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How Do UV Air Purifiers Work?

Indoor air quality is a big concern for many people, especially those who are sensitive to poor air quality. Between regular allergies and the spread of viruses, air purifiers are becoming more and more common. Ultraviolet (UV) air purifiers in particular are becoming increasingly popular, but how do they work, and are they really effective? The air quality specialists at Big Mountain Heating & Air Conditioning can answer these questions:

What is ultraviolet light?

Before understanding how UV sterilizers work, it’s important to understand ultraviolet light. All light is made of tiny particles called photons, which travel through space in a wave pattern via vibration. The faster the vibration, the shorter the distance between waves — likewise, photons that vibrate more slowly have a longer distance between waves. This distance is called a wavelength, which is used to tell us how much energy (vibration) light particles have and helps us measure different categories of light.

For example, the wavelength of light that is visible to humans is 400-700 nanometers (nm). UV light is the same light that comes from the sun and causes sunburns and skin cancer. It has a wavelength of 100-400 nm — that’s very small, which means UV light has a lot of energy! There are three kinds of UV light, all of which have different qualities based on their wavelength:

  • UV-A: 315-400 nm, the weakest UV light. This wavelength can cause aging, wrinkling, eye damage and even skin cancer over time.
  • UV-B: 280-315 nm, the light most common during the summer months. This light is responsible for sunburns, aging, eye damage and most skin cancer.
  • UV-C: 100-280 nm, the strongest and most high-energy UV light. This sunlight is stopped by the ozone layer, but it’s strong enough to be used as a sterilizer.

How UV Sterilizers Work

UV air purifiers use the energy produced UV-C light to kill microorganisms that pass under it, filtering air under a UV lamp and sending it back out clean. When your unprotected skin is exposed to UV light for too long, your skin cells’ DNA is damaged at a molecular level, which results in an inflammatory sunburn. Similarly, UV-C light alters the DNA of microorganisms. Because they are single-celled, they rely on their DNA to live, so the UV-C light effectively kills them when they pass under it — that makes UVC light one of the best air purifiers around!

Are UV air purifiers really effective?

UV air purifiers have stirred up quite a bit of controversy due to so many ineffective products on the market. However, studies have shown that properly designed UV air purification systems are effective at deactivating (killing) bacteria and viruses. While they aren’t 100% effective, high-quality air purification systems are used by hospitals and homeowners alike to prevent the spread of potentially harmful microorganisms such as mold and improve indoor air quality.

Your UV Purification Options

There are two options available for UV air purification: portable air purifiers and whole-house air purification systems. Unfortunately for those who live in apartments, dorms or other places where whole-home purification isn’t an option, portable UV purifiers are largely ineffective. Not only do they often push air past the UV-C lamp too quickly for it to deactivate microbes, but they also are only used in one room at a time, further reducing their effectiveness.

Whole-house UV purifiers are installed directly into your HVAC system, which makes for a much more effective process. These systems can purify all of the air in your home and typically offer a more effective design overall. If possible, whole-house UV air purifiers are the best option.

If you’re ready to improve your indoor air quality with the power of UV light, call on Big Mountain Heating & Air Conditioning. We offer the residents of Sacramento UV purification installation that actually works. Contact us today for more information or to begin a service request.

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What Our Customers Have To Say

Good Rebates

This is a review for a complete HVAC system replacement from Big Mountain. I started at the SMUD website looking for the best rebate program and found a list of contractors there. I vetted out companies that had a lower number of completed jobs per the SMUD rebate program data.

Lee S.

Very Professional

Had my A/C go out yesterday, called Big Mountain today and they had a serviceman in my area of Lincoln, he was here within a half hour and fix my unit in a very professional manner, and the cost was reasonable. I was very impressed with the company and the serviceman.

Tom D.


I had a appointment with them between 1-3 and one of their staff members called me and kept me updated when they will arrive which was nice. Steve arrived on time and was really nice for explaining what could the cause be. My ac fan was working but cool air wasn’t coming out.

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