What Does an Ionizer Do to the Air? (How an Ionic Air Purifier Works)

With all of the different types of air purifiers available, you may feel overwhelmed trying to figure out how they all work to improve the air you breathe.

Along with traditional air purifiers, there are also ionizers (or ionic air purifiers).

But, what does an ionizer do to the air and how does an ionic air purifier work? We’re going to answer those exact questions in this post.

What is an Ionic Air Purifier?

Before you know how an ionizer works, you have to understand exactly what an ionic air purifier is.

Simply put, an ionic air purifier is a type of air purifier that targets contaminants in your air as a traditional air purifier would. However, ionizers are filterless.

This means that they use alternative means without relying on a physical filter to clean your home’s air.

Ionic air purifiers were extremely popular in the early and middle 1990s, but they were slowly replaced by HEPA air purifiers in popularity once the early 2000s came around.

The reason being is that air purifiers that use a dense paper HEPA filter are able to capture more contaminants.

However, many people still choose to use filterless air purifiers throughout their homes because they’re practical and the most cost-efficient.

We have a dedicated posted on the best filterless air purifier here if you’d like to find out more.

How Does an Ionic Air Purifier Work?

As we mentioned, ionic air purifiers don’t come with the traditional filtration system that you see with HEPA air purifiers.

Instead, they used negative and positive charges to clean the air and come in two types: electrosatic precipitator and an air ionizer.

If you have an electrostatic precipitator, you’ll find positively charged plates and negatively charged plates in place of filters.

These charged plates draw airborne contaminants to them like a magnet when indoor air is sucked through their system.

With an electrostatic precipitator, you wash the plates periodically to get rid of the stuck particles; however, they don’t capture everything and usually only collect larger size particles.

This means that it can miss the tiny particles such as dust, mold, and bacteria that pass through it.

If you have an air ionizer, you’ll get a system that releases negatively charged ions into your room’s air.

They don’t have a motor or fan, and this makes them quieter to run than other models.

Once an ionizer releases negatively charged ions, the ions bond with the contaminant particles and weigh them down so they drop to the floor or your surfaces.

You can then vacuum or wipe these particles up in order to keep them from returning to the air. 

Many ionizers can remove pollutants as small as 0.1 microns in size.

Take a look at our next post to find out what is the best ionic air purifier.

Why Buy an Ionic Air Purifier?

If ionic air purifiers don’t usually trap all of the contaminants in your air or catch microscopic particles, why do people buy them?

The simple answer is that they’re usually very budget-friendly, and they work well enough for a lot of the particles present inside a home.

They’re also good at removing odors due to smoke.

However, some ionizers do release ozone as a byproduct, and this can cause lung irritation in people who have asthma, COPD, or other respiratory conditions.

So, if you have any of those issues and wondering should I use an ionizer, keep this in mind when you’re making the final decision.


As a recap, what does an ionizer do to the air?

It cleans it trapping particles onto positively and negatively charged plates, or by releasing negatively charged ions into the air.

Electrostatic precipitators work well for larger particles and ionic air purifiers can reduce contaminants at a microscopic level.

Both systems run quietly but an ionizer is mostly silent because there is no motor or fan system.