In 2010, Ikea debuted its first-ever air purifier, a somewhat curious-looking device that didn't make its way to American stores until 2014 when it briefly joined the Patrull (Swedish for "patrol") line of home safety-promoting odd and ends — think outlet plugs, cabinet latches and non-slip bathtub mats for tykes.

While the Patrull air purifier is no longer available (except on eBay), the sustainability-obsessed Swedish home goods retailer has never stopped focusing on ways to help us make our homes cleaner, greener and, in this specific instance, less perilous to breathe in. And to find Ikea's latest air quality-improving product, you needn't look any further than the window treatment section.

Slated for release in 2020, Gunrid is an otherwise ordinary-looking fabric curtain that employs an innovative, years-in-the-making air purification technology developed by Ikea in collaboration with a range of Asian and European universities. Per a press release released by the retailer, the curtains are treated with a mineral-based photocatalyst solution that transforms the curtains into air-filtering houseplants of sorts via a "process similar to photosynthesis found in nature." That is, the curtains are activated by light — in this case, both natural light and artificial light, which is a new breakthrough according to Mauricio Affonso, a Brazilian-born product developer with Ikea Range & Supply.

"Photo catalysts are generally only activated by sunlight, but the coating we have developed together with our partners also reacts to indoor light," Affonso elaborates.

As for exactly what type of mineral Gunrid curtains will be coated with, that hasn't yet been disclosed. New Atlas, however, speculates it's likely titanium dioxide, a chemical widely found in cosmetics and other consumer products that's also been applied to other photocatalytic air purifying technologies in the past (and isn't without its own set of problems and potential risks.)

Combating air pollution — specifically oft-overlooked indoor air pollution, which per the World Health Organization kills 4.3 million people per year and in some places is higher and more deadly than outdoor air pollution — is obviously the main draw with the development of Gunrid. The curtains are poised to break down hazardous household air pollutants such as formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, as well as zap lingering bad odors. Dealing with off-gassing furniture and the lingering stench following a salmon dinner all it once? Not to worry … Ikea is confident the curtains will take care of it.

How efficient Ikea's newfangled window dressings will be in doing these things has yet to be seen. Per the company, the curtains have successfully gone through lab testing but have not yet to be tested to see how well they remove common volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in a domestic setting.

Ikea Gunrid curtains, close-up Developed to break down common indoor air pollutants, Gunrid curtains are slated to became commercially available in 2020. (Photo: Ikea)

An air-scrubbing multi-tasker

The secondary role of Gunrid curtains is that of a multitasking space-saver.

As Ikea continues to shift its business model away from suburban spaciousness and more toward small space-living solutions that benefit the world's growing urban population, the curtains serve as a versatile substitute for bulky and expensive traditional air purifiers that might take up precious space in a cramped city apartment (and use electricity while doing so.)

"We wanted to create a simple, convenient and affordable way to clean air that wouldn't take up much space in people's homes. We were also curious about creating a product that is multifunctional and that would help break down air pollutants that many air purifiers leave behind," says Affonso, noting that "everyone deserves to breathe clean air."

"... we see it as our responsibility to bring awareness' to the problems associated with indoor air pollution, this way people can do something about it," he explains.

And Gunrid curtains are, apparently, just the start in Ikea's new mission to remove pollutants from indoor air through ordinary household textiles including bed linens, lamp shades, area rugs, bath towels and even upholstered furniture. The potential for air-scrubbing fabric technology, it would seem, is vast.

"Gunrid is the first product to use the technology, but the development will give us opportunities for future applications on other textiles," says Lena Pripp-Kovac, head of sustainability at Inter IKEA Group.

Ikea, of course, is looking beyond the home in its larger mission to combat air pollution indoors and out by reducing operations-related emissions and phasing out problematic chemicals used in the manufacturing process. In 2018, it launched the Better Air Now campaign in India, the privately held retailer's newest and fastest-growing global market. Through the initiative, Ikea aims to use rice straw, a major agricultural byproduct, as a renewable material source for new products. Historically, Indian farmers have burned rice straw, a practice that's a major contributor to air pollution in smog-choked Indian cities.

Again, Gunrid curtains aren't expected in stores until 2020. In the meantime, Ikea does offer a decent selection of houseplants and, come April 1, will also sell much-anticipated affordable smart window blinds that can be remotely opened and lowered with just the click of a smartphone-controlled button.

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Ikea curtains pull double-duty as air purifiers
Swedish home furnishings giant Ikea wants to help us breathe easier with pollutant-busting window treatments.