Best Picks / Reviewed
Best-in-class: Alen BreatheSmart Customizable Air Purifier Review
The stylish and fully equipped Alen BreatheSmart purifier is a completely customizable luxury air purifier. The BreatheSmart is powerful enough to purify up to 1,100 square feet of space and is the ideal choice for cleaning living rooms or master bedrooms. The Alen offers a choice between 15 replaceable color panels to match your purifier perfectly to your décor. An automatic mode allows the unit to adjust its cleaning speed to the air quality, which is great for shoppers looking for a hands-off approach. The unit also offers a sleep mode that keeps both light and sound from disturbing you at night. A lockable control panel and protective vent guard make it a safe and smart choice for families with children.
Four different HEPA filter options allow you to customize its operation to your filtration needs: users can choose between filters built for dust and allergens, bacteria and germs, smoke and odors, or chemical contamination.
The Alen BreatheSmart has earned our high-end vote with its wide array of digital controls, a top-of-the-line design, comfort-conscious modes, and fully customizable filtration options, making it one of the only purifiers on the market that is truly built to meet each customer’s individual needs.
- The Alen is Energy Star certified.
- It offers four fan speeds for totally personalized cleaning rates, noise levels, and energy consumption.
- A timer and a filter life indicator allow for hands-off operation and maintenance.
- The Alen’s ionizer combats odors and other hard-to-beat contaminants.
- Its turbo speed is powerful but noisier than some other models.
Best value: Coway AP-1512HH Mighty Air Purifier Review
The Coway AP-1512HH is both compact and powerful. Its attractive and unassuming design contains nearly all of the bells and whistles that make an air purifier easy to use. Its HEPA filter is rated 99.97 percent effective at removing dust and allergens. The unit also incorporates a 4-stage filtration system to trap larger particles, unpleasant odors, and uncomfortable allergens before finishing off with an air-freshening ionizer.
A filter change indicator lets you know when the filter gets too dirty, and smart sensors automatically adjust the unit’s airflow to accommodate changes in air quality. The Coway is also packed with a customizable timer and an “Eco Mode” that allows the unit to turn off when no pollution is detected for 30 minutes.
The combination of a mid-range price tag, a wide range of digital controls, and a filtration system that incorporates four of the industry’s most popular filter types make this product our top-choice pick.
- Its Energy Star certification and Eco Mode make the Coway a budget-conscious choice.
- It can clean rooms up to 326 square feet.
- This air purifier runs between about 24 and 54 dB for relatively quiet operation.
- It offers three fan speeds and a timer so users can adjust power consumption and run time to fit their lifestyles.
- Four different filters cover a variety of contaminants from dust to smoke and unpleasant odors.
- Its ionizer is not marketed as ozone-free.
Also great: Winix 5500-2 Air Purifier Review
The Winix 5500-2 contends with the best-value pick in both price and power, and is the newest generation of the popular 5300-2 model. This purifier contains a HEPA filter rated for removal of 99.97 percent of dust and other allergens. The HEPA filter is supported by both a carbon filter for odor and a PlasmaWave (ionic) filter for destruction of odors and vapors.
The Winix design is less style-conscious than other models, but still offers plenty of comfort and energy-efficiency options (in addition to an Energy Star rating) ranging from a timer to multiple fan speeds.
- The PlasmaWave (ionic) technology produces no harmful ozone.
- The Winix 5500-2 contains sensors that monitor air quality—and automatically adjust fan speed to the level of allergens in the air.
- It’s ideal for use in up to 360 square feet of space.
- A three-step filtration system keeps you protected from a variety of contaminants.
- It runs at just under 28 dB for minimal noise disruption.
Budget choice: GermGuardian AC4825 3-in-1 Air Cleaning System Review
The GermGuardian AC4825 is a space-conscious, energy-conscious, and noise-conscious pick at about half the price point of mid-range models. Its three-step filtration system covers common household complaints ranging from mold spores to dust and pet dander. The GermGuardian doesn’t skimp with its use of a genuine HEPA filter that’s equal in efficiency to those in higher-end models. It even includes the less-common UV system to keep germs under control, and uses a carbon filter to manage odor. The GermGuardian combines a modest price tag, a comprehensive filtration system, and all of the must-have customization options into a truly great-value budget unit.
- Its HEPA filters are markedly less expensive to replace than in higher-end models, and an indicator light will let you know when it’s time for a replacement.
- Its 3-level filtration system manages odors, allergens, and mold spores.
- The GermGuardian includes three fan speeds to control noise and energy consumption.
- It’s ideal for spaces up to about 150 square feet.
- GermGuardian is equipped with an Energy Star rating.
- The UV system is ozone-free.
- Unlike most higher-priced models, the GermGuardian doesn’t include a timer or an air quality sensor.
2. How do air purifiers work?
Different types of air purifiers employ slightly different technologies to filter allergens and pollutants from the air in your home. Some pull air through filters to remove particles like dust and pollen, then return the cleaner air to your room. Others use electricity to bind, attract, and remove particles from the air. Read on to learn about the different types of air filters and which one will best suit your needs.
Will an air purifier help you?
People seek out air purifiers for many reasons, most commonly, air purifiers are used to alleviate problems with dust, smoke, allergens, and pet hair. Some people look to air purifiers to avoid aggravating breathing problems like allergies, asthma, bronchitis, and COPD. Air purifiers are not endorsed as a treatment for these illnesses, but different types of purifiers are effective at:
- Filtering dust, pollen, mold spores, dust mites, and pet hair or dander from the air.
- Reducing the effects of smoke contamination in the air.
- Removing or reducing contaminants that can exacerbate symptoms of the above conditions.
Be sure to pick an air purifier with a filter that specifically caters to your home’s unique needs.
3. Types of air filters and purifiers
Before committing to a purifier based on its name or medical claims, make sure it uses a filtration system that targets the contaminants in your home.
1. HEPA air filters
HEPA filters, or high efficiency particulate accumulation filters, are made from fine glass fibers that trap tiny particles in the air. True HEPA filters are ideal for the removal of allergens like dust and pollen from the air. They’re the most popular filter option because they’re up to 99.97% effective at removing particles from the air.
However, they’re also one of the most expensive filter types available: Because their filters are so thick, they require more energy to force air through them. This results in higher energy consumption and a higher utility bill. Also keep in mind that HEPA filters need to be replaced about once a year, so you’ll need to factor in a yearly filter cost of at least $60.
Best for: dust & pollen
2. HEPA-type filters
Purifiers with HEPA-like filters are less effective at removing allergens than certified HEPA filters, but they work the same way and are up to 95% effective at removing allergens like dust and pollen. For those with less severe allergen sensitivities, the HEPA-type filters provide a more cost-effective option. Their filters still need to be replaced yearly, but are about 50% less expensive than true HEPA filters.
Best for: dust & pollen
3. Electrostatic air filters
Electrostatic air filters use fibers to catch and remove allergens from the air using electricity. These filters are effective at capturing dust and pollen, like HEPA filters, but will also filter hard to catch irritants like pet dander and mold spores.
Typically, purifiers with this kind of filter run more quietly and require less energy to run—which saves you money on your utility bill. Most electrostatic filters can also be either vacuumed or washed clean, eliminating or reducing the need to purchase replacement filters on a regular basis.
Best for: dust, pollen, pet dander & mold spores.
4. Negative ion generators (ionizers)
Ionizers are used in combination with HEPA filters and use negatively charged ions to attract positively charged allergens. This causes the allergen particles to clump together and, eventually, forces them out of the air. Keep in mind that these particles will then stick to your walls and floors, which will require regular cleaning.
Ionizers are typically used to remove pollution from smoke (think wood fires and cigarettes), but are not the most effective method of removing particles of dust, mold, pollen, or dust mites—which is why they should always be used in combination with another type of filter.
For the health-conscious consumer, it’s important to know that ionizers typically create ozone, which is a recognized lung irritant. If you need an ionizer to reduce smoke contamination, choose an ionizer-powered purifier with up-to-date safety guarantees.
Best for: smoke
5. UV filters
Despite their name, UV filters are not actually filters—instead, they use UV light to kill living organisms in the air. UV filters are typically used to break down mold spores, bacteria, and mildew, so they’re ideal for consumers looking for a reduction in airborne health hazards.
However, they do not remove dust, pollen, or other non-living irritants, so they’re most useful in purifiers with more than one filtration system. Be careful to choose a purifier with a UV system that doesn’t produce ozone.
Best for: mold spores, bacteria & mildew
6. TSS systems
Thermodynamic Sterilization Systems (TSS) use heat to either sterilize or destroy airborne contaminants like dust, bacteria, mold spores, and dust mites. These systems use a “core” that heats to about 400° F (204.4° C) to incinerate contaminants in the air. The now-clean air moves through a cooling chamber and is then expelled back into the room. They are one of the most effective methods of air purification and can sterilize or remove up to 99.9% of contaminants.
Like UV systems, however, TSS systems are not “filters” and may be used in partnership with another filtration system. Unlike UV systems, TSS systems don’t produce potentially dangerous ozone.
Best for: bacteria, mold spores, dust & dust mites
7. Carbon Filters
Carbon filters are typically used in partnership with HEPA filters to filter out larger particles and can increase the life expectancy of the HEPA filter. They’re also one of the few filter types that help reduce household odor, and some (cloth filters in particular) are also adept at filtering fumes and vapors from the air.
Best to reduce household odor, fumes, vapors
4. Capacity, choose the right size
Shopping for air purifiers is made easier by the fact that most manufacturers list the maximum square footage that their products can handle. Consider the square footage of your space (its length multiplied by its width) and compare your result with the maximum square footage capacity listed in the product specifications.
Square footage ratings are calculated based on 8-foot ceilings; if your ceilings are higher, you’ll need to choose a unit with a higher square-footage capability.
If in doubt, choose a product with a square footage capacity that’s higher than you need: that way, you can run the air purifier on a lower setting to keep noise levels down and utility costs in check.
5. Air change per hour rate
If you’re concerned about your allergies or asthma, be sure to look at an air purifier’s air change per hour (ACH) rate as well. ACH measures how many times a purifier can filter and clean all of the air in a room in an hour. Allergy and asthma sufferers will want a rate of at least four changes per hour to keep the air as clean and pure as possible. For general, non-health-based use, two air changes per hour is usually sufficient, but the most efficient purifiers often offer up to six changes per hour.
6. Match the purifier to your needs
The chart below will help you identify the right filter type and features best suited for your home and air purifying needs.
|If you suffer from…||Look for purifiers with one or more of the following features…|
|Biological contaminants like dust, pollen, and pet dander||
|Mold spores, bacteria, dust mites, and mildew||
|Odors from smoke, pets, or cooking||
Asthma and allergies
7. How loud are air purifiers?
As with many appliances, the amount of noise purifiers produce directly correlates to where you can actually run them. Use our noise (decibel) ratings below to choose a purifier whose noise levels will meet your needs.
- 0-30 decibels is considered quiet, and will go virtually unnoticed in living spaces.
- 31-60 decibels is considered reasonably quiet and is tolerable in living spaces.
- 61-80 decibels is intolerably loud. Purifiers with a decibel rating this high are not suitable for bedrooms and other high-traffic areas.
- 80 decibels and higher will drown out all other noise. Purifiers this loud are not common, but should be avoided.
8. Other important features
Air purifiers can be decked out with a range of customization options, energy efficiency tools, and must-have functions, and these features can determine whether an air purifier is a headache or thoughtlessly easy to use.
- Wheels: Units with caster wheels make for easy transportation from room to room.
- Remote controls: Some air purifiers include remote controls so you don’t have to get up to adjust the settings.
- Handles: Handles are a must-have feature if you plan to carry the purifier from room to room.
- Timers: Timer controls allow you to choose when the unit will run to save on energy costs or to make sure a room is purified by the time you get home.
- Multiple speeds: This feature allows you to choose how fast (and, thus, how loudly) your purifier will run. Three speeds—low, medium, and high—will give you maximum control over efficiency, energy consumption, and noise.
- Filter replacement warning: Some air purifiers offer a warning light that lets you know when a filter is too dirty to work effectively. That way, you don’t have to remember to check the filter yourself.
- Speed sensors: Some higher-end models include a sensor that detects how “dirty” the air is and adjusts the unit’s cleaning speed accordingly.
- App-enabled air purifiers: Some new purifiers come with a smartphone app so you can turn the purifier on and off, adjust speed, and monitor air quality remotely.
9. Energy efficiency & running costs
As with all appliances, energy efficiency and operating costs go hand-in-hand. We recommend that you look for air purifiers that are Energy Star rated to ensure the smallest possible increase in your utility bill.
If Energy Star purifiers aren’t an option due to cost or availability, look for a unit that offers multiple fan speeds and that has a square-footage rating greater than the size of your room. That way, you can run the purifier on a lower speed and it will have to do less work (and use less energy) to get the job done.
10. Buying tips
There are a lot of factors to consider when you’re in the market for a new air purifier. We’ve broken down the options into the must-have features for a worthwhile unit, the good-to-have features that blend affordability and function, and the great-to-have features that make a purifier a contender for best- in-class.
Must have features:
- Make sure to choose a filtration system that fits your needs: UV filters and TSS systems are ideal for living contaminants like bacteria and mold. HEPA filters are the most popular choice for dust, pollen, and pet dander. Carbon filters are one of the most effective filtration systems for pet and smoke related odors.
- It’s imperative to choose an air purifier with a square footage rating at or greater than the size of your room.
- Look for a noise (decibel) rating of 60 dB or less.
Good to have features:
- Look for a noise (decibel) rating under 31 dB for whisper-quiet luxury.
- Wheels and handles allow for hassle-free transport.
- For the cleanest possible air, you’ll want a purifier with an ACH (air change per hour) rate of at least 4 changes per hour.
- Units with timers allow you to control when and for how long your purifier runs.
Great to have features:
- For ultimate control over energy use, noise level, and efficiency, units with multiple speeds are the way to go.
- “Smart” purifiers adjust speeds and run times based on the level of contamination in a room, offering a totally hands-off experience.
- Filter warnings do the checking work for you and let you know when it’s time to replace (or wash) your filter.
- App-enabled purifiers are great for those who are on the go frequently or for those whose homes require frequent monitoring. The purifier communicates with an app on your smartphone to let you monitor air quality, change fans speeds, and control the timer even when you’re away from home.
Your budget, the size of your room, and the reason for your air purifier search will determine which unit will keep you breathing easy. Whether you’re after relief from allergy symptoms, a reduction in smoke and cooking odors, or a way to manage pet dander, there’s a high-quality air purifier out there to ease your mind and your breathing.