How can I get rid of the musty smell in my apartment? Do ionic air purifiers work?
November 28, 2004 6:19 PM   Subscribe

ApartmentFunkFilter? I live in Seattle, in a 90+ year old apartment building. It's a great place except that, like most older buildings I've lived in, it's got kind of ... a funk. I don't really know how to describe it, other than the air smells kinda stale, especially when you first walk in. It's getting a little too cold to simply leave the windows open and box fans help to move the air around but don't really do that much to help with the staleness. Plus, the droning of box fans is kind of annoying. Also, we have two cats (and all that that implies...)

I'm curious if the ionic air purifiers thingies, which seem way overpriced, actually work. Of if there's another (preferably cheaper) way to get cleaner air in my apartment. Is something like the Hamilton Beach TrueAir what I want?
posted by jimray to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Just a cautionary note- should you get an ionizer, don't leave it near anything with rubber parts (such as the belts in a VCR or the rubber rollers in a CD-ROM drive) as it will destroy them.

I found, in my old, hard-to-ventilate-apartment, (the kitchen gets SOOO stale) just leaving a small oscillating fan on in there all the time seems to work for me.
posted by fake at 6:23 PM on November 28, 2004

Ionic cleaners are considered to be a Very Bad Idea, these days. They make everything dirty, and ozone is considered a health hazard in sufficient concentration.

This and this should tell you nearly all you need to know on air purifiers. I recently did some research on this stuff, and these were the most informative links I could find.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:24 PM on November 28, 2004

I didn't do any research, but I can tell you anecdotally: I bought an Ionic Breeze from Sharper Image. I don't use it regularly, but it works great. It rids a room of odor* and it's helpful with allergies.

* More accurately, it replaces offensive odors with its own relatively weak, neutral odor.
posted by cribcage at 6:37 PM on November 28, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks, stavros, those links were handy. I'm definitely staying away from anything that generates ozone as a byproduct.

Cribcage, that "relatively weak, neutral odor" you're referring to is most likely ozone, which isn't exactly a good thing to be building up in your house, at least according to the stavros' links above.
posted by jimray at 7:06 PM on November 28, 2004

I don't think ionic air purifiers work on the principle of overpowering existing smells with the smell of ozone. They emit charged particles (ions) which bind to anything floating around in the air, making it so heavy that it falls to the ground. There's less crap in the air, as a result, but it all winds up on the floor (tabletops, windowsills, etc). This accounts for the "make everything dirty" aspect. I had one for a while and it dried my sinuses (perhaps the same effect that ruins rubber?). I can't recommend one that shoots ions into the air. There are some that simply create a charged surface inside the unit, and draw air across it, accumulating dirt. That might be better than replacing an expensive HEPA filter every week, but I haven't tried it. The general ion-cannon approach is fine for controlling major odors (like a dead body you may be working on dismembering), but is a little harsh for living spaces.
posted by scarabic at 7:26 PM on November 28, 2004

Like everything else Vornado, the Vornado air filters are exceptionally powerful. Like everything else Vornado, the Vornado air filters are not exceptionally quiet (relative to silence, not relative to other fans with the same output) on anything other than the lowest setting.

The ones I have move a LOT of air, and they're also good on the highest setting for dealing with overzealous frying odors. I have three cats, and they do pretty well with the general dust situation.

On that note, I've recently found that there's nothing better you can do for cat-related dust and hair than get a Dyson. I've gone through a fair number of very high-end vacuum cleaners, and the Dyson does a much better jobs than any of them on cat hair (you don't need the special animal model - the plain one works just fine).
posted by Caviar at 7:43 PM on November 28, 2004

Spectacular links, stavros. Thanks.
posted by pmurray63 at 8:08 PM on November 28, 2004

Regarding noise of filters and fans: I put my Vornado air filter on a simple gardening timer (like this) that plugs into the outlet. It goes on at 2-8 AM when I'm not around.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 11:01 PM on November 28, 2004

In my 95 year old house, that smell seems to be generated by old varnish, and the general age and probably slight decay of the wood. I only notice it when the house is closed up and empty for a few days. Fresh paint helps - old wallpaper smells musty. If there's decaying matting under carpeting, get rid of it. I use lemon scented stuff on the woodwork sometimes. And cedar oil smells clean and repels moths.

Easy homemade potpourri - a few whole cloves, some cinammon and other nice spices in a pot of water on low heat or on a radiator. Pumkin pie spice is good.

Or, get a dog, and have new smells to notice.
posted by theora55 at 7:13 AM on November 29, 2004

I have a Hamilton Beach, but not exactly the one you linked to. Anyway, it works quite well. Has three stages: charcoal, HEPA, and UV Light. Quiet enough that I don't notice it very often. And it helps reduce the snoring of a certain someone to boot!
posted by spilon at 8:01 AM on November 29, 2004

I did a lot of research before buying an Ionic Breeze Compact Quadra a couple of years ago, and have been very happy with it.

Yeah, its not as good as a HEPA filter, but then I don't have to pay to replace the filters. You should see the crap it pulls out of the air (my wife smokes). Within a couple days of her leaving on vacation, the computer room no longer smells like a chimney and the Ionic Breeze is back to collecting normal "white dust" on its collection plates.

As for the ozone output, its well within "safe" limits, and I'd say is way less than an active copier or laser printer. Its a "fresh ionized air" smell, not the "OMG OZONE" smell.
posted by mrbill at 1:49 PM on November 29, 2004

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