The amazing Fireball air cleaner

Have you seen those residential room air cleaners that are increasingly popular? The air cleaner on a home furnace is OK, but it’s nowhere near as efficient as these specialized room air cleaner units. And have you seen how there are several types, such as HEPA filters and electrostatic air cleaners? Did you know that an electrostatic air cleaner can burst into flames? Neither did I, until about ten minutes ago.

I have an Oreck electrostatic air cleaner in my basement. I had been remiss in cleaning it, and it got full of dust. I took out the metallic filter element, cleaned and washed it as per instructions, and then stuck it back into the machine. I started it up, and the airflow out of the outlet was definitely restricted. The design of this machine is such that you can’t take apart the blower and the outlet, only the inlet and the filter assembly. So the only way to get the dust out of the outlet area was to try and suck it out with a vacuum. That got out a lot of the dust, but I suspect it must have also kicked quite a bit loose which fell back down into the blower area.

Anyway, I started it up again, and whooomp, great gouts of flame shot out of every orifice in the machine. A fireball literally shot up about one foot out of the top, and if I’d been leaning over it any closer, I wouldn’t have eyebrows now.

Naturally, I immediately shut it off. It was quite obvious that whatever dust shook loose from the outlet and fell into the blower must have somehow gotten into the electrostatic filter unit despite the mesh screen, and it was also quite obvious that the voltage applied to the plates in the electrostatic filter unit was sufficient to ignite this dust.

I took the machine apart and discovered that while the metallic electrostatic filter unit was OK, the mesh screens on the front and back of the unit were destroyed by the fireball. I don’t want to blame Oreck because they probably have a warning in the manual about letting the unit get too dusty, but I thought I had taken reasonable precautions, so I was rather taken aback to have this happen.

In any case, since I happened to have a small Honeywell HEPA air cleaner sitting in a box (it’s the old-fashioned kind which simply blows air through paper and charcoal filters, with no high-voltage plates), I plugged that in and now I’ve got an air cleaner running in the basement again. So, if you’re ever thinking about getting an air cleaner, bear my story in mind. Electrostatic air cleaners can burst into flames if they get too dusty. Maybe I’ll just stick with the Honeywell.

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