Back in the 1990's an exciting new technology for air cleaning was invented.
Its name is self-explanatory to science geeks, and incomprehensible jargon to everyone else: "photocatalytic oxidation" (PCO).
PCO was successfully adapted to a range of industrial applications.
In the food industry, "photocats" were proven to extend storage life of fresh fruits and vegetables.
The wine making business found that installing PCO was an effective method of mold inhibition in rooms full of casks of aging wines.
In the late 1990's NASA contracted with researchers at The University of Wisconsin for an improved photocat to remove gas-phase pollutants from space-based plant nurseries.
As budget issues began to dominate Washington, NASA offered the improved PCO design to commercial bidders.
KesAir Sciences in Georgia, USA, won the exclusive rights to market the NASA version of PCO.
A decade later, KesAir had an impressive industrial and food industry client list, but Airocide had limited penetration of the retail consumer space.
A Florida entrepreneur named David Knight, suffering annoying allergies, bought a KesAIr Airocide industrial model, and was impressed with that industrial Airocide's effects on his symptoms.
So impressed that he and his partners bought into the company, with the intent to redesign the industrial-type air cleaner for retail consumers.
In 2012, the partners incorporated Akida Holdings, Inc., of Jacksonville, Florida, which now markets the redesigned AiroCide for residential use.
The result was the restyled $799.00 Airocide APS 200 air purifier, introduced in March, 2013.
About the same time KesAir was building its industrial photocat business, "sick building syndrome" drove a decade of boom (1995-2005) in the air quality business, known to insiders as "the mold rush."
The great salesman David Oreck built a marketing empire which sold millions (of air purifiers and vacuum cleaners) via television infomercials.
Mr. Oreck was fond of addressing graduating MBA classes with the admonition to build a brand to support price premiums through saturation marketing.
Oreck and competitor Sharper Image (Ionic Breeze) dominated the growing residential air cleaner market from 1999 to 2007, focusing their budgets on marketing designed to feature style over substance:
"free" giveaway promotions,
promises of "no filters to buy,"
price premiums supported by image marketing,
stonewalling on technical issues
and at Oreck, weak customer service.
Product development got little emphasis from Oreck and Sharper Image managements.
A third former marketing-based giant was Ecoquest, a multilevel-marketing empire with ozone-centered "benefits."
Air-purifier-power.com was among the first (2005-2006) to suggest something might be wrong with the emperor's wardrobe, rating Oreck XL and Sharper Image Ionic Breeze barely acceptable.
This business model collapsed after Consumer Reports (CR), beginning in 2007 (finally!), attacked the two dominant air cleaning products.
By that time Oreck and Breeze accounted for half the market by dollar volume.
CR revealed facts to the broader public, saying that the leaders were inferior at air cleaning and had unacceptable ozone emissions.
By the economic trough of 2009, the former leaders were finished.
Sharper Image was bankrupted, Oreck sold and downsized, thousands of Ecoquest dealers were stuck with unsold inventory, and the residential air purifier industry had peaked.
By 2013 we have a very soft market, with hundreds of products lacking enough sales volume to persist.
All this as the new crop of photocatalytic air cleaners, a viable and safe alternative to ozone, were struggling to gain a slim market share.
Though some still succeed by emulating the Oreck infomercial model, notably Euro-Pro (Shark vacuums), I would have told any new entrant in the air purifier space to avoid the mistakes of the past if they want long-term sustainability.
But into this storm Akida introduced the new Airocides, choosing to market their innovative photocat using the infomercial model, a massive over-selling campaign emphasizing the benefits and downplaying the limitations of the technology.
I have waited, hoping for someone to successfully bring an effective photocat to the air purifier consumer.
But, in my opinion, Akida and their marketing group have made some serious marketing mistakes, exaggerations, and obfuscations, possibly damaging Airocide's long-term prospects.
"Sometimes a mistake is like wearing white after Labor Day,
and sometimes a mistake is like invading Russia in winter."
actor Alan Alda, in the film "Nothing but the Truth," 2009.
My job is to help air-purifier-power readers understand the obscure technology, make sense of Akida's marketing, decide if the Airocide Air Purifier fits their needs, and is worth eight hundred bucks to them.
With Airocide we're talking the whole dog-and-pony show media blitz:
flowery TV infomercials,
a twenty-foot tall mock-up of the Airocide featured on the Ellen Degeneres TV show,
a "new technology" buzz-line which implies PCO is proprietary,
and was invented ("developed") by the NASA space program,
hundreds of promotional product giveaways to mommy bloggers,
newspaper columnists, and compensated Amazon vine program "user review" writers.
Now you know all the secret sources I rely on for technically correct air purifier specifications and expert opinion.
Don't let your kids watch the infomercials, they'll be convinced Airocide is a must-have Christmas toy.
Hey, this is a great and functional conversation piece for the affluent.
But at $800 Airocide is priced alongside serious air purifiers in the premium class, some of which feature competitive PCO installations along with high CADR power and medical-grade HEPA filter trains.
Airocide is the highest priced stand alone PCO I know of.
My biggest concern is that Airocide's inflated marketing claims and overselling will fool naive, sickly, and financially desperate people into buying this nice catalytic oxidizer when they may seriously need a more comprehensive air quality solution.
So let's take a closer look at the Airocide air cleaner.
Many are from Amazon Vine program participants who received promotional Airocides in return for generally sunny reviews.
Even among these compensated user-reviewers, there is no consensus that Airocide even works at all.
Human senses, especially odor perception, are highly subjective, and most gas phase pollutants (chem/odor) are undetectable below thresholds where health damage can still occur.
Scientific studies on perceived air quality (PAQ) have found wide variations in our ability to smell different chemical signatures.
I'm quite sure Airocide DOES work, especially for the very common mold spore inhalation allergies, but will recommend it only for the specific applications described in this review.
Wading through around 35 blog-type reviews and newspaper blurbs, I found none to cite as "professional."
Their filterless photocat's reaction chamber is a unique and clever design, but these are increasingly common.
I have received several emails from inventors of enhanced PCO products searching for a manufacturer to license their designs, I have no answers for them.
Airocide's sole technology is photocatalytic oxidation (PCO), a fact obscured by much of the marketing blitz and generally overlooked by everyone from Ellen to the great majority of blog and promotional reviewers.
So the almost mystical "Airocide is different" claim is mostly hype.
Many air cleaners now incorporate PCO - it is very inexpensive to add a photocat to an existing UV air cleaner.
At right is a photo of my $150 Hoover WH10600 air purifier's photocat setup.
The Hoover is one of the few successful photocatalytic air cleaners to penetrate the residential market.
There is no carbon odor/gas filter, the Hoover relies exclusively on its UV-powered photocatalytic grid for gas-phase pollutant removal.
The photo shows Hoover's 8 Watt bulb and titanium-coated aluminum grid.
Eighteen other photocats with reviews or notes on air-purifier-power.com include:
Edenpure Deluxe G-7,
Aerus Lux Guardian,
Dr. Mercola's Way Healthier,
Germ Guardian Hygia 6 AC-6000,
RGF Guardian Air induct,
and the filterless Nanobreeze fan.
Stand alone PCO is appropriate for a few select residential applications, but for most others it should be piggy-backed on a classic HEPA filter setup, as the majority of manufacturer's PCO products have done.
Then there is the language "approved by the FDA."
PCO is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for food storage, poultry and pork processing, and reducing pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables.
Residential air cleaners are not legally medical devices, they are NOT regulated or "approved" by the FDA.
These short-lived intense oxidizers destroy molecular-sized (gas phase and ultrafine particulate), and microbial pollutants at the catalyst interface.
When the catalytic free radical cascade is finished, the end products are principally carbon dioxide and water.
For most air cleaner buyers, that description didn't clear up anything.
How 'bout this:
A bright blue light adds energy to a painted screen
which makes water into little pac-man people
that eat smells and kill tiny bugs.
A catalyst is a substance that accelerates chemical reactions without being consumed in the process.
The catalyst material in the photocatalytic purifier is titanium dioxide, TiO2, which is applied as a thin film on a glass substrate.
Titanium dioxide ("TIO2") is a cheap, abundant, non-toxic white coloring agent, used in many products from paints to toothpaste.
Titanium dioxide is a semiconductor, which when struck by certain wavelengths, allows electrons to circulate more freely.
Their energy gets transferred to water molecules, breaking them into hydroxyl radicals and super-oxide ions, powerful oxidizers which immediately burn anything organic (they break carbon bonds) at the catalyst surface.
One factor that limited the market acceptance of PCO air purifiers was the advent of the plasma-ion streamer, capable of emitting these SAME oxidizing radicals into the air.
The Sharp Plasmacluster and Winix Plasmawave air purifiers, along with some lesser imitators, have sold (my estimate) about 40 million plasma ion with HEPA filter devices as PCO sales sputtered.
Advancements in PCO technology have centered around adding additional elements to the coating to provide additional photo-excitable electrons, and better shaped, more efficient catalyst grids.
In the Hoover air cleaner photo above, note the flat Titanium-coated aluminum grid and vertically mounted ultraviolet bulb.
This arrangement has inherent weakness, since more than half of the UV energy falls on areas other than the grid surface.
Secondly, the grid surface is borderline flat, exposing a minimal area to the UV radiation.
Numerous designers have tried to remedy this by making convolutions in the grid, but the clever Airocide design goes two steps further.
First, they wrapped the UV source in a tube, effectively trapping a higher percentage of the motivating energy in a "Reaction Chamber" than possible with a flat collector.
And second, they construct the titanium collector of thousands of glass rings coated with titanium dioxide and other materials.
Airocide's micro-tubes expose a larger three-dimensional catalyst surface area to the activating energy.
So Airocides DO have an upgraded version of PCO.
And Akida does deserve some bragging rights, done more precisely.
Photocatalytic oxidation's principal target is gas-phase pollutants, odors and chemical vapors (VOCs), with biological microorganisms a secondary objective.
What consumers need to know is that PCO operates at the molecular size level exclusively.
It cannot destroy objects of merely microscopic size.
But the company insists on claiming Airocides are suited to a much wider set of applications.
Airocides are advertised to eliminate non-microscopic biological contaminants, like pollen and dust mites.
This claim is a real stretch because these reside outside the purifier and the reaction takes place on the catalyst surface ONLY.
Pollens are not molecular sized, with the allergenic species ranging from 2.0 to maybe 50 microns in size.
Larger pollens are easily visible to the naked eye, sometimes accumulating like a light snowfall.
Most are too large to remain airborne continuously, requiring strong winds for geographic distribution, and accumulating indoors on floors and furniture.
No stand alone photocat is effective for pollen allergy.
I do NOT recommend Airocide for this application - get a high CADR HEPA air cleaner for pollen!
Airocide marketing's worst exaggeration is its claim to eliminate dust mites, microscopic spider-like insects which infest human dwellings and cause allergies.
Yes, if scientists dump a cupful of dust mites into the photocat, they die.
But that is not how dust mite allergies work in the real world.
Dust mites do not fly, they are NOT primarily an airborne allergen, it's the mite's fecal material in bedding and stuffed animals which provokes symptoms.
Air purifiers are not the first line of defense for dust mite allergies, and PCO is NOT the technology recommended here for them.
If diagnosed with dust mite allergy, get the dust mite specialty bedding and hot water wash everything and vacuum the mattress and carpet twice weekly.
Airocide's extensive marketing leads many to believe it can also remove "dust."
The Ellen Show appearance was deliberately designed to foster this misconception among viewers.
A male model ran through the audience, where the ladies threw sticky ping-pong ball sized spheres which adhered to his jacket.
Ellen shouted something like "Yucky particles."
The model then climbed through the large stage-prop Airocide mock-up and emerged shirtless and sexy, spotlessly clean.
Other stand alone photocat aircleaners have been sold using very questionable claims of effectiveness against .3 micron and larger particulate.
But photocatalytic air cleaners, while able to burn up tiny .1 micron particulate, are demonstrably ineffective against airborne particles.
Many user reviews demonstrate that Airocide buyers thought they were choosing a dust destroyer, attempting to judge Airocide's effectiveness by dust accumulation on furniture.
Want lots of one-star buyer reviews?
Just keep implying that Airocide can do anything about dust.
Although it cannot destroy micron and above sized particulate, PCO is effective on tiny lung-penetrating ultrafine particulate below .1 micron.
Ultrafine particulate matter (UPM), also known as nanoparticles, is invisible to a laser particle counter - it can only be seen by an electron microscope.
This is a modern phenomenon, created by modern technology, our biology has few defenses against UPM.
Inhaled nanoparticles can pass through our lungs and enter the bloodstream, causing significant oxidative stress.
Researchers continue to study the adverse health effects of ultrafine particulate, but it has already been implicated in cardiovascular disease.
Oxidation of ultrafine UPM, NOT visible dust, is an Airocide benefit to be emphasized in marketing literature.
People living near urban freeway corridors could consider an Airocide for UPM.
Another overlooked selling point is Airocide's suitability for damp areas where expensive activated carbon and zeolite odor/chem filters are often wrecked by absorbing moisture.
Baths, saunas, greenhouse additions, any wet spot that encourages mold growth - these are the perfect places to install Airocides.
Like other oxidative air cleaners, PCO is highly effective against airborne mold spores.
In our sweet-toothed grain-based society, mold and fungus, which prosper in bodies with elevated blood sugar, are very common allergy producers.
Molds saturate the air with spores, which overwhelm and confuse the human immune system when inhaled.
At one point there were many thousands of air purifier buyer reviews online, I (groan) read most of them.
An extremely common report from happy users of the ozone oxidizers (Oreck and Ionic Breeze...) was dramatic relief of this type allergy.
Got mold allergy, dark circles under the eyes, congestion at night, sore throat or mouth film in the morning?
You are a potential customer for Airocide.
Airocides are powered by a small desktop-computer-style fan, with not much airflow generated.
This is essentially a passive system that relies on the home's air circulation for motivation.
Airocide needs to be mounted above floor level where air circulation is not blocked.
With all UV air purifiers, faster airflow is not necessarily desirable.
Dwell time is required for microorganism cell wall and DNA disruption, and to complete the free radical oxidation cascade for molecular contaminants.
But this limits the speed at which Airocide can clean the air to "very slow."
Surprisingly, when it comes to room size claims - very commonly inflated in air purifier marketing - Airocide marketing suddenly comes back from outer space.
Airocide admits that their product doesn't clean the whole house.
Advertising says: "Airocide is intended for single room use and can handle any size room in your home."
But just how fast?
"Within a week"
Every purifier review on this site has downsized room sized recommendations.
For better results, install Airocide in small rooms.
User reviews report slow odor removal, with pet "accident" smells subsiding in 24 hours with Airocide running.
While I DO recommend Airocide for pet areas, especially cat litter boxes, many carbon-filtered air cleaners could remove these odors much faster.
The auto setting is based a light sensor, switching the fan to low when the room is dark.
Airocide says "All that exits is crisp, clear air."
Ozone is undetectable, as expected.
But the real issue with any photocat is partial oxidation.
Science isn't really very helpful on this issue.
Yes, they can fill a smoke chamber with chemicals, run the photocat, and then use instruments to analyze the remnants.
But this has little bearing on real-world operations.
The cutting floor, the thin film on the catalyst surface where organic molecules are subjected to bond slicing, is only a couple molecules thick.
It is the expanded catalyst surface area of glass tubing that Airocide claims of superiority are founded on.
Under conditions of heavy chemical loading, some gas molecules will inevitably pass right through a photocat which exhibits maybe 98% one-pass efficiency under lower loads.
Do the pollutant molecules adhere to the catalyst surface long enough for every bond to be cut, under every condition of pollutant molecule loading and air flow?
I don't think we, whether retail consumers or academic rocket scientists, can know the answer with any precision.
One Amazon.com buyer review reports evasiveness from Airocide corporate on the question of partial byproduct emissions.
I'm pretty sure they don't know any more than I do.
A carbon based gas filter would do better under these loads, but could saturate rapidly and need expensive replacements.
I have numerous reports of users who have applied toxic substances inside their homes, installed oxidative air cleaners, and made the problem much worse with new exotic gasses and odors.
So the point here is: installing any air purifier is no substitute for removing pollutant sources at the outset.
Most say the high setting is too loud for sleep.
Others complain of an irritating sound frequency profile.
One user tested Airocide with a smartphone Decibel app, estimating 34 dB on high and 30 dB on low.
Airocide's Auto setting is a partial solution, and we have seen that high speed is not as critical to PCO success as it is with HEPA filtered air cleaners.
A number of user reviews mention out-gassing of plastic and/or new electronics type odors from new Airocides.
For eight hundred pictures of George Washington, they could burn these in at the factory.
Airocides are made in China, where issues like this are sometimes extremely difficult for US importers to get resolved.
Several user reviews say there is a blue light emitted in darkened rooms.
No UV should be escaping from a photocat, DO NOT look at the blue light.
Lastly, UV lamp disposal, an issue with every UV air cleaner, not just Airocide.
Again we see plenty of "green marketing," but no mention of mercury vapor lamp disposal.
Fluorescent lamps produce UV radiation by emissions from low-pressure mercury gas.
Users must be careful not to break the bulb when changing and should dispose of used fluorescent lamps according to local regulations.
For many, the first clue comes when reading the cryptic owner's manual after unwrapping a new Airocide.
There is a small blurb at the lower right corner of the accessories page (decorative sleeves, wall mounts, floor stands) at www.airocide.com, the only place replacement bulbs are mentioned or sold.
UV bulbs weaken with use, and need replacement after one year, even though they still seem to be working.
To be fair, many user reviews report receiving an extra bulb with their purchase, a two year supply.
A filter change light prompts owners to change the bulb, which is reported to be quite easy.
Again, a hundred bucks for two light bulbs is premium price territory, and 254 nm UV tubes are generally not expensive.
UV installations are rated by exposure metrics (thousands of milliwatts per square centimeter), but Airocide declines to reveal even the wattage of the bulbs.
Two user reviews say they hooked their Airocides to Watt Meters, one reported 6 Watts, the other 5, with the fan on high speed.
A typical inexpensive PCO with HEPA air purifier, considered underpowered here, draws 6 Watts, imparting 20 milliwatts/cm. sq. to the catalyst surface.
Those UV bulbs, available from dozens of Chinese suppliers, costs six bucks.
UV installations in premium air purifiers are as strong as 40,000 mw/cm. sq., 10,000 is typical.
Avoiding disclosure of critical specifications is yet another short-term choice by Airocide managenent.
Warranty returns should be shipped to:
13500 Sutton Park Dr. South Suite 501
Jacksonville, FL 32224
A 60-month (five year) limited warranty applies to manufacturing defects only, users must pay shipping to and from Airocide.
Airocide also has a “Feel Better in 6 Weeks” guarantee.
Buyers can return the air purifier for a refund if symptoms don’t improve.
Some user reviews give Airocide customer service low marks.
Their phone bank is set up to take orders, not answer technical queries.
Build quality of the made-in-China product seems OK, and there is little to break in normal use.
In desperation, the Image had upgraded their product (Ionic Breeze was replaced by Hybrid GP), but too late.
At that point, they began taking my advice to clean up the marketing, again too late.
Airocide CEO Michael Freedman is a former Wall Street investment banker, a very smart guy.
But I suggest he study air purifier history or be doomed to repeat it.
And look at the Shark vacuum cleaner infomercials, where charismatic Euro-Pro (Shark) CEO Mark Rosenzweig performs a flawless imitation of David Oreck.
Guys like that are Airocide's competition in the infomercial space.
But Shark is selling some extremely good HEPA-sealed mass-market vacuums at $200 each.
I question whether the TV infomercial model is appropriate for moving an $800 special purpose premium air cleaner.
Premium air purifier buyers are well educated, and will see through the hype, they crave facts, they don't watch broadcast TV.
Buyers who already have HEPA without carbon, or who balk at the cost of carbon filter replacement, might consider Airocides.
If you are making a first air purifier purchase, consider a premium air cleaner which incorporates PCO technology on the back end of a strong fan and superior HEPA filter train.
Just one example: Airgle AG850, immeasurably strong HEPA (CADR 450), zero particle exhaust and strong PCO at $900.
That said, I like Airocide for local odors and mold spores in confined spaces, it's perfect for small rooms like baths, kitchens, and walk-in closets.
Especially where particulate is considered irrelevant (closed closet interiors) or is controlled by other filters and/or repeated maintenance of carbon filters is impractical.
I had a walk-in closet in my old Houston apartment.
Putting an ozonator, or even my Sharp Plasmacluster, in that closet, would have risked fading the dyes in her beloved memorabilia.
Theoretically a photocat, with its oxidants confined to the catalyst surface, should detox the vapors without harming the fabric.
And again for emphasis, Airocide is demonstrated effective (as the old market leading ozonators were) verses very common mold spore allergy - which should be the focus of marketing efforts.
There is no air purifier which can totally detoxify cigarette smoke.
But if I had (or was) a family smoker who already had a good HEPA running, I'd add Airocide(s) to the mix.
If I contacted an antibiotic-resistant infection (MRSA and etc...) Airocide would be on my short list for the sickroom air sterilizer, ahead of hot air and plain UV sterilizers.
Need a high-tech status symbol for the professional office or to impress guests?
Until Sir James Dyson builds an air purifier, Airocide is it.
You can find the Airocide Air Purifier at Amazon.com.
1. First do no harm; minimal out gassing, no ozone.
Score: 8 of 10, ozone levels are OK, jury out on complete oxidation under conditions of load.
2. Serious gas and odor removal is a requirement if health benefits are expected: Units with real carbon VOC capability rank higher.
Score: 8 of 10, Airocide IS all about chemicals and odors.
3. Quality construction; case, gaskets, seals, and precision fitting eliminate bypassing and assure high efficiency at filtering sub-micron particles.
Score: 8 of 10, well constructed, as expected at price.
4. The design maximizes the lifespan of each filter stage by allowing independent filter replacement. Ideally this is combined with electronic filter monitoring.
5. Unit has long filter life, low maintenance requirements, and reasonable operating costs.
Score:10 of 10, replacement bulbs expensive.
6. Purifier produces low noise levels and meaningful air flow rates relative to noise.
Score: 8 of 10, a bit loud on high.
7. Manufacturer has a track record, with many units in the field and a reputation for supporting what they sell. Warranty period and average service life are long.
Score: 7 of 10, young company.
8. Purifier is a value in terms of price/performance ratio. Every price range should be included, “models above $1,200 are best”, while true, is not useful to most consumers.
Score: 7 of 10, pricey.
9. No dirt; unit and manufacturer should be devoid of class-action suits, high returns, recalls, consumer complaints, and legitimate negative consumer reviews.
Score: 8 of 10, infomercial model predicts low long term buyer satisfaction.
10. Unit is stylish, portable, comfortable, and convenient for consumer use.
Score: 10 of 10, stylish and convenient.
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