Published on April 18th, 2020 | by The GC Team0
“Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save lives.” Government restrictions are imposing profound changes on our everyday business and personal lives. Millions more UK citizens will be spending most of their time shut up in their own homes for the foreseeable future, and this means that improving domestic air quality – already a growing concern – has now become a pressing issue. GC looks at what’s available, and how you can help your customers feel safer and healthier at home
“Vacuuming and air treatment can remove up to 99.9% of allergens and pathogens”
A study commissioned by the Clean Air Day campaign and carried out last year by the National Air Quality Testing Services in the UK found that ultrafine particle pollution levels indoors averaged 3.5 times higher than outdoors, with peaks at 560 times outdoor air pollution, leading to campaigners calling UK households “toxic boxes.”
At that time, the main concern was the general increase in allergies, asthma and other respiratory conditions. Now, with “underlying health conditions” being constantly linked to the risk of more severe effects from Coronavirus, and the “stay home” instruction forcing families into closer contact in confined spaces, the need to create safer, heathier environments at home and to alleviate the effects of poor indoor air quality have taken on a sharper urgency.
Thinking outside the “toxic box”
Can we, as an industry, have a role in advising, reassuring and recommending solutions to our local communities?
Retail outlets may be closed, or restricting their operations, but by remaining available by telephone and online, and using social media and websites to keep in touch, retailers armed with the right knowledge are a vital community resource. The footfall may not be there, but most retailers already have some sort of digital infrastructure, and can develop a proactive role in reaching out to customers and the community. It’s more important than it’s ever been to embrace online communication and use it creatively. The business and social benefits are clear, reminding people you are still here as a source of expertise and valuable advice, giving you an opportunity to preserve and strengthen the retailer/customer relationship, and carrying positive and useful information during the biggest health crisis in living memory. And, of course, it’s the most efficient way to connect with an audience that is dispersed and isolated.
Just because COVID-19 is currently monopolising the media and public concern, none of the other reasons for improving domestic air quality have gone away. Asthma, allergies and respiratory conditions were here before, they’re here now and they’ll be here after COVID-19 has gone. The point is that having to spend more time indoors increases the need for effective cleaning and air treatment to combat these “underlying health conditions.” Medical advice is quite specific about the increased risk of serious illness for anyone contracting COVID-19 while suffering from existing respiratory conditions, so the message must be: it makes sense to alleviate them as far as possible.
“A True HEPA filter can retain up to 99.999% of fine dust and up to 99.95% of viruses, allergens and bacteria”
COVID-19 is new, so there is as yet no conclusive research evidence of what specific effect air filtration, humidification or dehumidification has upon it. But there is ample, reliable and detailed research evidence that vacuuming and air treatment can remove up to 99.9% of allergens and pathogens – such as very fine dust, bacteria, mould spores, pet dander, pollen and viruses – from the air. Some of that research is quoted in this feature, and it’s important to have it in mind when explaining the relevance of cleaning and air treatment products, particularly now that COVID-19 has forced changes in the way we all live.
To begin with that domestic essential, the vacuum cleaner, it’s clear that regularly removing dust and debris from floors, hard surfaces, carpets, fabrics and upholstery has a beneficial effect on air quality. Based on the simple principle “what goes in mustn’t come out,” it’s equally clear that the better the vacuum’s filtration, the less of that harmful material will be blown straight back out into the air.
The industry has risen magnificently to this challenge over the past decade or so, and High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filtration is available in models at most price points. It’s always been important, but now it’s more relevant than ever. As Lisa Keogh, Head of Care & Wellbeing Appliances at AEG says: “Allergen protection is a key concern for consumers which retailers should look to address with relevant product offerings.” And, acknowledging the new reality of how the industry has to communicate under current restrictions, she adds: “Additionally retailers should be pushing for hero pages on their websites outlining the health benefits of floor care appliances.”
How important is HEPA?
Catrin Davies, senior product manager at Hoover SDA, advises retailers that “knowing about which product has the best HEPA filtration will allow them to offer a more informed recommendation. Retailers should advise consumers to look for products which have received the ‘Allergy UK’s Seal of Approval™’. Products with the endorsement have been designed specifically to help with allergies and can reduce symptoms caused by dust mites and bacteria.”
She cites examples from Hoover’s ranges: The Hoover UltraMATT has specialised features to tackle allergens on mattresses, bedding and other textile surfaces. Approved by Allergy UK, it has a Roll&Beat function and a germicidal UV light eliminating up to 99.9% of bacteria and allergens in the home. And the Hoover Optimum Power Allergy & Pets is a bagless cylinder with a HEPA filter which traps 99.97% of particulates in a complex web of fibres and a silver ion treatment in the bin.
Likewise, Joseph Yaxley, product manager for Floorcare at Miele GB, has examples of facts and figures on HEPA filtration from Miele’s ranges. “We recommend our HEPA AirClean filter for those with allergies. These filters retain up to 99.999% of fine dust (down to 0.3 of a micron in accordance with EN 60312-1) and up to 99.95% of viruses, allergens and bacteria (down to 0.1 of a micron in accordance with EN 1822:2011).”
All good vacuum cleaner manufacturers will be able to give figures and measurements about HEPA filters used in their appliances, based on approved testing techniques. An appliance as universally present in homes as a vacuum cleaner can make a positive contribution to air quality and respiratory health.
Not so much of a universal presence in UK homes as vacuum cleaners, air purifiers are nevertheless becoming more popular as indoor air quality rises up the consumer agenda. AEG’s Lisa Keogh advises: “The benefits of using an air purifier in the home are multi-faceted. Allergens and odours can cause respiratory distress, which may result in prolonged health issues.” AEG’s AX9 model, for example, has 360 degree Filtration Technology which “creates a unique, precharged and ultrafine barrier trapping 99.9% of particles as small as 0.3 microns.”
“Healthy indoor humidity levels are between 30% and 50%”
Victor Kristoffersson, Business Development Manager, Europe, at air treatment product manufacturer Blueair, told GC: “A high-performing air purifier which removes bacteria, virus, dust, pollen, pet dander, and toxic chemicals from the air is helpful to people with asthma or allergies. Our air purifiers [also] remove … up to 99.99% of the 12 most common bacteria and viruses from the air.”
For Chris Michael, Director of air purifier specialist Meaco, knowing how to choose the right purifier for the job is essential. “Customers should make sure that they are buying products that are True HEPA to ensure that the filter has been made to strict international guidelines.” He also emphasises that Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) is vital, and this involves matching the machine’s air flow to the size of the indoor space. ”The more often the air from a room goes through the air purifier each hour, the cleaner the air will become. You should be able to divide a room size into the air purifier’s air flow at least three times. This will mean that the air in the room is being cleaned three times an hour. If the allergy is bad go for 5 times an hour and if the condition is severe then use a factor of 7.” Meaco has a range of air purifiers of different sizes and airflows so the user can match specific room sizes and health conditions to machine airflow capacity.
The importance of indoor humidity levels
Dehumidifiers and humidifiers – some of which also incorporate True HEPA filtration or other methods of pathogen control – are, like air purifiers, a purchase that requires consumers to recognise poor indoor air quality as a health issue, and to have access to the knowledge and products which can help.
It may be fairly easy to recognise the signs of condensation, damp and mould that can be the unwanted side-effects of a well-sealed living space. And in some cases, the solution is simply to get the appropriate dehumidifier(s) to bring humidity down. However, the question of indoor humidity and its effects on airborne allergens and pathogens is a great deal more involved than that, and turns on the fact that too little is as harmful as too much. Humidity needs to be monitored to ensure it’s within the safe window between too damp and too dry.
Citing a Yale study, air quality specialist Airthings told GC: “Issues with humidity are a problem for everyone. It can cause mould growth, exacerbate eczema, bring on dust mite allergies, and has even been linked to asthma and respiratory illnesses. As if that wasn’t enough, the link between low humidity and infection has recently been investigated, and the results aren’t good. Researchers for the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention found that when humidity levels were at 23%, 70 to 77% of flu virus particles were still able to cause an infection an hour after coughing. Raising humidity levels to 43% reduced the percentage of infectious particles to just 14%. The CDC research shows that the flu virus survived for longer in low humidity. The Yale researcher found that low humidity also made it more difficult for the body to remove inhaled particles and therefore reduced the test subject’s natural defences and increased the chances of contracting flu.
“Healthy indoor humidity levels are between 30% and 50% according to Environmental Protection Agency recommendations. By keeping the home in between these recommended levels, it can reduce the risk that comes with poor indoor humidity.”
How do we know when humidity is within this optimum window? According to Airthings, “the best solution is to monitor humidity, that way you can be alerted when levels get too high or low.” The company’s Airthings Wave, which helps to monitor humidity, or the Airthings Wave Plus, which “offers complete indoor air insights including humidity and radon gas”, are examples of dedicated air quality monitoring devices.
“With regards to the Coronavirus,” adds Airthings, “the World Health Organisation warns that everyone can be at risk including those living in hot, humid conditions.”
For householders keen to achieve optimum humidity levels, the good news is that some humidifiers and dehumidifiers come with a choice of settings, and will turn on and off to keep the atmosphere within the specified humidity range.
Meaco’s Chris Michael cites dehumidifier models to suit a range of indoor spaces, and adds that they will generally come with HEPA filtration, thus doubling as air purifiers. Meaco even has a dehumidifier model that uses a sterilising ioniser which “combats dust, dust mites, viruses, mould, bacteria and odours, and has the advantage of being filter free so there are no ongoing costs.”
The COVD-19 threat has caused a sharper focus on indoor air quality, but even when the immediate threat fades the overall health benefits of clean air indoors will endure. The products are there. The need is there. And, particularly at this time, the consumer focus is there. We may be having to use the far-reaching medium of cyberspace to get the message to customers. But perhaps when this pandemic is over, some of the good communications habits we’ve adopted will become permanent.