While the air supplies us with the oxygen we need to breathe, it also carries airborne contaminants, such as harmful gases, particulates, and the potential for illnesses, like mold spores, viruses, and bacteria. Additionally, the concentration of these particles is increased in indoor air settings and can cause health problems and the spread of deadly viruses.
Heating, ventilation, and air condition (HVAC) units help bring fresh air into indoor spaces. However, without proper ventilation, commercial and residential environments would bring in airborne particulates that are hazardous to our health.
The majority of indoor air cleaners use HEPA filters. However, HEPA filters do not remove all contaminants. To remove harmful gases and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), you should have a portable air filter with activated carbon.
Read on to learn about VOCs and how activated carbon can keep our air clean from harmful gases:
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are a type of harmful gas emitted into the air by products or processes. Many VOCs are harmful in both short- and long-term settings. Some, such as pesticides and wood preservatives, are harmful by themselves, including some that cause cancer. VOCs might also react with other gases in the air to form other air pollutants.
Common products that emit VOCs include:
Common VOCs that we experience daily include benzene, formaldehyde, ethylene glycol, methylene chloride, toluene, xylene, tetrachloroethylene, and 1,3-butadiene.
Studies evaluating airborne particulates in indoor environments have identified that certain contaminants cause health issues:
VOCs, in particular, can cause:
If you’ve been exposed to a VOC, then you may experience conjunctival irritation, discomfort in the nose and throat, headache, allergic skin reaction, extreme shortness of breath, fatigue, and dizziness.
Concentrations of VOCs can be up to 10x higher indoors than outdoors. Therefore, having an air purifier, air filter, or ventilation system can help protect against the adverse health effects associated with VOCs. Activated carbon filters are one of the most effective filter types for VOCs and harmful gases.
Activated carbon filtration is an adsorbent media filter that uses granular activated carbon (GAC) or activated charcoal. This filter type is designed to remove specific pollutants, including organic chemicals from water, but also gaseous particles and VOCs from the air.
Activated carbon filters are used in a range of industries. For airborne pollutants, the filters come as small blocks of carbon in either granular or powdered form. Since the filters are extremely porous and cavernous, they can adsorb more contaminants and allergens than traditional carbon filters.
So how are activated carbon filters different from traditional carbon filters? Carbon found in carbonaceous materials, such as coconut husk, willow peat, wood, coir, coal, and petroleum pitch, to name a few, is produced through physical activation or chemical activation:
Think of activated carbon as carbon that has been processed to have a greater adsorption power!
The most important thing to realize about activated carbon filters is that they can modify the air contaminants that pass through.
Once air moves through the filter, the carbon’s adsorption powers (which we will get to in a bit) change gaseous molecules into solid molecules. The filter can trap the gases and stop them from recirculating through the ventilation system. This is why they are so effective with gaseous pollutants, like VOCs.
Activated carbon works primarily on adsorption. This is a process whereby organic compounds in the air chemically react with the carbon, which causes them to stick to the filter. Although technically, adsorption is the adhesion of atoms, molecules, or ions (in liquid, gas, or dissolved solid form) to a surface. It ends up creating a film of adsorbate. This process is distinguished from absorption, which is when a liquid is dissolved by a liquid.
So while carbon already has this capability, activated carbon can be processed to perform better:
Activated carbon filters are sold based on thickness and can be easily inserted into a portable air filtration system. The thicker the filter is, the more carbon surface area it contains and the more particulates it can affect.
These filters are used alongside other types of filters, such as HEPA filters. All filters used for air filtration are classified based on their MERV rating and are designed to remove air particulates based on the diameter of the particulates and the effectiveness of the air filter(s) being used.
In air purifying technologies, activated carbon is primarily used as a pre-filter for HEPA. HEPA filters are designed as fibrous mesh. The fibers can pass air through while trapping some of the particles.
HEPAs are specialized in finer particles, specifically aerosols that are 0.3 microns in diameter. Therefore, the pre-filter can ensure that the HEPA is only trying to filter out smaller particles rather than being bogged down by larger contaminants.
The activated carbon filter can capture as many contaminants as possible so that the HEPA filter can effectively remove the contaminants it was designed to. By removing larger particles, like dust, hair, PM10 (inhalable particles with diameters of 10 microns and smaller), and pollen particles, the HEPA can then effectively remove finer particles that aren’t captured in pre-filtration.
Air purification is not just for those already in ill health; it also minimizes the potential for someone to develop adverse health effects due to poor indoor air quality.
Luckily, multi-stage air purification systems with activated carbon filters can help with:
Everyone can benefit from purified air, whether in peak physical condition or an at-risk health category. Not all air purification is the same. By choosing an air purification solution with activated carbon, you can reduce the concentration of harmful gases and VOCs in your home or business.