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Indoor air pollution may not seem like a huge threat to your health, but it is — even if your home is spotless. A home air purifier can actually help improve the air quality to promote healthy living. But how do you choose the best one?

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A home air purifier is a relatively small, portable, plug-in device that helps get rid of allergens, smoke, mold, toxins, and other pollutants.

Depending on the type of purifier you get, they can remove, sanitize, trap, and neutralize particles in the air (thanks, science!). Some can even remove harmful gases.

To use one, you simply plug it in and let it go to town on all the nasty stuff floating around in your space. The unit will suck in dirty air, process it through at least one filter, and then flush back clean air.

What’s up with bad air quality?

Not to scare you, but about 7 million people die every year from exposure to air pollution, according to the World Health Organization. It may not go on a death certificate as a “cause of death” because indoor air pollution is not an illness, but it does contribute to illness.

Some studies have also found that lowering particulate matter in the home can ease symptoms of respiratory ailments that may contribute to disease progression.

If you want cleaner air in your homes beyond what a plant can offer, an air purifier might be for you.

They’re especially useful for those with allergies, or anyone with health vulnerabilities. In that case, you likely want to look for air purifiers and filters that are certified asthma and allergy friendly devices by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

Filters commonly are made of paper, fiberglass, or mesh. Some units have reusable filters — and some are filter-free where you just clean off part of the unit — but most require you to change filters regularly.

There are several types of filters, including:

  • High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA): A fibrous filter that removes particles.
  • Ionizers: These units produce negative ions that cause particles in the air to be attracted to the filter.
  • Activated carbon: Gets rid of gases including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by filtering air through an activated carbon or charcoal filter.
  • Electrostatic precipitation: A wire charges particles, luring them to the filter.
  • Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI): This inactivates microbes, but does not pull them from the space.
  • Photoelectrochemical oxidation (PECO): The unit creates a photoelectric reaction to blast pollutants, removing very small particles.

Your existing HVAC system also can clean the air in your home if it includes a permanent air cleaner. These may use any of the above filters or an air exchanger. They don’t fit in the portable home air purifier category, but it is worth mentioning.

All hail the HEPA filter

Of all the filters used in home air purifiers, the HEPA filter is typically the one that gets the most praise. It does an excellent, and relatively inexpensive, job of removing a wide range of particles in many sizes.

HEPA filters typically perform at the top minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) rating, which is the average removal efficiency across three particle size ranges.

Your home HEPA filter is probably not as great as those in health care facilities, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency touts their high removal efficiency at about 99 percent or higher. So, many people seek out a HEPA filter when choosing a home air cleaner.

If you’re looking into HEPA filters, keep in mind there are “true HEPA” and “HEPA-type” filters. Generally, a HEPA-type filter is 99 percent effective at capturing particles as small as 2 microns. True HEPA filters have a 99.7 percent efficiency rate and can nab particles as tiny as 0.3 microns.

Every machine varies, but generally home air purifiers are successful at removing at least some particulate matter. The success rate and type/size of the matter all differ based on units and filters.

Various studies have compared various types of home air purifier technology including HEPA filters and ionization. A 2020 study found HEPA filters to be effective at reducing medication for seasonal allergies. PECO was effective at reducing symptoms of nasal and eye allergies in a 2018 study.

Can air purifiers kill coronavirus?

Probably not. In recent years — especially since the COVID-19 outbreak — ultraviolet (UV) light filters have become popular because they inactivate airborne pathogens and microorganisms including viruses, bacteria, and mold.

The technology is effective, but the intensity often used in home air purifiers is generally low and not quite effective, the EPA reports.

Several products have praised UV light to battle SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Germicidal ultraviolet light (UV-C) at a certain wavelength can be effective on the virus, but may pose a health hazard.

A 2020 study found that far-UVC light (at a lower wavelength) can safely kill seasonal coronaviruses, which are similar to the one that causes COVID-19; and that another ongoing study was examining it on SARS-CoV-2 at the time this article was published.

Another 2020 study found that using air purifiers to prevent the spread of COVID-19 seemed to have more drawbacks than advantages. The author also acknowledged several limitations in study design.

Thinking of buying an air cleaner for your home? We looked at plenty and put together our list of best picks based on the following criteria:

  • Need. Certain home air purifiers are better for people with asthma compared to pet dander, so we noted the best uses for each.
  • Room size. Air purifiers run optimally in different sizes of rooms, depending on the unit.
  • Clean-air delivery rate (CADR) rating. This figure indicates the amount of air a machine filters per minute for a specific range of particle sizes.
  • Size and quiet operation. We separated out the size and weight of the unit along with how loud — or not — it was during operation.
  • Filtration options. We differentiated HEPA-type or True HEPA filters, along with other options such as PECO filters.
  • Reviews. We browsed reviews to see what actual users thought of the products.
  • Industry ratings/awards. Units that were recognized with any awards were noted.
  • Cost. Because most home air purifiers require filters to be replaced, we specified the cost of the unit along with estimated maintenance costs.

Home air purifiers run the gamut in price, so we separated out the cost per unit. It doesn’t include filters or replacement filter costs.

$ = under $200
$$ = $200–$400
$$$ = over $400

Note: A good home air cleaner doesn’t have to set you back much, but if you have to replace filters regularly, you’ll want to factor in those costs when selecting one.

There are countless options to choose from, but these home air purifiers get the Greatist seal of approval.

Best overall

1. Blueair Blue Pure 211+

What it filters: Particles and gas

Why we chose it: Ideal for rooms up to 540 square feet, this air purifier features HEPASilent technology. It includes a washable pre-filter that captures pet dander and other large particles, a polypropylene fiber filter with HEPA technology that removes particles down to 0.1 microns, and an activated carbon filter for smoke, gas, odors, and VOCs.

People love the washable outer filter that separates out larger particles because doing so can prolong the life of the main filter.

Considerations: It doesn’t have a True HEPA filter, but the company claims the filter is just as good if not better because it traps matter as small as 0.1 microns — better than the True HEPA qualifier of 0.3 microns.

The costs to operate it tend to fall on the higher side compared to other home air cleaners. It also weighs 16 pounds, so it’s not easy to move from room to room.

Price: $$

Buy the Blue Pure 211+ online.

Best for bedroom

2. Molekule Air Mini

What it filters: Particles and gas

Why we chose it: The Molekule Air Mini can filter air in a room of about 250 square feet and does it all at just 30 decibels so you can also get sleep while it operates. It comes with a PECO-Filter (with integrated pre-filter) and weighs just over 7 pounds, so you can move it around easily.

Considerations: If you’re high-tech, you’ll love that you can control it from your smartphone. Some reviewers say it’s a tad on the louder side, though.

Price: $$$

Buy the Molekule Air Mini online.

Best for large spaces

3. Coway AIRMEGA 400S

What it filters: Particles and gas

Why we chose it: This home air purifier is quite the behemoth, covering up to 1,560 square feet of space. Along with a washable pre-filter that snags large stuff such as pet hair, it includes a combined activated carbon and True HEPA filter.

An LED ring shows the cleanliness level of your air throughout the day. The fan speed automatically adjusts based on the room’s air quality and lighting to optimize air quality. It can be adjusted via an app, plus it’s Alexa-compatible, too.

Considerations: Some users don’t love the app, and the filter is expensive but can be changed annually. Also, people say it tends to be loud when it’s on.

Price: $$$

Buy the Coway AIRMEGA 440S online.

Best for small spaces

4. Levoit Core 300

What it filters: Gas and particles, depending on the filter

Why we chose it: This Energy Star verified home air cleaner scrubs the air in rooms up to 219 square feet all while staying super quiet. Compatible with four filter options to fit individual needs, including filters for spaces with pets and a True HEPA filter. Users love the award-winning design.

Considerations: Some people had beef about a plastic-like smell right after turning it on. You’ll have to replace filters every 6 to 8 months.

Price: $

Buy the Levoit Core 300 online.

Best filter-free

5. Hamilton Beach TrueAir Compact Air Purifier

What it filters: Particles

Why we chose it: Up for cleaner air but don’t want to mess with filters? This air cleaning machine has a permanent HEPA filter that can be cleaned with a vacuum.

It’s a nice option if you’re on a tight budget. Plus, it’s kind of cool that you can stand it vertically or horizontally as it is a relatively small unit. And if you’ve got a cat in your space, it’s pretty good at getting rid of the pee scent.

Considerations: The filter isn’t a True HEPA filter but claims to have three filtration stages. The design isn’t so appealing; it kind of looks like a boombox. It’s only good in small rooms up to 160 square feet.

Price: $

Buy the Hamilton Beach TrueAir Compact Air Purifier online.

Best looking

6. Molekule Air Mini+

What it filters: Particles and gas

Why we chose it: This top-rated home air purifier excels in its cute factor with a sleek, almost warm-feeling design thanks to a vegan leather handle. It can blast the yucky stuff in rooms up to 250 square feet.

The PECO filters ship to you automatically — free of charge via their replacement subscription service — so you’ll never run out when you have to change it every 6 months. Users love the whisper-quiet action along with five settings and an Auto Protect mode that adjusts settings depending on the air quality.

Considerations: Some users complained about the app or an odd scent shortly after using. Others didn’t like being locked into the filter replacement subscription.

Price: $$$

Buy the Molekule Air Mini+ online.

Best budget

7. PureZone 3-In-1 True HEPA Air Purifier

What it filters: Particles and gas

Why we chose it: This home air purifier has a True HEPA. It works in rooms up to 200 square feet and weighs in at 6 pounds. Includes pre-filter, activated carbon filter along with the True HEPA.

Considerations: Some users complained about the bright LED and questioned if it was actually working.

Price: $

Buy the PureZone 3-In-1 True HEPA Air Purifier online.

Best for allergies

8. Honeywell True HEPA Whole Room Air Purifier with Allergen Remover

What it filters: Particles

Why we chose it: Clean the air in rooms up to 465 square feet with this one, also known as the Honeywell HPA300. It can trap a wide range of particles including dust, mold, and smoke, as well as some germs and odors.

Turbo feature gives one mean clean in a pinch. Includes a True HEPA filter, which many credit for their allergy relief, according to reviews. Other users loved that the unit had a light that could be dimmed for night use.

Considerations: The pre-filter has to be changed every 3 months but the True HEPA only needs replacing every year, according to the company. Some users say the unit required filter changes too often.

Also, others struggled to put the unit exterior back together after replacing filters. It’s 17 pounds, so it’s not easy to tote around your pad.

Price: $$

Buy the Honeywell True HEPA Whole Room Air Purifier With Allergen Remover online.

Best for pets

9. Levoit Core P350 Pet Care True HEPA Air Purifier

What it filters: Particles

Why we chose it: A compact, lightweight home air purifier has a pre-filter to nab pet dander and an activated carbon filter to destroy odors. Clean up to 219 square feet with this 7.5 pound unit.

It can be completely darkened with a “night mode” so lights don’t keep you up at night. The Pet Lock can keep pets and kids from tampering with settings. Lots of reviewers say their allergy symptoms were reduced or gone while using it.

Considerations: Some users weren’t sure if the unit was working, and others didn’t love the design.

Price: $

Buy the Levoit Core P350 Pet Care True HEPA Air Purifier online.

Keep that home air purifier purring by taking care of it with these general maintenance tips:

  • Change the filter according to the manufacturer’s suggestions. Remember, you may need to change them more often depending on the air quality in your home.
  • Don’t run a unit made for a bedroom in a larger space, as it won’t work as well and may work too hard (and you’ll have to change filters more often).
  • Washing a filter according to directions? Give it an abundance of time to completely dry to avoid mold.
  • Place the unit where it can access air free of obstruction. Don’t put anything on it.
  • Some units may emit a plastic or burning smell when you first plug them in. Beware if your unit is one of them by reading reviews and being watchful. This can be normal but could be a sign of a fire.