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  • Writer's pictureSandra Witt

Salt Lamps ... so many questions

There are many questions being asked about the Salt Lamps and if they're safe for parrot owners to have in the home. First, let me say "good for all of you" for thinking about your bird's safety and yes they are safe but don't let them lick it. For this blog, I'd like to talk about the marketing claims that have bird owners concerned. Claim 1:

"Salt lamps are hygroscopic and they clean the air by absorbing moisture and any foreign materials that may be trapped in that moisture. When the lamp heats up from the bulb the moisture is released back into the air but the foreign materials remain trapped in the salt."

Uh, okay, well technically yes, salt does absorb moisture from the air. We know this from the rock hard salt shakers you find at beach front restaurants and, it is possible that moisture has foreign material in it so maybe it stays entrapped in the salt. But actually, most of the materials in your home entrap moisture. Hygroscopic substances include cellulose fibers (such as cotton and paper), sugar, caramel, honey, wood, many salts (including table salt), and a wide variety of other substances. This is not harmful to birds even if it were possible to absorb enough moisture to make a difference, the only issue could come from lowering the humidity in your home which all the substances mentioned above are doing, a salt lamp or two is not going to make any real difference

Claim 2:

"Because salt lamps remove microscopic particles of dust, pet dander, mold, mildew and the like from the surrounding air, placing a lamp or two in the rooms where you spend the most time can seriously cut back on allergy symptoms. Even people who suffer from asthma should notice a big difference after a week or two."

Well, theoretically speaking, if that's true then putting other hygroscopic items in your room would also help, which includes a lot of things that are probably already in the room. I sincerely doubt that someone who suffers from asthma will have any relief from putting salt lamps around (except maybe psychological - they are pretty) but ok, since this is about birds then it still doesn't present anything harmful to your birds.

Claim 3:

"Salt Lamps provide positive energy through negative ions." One site claims "Taking a drive through the countryside with the windows down, spending time at the beach or camping in the mountains, or simply taking a shower first thing in the morning are all things that many people find invigorating. It’s not a coincidence that these are all activities which expose us to increased concentrations of negative ions such as those generated by Himalayan salt lamps. The fact is, positive ions sap our bodies of energy." (uh, BLINK)

And, Claim 4:

"Nowadays, most of us are living in a metaphorical ocean of electromagnetic (EM) radiation which flows from our electronics (ie: television, computer, cell phone, tablet, appliances, stereo, etc). While they may be invisible, the long-term effects of EM exposure can be quite serious. Constant exposure to EM radiation is known to increase stress levels, cause chronic fatigue, and decrease the body’s immune response, among other things. As they emit negative ions into the air, Himalayan salt lamps work to neutralize electromagnetic radiation. Keep one next to the computer, television, and any other electrical devices which you use frequently to reduce the potential danger to you and your family." (Hmm, alrighty then....)

So it's these last two items that start many Parrot Owners on a trip around the "worry beads." I'm not going to discuss whether there's ANY credibility to the claims about the effect of negative ions on mental and emotional health, this is documented in literally hundreds of scholarly papers so if you're really interested then do a Google Search and start reading.

I'm going to discuss whether Salt Lamps and the ions generated pose any risk to your birds.

Many parrot owners know the issues with ionizers and birds, but in case you don't ... oxygen is a neutral element that loves to change its charge. An ionizer uses an electromagnetic charge to add or remove electrons from oxygen atoms, making the oxygen particles either positively or negatively charged as they leave the ionizer. The charged outgoing air bonds with particles and carries them back to the filter. When the charged ion passes through the air filter a second time, it detaches from other particles and looks for a new particle to bond with. This is how ionization is suppose to help clean air better. The danger with this is that humans don't usually breathe ionized air and many studies show that electromagnetically charged particles can actually damage lungs. If an oxygen molecule bonds with two others, then it becomes O3 or ozone. Ozone can irritate airways and exacerbate breathing-related problems. This technology is dangerous for humans and deadly for parrots. Think about the difference between human and avian lungs. We all know birds are highly sensitive to air quality issues (this is why they used to take canaries into the mines). These ionized particles are heavily laden with impurities and release them when they pass through the lungs of a bird. The risk of death increases the more you run the ionizer.

Many people have climbed aboard the 'benefits of negative ion' bandwagon by promoting various ill-conceived methods of generating negative ions in the home, one of which is the Himalayan Salt Lamp craze. Does it really work as explained? Well, sort of.

As with every other electronic device in your home, it does generate some negative ions, but not nearly enough to cause a change in the environment. You would have to buy a "high-density corona discharge negative ion generator" to make any impact on your home environment. (Yes, they really DO exist.) In one hour, the negative ions generated by that type of device would take a Himalayan salt lamp hundreds of years to produce. The point being that the salt lamp generates some negligible amount of negative ions but nothing to be concerned about for your birds.

In a discussion on a Physics Forum, a member put it best when he wrote about salt lamps, "The statement about adding negative ions to the air/environment is simply nonsense. Negative ions are produced by stripping electrons from some atoms and adding them to neutral atoms/molecules. However, those electrons will try to find their way back to the positive ions from which they came. Nature is, by and large, charge neutral, i.e. there tends to be a balance between + and - charges, which are protons (in a nucleus) and electrons. 'Like charges' would repel and opposite charges tend to attract. A separation of charge in the case described is a transient phenomenon. Eventually a negative ion will attract a positive ion and both will become neutral. Pollution does not produce an abundant surplus of positive ions."

An analogy that I found on the subject brings it all into perspective ... "Suggesting that a Himalayan Salt Lamp can generate enough negative ions to benefit your health is like suggesting that a farmer could water thirty acres of farmland with a hand-held spray bottle. Because the spray bottle CAN be used to water plants the idea might at first seem plausible; however, when examining the claim in light of the scope of context that plausibility quickly disappears."

The bottom line is that there is no scientific evidence to support the claims that a Himalayan Salt Lamp will produce any measurable amount of negative ions capable of improving your health in any way. If someone makes claims to the contrary, ask for the proof. They should be able to give clear, concise, measurable evidence of negative ion generation – without which all they have are baseless claims.

It is obviously true that the current 'pace' of our lives is significantly greater than it's ever been, and yes, that is partially due to technological advancement but likely it's more attributable to the fact that technology makes it easier to be in contact 24/7 where in the past you had to be HOME or at the OFFICE to answer your phone. It's also likely due to pressures to earn more and rise higher on that corporate ladder, so one could argue that fact alone is responsible for the "lack of balance" in one's life rather than an imbalance of ions.

So, Himalayan Salt Lamps – healthy or hype? Well look, they are pretty and they probably do help from a psychological perspective but from a physiological perspective they do not present any danger to you or your birds so enjoy ... just don't let your bird lick them or get hold of the electrical cords, and never use the ones that take candles (but that's another subject).

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