Best HEPA Air Purifier & Filter for 2019 [Top 15 Reviewed]

Best HEPA Air Purifier & Filter for 2019 [Top 15 Reviewed]

30 minutes Last Updated: 05/15/2019 Author: Celia Miller

In our busy lives, and with our focus often on large-scale outdoor pollution, the air we breathe indoors may not seem as important or relevant to our health and well-being. Until somebody becomes ill or a disaster strikes such as a flood or fire, the freshness of our indoor air is often not even a blip on the radar. Whether it’s sleeping, working or spending time with family, most of us spend most of our lives inside.

We live in highly structured homes that keep the air trapped tightly inside, often loaded with pollutants and allergens that cannot be detected by sight or smell. Poor air quality can affect your health with no apparent odors or other indications that something is wrong and put you at risk for a long-term illness. An efficient, quality air purifier will go a long way towards helping improve air quality in your home or office. Find the best HEPA Air Purifier for you.

Coway AIRMEGA 400S The Smarter App Enabled Air Purifier

6/10
  • App & Alexa compatible
  • Air and filter status monitoring via app
  • Smaller size
  • Pre-filter+Carbon filter
  • 3 operation modes, 4 fan speeds
  • Some wifi and set-up connectivity issues with app
  • Noisy on higher than medium speed
  • Bright LED light on the front unpleasant at night if in a bedroom
Room Size:
1560 sq. ft.
Additional Purifying Technology Used:
Pre-filter, Activated carbon
Noise Level:
As loud as a refrigerator (up to 52 decibels)
Filter Lifespan:
12 months
Size:
14.8 x 14.8 x 22.8
Weight:
31.4 pounds
Warranty:
5 years
Energy Star Rated:

Our Review

This is a compact little unit loaded with features for the modern home but we weren’t as impressed with its ability to stay connected to WiFi. It draws air into the unit through two sides for faster cleaning. It has a “smart” mode, but it may not be as efficient as it does not seem to work as effectively in that mode. It can be unpleasantly loud when operating at higher than medium speeds. It has a 1, 2, 4, and 8-hour timer and a scheduler. The LED lights on the front that continuously let you know about your air quality were very, very bright. We were also concerned that the HEPA filter on this unit ended up needing to be replaced sooner and while we know that results may vary on how long these last due to different environments and levels of air quality, we weren’t as pleased with it.

Austin Air A250E1 HealthMate Plus Junior Air Purifier

7/10
  • True HEPA filter
  • Over 270 cubic inches of activated carbon with added potassium iodide and zeolite for maximum adsorption
  • Sturdy construction
  • Can be noisy
  • Some MCS sufferers cannot tolerate the potassium iodide added to the carbon
Room Size:
Small (less than 350 sq ft)
Additional Purifying Technology Used:
Activated Carbon
Noise Level:
Whisper-quiet
Filter Lifespan:
5 years
Size:
11 x 11 x 16.5
Weight:
31.4 pounds
Warranty:
5 years
Energy Star Rated:
N/A

Our Review

This unit is compact and will fit into most small spaces. We love the multi-stage capability of this unit and how much space it’s able to clean (up to 700 square feet). These are made in the USA with a powerful fan and sturdy exterior steel body to protect it. Items low to the floor can take some damage in most households and this will keep everything inside safe. It has 3 speeds, rolls around on casters so you can easily move or clean around it. It isn’t gimmicky. You have one manual control knob to adjust fan speed, and to turn the unit on and off. It can be left running continuously for maximum cleaning capability.

Blueair 605 Air Purifier

6/10
  • Filter timer
  • Rooms up to 580 sq feet
  • 2-phase filtering with optional carbon filtration filter
  • App & ALEXA compatible
  • Can be noisy
  • No pre-filter
  • Bulky
  • WiFi connectivity issues
Room Size:
775 sq. ft.
Additional Purifying Technology Used:
Carbon filters sold separately
Noise Level:
Whisper-quiet
Filter Lifespan:
6 months
Size:
13 x 20 x 26 inches
Weight:
31 pounds
Warranty:
Energy Star Rated:

Our Review

The Blueair units utilize a blend of mechanical filtering and electrostatic filtration for excellent particle filtration. It goes through filters fairly often but they are readily available. You will need to ensure that your unit comes with a more expensive SmokeStop filter in order to gain the full benefit of using this unit. It does not utilize a pre-filter so its air intake areas can get pretty gummed up with dust, hair, and pet fur. This is a major design flaw and we would really like to have seen a pre-filter for this price point.

Coway AP-1512HH Mighty Air Purifier with True HEPA

8/10
  • 4-Stage cleaning
  • Washable pre-filter
  • Compact size
  • Long filter life
  • Smaller cleaning capacity
  • Bright lights on older models
  • Noisy on high speeds
Room Size:
Large (301-800 sq ft)
Additional Purifying Technology Used:
Pre-filter
Noise Level:
As loud as a refrigerator
Filter Lifespan:
6 months
Size:
9.6 x 16.8 x 18.3
Weight:
12.79 pounds
Warranty:
1 year
Energy Star Rated:

Our Review

This powerful little air purifier is great for an apartment or bedroom. It packs a lot of power into a small shape that looks like a giant iPod Shuffle. It comes in black or white. Air filtration starts with a washable pre-filter, then the air is cycled through an activated carbon filter, which has to be replaced every 6 months. After that, it passes through a true HEPA filter, and lastly, through an ionization filter. We love the quiet mode but it can get loud when you crank it up. It has a color-coded status monitor for your air quality on the front of the unit. Overall an excellent choice.

Dyson Pure Cool 10-Speed 400-sq ft True HEPA Air Purifier (TP-04)

5/10
  • App & ALEXA compatible
  • Aesthetically pleasing design
  • Simple set-up
  • Sealed true HEPA with pre-filter
  • Noisy
  • Quality control issues
  • App connectivity issues
  • Does not cool air efficiently
Room Size:
Large (301-800 sq ft)
Additional Purifying Technology Used:
Activated Carbon
Noise Level:
Filter Lifespan:
12 months
Size:
8.8 x 8.8 x 41.5
Weight:
10.89 pounds
Warranty:
2 years
Energy Star Rated:

Our Review

We like how forward-thinking Dyson often is when it comes to technology. However, this is not one of our favorite products. The cooling function means it’s going to make a room feel drafty if you live in a climate where it’s cold part of the year and in warmer climates, it’s not a very effective cooling fan. The carbon filter inside this fan is rather weak and we don’t like how the replacement cost considering how thin it is frequently it has to be changed. We don’t like that most of the controls have to be done using your phone, either. It’s very gimmicky and if you love your technology and to integrate everything in your home, this may be just the thing for you. We don’t feel it’s a good value considering the high price point.

Hamilton Beach TrueAir, Ultra Quiet Air Purifier

1/10
  • Very affordable
  • Compact size
  • Not a HEPA filter even though it utilizes the name
  • Is not appropriate for large rooms
  • Removes particles 3 microns or larger
  • Noisy
Room Size:
Small (less than 350 sq ft)
Additional Purifying Technology Used:
Noise Level:
Filter Lifespan:
12 month
Size:
8.5 x 6 x 13.5
Weight:
5.74 pounds
Warranty:
1 year
Energy Star Rated:

Our Review

You’re probably wondering how this one ended up in our line-up. It’s a classic example of an inexpensive device made for mass marketing. It throws around the HEPA acronym followed by “grade,” and the “TrueAire” on the side attempts to suggest that it may be true HEPA grade. This unit will only reduce the presence of particles 3 microns or larger. Not eliminate but reduce. Its cardboard “HEPA grade” filter is permanent only needing a quick vacuum here and there.

Honeywell 50250-S True HEPA Air Purifier

6/10
  • Affordable price point
  • True HEPA filter
  • Pre-filters available
  • Very noisy at all speeds
  • Quality control issues
  • Weak warranty
Room Size:
Large (301-800 sq. ft.)
Additional Purifying Technology Used:
Pre-filter, Activated carbon
Noise Level:
As loud as an air conditioner
Filter Lifespan:
3 months
Size:
18 x 18 x 19.6
Weight:
21 pounds
Warranty:
5 years
Energy Star Rated:

Our Review

This is a bare-bones simple unit with a familiar silhouette that’s loved by many who have been buying the Honeywell purifiers for years. It’s noisy and some units have quality control issues with them but for the price, it offers excellent particle filtering. We recommend investing in the pre-filters that will need to be replaced every 3 months to extend the life of the HEPA filter and the unit itself. Units that get clogged with hair, dander, and other large particles tend to give out sooner because the motors on these units don’t run well when reduced air flow makes them work harder. Keep it clean, stay on top of the filter replacement schedule, and don’t try to sleep with it in your bedroom!

8/10
  • Wifi/App compatible
  • Hyper HEPA
  • Compact size
  • Very quiet
  • Connectivity issues with app
  • Higher price point
Room Size:
Small (less than 350 sq ft)
Additional Purifying Technology Used:
Noise Level:
Whisper-quiet
Filter Lifespan:
6 months
Size:
11.5 x 3.1 x 11.5
Weight:
8.55 pounds
Warranty:
3 years
Energy Star Rated:

Our Review

When you have to spend time in a location with poor air quality and can’t lug along your whole-room purifier, the Atem is a portable solution for the area where you’re sitting. You get the IQAir engineering in a compact solution that travels easily thanks to its included power adaptor. We wish it was battery powered so we could take one of these on the airplane with us because of IQAir’s ability to stop particles as small as 0.003 microns, which is 10 times smaller than a virus. It’s a great product to have at work especially during cold season when everyone comes in sick.

IQAir GC MultiGas Air Purifier

9/10
  • 6 Speeds on low volume
  • 17 lbs of gas-phase filtration
  • HyperHEPA technology
  • Removes particles down to 0.003
  • Covers up to 1125 sq feet
  • Higher price point
  • Expensive filters
  • Bulky
Room Size:
Whole floor (850-1250 sq feet)
Additional Purifying Technology Used:
Pre-filter, Activated carbon
Noise Level:
About as loud as a dishwasher
Filter Lifespan:
18 months
Size:
16 x 15 x 28
Weight:
35.5 pounds
Warranty:
10 years
Energy Star Rated:

Our Review

The IQAir air purifiers are considered by many to be the cadillacs of the industry. Few other manufacturers can claim to remove particles this small, for as long and as cheaply. Considering the cost of similar medical-grade devices the IQAir units are a bargain. They are super quiet and we’ve personally had one running continuously in a severely asthmatic family member’s living room for nearly 8 years, just stopping to change the filters. These come with casters so the unit can be easily moved from room to room or for cleaning. If you or a family member suffers from MSC sensitivities, allergies or asthma, units like this can be a game changer and if a doctor prescribes it, some insurance companies cover part or all of the cost. Purchase this unit directly from Sylvane or the manufacturer to avoid any warranty complications or quality issues with Amazon sellers.

LEVOIT Air Purifier for Home with True HEPA Filter

5/10
  • Compact size
  • True HEPA filter
  • Pre-filter and activated carbon filter
  • Air quality sensor
  • Optional WiFi-enabled version
  • Quality control issues
  • Filter sensor not accurate
Room Size:
Large (301-800 sq ft)
Additional Purifying Technology Used:
Pre-filter, Activated Carbon Filter
Noise Level:
As loud as a refrigerator
Filter Lifespan:
6 months
Size:
14.5 x 7.2 x 18.5
Weight:
11.24 pounds
Warranty:
2 years
Energy Star Rated:

Our Review

A compact little unit, this purifier does what it claims regarding >0.3 micron size particle removal and tackles many odors but its true VOC capability is not clear. We wish the carbon filter were thicker and more substantial. Filters on this unit should be changed every 6 months and are relatively inexpensive. It’s great for a small room or apartment.

Oransi V-Hepa Finn Air Purifier

1/10
  • Titanium dioxide pre-filter
  • True sealed HEPA filter
  • Germicidal UV light
  • Ionizer
  • Noisy on higher settings
  • UV light’s effectiveness decreases before filters need to be replaced
  • Some quality control issues
  • Bright lights
Room Size:
Large (301-800 sq ft)
Additional Purifying Technology Used:
UV lamp, Pre-filter
Noise Level:
As loud as an air conditioner
Filter Lifespan:
24 months
Size:
12.8 x 8.8 x 24
Weight:
10 pounds
Warranty:
10 years
Energy Star Rated:

Our Review

This unit is conveniently sized in the classic tower fan shape. It filters a small to medium sized bedroom or office. While it has 4 stages of filtration, it is not effective in filtering out heavier odors and VOCs. For the price, we’d like it to be a little better at those functions. Filter replacement kits are not cheap either. However, Oransi has excellent customer service and a warranty.

Oransi OV200 Air Purifier

7/10
  • Pre-filter, true HEPA filter
  • 1 lb carbon filter
  • Compact
  • Child lock
  • No filter sensor function
  • Dimming light reduces function
  • Quality control issues
  • Loud on higher setting
Room Size:
Large (301-800 sq ft)
Additional Purifying Technology Used:
Pre-filter, Activated Carbon Filter
Noise Level:
About as loud as a refrigerator
Filter Lifespan:
9-12 months
Size:
15 x 7 x 24
Weight:
10 pounds
Warranty:
10 years
Energy Star Rated:

Our Review

This unit has many thoughtful features not found on others such as a child lock. It’s got more carbon onboard than many other units in its size and price class. It’s sleek and modern looking. We initially loved that this purifier has a night mode, but when we discovered that it dimmed the very bright LED light on it AND put the machine into the lowest speed, we thought differently. You are also not able to run it at a higher speed without the light being on. While it’s not a complete deal breaker it’s a definite design flaw. It has lower VOC ratings than we’d like for a unit in its price range.

RabbitAir BioGS 2.0 Ultra Quiet HEPA Air Purifier

7/10
  • Cleans large area for its size
  • Washable pre-filter
  • Carbon filter, and true HEPA
  • Ion generator
  • Long-lasting filters (up to 3 years)
  • Lower VOC ratings
  • Filters are expensive
Room Size:
Large (301-800 sq ft)
Additional Purifying Technology Used:
Pre-filter, Activated Carbon Filter
Noise Level:
About as loud as a refrigerator
Filter Lifespan:
18 months
Size:
16.6 x 9.8 x 22.2
Weight:
16.8 pounds
Warranty:
5 years
Energy Star Rated:

Our Review

With a pound of carbon onboard, this elegantly shaped unit is promising! Its brushless motor means it’s a relatively quiet unit. It’s streamlined and compact with an attractive and simple interface on the top of the unit. We love the childproof design. It may not do as well on the VOC or cigarette smoke removal but it does an excellent job at removing other particles from the air. These units come with a 5 year warranty and lifetime technical support. It does have handles to make it easier to move but we do wish it had casters. We love that it comes in optional rich colors.

Winix HR900 Ultimate Pet True HEPA PlasmaWave

7/10
  • Washable pre-filter + pet filter
  • Carbon filter
  • True HEPA filter
  • Antimicrobial coating
  • Plasmawave germicidal technology
  • Filters are pricey
  • May not work as well when placed near a wall
  • Low VOC capability
Room Size:
Large (301-800 sq ft)
Additional Purifying Technology Used:
Pre-filter, Activated carbon
Noise Level:
About as loud as a refrigerator
Filter Lifespan:
12 months
Size:
15 x 8.2 x 23.6
Weight:
15.4 pounds
Warranty:
2 years
Energy Star Rated:

Our Review

This is a very nice unit loaded with great features designed specifically for a household with multiple pets. The additional pet filter helps with fur, one of the biggest problems that can seriously affect the performance of air purifiers. We love how quiet it is except on turbo mode, but auto mode seems to work well and it just quietly does its thing in the background. This unit is geared primarily towards removing particles such as pet dander and allergens from the air and will not do as well in removing smoke or other VOCs from the air.

Molekule Air Purifier

3/10
  • Elegant design
  • Pre-filter
  • PECO filter
  • Unique technology
  • App-compatible
  • Expensive filters need to be replaced frequently
  • Quality control issues
  • Customer service issues
  • Bright lights
Room Size:
Large (301-800 sq ft)
Additional Purifying Technology Used:
Pre-Filter
Noise Level:
As loud as a refrigerator
Filter Lifespan:
6 months
Size:
23 x 8.25
Weight:
18 pounds
Warranty:
2 years
Energy Star Rated:

Our Review

We were intrigued by the claims made by the Molekule website and this aluminum unit is very stylish. It has both a touch screen and WiFi capability allowing you to control it using your phone. Unfortunately this product seems have been pushed out to market very quickly and there are as many negative as positive reviews out there for the Molekule. Users are frustrated with firmware updates, and quality control is a problem. Customer service is responsive on their website but we’ve read about customers who get no real answers when they call or write in with problems. We wish all air purifiers looked like they were designed by Apple, but if what’s inside isn’t reliable, we wouldn’t recommend buying one of these units until they have worked out all the bugs.

Don’t see what you’re looking for, or still have questions left unanswered?

How to Choose a HEPA Air Purifier

Choosing an air purifier can be complicated and confusing. It’s a largely unregulated market and the widely-touted “seal of approval” is issued by an association of appliance manufacturers who make most of the budget models. There are thousands of budget air purifiers, with different claims about what they can do, often using confusing terms.

This is one product where armed with the right knowledge, you do get what you pay for.

Do You Need a HEPA Air Purifier?

A HEPA (High Energy Particulate Arresting) air purifier is the most common unit available on the market. They operate by drawing air into the unit, forcing it through a filter. Higher-end purifiers usually have several filters, or “stages” that the air must be passed through. Particles, dust, and allergens in the air are trapped, or “arrested” in the filters, and the purified air cycles out. HEPA standards require a filter to be able to catch 99.97 percent of dust particles that are 0.3 microns across or larger. This includes pet dander, mold spores, dust mites, pollen and other common particles that exist in our environments.

Commercials and packaging for air purifiers and filters often depict smiling, healthy people in pure white homes full of sunshine breathing deeply because the air in their home is cleaner. Removing visible airborne particles is a good thing, and seeing a used filter covered with dirt and dust is satisfying and makes us feel good that we’ve cleaned our air.

What most manufacturers do not share is that most airborne particles are far smaller than 0.3 microns, cannot be seen without magnification, and should be cause for concern. Many people mistakenly believe that we’re protected and safe indoors as long as we change our furnace filter, dust regularly, open the windows when we paint or clean, and run a vacuum with a HEPA filter on it. The happy smiling people on their pure white couch in those advertisements could actually be living in an environment with air dirtier than an automotive shop. Statistics show that this is the case for the average home, with air quality five to ten times more polluted than what’s outside. Not all purifiers remove all of the toxic particles from the air. High-efficiency furnace filters do not remove tiny particles, and they are designed to protect your heating and cooling system, not you.

We are unable to see most airborne microns or remove them by dusting or vacuuming. Because of their size, many airborne pollutants such as smoke, gas, viruses, smog, and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are not going to be filtered out of the air by a filter that only cleans particles 0.3 microns or more in diameter. Our tightly sealed homes, our fans, HVAC systems and the flow of air through our homes can keep them floating indefinitely. In climates where we rely heavily on our heating or air-conditioning, our air quality suffers even more because air pollutants are continuously being recirculated, concentrated, and blown directly on us.

The ongoing cycle of poor air quality caused by decay in the home starts with its occupants. Our dead skin, hair and other detritus feed the dust mites in our home, which in turn live, defecate, die and rot, often undisturbed in infrequently cleaned areas. Pets shed a tremendous amount of fur and dander. Birds even give off dander that can cause specific lung disease.

You may be a little nervous now, assessing your home environment and wondering how to tackle the problem.

Do you need a HEPA air purifier? We’d say if you breathe air and live indoors, yes!

Quick Tips for Choosing a HEPA Air Purifier

What Do You Need an Air Purifier to Do?

What is your indoor air quality like? Are you worried you may have developed an allergy to your furry family members? Are you dealing with cigarette smoke either from prior residents in your home or pesky inconsiderate neighbors? Was/is there a mold issue in your home? Are you or is somebody else in the home already ill? Let’s examine the common culprits in the home that could be affecting your air quality and your health. These include:

Overall Household Dust and Dirt

Larger Sizes

Smaller Sizes

VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds)

These may present significant health hazards. According to the EPA, VOCs can be found in rural, suburban, and industrial areas. They are commonly found in very high concentrations indoors. VOCs are responsible for lost work days, hospitalizations, and premature deaths. Cancer, asthma, chronic respiratory and lung conditions are on the rise and are among the top causes of death in the United States among adults and children. Some chemicals may only cause short-term effects and are not as toxic, but most cause long term harm and aggravate health problems. Human lungs are designed for the transfer of gases across a membrane to introduce oxygen into our bloodstream and carbon dioxide out. The structures in our lungs can move larger particles and some bacteria out of our respiratory system, such as in the form of a cough. But because our lungs cannot differentiate between oxygen and smaller particles/harmful gases, breathing will introduce both the good and the bad into our bloodstream.

Pollen Allergies

Pets

Unfortunately, it’s not just the pet hair and dander you are contending with. A multi-stage air purifier with chemical air purifying capability is recommended for pet owners seeking relief.

Mold Exposure

If you have mold in your home, you will need to address the source of the problem before purifying the air, or you will not see optimum results. It is best to work with a licensed contractor to remediate mold if it’s a widespread issue. The problem will continue to come back, and the danger to your health will remain until the mold is killed and removed from the home and the area dehumidified.

Other Microorganisms

This category includes all the nasty little bugs, microbes, bacteria, pathogens and viruses that make us ill. Individuals with weak or compromised immune systems will benefit from an air purifier that can remove these from the air.

Smoke

Soot, ash, cigarette or marijuana odor and other compounds released may not be filtered entirely from your air without a multi-stage air purifier that will remove the large and small particles and VOCs. A multi-stage air purifier should address this with chemical purifying capability.

For residual smoke odors from prior residents, some restoration companies may utilize an ozone machine. However, we don’t recommend regular use of an ozone machine as they can be extremely dangerous to anything living in your home, including you, your animals, and even your houseplants.

What an Air Purifier Can and Cannot Do

An air purifier will go a long way towards helping you recover and avoid triggering incidents that cause allergy and asthma attacks, but it is not a cure.

If long-term exposure to allergens and pollutants has occurred, it may have progressed to other a more serious condition. Maybe you or a family member are experiencing symptoms that you believe are related to your air quality or exposure to mold/toxins. Please see your doctor right away to begin a treatment plan, and then form a long-term strategy for improving the air quality in your home.

We recommend investing in a premium air purifier if you have severe allergies or an ongoing condition aggravated by your air quality to give your body and immune system a break.

HEPA and Friends: The Good and The Bad

There are so many shoddy products on the market with the HEPA label, all promising to improve your air quality, reduce or eliminate your allergy, asthma or other ailments. While many of them say “HEPA-style” or “HEPA-type” on the box, they may not meet up to the HEPA standard.

HEPA means “High-Efficiency Particulate Arresting,” and is an acronym describing a filter made of densely woven fibers often called “media” required to “arrest” or stop just about all of the 0.3-micron particles in the air from passing through it. It’s commonly folded like an accordion to increase the surface area.

Why 0.3 Microns?

0.3 microns is the standard for true HEPA because it is the size of particle that penetrates easiest through a filter. It was originally the standard set when HEPA filters were being developed by the Atomic Energy Commission to filter out radioactive dust.

Let’s talk about how big that is. One micron is one-millionth of a meter. For comparison, a grain of sand is about 70 microns. A human hair is about 75-120 microns across. Most people cannot see a particle smaller than 30 microns. A particle only 0.3 microns is tiny indeed, but there are even smaller particles out there that may cause problems.

HEPA air purifiers are the most common because they are considered the most efficient for a wide range of filtering applications and can be manufactured inexpensively. They are ideal for the larger particles but aren’t very good at nailing the tiny ones that can cause a lot of grief. This does not mean you should not use a HEPA purifier. Just choose a unit that augments the HEPA filter with other filtering technology.

Secondary Filtering

Our research has shown the best air purifiers utilizing true HEPA technology are paired with a secondary filtering function, such as a “pre-filter” and an activated charcoal or carbon filter. For severe allergy or asthma sufferers, this technology is a must!

Here’s a look at some common air purifying technology used in popular air purifiers to explain further:

The Pre-Filter

A HEPA filter is designed to catch the tiny particles that you cannot see. Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of larger debris and particles floating in the air that can coat the HEPA filter and make it ineffective. The lifespan of a HEPA filter can be reduced without a pre-filter to catch things like coarse dust particles, human or pet hair that may reduce its effectiveness. Depending on your unit, a pre-filter may need to be replaced frequently, especially if you have pets. Lower quality units that do not have a pre-filter are going to require the more expensive HEPA filter to be replaced more often. Higher-end units have better pre-filtering systems that last far longer.

The Activated Charcoal/Carbon Filter

As efficient as even the best HEPA filter may be, there are still smaller particles, gases, odors vapors and microorganisms such as viruses that it cannot remove from the air. Some of these are the most dangerous to your health. These Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) can be introduced into your home environment by thousands of products and processes.

While the HEPA filter on your unit may not be able to remove them from the air, a chemical process called adsorption can. Adsorption occurs when these tiny particles or molecules of a gas adhere to a surface. Adsorption is different from absorption. Activated carbon is extremely porous and adsorbent. It creates a large amount of surface area for the pollutants to bind to. Think of a carbon filter as thousands of square feet of Velcro that can trap gases, VOCs, and all the other tiny particles that the HEPA didn’t catch. The average surface area of a mere 5 grams of activated charcoal is approximately the square footage of the White House! There are several considerations for the use of an activated carbon air filter.

They are not appropriate for wet or damp environments and should also have a pre-filter. Just as a HEPA filter’s effectiveness can be reduced by large particles and debris clogging it because there was no pre-filter in place, a carbon filter will also need to be protected. An effective air purifier utilizing a carbon filter will have a heavy filter with several pounds of charcoal in it- far more than the thin packets of charcoal some of the lower quality manufacturers are now including in their units. We cannot recommend this technology highly enough for users who need the best HEPA filtration.

UV Technology

UV technology has outstanding disinfection properties to kill germs and viruses, but it cannot destroy airborne particles. Air purifiers that utilize this technology alongside a HEPA filter push the air past UV rays generated by a lightbulb that emits a shorter UV-C wavelength to damage a microorganism’s cellular or genetic structure, effectively stopping it from reproducing and killing it. In controlled hospital and laboratory applications, this technology is highly effective. Unfortunately, UV is not as efficient in an environment where the air is moving rapidly, such as through an air purifier. To effectively reduce microbes, a certain length of time being exposed to the UV light is needed and balancing that out with an effective rate of air circulation means negligible results.

Additionally, if the HEPA filter does not filter out enough particles, microbes can be shaded from the light by them. Replacing the light bulbs can be expensive as their effectiveness can diminish rapidly, even before they burn out. These bulbs contain high levels of mercury. And most importantly, some of these UV-C units can produce ozone which can cause lung damage.

Charged Media Filter

This system will utilize a system similar to static electricity to collect small particles, down to 0.1 microns. These filters lose their charge quickly and will stop working as well. Better units may use a metal filament to send continuous electricity through the filter to keep the particles clinging to it charged and trapped. Beware that some of these units produce ozone. Higher quality units don’t, and some have outstanding filtering capability. They are still not able to capture the smallest particles that carbon can.

The Importance of a Quality Motor

Units with true HEPA technology will cycle just about all of the air through the filter. This creates the need for a robust and powerful motor to push air through the filter and unit. Lower quality units are noisy and may burn up the moment the filter needs to be changed, so many of them are specifically designed then to allow more air flow past the filter instead of through it. While it’s still technically cleaning some of the air, it’s defeating the purpose.

You want an air purifier that can be left running most of the time on medium to low speed, and high speed when you are temporarily away from home.

Industry Certifications: Buyer Beware

Unfortunately for the consumer, evaluating the effectiveness of an air purifier before actually purchasing one can be difficult. Deceptive marketing, lack of jurisdiction, false claims, and a flood of cheap products from overseas on the market can be overwhelming. If that weren’t enough, there are even more confusing ratings and standards for these devices.

CADR (Clean Air Delivery Rate) is a standard set by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM). It’s a commonly used rating system for the volume of clean air delivered by an air purifier in a specific time. There are three measurements: Tobacco smoke, dust, and pollen. The higher the number, the faster the unit filters the air of each of the three pollutants. Units are tested on their highest speeds which may not reflect the actual consumer experience as not everyone wants their air purifier on high all the time, particularly in the bedroom or nursery.

As we stated before, the CADR rating should not be the sole factor in choosing an air purifier. While the ratings are important, they can often steer most consumers towards less effective purifiers with lower air pressure. Premium air purifiers utilizing multi-stage filters (carbon, UV) are penalized under this rating. They maintain higher pressure, and will not allow as much air through as quickly because to do so would reduce their effectiveness. Pollutants have to be exposed longer to the UV light or to a carbon filter’s surface area to be removed from the air.

CADR does not measure some of the most critical pollutants: the VOCs, microbes, or odors. It does not address ozone output (except for in California). Air purifiers that produce ozone can cause serious health complications over time including lung damage. They are not as common, but they are still on the market, and some are AHAM certified!

Because the tests are conducted on each unit for a short period, there is no long-term performance of filters being evaluated. We’ve discovered in our research that many AHAM-certified units are not sealed and unfiltered air can be passed out of the purifier.

It’s important to know that most big-box store and mass-marketed air purifiers are designed and sold by appliance manufacturers. The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers is the program that administers the CADR testing, and participation is voluntary. It is a trade association with paid membership (with costs passed on to you, the consumer!), and a brief perusal of its website indicates AHAM is solely concerned about promoting the interests of its members, the manufacturers. We stopped reading after the third or fourth article about how important it is to encourage consumers to regularly replace appliances even before they break.

We encourage buyers to weigh all the other factors against the CADR ratings.

What Kind of Air Purifier Should You Buy?

The air purifier market is full of different choices. To help you decide what kind of unit will be right for you, we’ve broken it down into categories.

Premium Multi-Stage Purifiers

High Efficiency Purifiers

Low-Cost Air Purifiers

We would not recommend purchasing a HEPA air purifier that won’t adequately address the problem. The internet is rife with reviews from frustrated buyers who purchased an inadequate or poorly designed unit that did not meet their expectations.

Most cheap air purifiers only make it appear that the air is clean by catching all the large particles but missing the small, dangerous ones.

There is new technology coming out all the time, and we’re excited about ozone-free electronic filters, but our first choice is still an air purifier that utilizes a sealed HEPA filter with a substantial activated carbon filter. These may not be in your price range.

There are still many good and less expensive HEPA air purifiers without carbon filters on the market that do a good job cleaning the air of larger particles and allergens, and users will experience improvement in their symptoms when these are removed from the air inside their homes. They may be adequate for your needs.

We still urge you to buy the very best air cleaner that you can afford. As we’ve said before, this is one where you truly get what you pay for.

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