A clean home has been on many minds lately, as the pandemic brought back into focus concepts such as immunity, air pollution and hygiene. It was against this backdrop that I was confronted by two related events: one in my private life, the other through work.
My baby aged 15 months developed a cold, dry cough and itchy eyes soon after we moved house. The symptoms persisted on and off for months on end, which the doctor put down to “the allergens floating around in most houses”. It was hideous and put a spanner in our delirious dreams of sending her to playschool for a few hours each day.
Almost simultaneously, I got a chance to test out the latest air purifier on the block, which claimed to combat a dangerous but oft-ignored pollutant: formaldehyde.
Turns out, the chemical I had naively only ever associated with malodorous hair-straightening treatments is also widely used to preserve furniture. While the stuff might ensure your decor does not decay, it does mean the cabinet or carpet in question can constantly emit tiny doses of the gas.
“Formaldehyde can cause irritation of the skin, eyes and throat, and even neurovegetative disorders,” explains Dr Slavica Vukovic, a specialist in internal medicine at RAK Hospital.
The solution is simple – and singular, according to Vukovic. “An air purifier with an activated carbon filter is the only option to remove formaldehyde from indoor air,” she says.
And that’s how I came to possess the Pure Cool Formaldehyde fan, Dyson’s latest air purifier that launched in the UAE in August. While it joins a long list of companies that offer formaldehyde-fighting purifiers (from Airpura and Honeywell to Molekule and Philips), the British brand claims it’s the only gadget that uses not only a solid-state sensor (instead of the traditional gel casing that eventually dries out) but also a catalytic filter that destroys the formaldehyde altogether, rather than simply capturing it.
“Formaldehyde is number three on the WHO’s list of top 10 pollutants,” says David Hill, Dyson engineer and design manager for the formaldehyde construction technology. “It’s a powerful preservative that, while useful for checking bacterial growth in your furniture, is not ideal to be living around constantly. Preserved wooden flooring, for example, can emit formaldehyde for years.
“The design brief was to be constantly destroying formaldehyde, not just capturing it and it still staying in your home. The catalytic filter, which is made up of microscopic panels, oxidises and breaks down the molecules into tiny amounts of water and carbon dioxide, which are harmless.”
The technology is ground-breaking, as is reflected in the top-range Dh2,700 ($735) price tag. Air purifiers with this functionality range between $120 and $999.
The machine also identifies and eliminates other particulate matter – from dust and pollen to mould spores, plus a cocktail of gases such as benzene and nitrogen dioxide, which enter your home from outside, as well as through the use of scented candles, deodorant and even the stove. All of this is relayed via a display panel, which shows you just how much noxious matter is present in a room at any given time, and then proceeds to erase the same.
The display is an interesting addition. Just as with a fitness tracker – where half the fun is in knowing exactly how many steps you took or how many hours of deep sleep you got – there is some satisfaction in seeing the size and level of the particulate matter and gas pollution in the air around you slowly dissipate.
The Dyson team recommends you let the machine remain on auto – as it will “ramp up when it needs to clean and ramp down when a room is clean”, according to Hill – and I also found it useful to cart it from room to room across the day.
At five hours' usage over a 24-hour period, the activated carbon filter is estimated to last about one year, after which it can be changed for Dh300. The formaldehyde-destroying filter, however, will never need replacing.
“Where you place it depends your lifestyle,” Hill explains. “If you love cooking, you’ll find loads of pollutants in the kitchen. If you are an allergy sufferer and have trouble sleeping, keep it in the bedroom so you won’t be hit as hard by the pollen.”
Already anecdotal reviews are suggesting that users feel the air in their homes is cleaner, with one reporting she "no longer wakes up coughing".
Playschool, here we come.
Other air purifiers to invest in
USP: Captures dust mites, pet dander and pollen
Price: Dh450 from Amazon
Philips 2000i series
USP: Reduce pollutants, allergens, odours, harmful gases and certain bacteria
Price: Dh1,989 from Noon.com
USP: Removes formaldehyde and VOCs released from common household products, construction materials and pesticides
Price: Dh3,670 from Airpura.com