There's something in the air, and it's not good. Between coronavirus and wildfires, consumers are stocking up on air purifiers like their lives depend on it. Air purifiers aren't the end all be all of health and wellness, but they will drastically improve your indoor air quality so you can breathe easier.
"Air purifiers are designed to remove small particulate matter, or air pollution, from the air we breathe," Kenneth Mendez, the president and CEO of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), says. "These small particles can vary in size, and can irritate the lungs or trigger allergic reactions when inhaled." The pollutants can come from practically anywhere, with Mendez noting that the primary sources of air pollution come from "cooking, automobile emissions, dust, fires or burning of coal and other materials."
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Shopping for an air purifier can feel like a difficult task, no thanks to the unfamiliar terms, options and confusing numbers. Dr. John McKeon, the CEO and founder of Allergy Standards Limited (ASL), says shoppers should look out for a few standard things when it comes to buying an air purifier.
First, find one that uses a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. "A device equipped with a HEPA filter is a good choice for those impacted by asthma and allergies as a HEPA filter can remove 99.97% of particles that measure 0.03 micrometers in diameter, including pollen spores, pet dander, dust mites and some bacteria," McKeon says. For odors and gasses, McKeon says an activated carbon filter is what you'll want to help remove them, and activated carbon filters will be typically be used in conjunction with a HEPA filter for enhanced filtration. Then there's the clean air delivery rate, or CADR, which McKeon says "indicates the volume of filtered air that an air cleaner delivers, with separate scores for smoke, pollen, and dust." The higher the CADR, the quicker the air purifier is at filtering the air — though it's important to note the CADR reflects the air purifier's efficiency when on its highest fan speed, the noisiest level on a purifier. Equipped with these facts, these are the best air purifiers we found in 2022.
How Do Air Purifiers Work?
Air purifiers basically use fans and filters to trap airborne particles so that you're not breathing them in.
"Some air cleaners work by trapping allergens like pollen or pet dander in their media-based or carbon filters," Mendez says. "Other air cleaners work by passing air through an electrostatic filter, giving the particles an electrostatic charge. This makes the particles then stick to metal plates in the air filter which can then be washed to remove the particles."
Different filters will act in different ways, whether they're trapping large particles or small particles, or eliminating odors. Be on the lookout for purifiers that release ozone, which can be detrimental for those with asthma and cause problems in the airways for others. And if you're wondering if air purifiers actually work, they do.
Air purifiers filter and remove airborne particles that can aggravate allergy symptoms and underlying health conditions and improve the overall air quality of the indoor environment. They are not, however, a panacea of air perfection. They won't eliminate 100 percent of the unwanted particles in your home, namely those that are stuck on hard and soft surfaces. In general, air purifiers will greatly impact your respiratory health — and we found 13 that do this the best.
Do Air Purifiers Help With COVID-19?
This is a tricky question. Yes, air purifiers equipped with True HEPA filters may be apt at removing the virus from the air, but COVID-19 is primarily spread through person-to-person contact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just because an air purifier could work well to filter the air of the coronavirus, it will not make you immune to it if someone infected with the virus is sitting right next to you, mask-free.
As the Environmental Protection Agency mentions on its website, "by themselves, portable air cleaners and HVAC filters are not enough to protect people from the virus that causes COVID-19." However, as it further explains, when used in conjunction with social distancing and wearing masks in public, air purifiers can further protect you and your family from contracting the virus.
Do Air Purifiers Help With Wildfire Smoke?
Yes, air purifiers can help with both cigarette smoke and smoke caused by wildfires. The biggest threat from smoke is from fine particles, which can cause stinging in the eyes, runny noses and respiratory complications. It can also worsen chronic heart and lung diseases, as reported by the Environmental Protection Agency.
"If you don’t have an HVAC system with a high-efficiency filter installed in your home, then a portable air cleaner or air purifier is recommended as an approach to remove fine particles from the air and reduce your exposure to harmful pollution during a wildfire smoke event," McKeon says.
For the smell, air purifiers with carbon filters will help to eliminate the smoky odor that can irritate the senses. Also, the Environmental Protection Agency advises against using air purifiers that produce ozone, which will worsen indoor air quality. The California Air Resources Board has a list of air purifiers that are certified to not emit excess ozone and can be found here.
What to Look For in an Air Purifier
Clean-Air Delivery Rating
Clean-air delivery rating, often denoted as CADR, was established by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, or AHAM. The CADR measures an air purifier's effectiveness by noting the volume of clean air produced per minute based on the space of a room. Devices will be given a rating for smoke, pollen and dust, with the higher the number, the better the efficacy.
To figure out which CADR is best for the room you want to use an air purifier in, use AHAM's suggestion of finding a CADR that is "equal to at least two-thirds of the room's area."
These days, most air purifiers (the good ones at least) will use a three-filter system. The first filter, often called a pre-filter, is the first layer of protection that captures larger dust particles. You can typically wash a pre-filter, which when dirty, will make the HEPA filter (make sure you get a real HEPA filter) less effective. Another filter that air purifiers typically have is a carbon filter, which helps with absorbing odor. Then there's the HEPA, or high-efficiency particulate air, filter, which removes 99.97 percent of particulates measuring 0.3 microns in diameter. HEPA filters will need to be replaced regularly, so make sure the price of replacement filters is something you can keep up with over time.
Air pollutants are invisible, and a lot of the time you won't be able to tell when your air is polluted. A good air purifier should have an auto mode, which will kick up the air purifier's fan speed to purify the air when a high concentration of pollutants are detected.
The Best Air Purifiers of 2022
Over the course of several months, we had testers use their air purifier in their home, running 24/7. A handful of our west-coast testers were tasked with making sure their air purifiers were capable of clearing wildfire smoke, while those who lived in less polluted areas were tasked to ensure their air purifiers could keep up with any daily air pollutants from everyday living, whether it was food odors or funky smells. We judged air purifiers through their listed clean-air delivery ratings, as well as their ease of use, quietness and perceived effectiveness. While air purifiers are by no means works of art, we did give extra (imaginary) points to units that looked half-decent. Also, we took into consideration the cost of filters, because as a recurring fee, these would certainly add to the overall value of the air purifier over time. We’ll continue to update this list over time as new air purifiers come to the market and how our current testing units continue to fare.
These vacuum cleaners suck, but in the best way possible.