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Clearing The Air - Using a HEPA Air Purifier to Remove Mold

Updated on December 13, 2011
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In my experience, one of the things that I have written that has drawn the most questions and concerns deals with mold growth and HEPA air purifiers. When I say that an air purifier will not be truly effective in a space where there is active mold growth, people immediately ask ‘why?’ Most air purifier manufacturers tout their products as a solution to mold spores, but while air purifiers equipped with true HEPA filters will indeed help with mold spores, active growth is another issue entirely.

Mold is one of the most basic organisms on the planet and has been around for millennia, in large part because of its simple biological structure. There are only three basic components necessary for mold to grow: moisture, warmth and a cellulose food base. And since mold spores literally surround us, nearly any home or space can experience active mold growth given the right conditions.

This is where the difference lies. In spaces where the humidity is low, mold cannot actively grow. In areas where the temperature is cold, mold is dormant. Remove one of the three basic components and you can stop mold growth.

Spores, on the other hand, are all around, all the time. They are dormant, waiting for the right conditions to begin actively growing and starting a new colony that spits out mycotoxins – the truly dangerous by-product of mold growth.

An air purifier with a true HEPA filter (certified to remove 99.97% of all particles 0.3 microns and larger) and sealed system can remove mold spores from a room. It’s often on these spores and mold fragments where mycotoxins are commonly found.

What an air purifier cannot do is take away any of the three key elements needed for mold to grow. Air purifiers can be, and are, an integral part of any mold remediation effort. But they cannot fix a mold problem on their own.

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For most of us, the easiest way to stop mold growth is by controlling the relative humidity (rH). If the rH remains below 50%, there simply is not enough moisture in the air for most types of molds or fungus to grow. I generally recommend an rH of 40-45% to better inhibit mold as well as dust mite growth. For most, the easiest solution is a dehumidifier, but you also need to find the source. Do you have leaks or poor ventilation? Some sources are worth the effort of spending money to fix. In other cases it's simply more economical to get a dehumidifier.

Once the moisture issue is under control, the air purifier can work to clean the air instead of having to wage a losing battle against an enemy that is actively growing and multiplying. And after the humidity level is in check, you should definitely replace the HEPA filter.

Regardless of how many hours you have run the air purifier, after using in an active growth area, the filter now has mold spores and possibly mycotoxins and active growth on it. While many HEPA filters are not produced from a cellulose or organic substances, you have little worry of mold growing on the media. However, a filter that has microscopic bits of organic materials all through it, from filtering the air, can be a different matter. So play it safe and dump the filter.

So, will a HEPA air purifier remove mold spores from the air? Yes. Will they help in removing mold from the air in a room? Yes. Will they remove mold from a room where mold is actively growing? Indeed, but they will never fix the problem on their own. Without correcting the moisture issue that is allowing for active growth, you are more than likely flushing your money down the drain.


Clearing the Air - Using a HEPA Air Purifier to Remove Mold is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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