March 10, 2007

Do Ionizing Air Cleaners Really Work?

Posted in Health, Life, Me, Psychology, Science at 9:22 am by mj

Recently, you-know-who came home with a Bionaire PERMAtech(tm) ionizing air cleaner from Costco. She did this because I’ve been having the sniffles brought on by the elevated Bay Area attack of the trees (or is it dust?), which is always compounded by my preference for sleeping with the window open.

If you know me, you know I’m a big-time deep-in-my-bones skeptic. I might not always know exactly the right questions to ask, or be able to tell exactly what psychological forces or fraudulant pseudo-science is at play, but I am always skeptical. Marrying a Chinese girl was a big change for me, because Chinese are much more accepting of alternative medicines and anecdotal evidence than us poor Westerners. (Despite my skepticism, I have discovered several Chinese herbs and concoctions that work for me for various ailments, including, as far as I can tell given my limited capacity for controlled testing, my persistent nausea.)

The first red flag was thrown a few minutes into reading the brief manual, which offered this doozie:

You may also note after extended use, that dust may have collected around the grills or front panel. This is from the ionization affect caused by the negative ions exiting from the air outlet. This is additional evidence of the air cleaning effectiveness of negative ions.

Um, OK. By that logic, any normal fan has the same effectiveness, because they’re always accumulating dust around the grills and front panel. Not to mention the average computer. (“But, love, I have to keep a full rack of servers in our house…they’re purifying the air!“) I digress.

Wikipedia’s entry on Ionizers confirmed my suspicions, and cited articles indicating that the ozone created by ionization may actually be dangerous, which is not something I knew.

So, this week, I performed an unintentional experiment. I turned on the Ionizer, but I neglected to turn on the Ionizer. That is, by default, the Ionizer simply has a fan. You have to press a second button to enable the high electricity necessary for ionization. Good safety precaution. It remembers whether ionization was on or off…unless you unplug it. Which is what happened in this case.

For several days, then, she commented on how clean the air smelled in our bedroom, and on my lack of sniffles, even though I’d been sleeping with the window open and the heated blanket off. I started believing that, maybe, possibly, it was worth the money, and that it really was working. I was ready to admit that I was wrong (that happens a lot when you’re married).

Then, this morning, I discovered my error. The best thing I can now say is that the filter was cleaning the air in our bedroom. Which , if true, probably makes it worth the money (I think it was 50% off), since most fans simply scatter dust and pollen and tree bombs and anti-MJ missiles around the air.

But you-know-who? Her comment was simply that it explains why last night I was still sniffling in my sleep.

I’m sure Robert Cialdini would have something to say about that.

What do you think?