The effect of an ion generator on indoor air quality in a residential room


M. S. Waring
Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering, Curtis 251
Drexel University
3141 Chestnut St.
Philadelphia, PA 19104 2875, USA
Tel.: +215 895 1502
Fax: +215 895 1363


Abstract  Ion generators charge particles with a corona prior to their removal on collector plates or indoor surfaces and also emit ozone, which can react with terpenes to yield secondary organic aerosol, carbonyls, carboxylic acids, and free radicals. This study characterized the indoor air quality implications of operating an ion generator in a 27 m3 residential room, with four different test room configurations. Two room configurations had carpet overlaying the original flooring of stained/sealed concrete, and for one configuration with and without carpet, a plug-in air freshener was used as a terpene source. Measurements included airborne sampling of particulate matter (0.015–20 μm), terpenes and C1–C4 and C6–C10 aldehydes, ozone concentrations, and air exchange rates. When the heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning system was not operating (room air exchange rate = ∼0.5/h), the use of the ion generator in the presence of the air freshener led to a net increase in ultrafine particles (<0.1 μm). Also, increased concentrations of ozone were observed regardless of air freshener presence, as well as increases in formaldehyde and nonanal, albeit within measurement uncertainty in some cases. Thus, it may be prudent to limit ion generator use indoors until evidence of safety can be ascertained.

Practical Implications

Portable ion generators are intended to clean the air of particles, but they may emit ozone as a byproduct of their operation, which has the potential to degrade indoor air quality. This study showed that under certain conditions in a residential room, the use of a portable ion generator can increase concentrations of ozone and, to a lesser degree, potentially aldehydes. Also, if operated in the presence of a plug-in air freshener that emits terpenes, its use can increase concentrations of secondary organic aerosol in the ultrafine size range.