outside, the overwhelming majority of homeowners would answer “better,” often without even thinking about it. However, more often than not this answer would actually be incorrect. Believe it or not, poor indoor air quality is a big problem for most people—surveys have shown that the average home has air that’s around three to five times worse in quality than the air outside, and the worst homes can be ten times worse or more!

One of the leading causes of poor indoor air quality is microscopic living organisms that float around in the air around you: bacteria, viruses, mold spores, pollen, and more. Pollen can cause allergic reactions or trigger asthma symptoms. Mold can cause serious illnesses (especially toxic black mold), and bacteria and viruses can cause a number of sicknesses, including the current COVID-19 pandemic that has people everywhere taking shelter in their homes. Fortunately, there is a way you can fight back against these problems with the power of your own HVAC system: a UV air scrubber.

How UV Air Scrubbers Work

UV air scrubbers are actually extremely simple devices: they’re basically just a specialized lamp that’s installed in the return duct of your HVAC system. This lamp irradiates all of the air that your HVAC system’s blower fan pulls through the return vent, blasting it with a particularly harsh type of light known as “ultraviolet,” or “UV” light.

UV light is special because microscopic organisms can’t survive in it. Even a small amount of exposure can either kill the organism completely, or scramble its DNA, rendering it incapable of reproducing and making it completely inert and harmless until it does eventually die. The more radiation your air can be exposed to, the better the sterilization.

Why is this such a good idea? The simplest answer is because the average air filter doesn’t have the ability to trap or contain these microscopic organisms. The average air filter can trap dirt and dust as small as around 10 microns in size, or roughly 1/5th the width of a human hair. Most bacteria and viruses are around two microns, or about five percent of the width of a human hair, and some are even smaller. Your air filter doesn’t trap these air contaminants, so you need another way of removing them to prevent them from having a negative impact on your home.

How Effective Are UV Air Scrubbers?

On the surface, a UV air scrubber seems like an ideal solution to some of your indoor air quality problems, and for most people this is absolutely true. However, there are some things to consider before making an investment in your UV air scrubber system. First, they are far from perfect. In fact, their effectiveness can vary wildly based on the type of lamp you use, how long the air in your return vent is exposed to the light, and the type of microbes in your air. Some microbes are obliterated with only a second or two of UV exposure, while others may require as much as eight to ten seconds of exposure to be truly wiped out. In most cases, this is more than your air receives. As a result, most standard lamps can only eliminate around 60 to 70 percent of bacteria and viruses at the absolute most. High-output UV lamps that give off even more concentrated radiation do a better job, but they too are still far from perfect.

Should I Invest in a UV Air Scrubber?

Do you have legitimate concerns about airborne viruses and bacteria? Do you have someone in your home with a compromised immune system or health problems? Does someone over 65 live or an extremely young child live in your home? These are all vulnerable populations that are prone to complications from airborne illnesses. These people would absolutely benefit from a UV air scrubber installed in their HVAC system. This improves peace of mind, quality of life, and overall health—three things that may be difficult to come by if you suffer from complications due to these illnesses.

However, a UV air scrubber should really only be part of your indoor air quality improvement efforts. Combining an air-purifying lamp with another form of air quality improvement, such as an electrostatic filtration system, will do far more to help with overall indoor air quality than just a UV lamp alone.

Learn more about improving your indoor air quality by calling the pros at John Owens Services at (415) 942-6565 today! Schedule a consultation and learn more about how we can help you breathe easier.