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A brief history of air purifiers and how they started from a simple mask created for fire fighters to the HEPA filters of today.


air purifier

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Today, air purifiers are all the craze. Every allergy sufferer, asthmatic and health nut in the world has one, but believe it or not, there was a time when we didn’t have air purifiers. We simply breathed the air that was in our homes and somehow managed to survive. So when did this craze actually begin? How did it start?

Types of air purification have actually been around for over 200 years in some form or another, though most people don’t realize it. The truth is, since the early 1800s, scientists have been trying to find ways to make our air cleaner, long before the industrial revolution ever hit and California began to look like an outdoor barbecue on a high flame.

To kick this technology off, in the early 1800s John and Charles Dean developed a mask for fire fighters. This mask allowed them to charge into burning buildings without having to worry about being overcome by smoke fumes from the fire. Around that same time, masks were also made for divers and coal miners who were constantly exposed to dangerous air, but it wasn’t until the 1850s that the first gas mask was developed by John Stenhouse. The mask worked on a charcoal based filter design, very similar to some of the air purifiers today. These original masks worked on the principal of filtering out what they called “enemies” by using a system called High Efficiency Particulate Air or HEPA. Yes, the same HEPA filter systems we can buy today. Once they added charcoal to this system it made a dramatic improvement because the charcoal was able to filter out multiple toxins.

But it wasn’t until World War II when we got some of the greatest advancements in air filter systems. This came with the Manhattan Project. This was a project that got scientists together from all around to work on a breathing device that would protect soldiers from the atomic bomb. While that was actually laughable in itself, it did end up in advancements that helped combat chlorine gas, mustard gas and flame throwers. A few years later a plague in Africa made scientists aware of the need for protection against chemicals, perfumes, building materials, pesticides, dust mites, pollen and food allergens. This started a string of air purification devices being developed.

In spite of all this, it wasn’t until the 1980s that the clean air craze really took off. The concept of a dust free environment was all the rage, practical or not. According to studies, HEPA filters, which were the biggest rage of the era, filtered out 99.7% of all the allergens in the air and all micron offenders of size 0.3 and larger. But advancements didn’t stop there. Newer devices, such as Nebulizers, were able to filter out offenders of size 0.1 and larger and still keep the 99.7% filter level.

Over the years, the number of devices used for filtering the air has grown astronomically. Just do an Internet search on the different types and brands of air purifiers. There are literally hundreds of them.

All this from a simple mask designed for fire fighters. Who would have ever guessed?