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Bad odors that come from volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air are not only annoying but potentially bad for your health. Sometimes these odors can be so strong, traditional cleaning methods like using baking soda or white vinegar simply do not work. If you are confronted with such potent and potentially harmful odors in your home, car or place of work, you will likely consider more powerful ways to remove them.

One of these methods involves using an ozone machine to eliminate bad smells.

We will explain how ozone generators work on specific problem odors, what precautions to take and possible scenarios for their use.

How do ozone generators remove odorous particles?

Ozone generators produce ozone by breaking oxygen molecules (O2) apart so that singular atoms can bond with other O2 molecules to form O3 (ozone). This is done in two ways: through silent corona discharge, which utilizes electric discharge to split the oxygen molecules, or via UV radiation to split oxygen molecules. Either way, the device generates ozone.

Manufacturers and retailers of ozone generators often claim that that these ozone molecules will chemically react with VOCs, bacteria, viruses, and other gaseous pollutants to kill the odor at the source. But according to research, ozone concentrations would take hundreds of years to break down VOCs in particular.

When ozone was used as a cleaning agent in some air purifiers to remove VOCs, removal efficiencies by ozone alone were low and particular harmful byproducts could be produced. Reactions between excessive residual ozone and unsaturated VOCs may even lead to the formation of harmful intermediates such as aldehydes, organic acids and fine mode particles. Furthermore, the reaction rates of ozone with most VOC’s were slow in indoor environments.

While there are limited scientific studies to support ozone’s usefulness in getting rid of odor completely, it is plausible that ozone will react with odorous chemicals. For example, ozone is believed to react with acrolein, one of the many odorous and irritating chemicals found in secondhand tobacco smoke. Ozone may also be effective in breaking down certain types of VOCs containing such as those in cooking oils, cleaning agents, etc.

What precautions should be taken?

Ozone generators are legally sold and marketed as air cleaners, but they produce ozone as a byproduct and have not been approved for use in occupied spaces by any federal agency. Here are a few precautions you should take if using an ozone generator:

  • If you opt for an ozone generator to mitigate a vehicle’s odor, use it in the vehicle for 1-2 hours, then air the car out overnight.
  • Remove any items that you don’t want to experience discoloration or potential damage from rooms in which you use an ozone generator.
  • Ozone can worsen respiratory symptoms and asthma, so wait 2-4 hours for it to settle before re-entering the room in which you used the generator.
  • Make sure pets and children do not have access to the space while the ozone generator is running.
  • Keep plants out of the area.
  • Run the generator for only 2-3 hours in larger rooms and do not return to the house until later that day.

How do ozone generators perform with common odors?

Though all odor molecules are classified as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), here is how ozone might interact with specific problem odors you may encounter in your home:

Pet odors

As much as we love them, our pets are some of the most common sources of stinkiness in a house. Pet dander is composed of skin flakes and the most common source of that “pet smell,” which can be hard to get rid of with traditional methods. For general pet odors in a room, an ozone machine might mask any smells that can be picked up by the human nose.

On the other hand, pet urine—a very common source of strong odor in carpets and porous materials—contains urea, which will not oxidize. Therefore, it is important to identify the source of your pet odor smells before choosing to use an ozone generator.

Large car (transport) odors

Long haul and short haul trucking companies that transport produce, livestock and many other items that leave behind a wide range of smells might require frequent odor removal in their vehicles. Depending on the extent of the problem, ozone generators can be run for several hours in these transportation vehicles (while unoccupied) to help eliminate some of the odors. However, as we discussed, the efficacy of ozone on VOCs is not certain and may be limited if applied in a short time period.

Cigarette smoke

Smoke is difficult to remove from the air and is dangerous to inhale, so this is one of the odors you should take immediate steps to mitigate. Because it is a difficult odor to remove, people often try ozone and other more extreme odor removal methods. But there are some serious caveats about using ozone in this way. Brian W. Christman, a professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University and a spokesman for the American Lung Association, notes that ozone can be very hard on people with asthma or cardiovascular issues and may be harmful at high enough levels. Since smokers are at an increased risk for both asthma and cardiovascular disease, it is easy to understand the risks associated with using ozone to remove cigarette smoke.

Mold and mildew

Ozone might effectively mask smells produced by mold and mildew. But whether or not the ozone actually treats the mold issue will depend on several factors, including the extent of the problem, the source and type of mold. Nevertheless, ozone generators may still be a viable option for reducing mold and mildew odors because mold will oxidize under the conditions of high shock ozone treatment. This level of ozone is too high for exposure and requires the safety precautions discussed above.

Mold and mildew grow in dark and humid places where there is a lack of fresh oxygen. In all cases the moisture and humidity in the walls, floor etc., must first be removed or solved permanently to effectively eliminate the problem mold and odor. However, ozone can also be an unpleasant smell as well, so mitigating the mold issue this way may just be substituting one issue for another. Furthermore, it is likely that ozone generators are unable to remedy the cause of the mold, so it is still only a partial solution if at all.

Human smells and body odors

Rental homes may reek with the smell of a past tenant. Strong body odors can linger and be difficult to air out by simply leaving windows open or through basic cleaning. In this case, an ozone generator may seem like a reasonable next step. However, past research indicates “that body odor may be masked by the smell of ozone but is not removed by ozone.” Therefore in the case of human odors, it would make sense to try a non-ozone air purifier and other traditional forms of cleaning before turning to ozone with potentially limited efficacy.

Scenarios in which you might rent an ozone generator

There are a few situations for which people might consider renting an ozone generator. These are typically perceived as larger scale problems that require a more technical solution. Identifying the source of the odor, trying alternate elimination methods and assessing their overall cost effectiveness can help you decide if trying an ozone generator is worth it. It is important to take a measured and deliberate approach in deciding as you are introducing a potentially dangerous compound into your home, workspace or vehicle—will need to take steps to reduce the risks associated with the ozone.

A cost-effective option may be renting an ozone generator from your local home store. Rentable ozone generators can range from small, home-sized units to industrial behemoths. The cost to rent an ozone generator ranges from around $550 to $2000+. If you are only looking for a small unit, other home stores may offer modular, compact ozone generators for purchase, ranging from around $90 to $300.

If you decide to rent an ozone generator, you can take some steps to reduce the time required for the generator to be in use. Try cleaning the affected area with white vinegar or baking soda etc. to attack the source of the smell and possibly eliminate the problem in a less intensive manner. It typically costs $600 for someone to clean a 1,000-sq-foot home, though many high output ozone generator rentals can easily cost thousands.

Mold remediation

When a house has a mold problem, people often use ozone generators to address the more obvious issues, like strong odors. However, you must be careful that the source of the mold (i.e. a leaking water source, fungal growth, etc.) is properly remediated by professionals. Ozone generators may mask the smell, but you will need to ensure you are not continuing to live with toxic mold growth by eliminating the root of the problem.

Industrial settings or job sites

Work environments where a great deal of harmful, smelly compounds permeate the air may be a setting where ozone generators are occasionally used. Because employers are required by law to ensure a safe and compliant work environment, the use of ozone generators varies from site to site. Generally, specialists are consulted to ensure that the generator will not interact harmfully with worksite VOCs—otherwise it is likely an alternate cleaning method will be used.

Recap: Can an ozone generator remove odors?

It is clear that there are critical precautions you must take when working with ozone generators—the dangers of too much ozone exposure are not to be taken lightly. If you are compelled to use an ozone generator for whatever reason, it is crucial that you follow the precautions we listed to ensure your safety.

Moreover it is not advisable to rely heavily on using an ozone generator. Study after study has shown that they are not particularly effective in reducing indoor air concentrations for most VOCs. There are other air purification technologies that are used to help with odor. Our solution, the Molekule PECO air purifier, can destroy VOCs safely and effectively, without the use of any ozone.

Ultimately the choice to use an ozone generator needs to be an informed one, wherein individuals are aware of the risks and know that ozone is not a “one-size-fits-all” solution.

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