If you’ve ever wanted to know what an ionizer is, then this post is for you.

Below, we’ll go over every aspect of these devices, including what does an ionizer do, how does an ionizer work, how an ionizer is different than an ionic air purifier, what an ionizer function does on an air purifier, the benefits of ionized air, and more.

By the end, you’ll know everything there is about these air ionizers so you can make an educated decision on if you want to use one in your home or not.

What is an Air Ionizer?

An air ionizer is a device that electrically charges air molecules. The purpose of an air ionizer is to remove particles from the air. Air ionizers are sold as standalone units as well as an added function in air purifiers to clean the air.

Air ionizers go by different names, including “ionizer air purifiers”, “negative ion generators”, “ionic air purifiers”, “electrostatic air purifiers”, and “electrostatic precipitators.” So when we’re describing what is an ionizer, we’re talking about all of these various types of machines.

If you’re interested in buying a good ionizer, then take a look at our best ionizer air purifier list to see what options are available.

How Does an Air Ionizer Work?

An ionizer works by creating a static charge with airborne particles. Once the pollutants are charged, an electrostatic attraction occurs. Ionizers work to remove contaminants by causing them to be grounded to oppositely charged conductors, including the floor, walls, and ceiling.

In the traditional form for how does an air ionizer work, this unit emits negatively charged ions into the air that attach to positively charges particles like dust, allergens, and smoke. This process causes the particles to clump together to form larger and heavier particles that settle out of the air and onto nearby surfaces in order to clean the air.

Technically, the pollutants still exist inside the room; however, they’re not floating in the air for your to breathe. That’s the general idea behind what does an ionizer do. But, it’s not exactly how ionic air purifiers work, which we’ll explain next.

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How Do Ionic Air Purifiers Work?

An ionic air purifier works by charging airborne particles as they pass through the unit. Once the pollutants are charged, an electrostatic attraction occurs on a set of metal plates. Ionic air purifiers work to remove contaminants by collecting them inside the unit so they don’t remain in the room.

Ionizers that are labeled as ionic air purifiers or electrostatic precipitators work like this: a fan draws air into the unit and passes it by two electrically charged plates; the first electrode is charged to a high negative voltage and as particles move past it, they pick up a negative charge; the second electrode is charged to a high positive voltage, and because opposites attract in physics, the negatively charged particles stick to the positively charged plate. This process completely removes the pollutants from the room and the electrostatic collection plates can be washed and reused as they become dirty.

What is an Ionizer on an Air Purifier?

An ionizer on an air purifier electrically charges particles in the air. This process causes pollutants to become larger, and therefore, easier to trap inside the air purifier’s filters. Ionizers on air purifiers allow the unit to capture particles that otherwise would be too small to filter out.

This research study tested the long-term performance of ionizer-assisted air filtration on a class M6 filter and published the following data, “Results showed that ionization enhanced the filtration efficiency by 40% during most of the operation time.”

That’s the basic idea behind what is an ionizer on an air purifier; however, not all air purifiers include an ionizer function, so you’ll need to look specifically for it. Some of the best air purifiers on the market include this added feature to enhance their air cleaning power.

Do Air Ionizers Really Work?

Air ionizers do work to clean the air. They use the process of electrically charging the air molecules as a way to remove pollutants. An ionizer does work for general air cleaning purposes; however, these units are not considered to be as effective as air purifiers that use a HEPA filter.

Air ionizers can work to reduce airborne pollutants down to 0.1 microns in size. This includes particulates like dust, allergens, pollen, mold spores, bacteria, pet dander, and smoke. But keep in mind that standard air ionizers do not collect these contaminants inside the unit, but rather just cause the particles to stick to nearby surfaces.

That means you’ll need to wipe down objects in the room with a damp cloth and vacuum the floors and furniture in order to completely remove the pollutants.

If the air ionizer is an ionic air purifier or electrostatic precipitator, then you will not have to clean the room because the particles will be trapped on the internal metal plates. However, these electrically charged plates do get dirty and will need to be wiped down with a damp rag in order to remove the collected pollutants.

As time goes by, and the dirtier the plates become, the less efficient an ionic air purifier will be at cleaning the air. So you need to keep up with the routine cleaning process.

If you want the best of both worlds, then consider a HEPA air purifier that includes an ionizer function. You can learn more about what do HEPA filters do here as well as the difference between an ionizer vs air purifier.

Is Ionized Air Bad for You?

Ionized air can be bad for you if you have respiratory conditions. Some ionizers produce ozone as a by-product which can be harmful to your health if you have conditions like asthma, COPD, bronchitis or emphysema. When ozone is inhaled, it can irritate the lungs, cause chest pain, coughing or shortness of breath.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “The Food and Drug Administration has set a limit of 0.05 parts per million of ozone for medical devices.” Therefore, in order for an air ionizer to be sold, it must meet this health standard. That means most people can be around ionized air without any problems. However, not every person can handle exposure to low levels of ozone, especially if they have respiratory conditions. So each person’s case will be different.

As we explain in our article on ionizer air purifier side effects, “The most common air ionizer dangers include throat irritation, coughing, chest pain and shortness of breath, as well as an increased risk of respiratory infections. However, these ionizer air purifier side effects only occur if you inhale ozone. Not all ionic air purifiers pose these dangers. Only ozone generators are a concern.”

For that reason, if you or someone in your home suffers from conditions like asthma, COPD, bronchitis or emphysema, then you should consider our guide on the best air purifier for asthma relief that uses a HEPA filter. HEPA filters do not produce any harmful by-products like ozone, so you’re completely safe to use an air purifier like this.

We also have an article on ionizers and asthma if you want to read more about that topic.

Benefits of an Air Ionizer

As you already learned, air ionizers work by negatively charging air molecules. But ionizers are not the only thing that produces negative ions. According to Healthline, negative ions exist naturally in the world, including:

  • Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun.
  • Discharges of electricity in the air after a thunderclap or lightning strike.
  • Wherever water collides with itself like a waterfall or the ocean shore.
  • Produced as part of the normal growth process for many plants.

Additionally, studies on negative ionization have discovered that being exposed to negative ions can have positive effects. Healthline goes on to explain that “part of this is due to the chemical reactions that ions have with your bodily tissues and DNA.”

Therefore, being exposed to the negative ions that are produce by air ionizers can have the following benefits:

  • Promote relaxation
  • Improve mood
  • Decrease irritability
  • Improve sleep
  • Help reduce fatigue
  • Reduce static electricity
  • Help control allergies

We’ve written more on this topic if you want to learn more on ionizer air purifier pros and cons.

Now, the people who will benefit most from an air ionizer or ionic air purifier are those who do not have respiratory conditions or other ailments. As explained earlier, those individuals may experience more noticeable negative effects than positive benefits from the use of these devices.

You Should Get an Ionizer If…

You’re Concerned About Smokey Odors

Ionizers change the structure of the contaminants that pass through the electrical fields when it charges them. This charge can result in a reduction or complete removal of any smokey smell.

You Want a Quieter Device

There are no fans or motors with this type of air purifier, and this means that they’re super quiet. You could put them in your bedroom and not worry about excess noise keeping you awake. 

You Want a More Economical Way to Clean Your Home’s Air

Air purifiers that use physical filters require occasional filter changes to keep them running in top shape. This means that pay for continual maintenance. With an ionizer, all you have to do is wipe the plates clean if it comes with them or just leave it alone if it sends out negatively charged ions. There is no cost for maintenance upkeep.

You Shouldn’t Get an Ionizer If…

You Have Severe Allergies or Asthma

Since ionic air purifiers have limits to what particles they can and can’t remove from the air, a HEPA air purifier is better for people with respiratory issues because it catches 99.97 percent of airborne pollutants.

You Need to Get Rid of Lots of Dust or Pet Dander

Negative ions or particle charging isn’t the most effective for dust or pet dander. These particles tend to come in large quantities and it can be hard for an ionizer to keep up with them over long periods of time.

You’re Worried About the Ozone Output

Some ionic air purifiers can produce trace amounts of ozone when they run. This can contribute to your indoor air pollution, and it can irritate your throat and lungs. Check the manufacturer’s specifications to see if you need to worry about this or not.

Bottom Line

As you discovered, we covered every aspect of these devices, including what does an ionizer do, how does an air ionizer work, is ionized air bad for you, the benefits of air ionizers, the concept behind what is an ionizer on an air purifier, and more.

Hopefully, this this guide on air ionizers answered all of your questions about these devices. Ionizers can be a cost-effective way to get clean air in your home as long as you’re willing to do a little bit of maintenance on the device and do a thorough room cleaning every now and then to pick up and particles that have been filtered out of the air.

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About David Morrison

David is an Air Quality & Comfort Technician. He has expert knowledge on the technology and design of air purification, air conditioning, and heating systems. His main role is to write content that helps people get the most value out of their air purifiers, air conditioners, and heating units. (See Full Bio)