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."
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 2021.
- Best Overall Air Purifier: Coway AP-1512HH Mighty Air Purifier
- Best Splurge Air Purifier: Coway Airmega 250
- Best Budget Air Purifier: Ikea Fornuftig
- Best Large-Room Air Purifier: Coway Airmega 400
- Best Small-Room Air Purifier: Blueair 411
- Best Smart Air Purifier: Mila Smart Air Purifier
- Best Good-Looking Air Purifier: Coway Airmega 150
- Best Air Purifier for Smoke: Blueair 211+
- Best Air Purifier for Allergies: Levoit Core 400S
- Best Air Purifier for Odor: Austin Air HealthMate Standard Air Purifier
- Best Air Purifier for Formaldehyde: Dyson Purifier Cool Formaldehyde TP09
- Best Portable Air Purifier: Blueair Pure Fan Auto
- Best Quiet Air Purifier: Levoit Core 300
Do Air Purifiers Work?
In short, yes, air purifiers work. 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.
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 can be detrimental for those with asthma and cause problems in the airways for others.
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. 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.
The Best Air Purifiers of 2021
The Airmega AP-1512HH offers some of the best air purification — with CADR ratings of 240 for pollen, 246 for dust and 233 for smoke — at its price point, and it does so in rooms up to 361 square feet. Plus, its small build makes it easy to tuck away.
It has a triple filter system, a pre-filter, HEPA filter and activated carbon filter, plus an ionizer. A built-in air quality monitor tracks air quality and, when running in auto mode, will adjust the fan speed according to its readings (faster for low quality, slower when it's contented). Our reviewer found that the device worked well at eliminating kitchen odors and smokes even in an open floor plan that was about 200 square feet bigger than recommended. One negative: our tester wasn't a fan of the shiny plastic body, which they compared to "terrible luxury styling trends that were popular in the early '90s."
- Powerful air purification at an approachable price point
- Good for all room sizes
- Plastic construction feels cheap
Coway's Airmega 250 ups the power of our Just Get This Pick, and it combines the looks of its best-looking air purifier and the power of its most powerful unit. It also somehow does it for a very reasonable price. The machine covers an impressive 930 square feet, packing CADR of 230 for pollen, 249 for smoke and 261 for dust. The Airmega 250 uses three-stage filtration — a washable pre-filter, a Green True HEPA filter and activated carbon filter — which is standard with Coway air purifiers, so you know it's good. A quick glance at the machine lets you know how your air is doing thanks to the LED air quality indicator atop the unit. Most of the time I'm in the blue, which means my air quality is great, and I'm pretty sure it's thanks to the Airmega 250.
- Attractive, compact and powerful
- Impressive room coverage
- Only comes in one drab color
Ikea's entry into the air purifier category is very Ikea. It looks good, it's cheap and it gets the job done. It has a decent CADR of 140, and it employs two filters: a HEPA 12 filter and carbon filter. However, purchasing the unit only includes the HEPA 12 filter. You'll have to spend an extra $13 to get the carbon filter, which is good for eliminating unwanted odors. It's not compatible with a smart phone app, but at $60, you can't really expect it to be smart. Besides its technical capabilities, the Fornuftig happens to be quite attractive. It's pretty similar to Ikea's speakers made in collaboration with Sonos, and that's a good thing. Also, the thing hangs on the wall, which is objectively cool and highlights how light and thin it is.
- A budget unit that doesn't cheap out on air cleaning
- A very Ikea aesthetic
- Only good for really small rooms
With a coverage area of 1,560 square feet, the Airmega 400 offers excellent air purification for extra-large rooms. It's a big machine, but it's necessary to house the power fans and filters to ensure it's effectively working to clean huge rooms. One of our testers, who has been dealing with the smoke of the California wildfires, says the Airmega 400 has been valuable since day one. Immediately upon its first use, the machine went into overdrive on auto mode, detecting unsafe levels of pollutants in the air. And its projected coverage area is no joke — our tested lives in a two-floor home, and the machine was able to run a full clean sweep. Night mode is good for, well, nighttime use; it's quieter, but when the air quality is OK, it doubles as a low-power mode to make sure your air quality remains good. The baseline Airmega 400 does not have app connectivity, though, so if that's important to you, look to the Airmega 400S ($599).
- Effective and powerful
- Covers a large area
- It's big and makes its presence known
- Pretty expensive, and that's without smart capabilities
For rooms up to 161 square feet, get the Blueair 411. It completes up to five air changes an hour, and it weighs only three pounds so you can easily transport the device from room to room without issue. The fabric pre-filter, which is machine washable and helps to extend the life of HEPA filter, comes in various colors to fit your interior design aesthetic, so it doesn't look too sterile in your impeccably designed home. Because of its 360-degree air intake, you can place the purifier almost anywhere and still experience peak performance. The 411 also boasts energy efficiency unlike most others on the market, which makes this budget pick a good deal in the long run, too.
- 360-degree air intake means it's effective wherever you place it
- Energy efficient
- Only good for small rooms
Mila started as a Kickstarter project, which received over $1.1 million in backing. Those backers should rest assured that this is an excellent air purifier in the middle-to-upper price range. Mila has a CADR rating up to 447 in rooms as big as 1,000 square feet. The powerful unit has an in-depth display that offers information most air purifiers require an app to see (and Mila's app itself offers a wealth of information). In auto mode, set Mila to hit a target air quality index (AQI), and it'll tell you how long it will take to get there, and how it compares to the outdoor AQI as reported by your closest air quality reporting station. Mila also monitors temperature, humidity and carbon monoxide detector among a host of other useful information and insight. The air purifier uses tailored air filters that address specific needs for its users. For example, there are filters for pet owners, new parents, overall clean freaks, etc. One knock against the Mila is that because it has a manual on/off switch, you can't power it on or off remotely, which is odd since the overall device is so smart.
- Affordable yet smart and effective
- Impressive breadth of air quality information
- Strangely does not offer remote on/off function
When the Airmega 150 came out, we were taken by its looks. As our reviewer noted, "the fact that a serious air purifier manufacturer is taking aesthetics seriously is a necessary step in making these things more widespread." It's essentially a compact box with a bunch of tiny holes in it (trypophobia sufferers beware). And because it's a Coway, you can be sure it's still a quality device. Its CADR rating in a 214-square-foot room clocks in at 138 for pollen, 161 for dust and 219 for smoke.
Our reviewer used this in his bedroom, and both he and his partner have noticed their bedroom air quality has drastically improved as have their sinus issues. One qualm is its noise levels. While Coway's website notes that the Airmega 150 has decibel levels between 19.98 dB and 48.3 dB, we found that when the purifier kicks into medium- or high-mode, it really makes its presence known. However, unless your space is particularly polluted, the Airmega 150 shouldn't need to run on anything above low speed for too long.
- Looks good, and available in multiple colors
- Really works with noticeable benefits
- A tad noisy
The most important factor in purchasing an air purifier is its effectiveness, but many also consider how it looks. Some either look too sterile or like a droid out of Star Wars. The Blue Air 211+ is simple in its looks — essentially a two-toned rectangular box with customizable colored pre-filters — and has high-tech features to boot. The 211+ has CADR ratings of 350 across the board, and our tester noted the machine is exceptionally good at removing odors from cooking, both quickly and effectively.
The 211+ can complete up to five air changes an hour in a 540-square-foot room, and our tested found it worked well in combatting smoke and food odors in an open-floor plan. Because the 211+ is small and lightweight (under 13 pounds), you can somewhat easily carry the air purifier from room to room depending on where you need it. One downside is the air purifier does not have an auto function. And while most modern-day air purifiers eschew buttons for touch-sensitive controls, our reviewer was a huge fan of the device's tactile buttons, a small, but satisfying product detail that plays into its overall aesthetic
- Sucks up odors and smoke like it's nothing
- Good room coverage and excellent strength
- Simple design, with colorful options
- No auto function
Many people buy air purifiers to help them with their allergies. If you're looking to quit the sneezing, get the Levoit Core 400S. The compact air purifier uses trademarked AirSight Plus technology that quickly picks up the air quality in the room to automatically adjust its fan speed to clear up the muck. It has a CADR of 260, with a optimal room size of 403 square feet. The unit itself displays the filter life and realtime updates of the number of airborne particles, but if you sync it up with the accompanying Levoit app, you''ll get in-depth information and remote control.
- Quickly adjusts fan speed to your indoor air quality
- Effectively removes airborne particles, especially allergens
- Pairs with voice assistants
- Plastic parts leave something to be desired
A motif that runs throughout reviews of this Austin Air air purifier is this: it helps remove the odor of secondhand cigarette smoke. If you live next to someone who happens to be a chainsmoker, the B400 may be the way to go so their terrible habits don't interfere with your health. The B400 uses a four-stage filtration system to ensure a deep clean of your air. The first two filters are two types of pre-filters, one for large particles and one for medium-sized particles. The third stage of filtration comes in the form of an activated carbon and zeolite filter, the combination making for enhanced odor trapping. Zeolite is particularly good at trapping toxic gases and odors, such as formaldehyde and carbon monoxide, as Austin Air's website claims. It has a 780-square-feet coverage area, three fan speeds and a 360-degree air intake system.
- Includes two pre-filters for extra filtration
- Large coverage area
- 360-degree air intake system
- Looks like a Star Wars droid
Formaldehyde is a silent killer, and it's hard to capture and kill. Dyson recently revamped its air purifier line, and it included a range that specializes in getting formaldehyde (as well as other crap in the air). The Pure Cool Formaldehyde uses Selective Catalytic Oxidization filter, which is a fancy way to say it catches formaldehyde in billions of tiny tunnels and turns it into water. It's also insanely quiet, and 20 percent quieter than the old models. All air purifiers have an air output, and I like how Dyson turned that necessity into something functional: a fan. The tiny display on the machine actually offers a lot of information about your air quality, and it's only rivaled by the information you get on the accompanying Dyson app.
- Specializes in targeting the hard-to-capture formaldehyde
- Device offers air quality information on the unit itself
- It's a Dyson, so it's expensive
Get one air purifier that's easy to carry, and that could be the only air purifier you need to buy for your whole home. Blueair's Pure Fan Auto offers just that thanks to its relatively light weight and convenient handle. It's similar to Dyson's air purifiers in that it sucks up your dirty air and shoots it out as clean air like a fan, so it keeps you cool and it cleans. The purifier uses quiet HEPASilent filtration, and the brand claims it can capture 99 percent of dust particles in 20 minutes and pollen in 30 minutes. Its CADR is listed as 250 for pollen, 220 for dust and 210 for smoke, with area coverage of 326 square feet. The auto function of the unit is helpful for ensuring your air quality is always where it should be. And with allergy season in full swing, it's a lifesaver for those who are just sick and tired of constantly sneezing.
- Easy to carry around
- Works well as a fan
- A little more expensive than we think it should be
For $100, this is an excellent base-level air purifier. It has good CADR ratings (145 for pollen, 140 for dust and 141 for smoke), a good performance range (215 square feet) and a much-appreciated quiet mode. Levoit's QuietKEAP Technology reduces the noise levels so you can continue to get clean, purified air while you're sleeping. Three-stage filtration is pretty much standard, even with higher-end units, so the fact that the Core 300 doesn't eschew this despite being a budget air purifier. While there is no auto mode, the timer function is helpful, and you really can't beat the price, or features, of the Core 300.
- Very quiet
- Affordable yet effective
- No auto function