“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.
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.)
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?)
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.
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:
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!
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:
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):
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.
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.