Take a deep breath—if you can. Many of the things we do to keep energy costs down, such as fixing drafty doors and leaky windows, can also seal in pesky pollutants and irritants. Many people who buy air purifiers do so in hopes of easing asthma or allergies. But despite product claims, there’s little definitive medical evidence that air purifiers help to relieve respiratory symptoms.
Improving indoor air quality starts with minimizing pollutant sources such as cigarette smoke, dust, and pet dander. We test how well a room air purifier removes dust and smoke from an enclosed space, how it performs at high and low speeds, and how quiet it is. The very best portable models we tested were effective at cleaning the air of dust, smoke, and pollen at their highest and lowest speeds. The worst models weren’t terribly effective at any speed.
Top 5 Portable Air Purifier
- High Performance: Enjoy fresh air in 12 minutes with the Core 300 True HEPA Air Purifier. Featuring...
- Find Relief: Ease sneezing, congestion, and other allergy symptoms caused by airborne contaminants....
- 2-STAGE AIR PURIFICATION: Clean your personal air from 99.97% of dust, pollen, pet dander, smoke,...
- VERSATILE DESIGN: Whether upright or on its side, our innovative adjustable handle allows this...
- Ideal for Bedroom, Home Office and Small Room: 30 mins to breathe fresh in the small room (Coverage...
- Whisper Quiet: Noise levels as low as 28dB with Light auto-off, the LV-H128 can quietly clean your...
- True HEPA filter captures 99.97% of airborne pollutants; dust mites, pet dander, pollen and other...
- Washable AOC Carbon Filter, made from activated carbon granulars for removal of household odors....
- Removes 99.7% of airborne particles like allergens, smoke and mold to create a 7 cubic foot bubble...
- Perfect item for back to school, return to office environments or travel
Before you resort to buying an air purifier, try some simple steps to reduce indoor air irritants, including:
- Vacuum often and thoroughly using a vacuum with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration.
- Ban smoking indoors.
- Maintain your heating and cooling equipment, and change air filters regularly.
- Minimize the use of candles and wood fires.
- Use exhaust fans in the kitchen, bath, and laundry areas.
- Don’t store chemicals, solvents, glues, or pesticides near your living quarters.
The Pros and Cons
Pros: They’re portable—most room air purifiers weigh from 10 to 20 pounds, have a handle, and stand on the floor or on a table. Heavier models might have wheels. Many have a HEPA filter, which can capture ultra-fine particles. Keep in mind that most of these filters need to be replaced annually, an expense that might approach the cost of the air cleaner, but a few models are now available with cleanable HEPA filters.
Cons: Portable models that use either electrostatic precipitator or ionizer technology could produce some ozone, a lung irritant. Electrostatic precipitator and ionizer air purifiers should not be confused with dedicated ozone generators, which produce large amounts of ozone by design. Ozone generators should be used only by professionals to reduce odors, germs, and mold. Ozone is a serious health concern, prompting the state of California to ban the sale of ozone generators (and other air purifiers that emit more than 50 parts per billion of ozone) from the general market.
Things to Consider
Many portable models have annual operating costs of $150 to $200 for filter replacement and electricity (with the majority of that cost being for filters). Filter prices can generally range from around $10 to about $100 (though some are priced well into the hundreds). Some units use a pre-filter to capture large airborne particles before they reach the HEPA filter, possibly extending its life.
Depending on usage, you typically need to replace the carbon filters every three months and the main filter yearly. To cut costs, look for room models that are Energy Star certified, meaning they are relatively energy-efficient compared with standard models. Some models have washable filters that can be reused.
Keep It Clean
Any air purifier won’t work well if the filter is clogged and dusty, and if the filter is full, it may stop working entirely.
Noise level is important, especially if you run an air purifier in a room where you sleep or work. For the sake of efficiency (and quietness), we recommend picking a larger unit and running it on a lower speed, rather than cranking up a small one. Having a larger unit can also accommodate those times when you need to clean a room quickly, such as when cooking odors escape the kitchen exhaust hood.
Room Air Purifier Features
Fan: Most room air cleaners use a fan to suck in air for filtration. Those without a fan (the air circulates naturally throughout your home) run more quietly, but those we tested without fans worked poorly.
Servicing indicator: A clogged air cleaner works inefficiently. This feature lets you know when the unit needs to be cleaned or the filter replaced.
Programmable timer: These controls allow you to set the purifier to run a few hours before you’ll be using a room, or to turn it off automatically.
Carrying handle: This makes it easy to move the unit from room to room.
A number of speeds: The unit adjusts to your air-cleaning needs—lower when you are sleeping or working and need quiet, higher when it’s prime pollen time.
Ionizer: If a unit has an ionizer (which attracts particles via an effect like static electricity), it’s important that it not produce ozone. It may say on the box or in an operation manual whether it produces ozone; you can also check our ratings. Ozone is a lung irritant.
Remote control: This lets you easily adjust settings from across the room.
Dirt sensor: In some room models, the unit automatically adjusts the fan speed to the level of dirt or dust in the air.
Washable prefilter: A washable—and reusable—pre-filter collects large particles; it can help cut overall costs. However, many of our higher-rated models did not have this option.