How does electrostatic air cleaning technology work?


Ever wondered how your electrostatic precipitator, also known as electrostatic air cleaners, works? The science behind it and a short history of the technology are below.

In 1824 M. Hohlfeld a mathematics teacher in Leipzig, Germany, first described the precipitation of smoke particles by the electricity. (1) In 1908 the first successful patent for a commercial process was applied for by American chemist Frederick Gardner Cottrell. (2) By 1929 a young research engineer named Penney created an experimental precipitator for his home to combat the grime of Pittsburgh. He quickly filled a quart milk jug with black, powdery rubbish from the air. Since then the technology has evolved to be used in many residential and commercial applications. Capable of capturing particles as fine as 2.5 microns it still stands today as the most efficient and effective way to remove airborne particles.

The electrostatic precipitator works by applying energy only to the particulate matter being collected, without significantly impeding the air flow. This is a two-stage process by first drawing oil mist or smoke into the air cleaner, it goes into the ionizer which has 7 or 10 mil tungsten wires with 8 – 11,000 Volt DC on them, that gives the smoke and mist particles a static charge. Then the charged particles go into the collection cell which has a series of parallel plates, every other one is ground, and the one in between has 4 -7 KV DC (voltage varies depending on brand and plate spacing) this pulls the charged particles out of the air-stream. A similar example from everyday life would be rubbing a balloon on your hair which gives it a static charge; then it will stick to a wall.

Watch the short video below for a visual explanation of the process.

We hope you enjoyed this brief explanation of Electrostatic precipitators and the technology behind it. Our experienced technicians are always ready to help you maintain your precipitators and solve existing air quality problems.

Thanks for Reading,

The Bee Clean Team

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Web Source:

  1. Electrostatic Precipitator, (accessed August 28, 2018).
  2. Electrostatic Precipitator, (accessed August 28, 2018).