The indoor air quality market continues to flourish thanks to increased indoor air and health concerns during the pandemic. You’d almost think IAQ products were invented at the start of COVID-19. But in reality, IAQ solutions have been around for years and the IAQ boom has been a long time in the making.
Back in 2015, the residential air purifier market in the United States was already valued at roughly $2 billion. Air cleaning devices and air purifying solutions are obviously still in demand. The rapid rise in market demand leaves many homeowners and consumers wondering if and how air purifiers are regulated. Who regulates the products, or are air purifier certifications available to better compare and trust products? Here’s what you need to know about air purifier certifications, regulations and how they can help you choose the best home upgrade!
Are Air Purifiers Regulated?
Air purification regulation is surprisingly complex, and yet, astonishingly inadequate at the same time. The pandemic and its resulting avid public interest in indoor air quality solutions illuminated many industry weak spots. One of which is the lack of widespread standards and applicable rating comparisons across the many types of air purifying devices. Part of this is due to the split in official regulating bodies for purifiers.
If an air purifier claims medical benefits, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the regulating body. For example, air purifiers that include reduced allergy symptoms as a benefit or markets the device’s ability to help asthma sufferers. If a manufacturer makes this type of claim, then the FDA is the organization to verify that claim. However, the FDA solely regulates medical-use devices.
While all air purifier devices and technologies have an impact on occupants’ health indoors, specific device uses and claims change the regulating organization. Thus, all other air purifiers fall under the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority. Perhaps even more surprising, the EPA’s authority for air purifiers is based on the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).
This is because the EPA utilizes a broad definition of pesticides. Part of their pesticide law definition cites: “Any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest.” Devices subject to regulation include “ultraviolet light systems, ozone generators, water filters and air filters intended to kill, inactivate, entrap or suppress the growth of fungi, bacteria, or viruses.” So, as strange as it may seem, air purifiers fall into this category.
With that said, these regulations simply entail certain production rules and labeling requirements. Similar to the recent push from scientists and citizens for updated air quality laws, there is also a desire for improved, extensive and better enforced IAQ product standards.
What Certifications Should an Air Purifier Have?
In addition to the basic EPA and FDA approvals, are there other air purifier certifications to consider before purchasing? Yes! In fact, there are several air purifier certifications to consider. Some are literal labels included on the device itself. Others are credentials provided in the product documentation that convey a specific level of testing. Regardless, here is a breakdown of several air purifier certifications available!
Air Purifier Certifications
At a minimum, air purifiers need an EPA establishment number. This proves the device is in accordance with FIFRA. An establishment number provides basic manufacturing information, like where the devices were made. The number is included on every single product the manufacturer sells.
If looking into a medical-grade purifier, then there is the possibility of FDA approval. But again, not every device qualifies for even the potential of FDA certification.
The state of California’s regulatory air quality agency is one of the strictest in the country, which is why many turn to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to compare devices. California is the only state that bans purifiers that emit more than a certain level of ozone. For those looking to get specific: the ozone emission concentration limit is 0.050 parts per million. Thus, to be CARB-approved, the device produces ozone quantities less than that number.
In 2008, legislation passed that required all portable air purifying devices sold in California to obtain CARB certification by 2010. It only recently expanded to include in-duct solutions in October 2020. While CARB is a helpful, health-conscious and ozone-specific certification, it does not measure or compare purifier efficiency or particle removal ability.
UL, or Underwriters Laboratories, is a widely recognized organization that tests and evaluates products. Based on national safety standards, UL provides third-party certification for manufacturers across a wide range of products, including certain IAQ solutions. The EPA recommends that electronic devices meet UL 2998 standard certification, a zero-ozone emissions verification.
This certification is specific to portable devices only. The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) developed a standardized measuring system to compare single-room air purifiers. Known as CADR, the clean air delivery rate compares a purifier’s ability to filter out three particle sizes. This is a voluntary certification process, but any high-quality air purifier will seek AHAM certification. AHAM also randomly re-tests air cleaners to ensure accurate CADR.
The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers are responsible for MERV, a prominent rating system for air filters. However, they also developed an accepted standardized testing method that evaluates in-duct UV-C solutions. UV-C disinfection or sterilization technology is in the air cleaning family and an alternative purification solution. The standard assesses a UV-C light device’s ability to inactivate microorganisms on surfaces. ASHRAE also has a proposed standard for testing and comparing their ability to inactivate airborne microorganisms.
7. ENERGY STAR
Another voluntary certification to consider is ENERGY STAR. While not in relation to air cleaning effectiveness or device ability, ENERGY STAR certification means the air purifier meets strict EPA energy efficiency guidelines. An important credential when looking for eco-conscious devices.
8. Third-Party Verification
Independent and impartial third-party laboratory testing and data information is a helpful alternative certification. Purifiers with this type of testing will have specific laboratory certifications or testing documentation.
It’s particularly useful if the device you’re considering doesn’t fall into multiple aforementioned categories. For example, in-duct purifiers that don’t have UV-C disinfection technology and can’t be AHAM certified, but do have an EPA number and are CARB compliant. For this type of device, independent testing and third-party data certification help ensure the trustworthiness of the product.
Third-party verification is also particularly useful because many of the aforementioned certifications have limitations. For instance: AHAM applies only to standalone devices, FDA approval has limitations and ASHRAE’s standards focus on filters and UV-C light sterilization products. Independent testing, data and certification fill in many of those gaps. It allows for the possibility to compare purifiers in different categories.
What Is The Best Way To Purify Indoor Air?
Much like how there is no one-size-fits-all indoor air quality solution, there is also no universal purification solution. The best air cleaning device for your indoor space depends on your space and specific needs!
A few quick takeaways to consider: avoid purposeful ozone-generating devices, make sure to consider the size of the space you’re purifying and as your intended coverage space gets bigger, opt for a whole-home device over portable units. And, of course, look for the certifications listed above!