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air purifier buying guide

Air Purifier Buying Guide

According to research conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Air and Radiation, our air quality indoors can be a surprising 2 to 5 times more polluted than the air outside. This is often the result of multiple factors including:

  • Poor ventilation
  • Indoor pollutant sources such as combustion by-products, pesticide sprays, air fresheners, cleaning products, and building material emissions
  • Allergens and other impurities, which can migrate indoors and into your breathable air

The EPA recommends using an air purifier, also known as an air cleaner, to help maintain a healthier indoor environment by filtering out allergens, odors, and other impurities from your space. With the wide range of air purifiers available on the market, figuring out which model is best for you may prove to be a challenge. The following guide will help you choose the best air purifier for your environment.

For easier accessibility to the topics in this article, please refer to our topic links below:

 

Things to Consider When Buying an Air Purifier Video

 

 

About Air Purifiers

Air purifiers are air treatment appliances that are designed to remove airborne pollutants from the air. Pollutant types include allergen particles such as dust, dust mites, pollen, pet dander, mold spores, and ragweed; odors from cigarette or cigar smoke; and airborne chemicals given off by paint fumes, household cleaning products, or building material emissions. Depending on its filtration components, an air purifier can address one or more of the above listed pollutants. Air cleaners work in various ways.

Austin Air Healthmate Air Purifier

Filter air purifiers, such as the Austin Air Healthmate Air Purifier and the Whirlpool Whispure 450 Air Purifier, are most common. These machines work by pulling air inside the machine and pushing it through a series of filters with the help of an electric fan. When the air moves through the air cleaner, it is cleaned of airborne particles and pollutants as they pass through the filters. Clean air is then released back into your space, and the process continues until all room air has passed through the air purifier. Filter-based air purifiers are popular choices if you're looking for HEPA-grade filtration in your indoor environment—a must if you have allergies.

electrostatic air cleaner

Electrostatic air purifiers, also known as electronic air cleaners, work by pulling air inside and passing it over an electrostatic field that attracts particles onto metal plates. Overtime, the plates become soiled as more and more air pollutants are collected on top. The dirtier the plates become; the less filtration efficiency the air purifier will have. That's why it's extremely important to clean the plates regularly to maintain effective operation.

Germ Guardian UV-C Room Air Sanitizer

Ultraviolet air purifiers use ultraviolet (UV) germicidal light to kill allergens and germs on contact as air passes through the unit. On these models, UV light is most often used in conjunction with other filtration technology, such as filters, for the most cleaning effectiveness. These air cleaners are considered completely safe because ultraviolet light is only used inside the unit and will not escape.

AirFree Onix 3000 Air Purifier

Air sterilizers, a relatively new type of air cleaner, use heat to disinfect air as it passes through a special chamber. This process kills 99% or more of airborne germs, bacteria, and allergens. Air is returned to room temperature before being released back into your environment. As a basic rule of thumb, when choosing among air cleaner models, you should first choose a model with a filtration system designed for your specific problem. Whether you want one for general particle filtration, allergy control, smoke and odor removal, or to reduce multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS), there is an air purifier out there that can help.

 

Air Purifier Filters

Whirlpool 510 Air Purifier

Most air purifiers use at least one type of filter to clean your indoor air. There are several types of air purifier filters and each has a specific purpose.

High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters are rated to remove up to 99.97% of particles from the air that measure 0.3 microns and larger. HEPA air purifiers are ideal for removing microscopic allergens such as pollen, pet dander, dust, dust mites, ragweed, and mold spores. These models can help you reduce and even eliminate your allergy symptoms as well as relieve aggravated asthma conditions.

Activated carbon filters remove odors and chemicals from the air and are used by air purifier models designed for odor, smoke, and chemical removal. Activated carbon means that the pores of the carbon granules have been opened so that they can absorb pollutants. Absorption occurs when pollutants are attracted to the activated carbon. The open pores of the carbon fill up with the odors and chemicals. Once all the holes are filled, the carbon filter is no longer active and needs to be replaced. Carbon filters are most often used to absorb:

  • Smoke from cigars, cigarettes, cooking activities, and fireplaces.
  • Formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from furniture, carpet glues, paints, plastics, and new building materials.
  • General unpleasant odors such as those caused by pets or food.
  • Irritating chemical odors from air fresheners and household cleaning products.

Pre-filters help trap large particles before they reach the internal components of the air cleaner and, more specifically, the HEPA or HEPA-type filter or the electrostatic metal plates. Using an air purifier with a pre-filter provides a great benefit because the pre-filter helps to extend the time between cleanings or filter replacements. It also helps to maintain the air cleaner's functionality and efficiency longer.

 

Air Purifiers for Specific Needs

Air purifiers come in many different types. When choosing among models, think about your specific need and choose an air purifier designed to filter out the pollutants that are affecting you. For example, if you're concerned about allergen particles and relieving allergy and/or asthma conditions, you should choose a HEPA air purifier to gain the best particle filtration in your environment. If you're concerned about odors and chemical pollutants, go with an air purifier that features a carbon filter for the best odor filtration.

Air purifiers can reduce the severity of or even eliminate symptoms associated with the below ailments.

woman sneezing

Seasonal Allergies

Air cleaners are highly effective if you suffer from spring, fall, or year-round allergies. Models that feature HEPA filter technology trap both small and large particles, so that you no longer breathe them in and they don't affect your nasal passages or respiratory system. Incidences of itchy eyes, sneezing, coughing, and runny noses will be reduced, and your indoor air will be healthier day after day. To learn more about how air purifiers can help relieve allergy symptoms, read our article Air Purifiers and Allergies and browse our allergy relief air purifier models.

girl and cat

Pet Allergies

If you have a pet or multiple pets and you or someone in your home is allergic to them, an air purifier can help. Most people are not allergic to cat and dog fur; they are allergic to the dander of cats and dogs. Pet dander particles are the skin cells that cats and dogs shed. Dander is tiny and can remain in the air for a very long time. These particles also tend to go where your pet goes and stick around after your pet has left the area. Air purifiers clean these particles from the air, trapping the dander in the filters or electrostatic plates. Air purifiers for pet allergies also help to reduce the amount of pet fur floating throughout your air, helping to keep your home cleaner. Air cleaners with carbon filters add another level of effectiveness against pet odors. Activated carbon will absorb unpleasant pet smells and promote fresh-smelling, healthy air throughout your space.

woman using inhaler

Asthma

Air cleaners have a positive impact on your indoor environment if you or someone in your household suffers from asthma. All kinds of asthma triggers saturate indoor air on a daily basis and an air purifier can help get rid of them. HEPA air purifiers are most effective in removing asthma triggers, which are often microscopic and hard to detect with the naked eye. In addition, an air purifier with carbon filtration can address asthma triggers such as perfumes, household chemical odors, and smoke. All of these indoor pollutants can exacerbate asthma symptoms and lead to an asthma attack. Browse our air purifiers for asthma to find our top recommended models for asthma conditions and read our articles Dealing with Asthma and Children and Asthma for more information.

chemical spray bottles

Multiple Chemical Sensitivities

MCS, or multiple chemical sensitivities, can be divided in two categories. First, there are some individuals who are sensitive to one chemical or a number of chemicals present in their home. These MCS-sufferers need an air purifier to address the specific pollutant or pollutants. In most cases, a chemical air purifier—such as the Airpura R600 Air Purifier—with ample activated carbon filtration will solve this problem.

The second type of MCS-sufferer is one who is highly reactive to most of the chemicals they come in contact with inside and outside the home. Reaction-triggering chemicals can often include the glues, solvents, treated filters, and plastic housing materials found on the air purifiers themselves. Fortunately, there are a number of effective multiple chemical sensitivity air purifier models available that do not off-gas symptom-aggravating chemicals. MCS air purifiers are manufactured without using glue or other solvents as well as untreated organic cotton in their filters. These design alterations help ensure that the air purifier itself does not release chemicals into your air. To learn more about MCS and air purifiers, read our article Living with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities.

Along with working to reduce symptomatic conditions, air purifiers address specific pollutants, allergens, and impurities in your environment. These include:

dustpan

Dust Particles and Dust Mites

Dust mites are tiny cream-colored organisms that live off organic material such as dead skin flakes or dust. Our homes are the perfect environment for dust mites in which to live and breed. Because of their tiny size—about 0.03 to 35 microns in length—and quick crawling capability, dust mites move easily through the air on the slightest of air currents such as those created when you are changing your sheets, sweeping floors, opening curtains, or dusting furniture. Dust mites can cause respiratory problems and aggravate your allergy symptoms. Air purifiers help to eliminate these little parasites by pulling them out of the air and trapping them in the filter, leaving behind clean healthy air.

smoke from candle

Smoke

Smoke from your fireplace, stove, cigarettes, tobacco, or even a wildfire near your home can cause a number of issues in your indoor environment. Some people may not like the smell and others may experience heightened allergy and asthma symptoms as a result. An air purifier for smoke—such as the AllerAir 5000 DS Air Purifier and the Airpura T600 Air Purifier—works to remove smoke and related odors by using an activated carbon bed to absorb the pollutants. Browse our additional air purifiers for smoke for additional information.

smoke from candle

Airborne Bacteria and Viruses 

Some air purifiers can also combat illness-causing airborne bacteria and viruses, creating an even healthier environment during flu season or any time of year. Models such as the Oransi v-hepa Finn Air Purifier use ultraviolet germicidal light to kill airborne pathogens on contact while filtering air. Other air cleaners including Rabbit air purifiers use special filter coating that kills a percentage of viruses as air is passed through the filter. Heat technology can also be used to remove airborne germs. AirFree air purifier units use disinfecting heat to kill harmful microbes. For more information on choosing an air purifier to combat germs, read our article Germicidal Air Purifiers May Boost Your Health.

Ultimately, the key to selecting the right air purification system for your indoor space lies in knowing the problems you want to address. If you need help choosing the best air purifier for your needs, please contact our air treatment specialists at 800-934-9194 for a free product consultation and recommendation.

 

Cost Consideration

The price of an air cleaner can range from under $100 to more than $1,000, depending on what pollutants it's designed to address, its size, and its technology. Deciding whether to choose a low-end or high-end model can be confusing. Although air purifiers generally operate in the same way—air is pulled into the unit, cleaned, and then released back out into your space—the logistics of how this is accomplished, the internal design of the air purifier as well as the quality and quantity of clean air exiting the system varies with every model.

You don't have to be an air purifier expert to figure out which model is best for your needs. You simply need to determine what your needs are. Ask yourself the following questions to get the selection process started:

  • Why am I purchasing an air purifier?
  • Am I looking to help relieve a health condition such as allergies, asthma, or chemical sensitivities?
  • Am I looking to remove odors, smoke or chemicals?
  • Do I need a unit that addresses a combination of these concerns?
  • Is this air cleaner going to be used in a single room? Or am I trying to clean all the air in my house?
  • How big is my space?
  • What is my budget?
  • How much will it cost to maintain and replace air filters for the air purifier I choose?
  • Do I want special features? (For example, a filter replacement indicator, a remote control, multiple fan speeds, a programmable timer, etc.)

Answering the above questions will be a useful, time-saving method to help you decide what type and quality of air purifier you'd like to purchase for your environment. Because the cost of replacement filters varies by the air cleaner and the type of air filter, it's also important to check the price point on filters and the frequency of filter changes before you decide on a model. This will give you a working estimate on what you can expect to pay for maintenance.

 

Sizing Your Air Purifier

When deciding on the size of air cleaner you want to buy, be sure to carefully consider the size of the area you want to clean. To do this, you should calculate your room or space's approximate square footage—the length in feet multiplied by the width in feet—and cubic footage—the length of your space multiplied by the width of your space multiplied by your ceiling height—to use as a guide. Many manufacturers list an optimal square foot area of coverage for their air purifiers, so you'll want to choose a model that is rated to cover your area's size. In addition, consider the cubic footage of your space if you want to determine how many air changes per hour the particular air purifier will make. Learn more on this consideration in the next section.

Keep in mind that air purifiers work best in the room they are placed in and they lose effectiveness the further you move the system away from that room. Single room air cleaners will not effectively clean the air in your entire house. If you are looking to perform whole house air purification, consider a whole house air purifier. Whole house air cleaners, such as the IQAir Perfect 16, work with your existing HVAC system to purify air as you heat, cool, or ventilate all the rooms in your home. Alternatively, you may want to consider using a combination of single room air purifiers throughout your home to provide more purification coverage.

IQAir Perfect 16 Whole House Air Purifier

 

Determining Air Purifier Effectiveness

There are many schools of thought when it comes to determining an air purifier's efficiency and overall effectiveness. These include considering an air cleaner's cubic feet per minute (CFM) exchange rate, air changes per hour (ACH), and Clean Air Delivery Rates (CADR). All of these measurements give an indication of how quickly an air purifier will clean the air in your environment.

 

Cubic Feet Per Minute and Air Changes Per Hour

An air cleaner's cubic feet per minute (CFM) rating represents how many cubic feet of air passes through the unit in any given minute. This can give you an indication of how quickly an air purifier will clean the complete volume of air in your room. As a general rule of thumb, the higher an air purifier's CFM rating, the faster your room's air will be purified—and the quicker you will feel the positive effects of your new air cleaner. CFM ratings go hand in hand with another measurement known as air changes per hour (ACH). ACH indicates how many times an air purifier filters the entire volume of air in your space per hour. As a rule of thumb, look for an air purifier that can produce at least 3 to 4 air changes per hour if you suffer from allergies, asthma, or MCS.

 

Calculating CFM with ACH

To determine if an air purifier will produce enough air changes per hour to clean your space effectively, you'll need to do some math. There is a specific formula for calculating how high of a CFM rating you will need in order to achieve your desired ACH level in an air purifier. Follow this equation to see if a model will perform to your expectations:

Recommended CFM = Cubic Footage of Space to Purify x Required Air Changes Per Hour / 60 minutes

Here's a step-by-step example for a possible scenario:

  • Find the cubic footage of the space you want to purify by multiplying the length in feet by the width in feet by the ceiling height in feet.
    • 18 feet L x 24 feet W x 8 feet H = 3456 cubic feet
  • Multiply 3456 cubic feet by 4 air changes per hour.
    • 3456 cubic feet x 4 ACH = 13,824
  • Divide the result by 60 minutes to get your recommended cubic feet per minute.
    • 13,824 / 60 = 230.4 CFM

You should look for an air purifier that cleans air at a rate of at least 230.4 cubic feet per minute in order to achieve 4 air changes per hour in your space. Most air purifier manufacturers list their model's CFM ratings in their standard product specifications. In the above example, the Austin Air Healthmate, which processes air at 400 CFM, would be a good choice.

Of course, it is important to remember that other factors can affect how well an air cleaner will perform in your indoor space. The CFM measurement often does not take into consideration the design of your home, how well air flows from spot to spot, the amount of furniture that can potentially block air circulation, the amount of insulation of your rooms, or the amount of indoor air pollutants present in your home. That's why it's very important to only use the CFM rating and your ACH requirement as a loose guide when shopping for an air purifier.

 

Clean Air Delivery Rate

An alternative, and oftentimes even more important, specification to consider when comparing models is the air purifier's Clean Air Delivery Rate, or CADR. This rating, which is quickly becoming the standard measurement of effectiveness for air purifiers, gives you an idea of how well a unit filters out allergens and impurities.

Developed by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM), CADR involves assigning a filtration score for an air purifier model in three areas: dust, pollen, and smoke. As a rule of thumb, the higher the dust, pollen, and smoke removal scores, the faster the air cleaner filters the air. The maximum scores any unit can achieve are 450 for pollen and smoke removal and 400 for dust removal. AHAM recommends that you follow a 2/3 rule when evaluating an air purifier's effectiveness. This means that the air purifier you choose should have CADR scores of at least 2/3 of your room or space's square-foot area.

 

For example, if you have a 12-foot by 12-foot room—144 square feet total. You should choose an air purifier with CADR scores of at least 96 in one or more areas, depending on the pollutant you want to remove.

When considering CADR, It's important to note that manufacturers must submit their air purifiers for testing — and not all manufacturers do this. However, this measurement is becoming more and more popular as a standard specification. In time, all air purifiers will be rated on this system and it will be easier to compare unit effectiveness side by side.

 

Noise Level

It is very rare that you will come across a completely silent air purifier. AirFree air purifiers are an exception because they do not use motorized fans. However, most air purifiers will emit some level of noise, depending on the purification speed you choose. As a result, it's important to consider your noise preference and take into account where you plan to use the air purifier. Ask yourself these questions to help guide your choice of model:

 

Will the air purifier be in my bedroom?

This is the most common area to use an air purifier. It's also the number one area where people find high levels of sound to be the most disturbing. If you are a person who cannot tolerate any noise while falling asleep, using an air purifier with a programmable timer that can be set to turn the unit on after you are deeply asleep is an ideal solution.

On the flip side, many people enjoy the "white noise" created by an air purifier because it can help create a calming effect in the room. Either way, it's important to understand that most air purifiers will emit some level of noise. It's just a matter of finding the level of sound you're comfortable with.

 

What is the decibel rating of the air purifier and how does this compare with other common sounds?

Many air purifier manufacturers list a decibel (dB) rating for each fan speed of an air cleaner. You can compare these ratings to the sounds made by other indoor appliances, such as the noise emitted by a typical box fan or the "hum" sound that a refrigerator makes. This will give you a point of reference when making your choice. Use the comparison chart below to get an idea for the level of sound an air purifier will make based on its decibel measurement.

0 dB

Hearing Threshold

10 dB

Breathing

20 dB

Falling Leaves

30 dB

Whisper

40 dB

Raindrops

50 dB

Average Home

60 dB

Normal Conversation

70 dB

Vacuum Cleaner

Remember, noise levels are different for each individual. Even decibel results can sometimes be misleading since many things can affect the sound level, including the position of the air purifier, whether carpeting is present, the amount of furniture in the room, the distance a person is from the air cleaner while it is running, and the chosen fan speed, to name a few.

 

Special Features

Many air purifiers on the market offer a variety of special features that can enhance your air-cleaning experience, make the air purifier easier to use, and save energy. These features add convenience to your life and provide additional options for optimizing air purifier operation to best suit your needs. When shopping for an air purifier, consider how important these special features are to your application:

  • Digital Controls — Allow you to more accurately select your operation settings.
  • Remote Control — Allows you to easily control operation from a comfortable distance.
  • Multiple Fan Speeds — Have your choice of multiple purification speeds to suit your indoor pollution level or sound preference.
  • Filter Replacement Indicator — Typically in the form of lights, these indicators alert you when it's time to replace your filters.
  • Programmable Timer — Program operation to turn on and off at certain times during the day to help save energy.
  • Carrying Handle — Handles help you easily maneuver the air purifier if you plan to move it from space to space.
  • Casters — Along with handles, casters can help make it significantly easier to move your air purifier.
  • Germicidal Protection — Fight airborne bacteria and viruses as well as allergens with an air purifier equipped to fight germs.
  • Ionizer — Help promote the capture of small and large particles and are thought to help boost your mood.
  • Air Quality Monitor — Some air purifiers can sense the level of pollution in your environment and automatically adjust purification settings to the level needed to remove the pollutants.

 

Maintenance

Regular maintenance is an important part of keeping your air purification system working effectively for the long-term. Not surprisingly, there is a certain amount of cost and effort required. Certainly, air purifiers will work for a time as a "set it and forget it" appliance. However, to get the most out of your investment in a filter-based air purifier, you'll need to replace the filters at the manufacturer's recommended time intervals or as needed, depending on the level of pollution in your indoor environment. If you choose to purchase an electrostatic air cleaner or an air sterilizer, you must be committed to performing recommended maintenance periodically in order to keep it running as good as new.

For more information on maintaining your air purifier, read our article on Air Purifier Maintenance.

 

The Least You Need To Know

  • Filter air purifiers use filters to remove particles from the air. Electrostatic air purifiers use electromagnetic plates to attract particles out of the air. Ultraviolet air purifiers use UV-C allergen- and germ-killing light to eliminate impurities. Air sterilizers use disinfecting heat to kill allergens and airborne germs.
  • HEPA air purifiers are best if you're looking to remove allergen particles from your environment and relieve allergy and/or asthma symptoms.
  • Air purifiers with activated carbon filters are best if you're looking to remove odors and airborne chemicals from your environment.
  • Air purifiers are available for a variety of specific needs, including seasonal and year-round allergies, pet allergies, asthma, multiple chemical sensitivities, and specific pollutants such as smoke, dust, and airborne bacteria.Choose a model that addresses your need.
  • The price of an air cleaner can range from under $100 to over $1,000. It's best to weigh your needs, the size of space you want to purify, and the estimated maintenance costs when deciding on your budget for an air purifier.
  • It's important to choose the correct size of air purifier for the most effectiveness in your space. Measure the approximate square footage of your space, taking into account your ceiling height, and choose a model rated to cover your space's size.
  • An air purifier's Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) scores give you an indication of how fast the unit will remove dust, smoke, and pollen.
  • Most air purifiers will make some noise. Consider how much noise you can tolerate when selecting an air cleaner. Features such as a programmable timers and multiple purification speeds that purify at different sound levels can make the noise less disturbing.
  • Special features such as digital controls, multiple fan speeds, programmable timers, filter replacement indicators, and air quality monitors, make operating your air purifier easier and more convenient.
  • Regular maintenance, including keeping up with filter replacements and performing other recommended maintenance actions, can ensure that your air purifier operates as good as new.

 

Still Have Questions?

For more information on a specific air purifier or other air treatment solutions, browse our products and visit our Knowledge Center. Not sure what's best for you? We can take the guesswork out of decision-making. Contact one of our air treatment specialists at 1-800-934-9194. We want to help make your indoor environment healthy and comfortable.

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