British researchers claim to have invented a device that mimics the naturally disinfecting quality of fresh air by pumping a continuing stream of reactive hydrogen radicals into the atmosphere, killing microbes within minutes.
Scientists say the Air Disinfector can be used to purge hospital wards of superbugs.
"The same results could be obtained simply by opening all the windows of hospital wards, but that's not practical," said David Macdonald, co-inventor of the device and chief scientific officer of Inov8 Science, which developed it.
Macdonald and co-inventor Derek Elwood identified the so-called open-air factor phenomenon more than 15 years ago through experiments at the UK government's chemical and biological defence labs at Porton Down in Wiltshire.
They established that in the outdoors, hydroxyl radicals produced through natural reactions between airborne ozone and organic scented chemicals from plants such as pine trees, instantly kill microbes.
Now, Macdonald, Elwood and collaborators claim to have recreated this effect using a customised device the size of a flower vase that constantly generates the hydroxyl radicals.
The device draws in oxygen and exposes it to electric currents to produce a cold plasma rich in ozone.
The hydroxyl radicals are generated by constantly reacting the ozone with pre-loaded supplies of scented chemicals, called terpenes, in cartridges that need renewing each month.
The ozone and terpenes are retained within the device and not released into the room.
According to the duo, Bacteria, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Clostridium difficile - two of the most notorious hospital-acquired superbugs - are eliminated within as little as an hour of the device being switched on.
"In earlier experiments, in which we flooded the rooms with more than a billion bacteria, levels were effectively down to zero within an hour," said Macdonald.
According to New Scientist, the device is now on sale in the UK and is being tried in wards at three hospitals.
There are also plans to launch it in the US, where it is being tested at 17 veterans' hospitals.