Using my 10+ years of experience, allow me to help you pick the best air purifier for you.
Air purifiers have been an integral part of my success in combating airway constriction and inflammation due to asthma and other allergies. These devices had a profound impact on my allergy symptoms and frequency of onset of asthma. Since purchasing my very first one way back in 2003 to the multiple units I own now, air purifiers have been a tool in my arsenal for over a decade now. This has provided me with ample experience on finding the best air purifier. My only regret is not purchasing them sooner. As an added plus, they make great gifts! Over the years I’ve bought over two dozen for family and friends, and I have received nothing but positive feedback, especially from those that didn’t have the greatest of immune systems. Pro tip: this is my go-to wedding and baby shower present. Helping to keep a baby healthy, especially during those vulnerable early months of life, is honestly one of the best presents a new parent can receive.
I noticed that the great majority of my respiratory problems started at home. Most of us take great care not to stand in the presence of car exhaust or to avoid secondhand smoke while outside, however research done by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Air and Radiation has shown some surprising results. According to them: “Indoor air levels of many pollutants may be 2-5 times, and occasionally, more than 100 times higher than outdoor levels.” Considering that most of us spend a large majority of our time indoors, especially in our own homes, this is definitely a cause for concern.
Fortunately for us, there is a wide selection of air purifiers to help combat this air pollution. Unfortunately for us, due to the sheer amount of products on the market, picking the best air purifier for your budget has become a daunting task. There are literally hundreds of products out there! Going through each and every one to find the best ones would not only be difficult and extremely time consuming, but also potentially harmful if you pick the wrong one. For this reason, I have created this extensive guide in order to equip you with everything you need to know in order to find the best air purifier for you.
Note: Remember that while air purifiers filter out the airborne allergens in your environment, they have little effect on allergens that are resting on the surfaces of your home. Combining an air purifier with an awesome vacuum completes the 1-2 punch needed to take back complete control of your sinuses. I can honestly say that as a long time sufferer of respiratory problems, this combo changed my life. Be sure to check out my personal buyer’s guide to picking the best vacuum of 2016.
What in the World Is an Air Purifier?
An air purifier is simply a device that removes contaminants from the air in a room. These contaminants include dust, pollen, pet dander, and dust mites. These act as allergens and can start up allergies in sensitive people. Smoke particles and volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) are also filtered out. Also, air purifiers have gotten increasingly effective at filtering out more bacterial, virus, and DNA damaging particulates.
Air purifiers have different methods to clean the air we breathe. However, I will focus on filtration based systems, particularly High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, since that is the system that has provided the best results for me. These HEPA air purifiers work by pulling air from your room into the machine and forcing it through a series of fabric filters and/or an absorbent carbon filter, in order for the particulates in the air to get trapped there and clean air flows out by means of a fan. They are able to trap 99.97% of airborne particles, preventing them from going into your lungs. With time this results in a room much more hospitable for us humans inside it, especially those with respiratory problems such as asthma or seasonal allergies.
Okay, So Why Do I Need an Air Purifier?
I could provide a more long-winded response to this question however it has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Below we have a side-by-side comparison of a used air purifier filter on the left and a new one on the right:
The difference is literally black and white! All of those contaminants would have found their way into a pair of lungs had that air purifier not been there working hard at cleaning it. We take great care to make sure the clothes we wear and the foods we eat are clean, why not do the same with the air we breathe? Let’s take a look at a couple specific benefits air purifiers can provide.
Do you or someone you know suffer from asthma? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the chances are very likely. About 1 in 12 Americans (8%) had asthma as of 2009, an increase from the 1 in 14 (7%) in 2001. And these numbers are rising. They are even worse for children with a rate of 1 in 10 (10%). The most susceptible group are non-Hispanic black children, with an astounding rate of 1 in 6 (17%). That’s more than twice the national average! Every year over 4,000 Americans die as a direct result of asthma. This sad loss of life may have been prevented if the pollutants that triggered the asthma attack had been filtered before reaching the victim’s lungs.
This is where air purifiers come in. By filtering out the environmental triggers which induce asthma and trapping them, they proactively protect against the onset of asthma symptoms and attacks. They have been a godsend for me! There was a notable difference in quantity of asthma symptoms before and shortly after purchasing my first air purifier.
Also you should look into getting an air purifier with odor-absorbent capabilities as things such as perfumes and household chemical odors can also trigger the onset of asthma.
Creating Better Living/ Working Conditions
You are what you breathe. In March of 1997, there was a study done about the average life expectancy of Hunan province of China during the period of 1980-1984 that found that the average underground mine worker had a life expectancy of about 10 years less than that of a surface worker. A large part of this discrepancy was due to the fact that miners who worked underground were more susceptible to developing coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, commonly known as black lung disease.
There is a well-established link between income level and the likeliness to suffer from respiratory illnesses such as asthma. For example, let’s take a look at this chart from the CDC about asthma prevalence in the United States between the years of 2008-2010.
Looking at the bottom of the chart we can see that while those making 2 times more money than poverty level for their family unit had a 7.3% chance of having asthma, those making less than the poverty level had a rate of asthma of 11.2%. This means that those struggling the most had over a 50% higher chance of developing asthma than those of more affluent backgrounds.
Due to growing up on the streets of New York City, this is not surprising to me. My parents were definitely not the richest in the world and frankly most of the times they struggled to make ends meet. I lived in the same two-bedroom apartment in a three-story apartment building from the age of 4 up until the age of 18. It wasn’t the ghetto, but it wasn’t far from it either. We cohabited with a few mice and cockroaches; a living situation all too familiar for many fellow Americans.
Studies have shown that mice and cockroaches produce allergens which increase the risk that someone would develop allergies. However, this is not just an inner-city problem. In one case, of more than 800 homes surveyed in non-urban areas, 82% had detectable levels of mouse allergen. More one in three homes had mouse allergen levels high enough to increase the risk of developing allergies and asthma. High rise apartments, mobile homes and older houses were the most common in having elevated levels of allergens.
One of my first jobs was working at a small call center. It was a cold office environment but at least it was clean. Or so it appeared to be at first. Little did I know that just four months after starting that job I would develop a chronic cough that just didn’t seem to go away. This wasn’t a light, breathy cough. It was absolutely thunderous. I wasn’t the first to experience this problem. There was a small group that resigned shortly after my arrival due to the same symptoms.
I didn’t have any shortness of breath or wheezing, thankfully by that time my asthma had disappeared (thanks in part due to air purifiers), but that didn’t make the situation much better. The symptoms alleviated a bit back at home but as soon as I stepped into the workplace, the coughing intensified.
I was tested for pneumonia and bronchitis to try to pin point the problem. The doctors could find no cause. After some time, I managed to figure out what it was. There was inadequate air ventilation and the carpets weren’t being cleaned well enough, which filled the air with pollutants. I later learned this was known as Sick Building Syndrome (SBS). SBS is a poorly understood phenomenon where occupants of a building experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be directly linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified. After resigning from that job, my cough disappeared a few weeks after, never to return. I later recommended the use of HEPA air purifiers and HEPA vacuums to the company and received word that the health levels of my ex-coworkers improved greatly just a few short weeks afterwards.
Office environments and places where there is are a lot of chemicals in the air, such as salons and barbershops, would benefit greatly from setting up an air purifier. However, they tend to need multiple air purifiers and more potent models due to the size of room and the frequency of pollutants filling the air.
Stopping Seasonal Allergies
Seasonal allergies hit some of us worse than others. You know who you are. Irrespective of whether you’re someone who rarely gets it or someone that considers it a daily struggle, getting hit with allergies sucks. You’re less productive, more irritable, and just generally feel like crap. The good news is that air purifiers that use HEPA filters are effective at restoring you back to your normal self by removing virtually 100% of the microscopic allergens in the air. They eliminate pollen, dust, and mold. This means less runny noses, less itchy eyes, less sneezing, and more enjoyment of life as you go about your day.
Controlling Pet Allergies
We love our pets. And while we may want to snuggle up with them all the time, many times our sinuses pay the consequences. Since getting rid of Sparky isn’t an option, getting an air purifier is the next best thing. If you have one or more pets at home but someone in your home is allergic to them, you owe it to them to install an air purifier in your home. Pet dander, which are tiny, even microscopic, flecks of skin shed by cats, dogs, mice, birds, etc., can stay in the air for long periods of time, well after the animal has left the area. Air purifiers help filter these particles by trapping them inside the filters, thus providing relief to those who suffer from sinus problems due to them.
Cleaning Up Smoke
If there is any smoke of any kind in your home, you need to get an air purifier. Be it because you have a fireplace, live with a smoker or are the smoker (not to be rude but might I recommend quitting?), live over a garage or storage facility, or you are in close proximity to a wildfire near your home, an air purifier would benefit you greatly. You might ask how would an air purifier benefit you greatly if you’re a smoker anyway? Well, while it would still benefit you (slightly) the main benefit comes to those around you who choose not to smoke. According to the CDC, since 1964, approximately 2,500,000 nonsmokers have died from health problems caused by exposure to secondhand smoke. In children, secondhand smoke causes ear infections, more frequent and severe asthma attacks, respiratory symptoms such as coughing and shortness of breath, respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia, and puts babies at greater risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). In adults, secondhand smoke can cause heart disease, lung cancer, and stroke.
Smoke air purifiers work by removing smoke particles and absorbing fumes using a combination of HEPA filters and activated carbon filtration.
Destroying Dust Mites
You may not know or may not like to think about it, but dust mites are extremely common. For those of you that don’t know much about dust mites, here’s a quick guide. These close relatives of ticks and spiders are very primitive creatures with no eyes and no developed respiratory system. With the size of one quarter to one third of a millimeter, they are so small that they can’t be seen by the naked eye. They survive by eating the skin cells you shed while you go about through your day. How many skin cells does the average adult shed per day? Well, about 1.5 grams worth, enough to feed one million dust mites! And take a guess where they prefer to congregate? Yup, your bedroom. That’s not the only place though. They can hide in the inner layers of carpets, furniture, bedding, stuffed toys, and even your clothes!
During their short lifespan of about 2-4 months, a dust mite can produce as much as 200 times its body weight in waste product. This waste product contains a protein which acts as an allergen that causes allergy symptoms in humans. When you sweep, vacuum, change sheets, or simply toss and turn on your bed, you are releasing dust mites and their waste product into the air, which can often stay suspended in the air for large quantities of time.
Air purifiers catch these little parasites and their waste product in their filters before they make their way into your lungs. Personally, the thought of taking large breaths full of dust mite feces completely grosses me out and is reason enough alone for me to invest in an air purifier.
While not quite as devastating as having asthma or allergies due to allergens in your home, or as nauseating as breathing dust might feces, odors can still be quite the nuisance. Luckily for us, there are air purifiers that not only filter out allergens but also make the air in the room smell cleaner as well. Great for those of us with pets and rooms with odor issues. These use activated carbon filtration to help get rid of the odor in the room.
Killing Airborne Viruses and Bacteria
A relatively new thing for some air purifiers is the ability to combat airborne viruses and bacteria. They achieve this goal through three different methods. One method to achieve this is by using Ultraviolet (UV) light to destroy airborne pathogens while the air is being filtered. Another is that they can use filters that are coated with an antibacterial coating, which kills germs on contact. The last method is the use of disinfecting heat to sterilize the air.
So not only can these air purifiers eradicate allergens from the air, they can also help keep you healthy during flu season! Great for those that want to stop airborne viruses from stampeding around their household. They are especially great for those that need help the most staying healthy, young children and the elderly.
Treat this as an investment. I remember recommending an air purifier to a friend back in 2011 whose baby was constantly getting sick and not sleeping at night, leading the young mother to have many sleepless nights. She balked at the price at first since she considered it something that she didn’t really need. To prove a point, I loaned her one of my units that I wasn’t using at the time for a month, telling her to make sure to place it in the baby’s room. Well after just two weeks she showed up at my doorstep with my air purifier in hand. When I asked her why she was returning it so quickly she said not only was her baby feeling healthier already but that she had also already bought three units, one for her baby’s room, one for her oldest son, and one for her bedroom! About 9 months later she told me that she had saved over $700 in hospital visits and medications that year compared to the year before.
Okay I’m Sold. How Much Is This Going to Cost Me?
Luckily for us, we have more choice now than ever before. With prices ranging from less than $100 for the most economical air purifiers to more than $1000 for the very top of the line, there is something for everyone.
Why the difference in price? They all filter the air, right? Well, technically that’s true. However, that’s kind of like asking why the difference in price of televisions? They all show moving pictures, right? Units that have a ton of high-tech features or have more advanced filtration systems will cost more than those that are more bare-bones.
These features may include:
- Air quality monitoring – These air purifiers automatically sense the level of pollution in your home and adjust filtration settings accordingly to remove the pollutants
- Germicidal protection – This feature helps reduce the number of airborne viruses and bacteria.
- Remote control – Allows you to control operation from anywhere in the room.
- Filter Replacement Indicator – This lets you know when it is time to change the filter.
- Programmable timer – Allows for the user to set specific times of operation automatically.
Another important consideration is room size. Larger areas require a more powerful air purifier to cover the area required. Each air purifier has a unique maximum supported room size in which it can clean air efficiently. This supported room size maximum is stated in the air purifier’s specifications. I recommend choosing an air purifier whose maximum supported size is around 15-20% more than your room’s actual size. This is so we won’t have to use the air purifier on max fan speeds and thus be able to keep the noise level down.
Is There Anything Else I Need to Know?
One last factor that we need to consider is noise levels. The large majority of these models use a fan that will make a small amount of noise in use and different models output a different amount of sound. As stated above, we want to choose an air purifier with a max room size of around 15% higher than the actual size of the room we are placing it in. This will allow us to run the air purifier at lower fan speeds and thus at quieter noise levels. For thus of you who prefer the most noiseless operation possible I recommend choosing a model with a much higher maximum room. This will allow you to run the air purifier at the lowest fan level possible, thus making it practically silent.
Also, depending on the air purifier, the filters will need to get replaced at specific time frames, ranging from 6 months for some models to over a year with others. Take into account this cost when choosing your purifier. I will go into this more in the individual reviews that are available.
I’m Ready to Buy, Point Me to Where I Need to Go!
Luckily for you I have dedicated lots of time and energy to meticulously examining the pros and cons of the most popular air purifiers on the market.
Your resident air expert,
- Henry Peters