From the novel coronavirus to Canadian smoke, dangerous stuff is floating around in the air we breathe. It’s hardly surprising that the pandemic inaugurated an upswing in demand for air purifiers, particularly residential models, that can also ameliorate lesser issues like airborne allergens, cooking smells, and the like.
The growth of the market has led to air purifiers that are smarter and designed better for home environments. Where they might once have been thought of as necessary eyesores for germophobes or the medically compromised, there are now options that appeal to smart home nerds and even the design-minded who can’t stand to glance at an Instant Pot.
There are still some headaches with air purifiers — dirty filters and noise among them — but they are a fairly inexpensive way to make one’s home a healthier place to spend time. Models range from the mid-$200s for simple but effective units to more than $500 for high-tech models with all the bells and whistles. Regardless of features or budget, the principal concern for everyone buying an air purifier should be how well it purifies the air, followed closely by questions of maintenance, noise, and operation.
Note, air filtration and purification are technically different, but for the purposes of shopping for a buying a device they’re used interchangeably by manufacturers and in this guide.
What the Experts Say
To identify the few objective factors to consider when purchasing an air purifier, SPY spoke with Odile Liu, chief product officer at Blueair; Chris Li,. co-founder of Sterra; Tony Abate, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at AtmosAir Solutions; and Michael Schrantz, founder and operator of Environmental Analytics to help sort through the best air purifiers available now.
Liu says consumers should look for air purifiers that are independently tested for performance and ozone safety. Energy Star certification is a given for any appliance while a California Air Resources Board certification ensures that an air cleaner is both electrically safe and meets an ozone emission concentration limit of 0.050 parts per million.
The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers’ “Verified” mark tells you that the advertised Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) has been independently tested. Abate calls CADR a measure of “the ability for an air purifier to deliver clean air into a space” and says most superior options will test to a CADR rate of 300 or more. Larger rooms necessitate higher CADR scores. Lim says they boil down to “the volume of air in CFM (cubic feet per minute) that is cleaned of particles, and shows how efficient air purifiers are at capturing [specific] indoor pollutants. Therefore, you should check the CADR of air purifier models and their recommended room size coverage area to make the best decision based on your needs.”
Schrantz adds that any filter properly labeled as HEPA has been independently tested, as “true HEPA filtration with a rating of H13 (European Norm 1822 classification) or better can remove 99.97% of all particles in the air measuring 0.3 microns in diameter,” meaning they can filter out mold pollen, mold spores, bacteria, and some viruses as well.
While everyone wants to breathe clean air, the road to get there looks different based on the activities and location of one’s household. And different air purifier designs are better suited for certain needs — including mold, air pollution, and even smoke from candles or cooking.
“Most air purifiers have a two-stage system that includes a pre-filter and a HEPA filter, others have three-stage systems where the third layer is activated carbon filter. Some advanced models have a three-stage system with added filtration technologies such as UV-C light technology,” Lim says. Along with this team of experts, SPY editors have gathered the best air filter picks in the list below.