If you own a bird, you already know that it is a big commitment that is not without its challenges. My challenges included a growing sensitivity to allergens and an increasing need to more deeply clean my home for my health. As the level of maintenance increased, somehow, so did the allergens. I was quickly approaching a decision that I was dreading: Do I need to give up my beloved Blue & Gold Macaw, “Banjo”?
When we think of common household pets, often furry creatures like cats and dogs come to mind. However, did you know that the third most common pet in the United States is a bird? According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, over 3.6 million homes in the United States own birds, with the majority of these homes owning two or more birds at a time. That makes for a lot of feathers!
I have been to homes where, during the course of my visit, I was genuinely surprised to stumble across a litter box – or a set of dog bowls. “Oh! You have a pet!” is one of the biggest compliments you can give your host. That said, I have also been to plenty of homes where I was greeted with a familiar pet odor or visible pet hair. If I let my home go down a similar path, I knew my allergies would get worse, and I was already having trouble breathing at night.
Being new to allergies, I didn’t have much information about air purifiers. I knew the word, “HEPA,” but that was about it. There was only one model on the shelf that covered the square footage I needed, the Sharp FPK50UW air purifier. There were plenty of other words on the box that I didn’t understand, but when I compared the AHAM Verified labels, the SHARP model seemed as strong as or more powerful than anything else on the shelf. The filters lasted longer, and it had a readout-control panel that I was sure would tell me something – all the other models just had an on-off switch. It also wasn’t the least expensive. That criterion may be more or less important to some people, but the higher price point did give me a little more confidence that I was buying a quality product. So I bought two of them.
Setup was immediate and accessible. I had one for the bedroom and one for the room with the birdcage, and they were both turned up to MAX. I knew within the first hour of operation that my home and the air that I breathe was cleaner and healthier. For the first time in a month, I felt that I would not have to part with my parrot.
Maintaining your home in the company of a feathered friend can be more involved than you think, and vastly different than keeping after a dog or a cat. Below are some of my experiences with SHARP Air Purifiers and how they work to help enjoy life with a pet bird.
Tackling Allergies & Pet Odor Head-On
Birds and all household pets come with some natural odor that needs to be managed. There is also always some detritus: like hair, fur, feathers, dander, and even the splatter associated with a messy eater. In my case, Banjo is a 3 ft. Long blue and gold macaw will full flight feathers. That is to say that there are no small trouble-areas.
For Pet-Related Allergies, Think Beyond the Cage
Anyone that owns a bird has already figured out that the mess is absolutely not confined to the cage or even the room! It goes without saying that you will eventually find feathers all over your home. Most pet birds are breeds from warm regions, like South America, Africa, and Australia, so there is no molting cycle. Your pet is in a constant state of replenishment. The more prominent flight feathers and tail feathers are not a problem; as a matter of fact, they can be quite beautiful. But the plumes… oh, the plumes. The plumes are the small downy tufts beneath the colorful plumage that floats in the air like a puff of a dandelion. You will find them in your home from the attic to the basement.
The unsung hero of the Sharp FPK50UW HEPA Air Purifier with Plasmacluster® Ion Technology is the Micro-Mesh Pre-Filter. It is the first line of defense against pet allergies and does all the heavy-lifting by capturing larger, airborne particles on this washable filter so that you don’t prematurely shorten the life of the HEPA and charcoal filters. That saves you money.
Positioning is important. Follow the instructions about where to place the Air Purifier. The clean air blower is angled-up and designed to be near a wall in order to create a circular air current throughout the room. As the fresh air circulates up to the wall, across the ceiling, and down the other wall, it is corralling dust and pollutants toward the Micro-Mesh Pre-Filter.
After a few hours in the bedroom, I found a tiny army of dust-bunnies lining up at the foot of the air purifier in a gesture of surrender. As I bent down to accept their sacrifice with a handheld vacuum, I noticed that the Micro-Mesh was already hard at work. The little screened panes were changing from transparent to an opaque white as an even layer of dust and lint collected on the surface. A light pass with my handheld vacuum quickly cleared the screens again. There were more indoor pollutants than I had realized.
There is a small FILTER light on the control panel to remind you to clean the Micro-Mesh about every 30 days. But I could see that, at least until the situation is under control, I should clean it every day – especially in the bird’s room.
For no reason that we can understand, birdseed seems to have an amazing range; you will hear it when you vacuum every corner of the room. Some breeds of birds thrash their food around – as if they were subduing prey. Finches and canaries have a habit of jumping in their food bowl and flapping around like a birdbath. Everything from a parakeet to a giant macaw likes to put their beak into the food bowl and shake their heads to separate empty hulls from heavier seeds. It’s quite a grand display. My blue and gold macaw prefers to make eye-contact with me first, and then do it immediately after vacuuming. Always keep the food bowl filled half-way. Surprisingly, birds are less likely to throw their food if they don’t see the surplus.
Most medium to large parrots also does a great deal of grinding. Not having teeth, some birds rely heavily on swallowing grit and gravel to help them grind food in their gizzard to maximize nutritional availability. Many larger, hook-bill birds use their beak-like a millstone and put more effort into grinding their diet and eating the powdery result. Some go in their belly, but some fall to the floor, and the lighter components like chaff and husk can get into the air.
Now, I’m allergic to Brazil nuts and walnuts – but I feed them to my macaw regularly. They are a little fatty, but proper nutrition and friendly activity for a bird with a beak that has snapped a broomstick in half. Turns out, grinding foods that I am allergic to into airborne dust that I am allergic to is a problem. I wasn’t expecting this one.
My first close-up inspection of the Micro-Mesh in the bird’s room showed tiny pieces of hulls and husks from seeds and nuts. When I wiped some dust from the surface of the Micro-Mesh and rubbed it between my fingers, I could feel a strange grittiness. Once my fingertips turned red and swollen, I knew that the foods that I am allergic to had become pollutants in the air.
By far, the biggest problem is probably the least known. You may ask yourself, “Where is all of this dust coming from?” It’s true. Owning a bird as a pet comes with a tremendous amount of dust. Except that it isn’t dust. It isn’t even dander.
Your pet bird will dedicate a large part of their day to grooming and preening. Sometimes they are just comforting themselves. Other times they are interlocking the individual threads, the hooklets, and barbules that keep the different strands of a flight-feather together like hook-and-loop fasteners. Most of the time, however, they are crushing pin feathers.
When new feathers grow out from the skin, they are encapsulated in a wax cylinder. They look more like a barb than a feather. That is a pin feather, and they do not look comfortable. The most expedient way to release the new feather inside is for the bird to crush the waxy cylinder into white, powdery dust. Then they shake themselves like a wet dog and distribute that dust EVERYWHERE. A pair of birds will immediately submit to each other and crush the pin feathers that the other cannot reach. And they do this all day long.
I admit that I was actively cleaning the room that day, and I am sure that I had kicked up plenty of dust just by sweeping – but I cleaned that Micro-Mesh every hour, for three hours. Afterward, when some progress had been made, I only needed to vacuum the Micro-Mesh of the air purifier once a week.
Managing Pet Odors with an Air Purifier
When dealing with bird odors, the primary concern is always the bottom of the cage. Some people prefer to line the bottom with newspaper, sprinkle with baking soda and change it every day. Other people prefer sand or 100% natural cedar cat-litter that can be scooped clean. In both cases, I recommend a cage with a grate at the bottom to discourage your pet from shredding the newspaper or throwing the cat-litter around the room. Both tactics work, but flapping wings circulate odor from moisture around a room quickly. Dedicated maintenance is critical, but there is an odor associated with any solution. My personal choice was to stick with the newspaper and a sprinkle of baking soda. The smell of wet paper and wet baking soda is milder to me than wood chips or cedar cat litter.
The water supply is another culprit. Even if you keep it clean and fresh every day, the avian vitamins you add to the water have a strong, rich scent – like a bouillon cube. Using a water-bottle instead of a bowl reduces the smell of the vitamins and keeps your bird from fouling the water with pieces of food.
Almost all birds benefit from fresh fruits and vegetables in their diet. Just as seeds can be tossed around, pieces of fruits and vegetables can find their way into any crevice of the cage and get thrown around the room. Missed splatter can quickly soil or grow mold and produce odors that are difficult to track down.
Considering the hastiness of my purchase decision, I can’t honestly tell you that I had known that there was an odor sensor on the FPK50UW when I bought it. Sure the dust indicator was lit up like a Christmas tree from the moment I turned it on – but I wasn’t expecting an air purifier to have a sense of smell. It just so happens that it does.
There are a few things at play on the FPK50UW air purifier when it deals with pet odors.
First, the charcoal filter does a lot of work. I like that it can be vacuumed and that it can last for up to 5 years. The charcoal filter is mostly protected from obstruction by the Micro-Mesh, but I do occasionally tap it with my hand-held vacuum. Birds don’t create the acrid, ammonia smell that mammals do, but there is a “dusty” odor that was successfully removed in about two hours. Ammonia, chlorine, and Volatile Organic Compounds are handily trapped by the activated charcoal filter.
The Long-Life, True HEPA Filter’s Role in Odor Reduction
Second, not all odors are created equal. There are odors associated with larger, airborne particles and vapor – like smoke. If there is anything in the air over 0.3 micrometers or bigger, the True HEPA filter will capture it.
PCI’s Role in Odor Reduction
Finally, there is the Plasmacluster® Ion generator on every Sharp® air purifier, which is commonly referred to as “PCI.” Plasmacluster® ions can reduce odors—even those that are embedded in carpets, drapery, and furniture, such as cigarette smoke, cooking smells, pets, and perspiration.
My original inspiration for purchasing an air purifier was HEPA filtration. I knew that HEPA air filtration could help relieve allergy systems, and if it worked, I might not have to give away my pet… but that was all I knew.
Since then, I do personally feel that the FPK50UW air purifier has not only made it possible to keep my parrot, but it has also made me feel better. Much of that has to do with what I think is the improvement of the air quality in my home.
True HEPA filtration is ideal for removing common household allergens such as dust, pollen, pet dander, smoke, and other pollutants from the air that passes through the filter. Anything air over 0.3 micrometers or bigger, the True HEPA filter will capture it.
Having said that, I have come to realize that there are many products on the shelf that don’t live up to this standard.
HEPA is not a “thing” or an ingredient. Fair assumption, after all the charcoal filter, does indeed contain charcoal. However, HEPA filters are not made of “HEPA.” HEPA is a standard – a rating system. It doesn’t really matter what the filter is made of or how it is made, as long as it removes at least 99.97% of airborne particles 0.3 micrometers in diameter, it is HEPA.
When a filter meets the requirements of a HEPA filter, it is called True HEPA. True HEPA is a marketing term to assure customers that they are buying a filter that meets the HEPA standard. This sets True HEPA filters apart from the similarly named, but sub-standard products on the market like, “HEPA-type,” “HEPA-like,” “HEPA-style,” or “99% HEPA.”
As a consumer, I had not noticed or even considered that there could be a sub-HEPA-standard product on the air purifier shelf. Since then, I have been paying attention. It is a buyer-beware market. Check the HEPA rating. Check the filter life. Check for a brand you can trust. I’m glad that I could trust a brand like Sharp.
Plasmacluster® Ion Technology
It turns out, the least exciting thing about this product is the HEPA – because other products offer that. Granted, the Sharp FPK50UW is “True HEPA,” and the filters last for up-to-2-years. The real story, however, is the Plasmacluster® Ion Technology.
This is considered the “active cleaning” element to the FPK50UW. As opposed to the HEPA filter that can only clean the air that actually passes through the filter, Plasmacluster Ions circulate throughout the room to attack pollutants in the air that does not pass through the filters. Plasmacluster Ions are also effective on soft surfaces so they can remove odors and attack pollutants on upholstered furniture, bedding, and drapery.
Typical air purifiers have Ionizers that use negative ions to combine with pollutants and then float the dirt to your walls – creating the respiratory irritant, ozone, in the process. (Always look for an ozone disclosure on a package. Many manufacturers may not want you to know that they use an ionizer – but they are required by law to add the ozone disclosure.)
Plasmacluster® Ion Technology is completely different. It uses both positive and negative ions and generates almost zero ozone – 5X less than the strictest workplace safety standards established by the FDA, NIOSH, and OSHA. All of the current Sharp Air Purifiers met the State of California’s requirements for electrical safety and ozone production and earned their CARB Certification.
The interesting part is that the +/- ion pair is made from an H (hydrogen) and an O (oxygen) to create an “HO.” They do stick together, but BARELY. What they want to be is H2O…, and this ion will do anything to snatch that extra Hydrogen away from something else.
So when the HO encounters bacteria, viruses, mold, etc. – it snatches an H away – killing and inactivating the microbe in the process – and then floats happily and harmlessly away as water vapor.
This process is similar to the ions produced during lightning storms, and that is how nature clears the air after a storm. Considering that my bird’s natural habitat is a rain forest, I felt a sort of harmony having the Sharp FP-F60UW with Plasmacluster® Ion Technology. I know that the air is clean, but I also feel as though it is naturally pure.
Maintaining a Cleaner Home
I admit that my initial cleanup was overdue, and I was not prepared for the pure scale and range of the deep cleaning when I began. Now that the bulk has been dealt-with, the maintenance is easy for me.
The FPK50UW air purifier near the birdcage still gets quite a bit of attention. I clear the micro-mesh of plumes more often than the cycle on the FILTER light. I go over it with the hand-held vacuum once a week. In the last couple of years, I have not purchased additional or replacement filters. I did, however, purchase an additional air purifier. I put the “bedroom” FPF60UW in the kitchen and purchased a Sharp Plasmacluster® Air Purifier with Humidifying Function for Large Rooms, the KC860U. All of the air purifying features are the same as the FP-F60UW, but it covers a larger area and includes a humidifying feature that I find comforting in the winter months.
I change the paper in the birdcage daily. I invested in a robot vacuum, which is slightly controversial in our home. I am not sure if my parrot loves it or hates it. Either way, it is helpful to me, and it seems to be as entertaining to Banjo as it would be to a cat. I also upgraded the water bottle to one designed for larger dogs. I can change the bottle without opening the cage, and I think Banjo is drinking more because of it. I replace dingy toys more frequently and use the garden hose in the yard to clean others. I use a lightweight dust mop with removable, static dust cloths every day, and I manually vacuum the corners of the room and crevices of the cage on the weekends.
I have started collecting clam and oyster shells so that grit and calcium are always available. Banjo is a large breed of macaw, so I drill holes in the shells and hang them in the cage. Macaws can grind the thinner edges down to grit and keep their beaks trim at the same time. Unlike wooden toys, the broken bits and grinding dust is heavier and falls straight down.
When I come in from the outside, I no longer “smell bird” and I no longer see that constant build-up of dust. But I do still catch a plume from time to time. Personally, I feel much better. I am sleeping better at night, and I don’t take an allergy pill every day anymore. I rarely become stuffy-nosed, and I almost never use my inhaler in the house. I am now looking forward to a long life with my blue and gold macaw, Banjo and I have the Sharp FPK50UW air purifier to thank for that!
Living with birds can be a challenge if you aren’t prepared to house your new pet. But the addition of air purifiers significantly reduced allergies and pet odors in my home. The above tips are a great way to start a harmonious life with your new feathered friend.
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