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Sprays? Ozone? Ionizers? UV? What’s the Right Way to Clean the Air?

Just one of the articles from Pet Care Pro Quarterly, IBPSA’s digital magazine for pet care services professionals. Read the current issue online here.

By Annette Uda

Type does Lysol cle into the Google search function and its autocomplete function will give you this as the first option to search:

 does Lysol clean the air

As explained by Google, these search query autocompletes are predictions rather than suggestions. They are Google’s best predictions of the query you were likely to continue entering based on real searches that happen on Google. So, when does Lysol cle autocompletes to does Lysol clean the air that’s because enough real searches have been done on the subject to predict that’s the information most people are looking for. Which, in this instance, is an indication of the general lack of knowledge when it comes to cleaning the air.

Yes, the air can be cleaned, but misconceptions and misinformation about how it can be cleaned abound. The following addresses the various ways that air can be cleaned to eliminate infectious pathogens and odors, the ways people believe it can be cleaned, and what pet care providers should consider to not only protect the health of the pets in your care, but you and your staff’s health, as well.

Disinfectant and Sanitizing Sprays

To answer that Google search question…

Surface cleaners and air fresheners cannot clean the air. If you read the usage instructions for Lysol “disinfectant” sprays, for example, they specifically direct you to apply the product to surfaces. Cold and flu viruses and bacteria can be killed on “hard, non-porous surfaces.” And, while the directions for different products vary, most of the usage information directs that surfaces must remain wet for a minimum period of time then allowed to air dry. Lysol’s line of “sanitizing” sprays do, however, promise to “temporarily reduce airborne odor-causing bacteria and eliminate odors.” To do so, the usage information instructs to “close all doors, windows, and air vents…Hold can upright, press button, and spray towards the center of an average size room (12′ x 12′ x 9′) for 10 seconds…For maximum effectiveness, relative humidity should be between 45% and 70%…Resume normal room ventilation after spray has settled.” Two things should be noted here. First, there are no claims that airborne infectious pathogens (dog flu, canine cough, etc.) can be eliminated, an imperative for pet care facilities. Secondly, particularly with regard to the “sanitizing” sprays, not only is the area that can be sanitized notably limited, the results temporary, and conditions for maximum effectiveness fairly specific, but what, exactly, is being sprayed into the air you and the animals breathe?

Product information for the “disinfectant” spray that is “for baby’s room” contains the following language:

“Precautionary Statements: Hazards to humans and domestic animals. Caution: Causes moderate eye irritation. Do not spray in eyes, on skin or on clothing. Wash thoroughly with soap and water after handling and before eating, drinking, chewing gum, using tobacco or using the toilet.”

Those danger warnings are for a baby’s room; presumably, a space for the most vulnerable to environmental dangers. But, as noted in a December 2017 article authored by Dr. Karen Becker, Favorite Household Products You Should Pitch in the Trash Today, the veterinarian advises considering these facts when it comes to indoor air quality:

  • Most pets are even smaller than kids
  • They tend to spend a lot of time near the floor where all indoor air pollutants eventually wind up
  • They groom themselves and each other, which means they’re ingesting the pollutant particles that have accumulated on their fur and in the environment
  • Many pets spend up to 100 percent of their time indoors, and are living with very high levels of airborne toxins

Further, most of the sprays are synthetically fragranced. In the Q1 2018 issue of Pet Care Pro Quarterly the negative impact of chemical fragrances was addressed in depth in, “Fragrance” Stinks:  The Health Risks of Chemically Scented Products for Pets and People. One category of products addressed as causing unhealthy indoor air pollution was air freshener sprays. Even products that are labeled “unscented” utilize masking agents that are fragrances added to mask other smells. Not only do surface cleaners and air fresheners not clean the air, they may be causing worse air quality for animals and humans.

Ozone Generators

“Ozone generators intentionally produce the toxic gas ozone and are sold as air cleaners for commercial and residential applications. Specifically, they are advertised to deodorize, disinfect, kill or remove dangerous or irritating airborne particles in indoor environments.”

That’s how ozone generators are described in the article Ozone Generator Hazards, published by the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI). Despite being banned in the state of California and considered ineffective, if not dangerous, by most authorities on air quality (see “Ozone Generators That Are Sold as Air Purifiers: An Assessment of Effectiveness and Health Consequences” published by the Environmental Protection Agency), ozone generators as purported air cleaners are widely available. Unless you live in California, you could have many in your Amazon shopping cart right now. Good Housekeeping feels so strongly about the negative health impacts of ozone generators that they will not allow them to even apply to earn the Good Housekeeping Seal or be advertised in the Good Housekeeping magazine. As further noted in the InterNACHI article:

“Even low levels of ozone exposure can cause the following conditions:

  • coughing, chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing, and throat irritation;
  • worsened chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma;
  • increased risk of developing bronchitis or pneumonia; and
  • compromised ability of the body to fight respiratory infections.”

Similar conditions occur in animals exposed to even low levels of ozone. Further, studies show that air purifiers that generate ozone deemed within “safe” limits established by government regulations, do not necessarily mean safe for animals.

Some air “purifiers”, while not specifically designed to generate ozone, do so as a byproduct. As with sprays as described above, ozone generators, whether purposely or unintentionally, may be causing worse air quality for animals and humans. As stated in the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc’s position paper on filtration and air cleaning: “Negative health effects arise from exposure to ozone and its reaction products. Consequently, devices that use the reactivity of ozone for cleaning the air should not be used in occupied spaces. Extreme caution is warranted when using devices in which ozone is not used for the purpose of air cleaning but is emitted unintentionally during the air-cleaning process as a by-product of their operation.” (See ASHRAE Position Document on Filtration and Air Cleaning.)

The dangers in ozone for humans and animals, whether intentionally produced or as a byproduct, cannot be overstated.

Air Ionizers

Simply put, air ionizers release a negative charge into the air that captures particles and then, acting something like a weight, pulls the particles down to surfaces. Yes, these airborne particles are now out of the air, but they do not discriminate as to the surfaces where they land. They can land on the floor, on kennels, on fur, on you. Further, air ionizers also create at least a small amount of ozone. At best, air ionizers offer a temporary and not effective solution as very few pathogens will ultimately be killed. And, at worst, they may have settled on you or the animals in your care. Once a fan turns on, someone cleans a surface, or a dog is just playing or walking, living or infectious pathogens can be returned to the air. While air ionizers do claim to kill pathogens, this is misleading as pathogens may be killed but not in a timeframe that is quick enough, or with enough strength, to control disease

Nevertheless, air ionizers are widely available, they even come in desk sizes to “purify” the air around you at the office. But given their propensity to create ozone (the dangers of which are addressed, above), failure to effectively kill pathogens and have those pathogens indiscriminately land on surfaces and return to the air if they’re not immediately eliminated, air ionizers are not a recommended way to clean the air.

UVGI (aka UV)

Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation is a disinfection method that has uses short-wavelength ultraviolet (UV-C) light to kill or inactivate microorganisms by destroying nucleic acids and disrupting their DNA, rendering them harmless. Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation or UVGI is a term used by federal agencies such the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) when referring to UV-C. It is also more informally, and perhaps more commonly known, as “UV” but it is not the same as the “harmful UV rays” you may have heard about to prevent sunburn, for example. UVGI has been used in human healthcare settings for close to a century to prevent the spread of infectious disease. UVGI is used in government buildings, hospitals, and other highly sensitive environments where maintaining sanitary air circulation and surface areas are critical. This is not the same as UV-A, which can cause premature aging, or UV-B, which can cause skin cancer. UVGI is often just called UV but it is not the same.

To understand how UVGI works, think of cleaning the air somewhat like cooling the air. Very simply put, air conditioners work by cooling air as it passes through them. Hot air goes in, cold air comes out. You can clean the air by sanitizing it as it passes through something that will kill the bacteria and viruses. That something is ultraviolet germicidal irradiation. As the air circulates through UVGI lamps, viruses, bacteria, and pathogens in the air are killed leaving clean, sanitized air to circulate out. The science behind how it works is simple enough to grasp but, when it comes to UVGI technology effectiveness, there are several big “buts” to keep in mind.

UVGI technology is ideal for optimized air cleaning and sanitizing wherever animals are housed together (and it benefits the humans who care for them as well who are now breathing the same clean, sanitized air. UVGI can eliminate up to 99.9% of infectious pathogens but:

  • It must be the right UVGI. “Over the counter” UVGI light is not strong enough and cannot achieve a high enough bacteria and virus kill rate in the short amount of time that is needed to be effective.
  • It must the right amount of UVGI energy for the space. Every building, every space, has different, custom requirements.
  • It must not produce ozone. Some UV systems do, unfortunately.

When it comes to UVGI or any other air cleaning methods you are considering, asking questions and getting answers is imperative. Ask for studies that prove effectiveness. More importantly, ask for the manufacturer’s studies. Not someone else’s studies or general studies. What do studies of their specific products show? Talk to experts. Ask for references. Understand the benefits and the risks. Few things are more important than the air animals and humans breathe. Make sure your efforts to clean the air are not only actually effective, but also that those efforts are not potentially making the air worse.

Annette Uda is the founder of PetAirapy, the animal care industry’s leading manufacturer of UVGI surface and air sanitation equipment. Annette has a passion for animal health and educating animal care providers on reliable, non-toxic ways to create clean, healthy environments for your animal clients and your staff that are protected from airborne pathogens, infectious disease, and noxious VOCs. PetAirapy also recently launched FreshAirapy, its natural, non-toxic line of products for targeted, immediate odor control specifically for the animal care industry. To learn more about her company, visit petairapy.com.