The History of Air Filters

Air Quality Canada
December 2, 2020
7 minutes

The History of Air Filters

Air filters and purification systems have become more useful and effective thanks to significant technological improvements throughout their history. They serve as an important tool to remove pollutants from the air around you, helping you breathe better and live a healthy life.

What does an Air Filter Do?

An air filter works to clean the air you breathe by removing harmful pollutants and contaminants. Studies by the EPA have shown that indoor air can be up to 5 times worse than outdoor air, filled with allergy- and asthma-triggering contaminants. These pollutants can also cause unpleasant odors and spread diseases throughout your home.
In short, they help you breathe better and stay healthy. The filters collect the millions of microscopic particles that float around you that contain these unwanted pollutants. Without an air purifier, you would inhale these particles and allow those harmful contaminants to enter your body.
For individuals who are sensitive to this, it could pretty quickly lead to increased allergy symptoms, shortness of breath, and even wheezing. For those who are not quite as sensitive, long-term exposure could still result in congestion, poor sleep, headaches, and, in extreme cases, cancer or heart disease.
You might be thinking, "I clean my house consistently and try to keep it free from germs – doesn’t that do the same thing?" Unfortunately, routine and even deep cleaning cannot eliminate airborne pollutants. Dusting and sweeping can actually release contaminants that have settled back into the air, and since most homes are sealed tightly without enough ventilation, they will just continue to circulate in your home.

History of Air Filters

The history of air purification dates back to the early 1800s, when the Industrial Revolution led to a huge increase in pollution being released into the air. To counteract the effects of burning coal and smog, inventors searched for solutions to filter these pollutants out of the air.
In 1823, John and Charles Dean created air purification systems that would help firefighters breathe inside smoky buildings. John Stenhouse made improvements to the original filters in 1854 by introducing a charcoal-based filter that performed even better. The next major improvement came in 1871 when John Tyndall created a personal respirator.
The creation of HEPA filters; High-Efficiency Particulate Air filters, was a game changer when they were introduced in the 1940s. Initially created to help soldiers who were being exposed to radioactive matter while working on the Manhattan Project to build the first atomic bomb, these impressive filters are still the leading type of air purifiers today. They can remove microscopic particles from the air ranging from mold and pollen to pet dander.
The first air purification system designed for in-home use was not created until 1963 when Mansfred and Klaus Hammes invented one to help boost air quality in German residences. This innovation came in the same year that the US passed the Clean Air Act, spurring further technological developments related to air filters.
While HEPA filters were still the gold standard at this time, they were too large, heavy and costly for in-home use. Over time, however, technological improvements helped them become smaller and lighter for use in hospitals and labs. Eventually, this led to a reduction in the cost of producing the air purifiers and companies began mass-producing them for general consumption.
Today, air purifying systems are available everywhere from in stores to online retailers, and there are a variety of different options and models to fit your specific needs, whether it be for a commercial space or in your home.

Different Types of Filters and Purifiers

Thanks to technological advancements and innovations we now have many different types of filters and air purifiers to choose from. However, it is important to understand the different types and how they work so you can make the best decision for your air purifying needs.
The four most common types of air filters you will find are HEPA filters, carbon filters, ionic generators, and ultraviolet lighting.
HEPA filters are used in some of the best air purifiers, and they can remove allergens, pollutants, and even pet dander. They work by pulling air into a dense paper filter that traps and secures microscopic particles within it, preventing them from floating back into the air. These filters work wonders for individuals that have asthma or have high sensitivities to allergens as they can capture almost 99.9% of particles that cause these issues.
A carbon filter uses a bed of activated carbon to remove pollutants and impurities from the air through a process called adsorption. This process traps the microscopic particles inside the porous carbon structure and essentially “scrubs” the air clean. This method is extremely effective for removing odors as well, a benefit that sets carbon filters apart from traditional HEPA filters. These filters are commonly used for purifying water and are also found in respirator masks.
An ionic generator is a feature that air purifiers use that work by sending ions out into the air to attach onto harmful contaminants. Once the ions are attached, the particle becomes heavy and can no longer remain in the air. They then fall to the ground or are trapped in a collection plate within the filter. This type of filter is cost-effective and is one of the most affordable types of air purifiers.
Last but not least, we have filters that use ultraviolet lighting. This type of technology uses non-lethal radiation to attack viruses and bacteria that pass through the filtration system. It essentially breaks apart the molecular structure of the pollutants effectively rendering them harmless to your health. These can be sold as stand-alone devices, but more often than not are installed to work with existing HVAC systems to work together with the air conditioning system’s existing filtering process.

What Air Purifier Do You Need?

Now that you are equipped with the history of air filters and the different types of purification systems that exist, it is time to decide which one is best for your home or business. It goes without saying that having an air purification system is essential to the health of your space, and this is especially true if occupants suffer from allergies.
However, researching and choosing the right system can seem daunting, and it is important to choose the right system so that it works efficiently and effectively. Do you choose a HEPA filter? Is a carbon filter better for your situation? What about one of those in combination with an ionic generator or UV lighting?
To find the best air purifier, your first step should be to work with a professional to have your air quality tested. The results of the air quality test will give you a better idea of the level of purification needed and which unit to consider purchasing.

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