Indoor Air Quality, an Air Purifier, and Toxic Pancakes?

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Don’t take this the wrong way, but I really need you to stay congested,” I told my poor husband after he announced that yes, going back to work had somewhat alleviated his apparent allergy to our house.

Being out of the house for 8-9 hours gave his body a chance to stop sneezing.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “maybe I’ll get worse on the weekends.”

(These are real conversations people have in homes where you’re constantly trying to test some health product…)

A few weeks after we moved into our new house (which is 20 years old), my husband woke up sneezing, sneezed all morning, and by 2:00 p.m. I’m guessing he sneezed 100 times. He continued to sneeze all afternoon, even though we were at someone else’s house.

We had moved boxes around the day or two before, bringing in some that had mold in them…yuck.

The next day when I sat down at my computer, I decided it was time to look into getting an air purifier and was thrilled when Oreck agreed to work with me.

air purifier

For weeks, my husband continued to suffer from pretty serious congestion, especially in the mornings. Sometimes it wakes him up early and he can’t get back to sleep. Choice quote: “I woke up and was so excited that I could breathe through one nostril. Then it all started draining so that was gone.”

Trying out an Air Purifier

I didn’t even know for sure how an air purifier works, or what I could expect from it. I didn’t know how big it would be (about the height of a nightstand, but only 12 inches or so thick). I wasn’t sure if I would need to do maintenance or buy filters, or what. I just knew I wanted to do something, because if my husband was having such a crazy reaction to the air in our house, what might it be doing to my kids?

I’ve read the statistics about indoor air quality being terrible in our culture, and how housewives tend to have more respiratory illness because of it. I couldn’t wait for the box to come. (Check out this news story about testing indoor air for chemicals.)

oreck air purifier discount
The first thing this busy mama appreciated about the Oreck AirInstinct was the “quick start” guide right on top. I had the thing going in 5 minutes without having to wade through a lengthy instruction manual. Score one for Oreck.

When I finally read the manual, there was this section about something in the machine being known to cause cancer in California… !!! You know I was emailing my contact asking questions about that! The answer is actually pretty simple:

The Safe Drinking and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, commonly referred to as “Proposition 65” requires companies doing business in California to disclose whether any product contains a chemical believed by the State of California to cause cancer. The list of chemicals is published by the State of California and is updated with additional chemicals frequently.

The current list includes over 800 chemicals. In some cases, a chemical may have a minimum presence level for which the warning would be required. However, because of the high volume of chemicals on the list, the frequency at which chemicals are being added to the list, the difficulty and cost of measuring the presence and level of such a high number of chemicals in any particular product or component of the product, and because Oreck believes that at least one of the chemicals (DE2) is present at a very low level in one of the components (rubber bumper) of one of its products, Oreck has made the decision, in an abundance of caution, to include the Proposition 65 disclosure with all of its products.   

The fact that a product bears a Proposition 65 warning does not mean by itself that the product is unsafe.

You could think of Proposition 65 more as a “right to know” law than a pure product safety law. Voters who approved Proposition 65 in 1986 intended that Californians should have a right to know when they may be exposed to chemicals that cause cancer or reproductive harm. That way, consumers and their families can decide on their own if they want to purchase and/or use the product.

I’m cool with that. Score two for Oreck.

What Does the Air Feel Like?

Whenever I would walk into our bedroom to get John from his nap, and the door had been closed, I’d inhale deeply and imagine the clean, clear air. I can’t honestly say that there is a definite difference, though, because it’s impossible to separate my brain and its expectations from my nose (kind of like how it just feels good to lay the baby down on his mattress, as I said earlier in my organic crib mattress review– giveaway too!). My husband actually thought that the purifier made the room smell a little like garlic or something, but I think that went away after a week or so of use.

The Oreck AirInstinct usually runs on “auto” in our home, which means it monitors the air for a certain amount of particles, at which point it switches on and starts filtering. Every time I’d see the machine’s light turn color from blue to pink, I’d get a little tense.

“Particles in the air! Dirty air…”

I always wondered where the “stuff” was coming from. Dust? Mold? Problems, or just normal stuff? We women tend to let our imaginations run away with things when it comes to the health of our families, don’t we?

How Dirty is Dirty?

The manual stated that there were four levels on the sensor, indicating the particle count in the air and how hard the purifier is working to clean the air. I was having trouble figuring them out for a while…probably because I had only seen blue (“monitoring” – not running) and purple (level one, low) – I just didn’t realize it.


For the first few weeks, we only ran the air purifier in bedrooms, which is about the size of space it’s designed to handle. My son’s room was newly painted about 6-8 weeks before, and I could always still smell the paint offgassing, particularly when the door was closed at night. Putting the air purifier in his room had a curious effect – I thought I could smell the paint (or something) more strongly than ever. Could the machine be cleaning the air so well it ends up pulling the chemicals off the walls? That would be nice, wouldn’t it? My husband said it smelled like food, possibly garlic. (Perhaps I need to cook Italian more often to satiate his cravings?) Winking smile

We took the purifier out of the bedrooms and into the dining room/kitchen area, which is open to the living room and probably much bigger then the air purifier is designed to handle, to test out to see if it could clean the bacon smell out of the air after a big breakfast.

You know the story: you cook up some delicious, nitrate-free bacon with pastured eggs for breakfast, and then when you come home from church and open the door to your house – WHOMP. Bacon. No mistaking what these people had for breakfast. We were curious to see if the scent was less obvious with the AirInstinct running.


Unfortunately, since we just moved to this house, we don’t have a good frame of reference. Our tiny house held onto the bacon smell for a really, really long time. Perhaps this house always allows it to dissipate quickly. I will say that I think the air purifier knocked out the bacon smell quite well; I was surprised by how little I noticed it coming into the house after a few hours away.

Cooking, Cleaning, and Air Quality

Moving the air purifier to the kitchen, however, did end up teaching me some lessons and opening up a lot of questions.

vacuuming with baby (475x356)

Because I was around the machine more often, I noticed when it ran, such as:

  • When Leah and I dusted the blinds in the adjacent living room, it responded immediately (purple or pink).
  • When I ran the Nutrimill grain mill in the kitchen, the flour dust caused the air purifier to kick in, big time (purple or pink).
  • When we vacuum (you can see the air purifier in the background of the photo above).
  • When I turned on my electric griddle to cook pancakes.

Within a minute of plugging in that griddle, which is unfortunately nonstick, the air purifier across the room went to RED. Ah, angry red. And I thought my breath caught in my throat when I saw that gentle, slow-blowing purple! The machine remained red, staring me down as I flipped pancakes, and didn’t turn back to blue until two full hours after unplugging.


You can read all you want about Teflon and canary birds and 500 degrees F and safety and hazards and everyone conjecturing about whether it’s dangerous and how dangerous and at what temperature and when it’s a big deal and not a big deal…but until you’ve had a machine that knows when you’re dusting, knows when you’re poofing flour into the air, and knows when you’re vacuuming stare you down with an ominous red eye and clean your air vehemently for two-and-a-half hours, you don’t really understand much about Teflon.

In case you’re wondering (you know I was), the purifier does not react to anything moist in a pot on the stovetop, even chicken stock or cooking dry beans all day long. Even when I boil things over, which I do a lot:

pot boils over beans (1) (475x356)

There was black bean juice on my floor two feet out…this is what happens when I go to the office to write a blog post after turning beans on to cook…

It does turn red when I’m cooking with cast iron and it starts smoking a little, as cast iron does when you’re cooking something dry, like these chickpea wrap patties. Sometimes it reacts to our nonstick frying pan, which I keep around for eggs because I constantly mess them up in the cast iron.

I borrowed my mother-in-law’s griddle, which is a different surface than mine, perhaps cast iron (?), just to test out the “red light, purple light” thing I had going on. The purifier does go red when I make pancakes on this griddle, but I’ve never seen it stay on for two hours like it did with the nonstick. I have more testing to do – it’s time to pull the nonstick griddle back out and make sure I do a perfectly normal batch of pancakes at 350F, then measure how long the purifier stays red.

You can be assured that you’ll be hearing about Teflon and safe cooking surfaces sometime this spring!

Fun, Too

air purifier balloon (2) (475x356)

The AirInstinct is also a really fun $500 toy to keep balloons aloft. The kids love it when I get the cast iron smoking or make pancakes, because the RED level will keep up to 3 balloons in the air. No kidding.

(I still think they should have gone with red, green, yellow, and blue or something, because the 4 colors are pretty similar – and/or list the colors in the instruction booklet, not just online.)

Air Purifier Maintenance

My first calendar reminder just popped up this week – to clean the air sensory unit every two months. It was not a difficult task, and now that I looked up how to do it, it will take about 3-5 minutes every two months. I think I can handle that.

I’m also supposed to rinse and air dry the front filter, the one that catches large particles of dust and hair, every couple weeks. Since I haven’t done it yet, let’s assume I’m always going to be behind on that task. Here’s what it looked like today, after 2 months without attention, running nearly every day:

air purifier cleaning (2) (475x356)

I’m pretty happy all that gunk is out of my air! I mentioned in the natural steam vacuuming solution post that since our ducts were cleaned terribly, the house is a very dusty place. Now I’m wondering what the AirInstinct would do in the basement…

While I’m at it, this is what the next filter part, the odor absorber, looks like (there’s also a HEPA in there):

air purifier cleaning (3) (356x475)

Final Thoughts

An air purifier is one of those items that is certainly not a necessity (although maybe for some circumstances), but it’s awfully nice to have. I like knowing I’ve got something on my side in the battle against poor indoor air quality. (Here are the EPA’s thoughts on air purification and indoor air quality. Best to remove the source of air pollution, they say. I’m not stopping cooking, so…)

The Oreck AirInstinct is generally quiet and unassuming (although you’ll notice RED, but even that is 100x quieter than say, a bathroom or stove exhaust fan). I don’t get to test out 26 different brands like I did with the natural sunscreen review (you know I would if I could!), but I feel comfortable saying that if you are in the market for an air purifier, this one is a good find.

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Disclosure: Oreck Company provided me with a sample product at no charge for my review, but no compensation was offered for this post. My opinion couldn’t be changed by a check or a team of wild horses, anyway. I am an affiliate for Oreck products (now, 8 months later) and will earn commission if you purchase using my links. See my full disclosure statement here.

Click here for my disclaimer and advertising disclosure - affiliate links in this post will earn commission based on sales, but it doesn't change your price.

25 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. says

    I am looking forward to the “nonstick and other cooking surfaces” series… 😉

    I was just thinking about that topic today and trying to figure out what a good replacement for Teflon would be! I only have one pan like that but I’d rather not have any.

  2. Kimberly says

    Thanks for this post, it’s really interesting! We do not have an air purifier and I hadn’t seriously thought about one until now. I do have a lot of houseplants, though- that might be an interesting experiment for you, to check the air purifier “color” in a room with plenty of air-purifying houseplants :).

  3. Allison says

    My son has chronic sinus infections from dust and mold allergies. My husband and I were willing to install an expensive filtration system on our furnace, but our allergist recommended a freestanding hepa air purifier. I purchased a mid-range one and have noticed an immediate improvement in the smells and the dust in our home. However, the biggest improvement was found after covering our mattresses and box springs. Were your mattresses in storage?

    • says

      Good question – no, the one we sleep on was not, although my son’s was. Come to think of it, he’s had a random cough that doesn’t bother him but won’t go away since we moved in…holy cow…maybe? It’s time to look into getting him a mattress that’s not 30 years old! TU! :) Katie

      • says

        Look for an allergy mattress cover, too. This kind should wrap around the entire mattress and zip up. I use one due to allergies!

  4. Mary says

    Kind of annoyed that I didn’t see that Oreck donates money to Susan G. Komen when you sign up to receive their emails until after I signed up for their email list. This definitely strikes them from my list of businesses from which to purchase products. Maybe you should mention this to them, Katie. Maybe I should, too.

    • Katie says

      Oooh, I totally didn’t look into that. BUT – did you see in the news recently that Susan G. Komen is ceasing giving to Planned Parenthood? That was my big beef with them, so I think maybe they’re back on the “ok” list? Thank you – Katie

      • Mary says

        Sorry, I didn’t mean to come across as angry if I did. This can happen when you are typing instead of talking face to face.
        Actually, Komen did “defund” PP but then reversed their decision 48 hours later because of the uproar. Trust me, I got pretty entrenched in the debate when it was all going on. Ugh!
        But as this is not a political blog, I will not mention it again.
        I am learning so much about real food and good nutrition. Thanks for all you do!

        • Katie says

          No, you didn’t sound angry, and I absolutely stand with you on that. I forgot that I did hear they reversed…what a– there, now I’m getting angry! :( Glad you’re enjoying the blog!

  5. says

    I’ve been wanting to replace all my non stick cookware with SS, but just haven’t done it. This post will spur me on! Waiting to see the answers to the other reader’s questions too.

    And I LOVE your research posts. Saves me all that time!

  6. says

    Yeah, did you husband stop sneezing? I had allergy-like symptoms every morning for a while there. Until we finally had the money (and had our house on the market since we thought we had to move) and replaced the carpet [I would’ve preferred hardwood, but we didn’t have the money] and all the windows that had fun condensation and a little bit of mold I kept scrubbing off.

  7. says

    No, he does not…that went away before the air purifier arrived, although he was still congested constantly. That is also gone, but as with most health things, it’s impossible to determine the cause. We also removed some of the offensive boxes to the garage… :) Katie

  8. Katie says

    re: sneezing

    Here’s the deal – the FTC or FDA or somebody has really weird strict rules about making health claims for non-medicine items…so Oreck says I can’t actually say that it helped my husband stop sneezing! That’s why it wasn’t in the post.


    The sneezing more or less subsided before the machine arrived, but congestion was evident every morning. Post-purifier, that went away, but it could have been for any of a zillion reasons, you know? He did get a cold after we moved the machine to the main floor and was congested again, so it’s really hard to pinpoint whether the allergenic quality of the air has changed. I wish it could be black and white, but physical ailments so rarely are!

    Hope that helps… :) Katie

  9. Matt Ringer says

    Healthier indoor air is critical – especially for those who are susceptible to respiratory ailments, colds, viruses and bacteria. Studies by the Environmental Protection Agency indicate that billions of dollars are spent every year on medication to help Americans breathe better or cure their respiratory illnesses, including such ailments as asthma, hay fever and other allergies. Many times it’s the imbalance between negative and positive ions found in most indoor environments, particularly where homes are insulated to save energy or winter cold. Ionizers and ozone machines are effective and will improve indoor air quality and also remove odors. Air-ReNu a paint additive works 7/24 and you only have to apply it once.

  10. says

    My husband and I are allergic to our home, we need a purifier bad! He is also relieved when he goes to work. Our attic is the worst because there are no windows and that’s our home office where I work-from-home with kids!

  11. says

    I agree that nonstick isn’t the best for us… I’m curious, though, how the purifier responds when you fry on other types of surfaces. I was just thinking that when I make pancakes, the pancake smell tends to “hang” out in the kitchen and surrounding areas for quite a while, kwim? So fry something in cast iron and let me know how it goes. :>)

  12. You can't be serious says

    Planned parenthood has saved countless lives and improved countless more lives. Having an abortion or not is the most intimate decision a person can make. STAY OUT OF IT.

    Unbelivable you are knocking Oreck for supporting an organziation that materially improved the lives of tmillions of hose least fortunate among us.

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