The 4 Best Air Purifiers On the Market (Who Really Needs One Anyway?)

Do you really need an air purifier?
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Coway AP-1512HH Mighty Air Purifier Reviews

*Affiliate disclaimer. 

In the same way that you may drink filtered water because you don’t know what’s floating around in your water, you may consider an air purifier because it’s difficult to know the quality of the air you’re breathing. Managing indoor air quality is highly dependent on where you live, how much ventilation you have, how sensitive you are to certain chemicals and allergens, and the building materials and furniture that you’re exposed to on a daily basis.

Why You May Need an Air Purifier

The truth is new home constructions with modern HVAC systems (central air) will do a far better job at exchanging indoor air with outdoor air even if it's a bad air day. And installing proper air HEPA filters into your vents is more cost effective than a portable air purifier that uses more electricity and requires more frequent filter replacements.

“Based upon your home’s age, the entire volume of air inside a home may be replaced four or more times per hour. For the most well built, energy efficient homes, that number would be as low as one-half air change per hour, which is the minimum you'd need to maintain healthy air,” says Tom Krauetler, a former professional home inspector and veteran of over 6,000 building inspections.

But there are some instances where a portable air purifier is a necessity. For example, if your home is really old and doesn’t have a ducted system, then a portable air purifier would be your only option. For example, if you have a portable air conditioning unit. However, many old homes have added ducted central air.

“Some years ago I was hosting a segment on toxic mold for a major network news program. I had tested several areas of the home, including places that the consumer would never think about like the sponges and dish rags used to wash/dry dishes (yep, found plenty of mold there - being rubbed on the dishes the family would soon be eating from!). But one of the most unexpected and surprising finds for the homeowner was a portable air conditioner that was blowing mold spores directly above a newborn baby's crib! Certainly not only eliminating that risk by keeping the AC unit clean and adding a portable air cleaner that would be capable of killing mold spores could have been a smart move.,” says Krauetler.

Are You at Risk of Poor Air Quality?

To check the air quality in your area, check the American Lung Association’s State of the Air Report to find out. If you’re concerned about radon, which is one of the leading causes of lung cancer besides smoking, make sure to get your home checked for this deadly chemical. This First Alert RD1 Radon Gas Test Kit is a great place to start. Also, just like you need a smoke alarm to prevent fire, you need a carbon monoxide detector to detect carbon monoxide, a deadly gas that can kill without warning. Other chemicals can do harm over time as well including:

  • Mold
  • PCBs
  • Formaldehyde
  • Flame retardants
  • Asbestos
  • Allergens
  • Tobacco Smoke

What Makes a Good Air Purifier?

We spent countless hours scouring the web for useful independent reviews, noting that most guides that popped up are nothing more than subjective lists. Incredibly, in Google we saw that there are up to 74 million results for air purifier related search queries. To narrow the list down, we looked for guides ranking within the first three pages of Google, looking for real world test results. Not surprisingly, most guides that claimed to be objective were nothing more than product roundups without rhyme or reason. Only two guides, Wirecutter and Consumer Reports, really stood out to us, as they both tested actual product in various sized rooms and environments, evaluating important factors that make for a great air purifier. 

We also noted the specific advice given by the EPA on how to select a portable air purifier and consulted multiple experts along the way in order to better understand the technologies used. In the end we identified the following framework for evaluating portable air purifiers. 

  • Ability to filter target contaminants
  • Ability to move and change air in a room
  • Upfront and long term costs
  • Durability and performance over time
  • Noise
  • Aesthetics

As a final step, we also contacted customer support for each of our recommended brands in order to get clarification on extended warranty options and whether common issues that surfaced in Amazon reviews would be covered. We also sought out information such as whether their products have been reviewed and approved by the California Air Resource Board, a regulatory body with strict safety standards. Wattage information was also provided so that we could calculate long term ownership costs.

The Best Air Purifiers in Market

With the above factors in mind, here are the products that we feel are worthy of your consideration. Please note that the listed prices may change over time. We may also come back and update this guide if our views change. Be sure to let us know in comments about your air purifier experience or if there is any particular model you'd like us to review.

Best All Around (For Small Spaces)

The Blueair Blue Pure 211+

blue pure 211+ by blueair

The Blueair Blue Pure 211+ was our All Around Best Pick. Based on its sleek design highly-rated for performance and superb extended warranty options. It can change the air in a 540 sq. ft. room up to 5 times an hour and tested well against target pollutants based on real world tests conducted by reviews sites that we came across. 

$299 via Amazon

Technology:
Pre-filter, Activated Carbon, HEPA

Recommended uses:

  • Use for small apartments, bedrooms and modestly sized living areas
  • Use to help address asthma & allergies from dust, pet dander, pollen and mold. 

Pros

Cons

  • Long term costs are relatively high and similar to our pick for large spaces
  • Durability a concern according to some review sites

*See the below tips on how to extend the warranty with Blueair in order to mitigate durability concerns.

Customer Support:
Blueair was responsive to our inquiries regarding some common issues and concerns that surfaced from Amazon reviews. They noted that any odor issues, while uncommon, typically dissipate after 24 hours, but that a free filter replacement can be offered to address the issue. As for noise issues outside of the norm, the manufacturer warranty could cover the defect as long as terms of the warranty are met. Also noted was that any durability issues beyond one year, something that surfaced in real world testing by review sites, could be addressed in two ways:

  1. *Registering the product extends the warranty to two years 
  2. *Joining the Filter Club extends a lifetime warranty (You basically just have to sign up for an annual plan for refill catridges). 

Also noted was that Blueair provides free shipping labels for all product exchanges if the warranty is utilized. 

Best Budget Version (For Small Spaces)

Coway AP-1512HH Mighty

Coway AP-1512HH Mighty Air Purifier Reviews

A very close second (for small spaces), we recommend the Coway AP-1512HH Mighty as our Best Value pick. From data collected in real world tests by independent review sites, we found that this model was found to be highly effective, durable, and cost effective. 

$161.99 via Wal Mart or Amazon

Technology:
Pre-filter, Activated Carbon, HEPA

Recommended uses:

  • Help address asthma and allergies triggered by reducig dust, pet dander, and mold.
  • Use for bed rooms and small spaces up to 361 sq. ft. Monitor and control indoor air if your home lacks proper ventilation and indoor air quality is poor.

Pros

  • Highly effective at moving and cleaning air
  • Durable while maintaining effectiveness over time
  • Compact and quiet (low setting: 24 db, high setting: 54 db)
  • Affordable and low long term costs (see chart below)
  • On the California Air Resources Board's approved list

Cons

  • Bland design compared to higher end models

Customer Support:
We found Conway to be responsive and transparent when addressing common issues that we found in Amazon reviews. Reviews claiming poor response times or lack of support appear to be inaccurate considering that customer representatives were readily available on their website via chat and each of the reviews in question on Amazon have been responded to by support.

When asked about poor reviews indicating clicking/grinding noises, a support rep indicated that this issue is commonly attributed to improper care during shipping & handling and assured us that customers can either get a free exchange with the retailer or get it covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. With regard to shipping costs tied to warranty exchanges, free shipping labels are provided (but retailer policies may vary). They also made it clear that the warranty is voided if the unit is used in a country outside of the U.S. or Canada and if it is used with a power strip or extension cord.

Best Air Purifiers for Larger Spaces

Coway Airmega 400

Coway_Airmega_400_Graphite_05-1__1_

The stylish Coway Airmega 400 is our pick for larger spaces, whether it be a big open living area or a loft apartment.  Not only does it get the job done by effectively filtering and changing the air in larger spaces, but it looks great where ever it is placed. 

Technology:
Pre-filter, Activated Carbon, HEPA

Recommended Uses:

  • Help address asthma and allergies triggered by reducing dust, pet dander, and mold.
  • Use if for open living areas and large spaces up to 1,560 sq. ft. to monitor and control indoor air, especially if the space lacks proper ventilation and indoor air quality is poor.

Pros

Cons

  • Moderately more expensive to run long term

Customer Support:
Just as Coway's customer support was helpful regarding our questions about the Coway AP-1512HH Mighty model, they addressed our questions promptly and provided further information that we originally weren't able to find, such as decibel and wattage information. We were then able to calculate a relative 5 year cost estimate based on the information they provided (see below). 

Best for VOCs and Odors

Austin Air HM-400

Austin Air Healthmate

This unit is meant for extreme cases. While pricey, the Austin Air HM-400 is by far the best model for removing VOCs. After 911 it was recommended by various organizations like the Red Cross, FEMA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) “to combat the negative health effects of ash, chemicals, VOCs and other miscellaneous airborne particulates released into the air after the attack.”

We feel it is worth noting that in Wirecutter's real world tests,  that all other units they tested did a poor job of filtering for VOCs. Mainly because the amount of activated carbon in most filters is a token amount. We dig further into this in the air purifier technology section below.

$594.99 via Amazon or Walmart 

Technology: 

Pre-filter, Activated Carbon, Potassium Iodide Impregnated Carbon and Zeolite, True HEPA

Recommended Uses:

For VOCs that could be present from construction/remodeling or if you live near farms that are constantly sprayed with pesticides. 

Pros:

  • Highly effective at removing odors and VOCs 
  • On the California Air Resources Board's approved list
  • They claim to be the only manufacturer to have successfully reduced respiratory problems in a clinical trial conducted by the medical community

Cons

  • Very expensive long term costs (see analysis below)
  • Bland design
  • Not the quietest (low: less than 50 db, medium: 55 db, high: 66 db)

Customer Service:
A support rep was readily available via their website and provided further clarity on their products. While it may appear that they have several different models at different price points, in reality, they only have a standard and junior model. The variation in product name and price on their site is in the type of filter cartridges that you start with. They also explained that they don't offer a specific square footage for their models because rooms vary in ceiling and height and total volume. They simply recommend the standard model for larger interior spaces and the junior model for smaller interior spaces. Also they provided decibel levels for each setting but were not able to provide an exact number for the lowest setting. 

Long Term Cost Comparison

Air Purifier Model5 Year Cost

Blue Pure 211+

$584

Coway AP-1512HH Mighty

$267

Coway Airmega 400

$561

Austin Air HM-400

$967

We calculated long term cost for running each of our recommended units based on a five year period. Through Choose Energy we used 12.7 cents per kilowatt hour (kwh) as the average cost of electricity (based on Feb. 2019 data). To calculate total energy consumption, we asked manufacturers for wattage numbers and used the numbers based on the medium settings for each of the products we reviewed. Then we factored in the starting unit cost as well as filter replacements based on the manufacturers recommended frequency for average users. 

Please remember that your own costs may be drastically above or below our estimates depending on the following factors:

  • How often you have to change your filters (depends on amount of pollution)
  • Any changes in the price of electricity over time 
  • The electricity rates in your region may be below or above the national average

You should use these relative numbers we provided as a benchmark to compare long term costs and make the right purchase decision for your needs. 

Understanding Air Purifier Technologies

  • Pre-filters: A pre filter can be added to a filter that you already have or it may already be part of the technology in your larger HEPA filter. Its purpose is to catch larger particles like hair, fur, dust, and pollen. It allows your filter to work hard catching the smaller particles without getting constantly clogged with the larger particles. It’s an important layer of filtration to look for in a purifier, especially for pet owners.
  • HEPA filters: HEPA stands for high-efficiency particulate air, which makes sense because the filter forces air through a fine mesh strainer which pulls out all the allergens listed above as well as tobacco smoke. HEPA filters can be in your air purification system and in your vacuum filter. When you choose a HEPA filter, make sure you get one that’s large enough for the room that you have to clean. There are two types of HEPA filters: HEPA Type" and "True HEPA". The latter is lab tested and certified to my understanding.

    • HEPA is currently the best technology on the market for removing air pollutants. Most air purifiers are HEPA filters with additional filters included, for example, pre filters. Indoor air pollution like dust, mold, and pollen are particularly problematic for those that suffer from asthma and allergies.
    • Activated carbon filters: According to the EPA, to remove VOCs you need an activated carbon filter which many models do contain but this market is still evolving and there are minimal standards and guidelines for consumers to look to when purchasing these products. Many carbon filters only contain a token amount of carbon and according to Don Ham of Smart and Healthy Home Specialists, the amount of carbon, its weight, and pore size are all very important in order for the products to effectively remove VOCs. But when they are effective, like the highly rated Austin Air unit, these filters can remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released from common household products as well as tobacco smoke and other pollutants.
    • PECO: PECO stands for Photo Electrochemical Oxidation (PECO) and is utilized exclusively by Molekule. The technology works by using free radicals (an atom, molecule, or ion without a paired electron) to go after air contaminants). The company claims that the filter can remove particulates that are a thousand times smaller than a HEPA filter. Molekule also claims that it can break down VOCs at the molecular level. They’ve done product testing including one published white paper which showed that the technology can effectively remove formaldehyde, toluene, and d-limonene from a room which the chemicals were injected. Another small study of 46 individuals published in Allergy & Rhinology showed that using PECO reduced overall allergy symptoms, asthma symptoms, and sleep quality in four weeks of use. Still, as of now, we think PECO is promising in concept, but await further independent testing of the technology as the research cited by the company is coauthored by Molekule's scientists and cofounder. 
    • Ionizers: Ionizers use electrostatic charge to attract gas ions and supposedly clean the air. But a wide body of research has shown that these ionizers produce high levels of ozone which is especially problematic for those with asthma or allergies. EPA has written extensively about these “ozone generators” and other similar technology. 
    • Whole-house air cleaning and purification system: 
    • This is the mechanical system that is utilized by a modern home's heating and cooling systems, and through which all the air in the home passes. According to Tom Kraeutler, a former professional home inspector and veteran of over 6,000 building inspections, the best quality units combine both filtration with purification, and truly improve indoor air quality. Some examples include: Trane CleanEffects™ Air Cleaner and Aprilaire Electronic Air Purifier. Both units have the ability to take out even virus-sized particles from the air. However, they only work when the HVAC system is on. 

    Make the Most of Your Purchase

    1. We recommend running your air purifier units on high at first when you need to clean air quickly, but then switching to the low setting if you plan on running it on a perpetual basis. 
    2. For lower noise levels, consider buying an air purifier that can handle a larger space than you have. This way you can acheive higher air change rates at lower decibel levels.
    3. To address durability concerns, consider registering your product to activate extended warranty offers. Retailers may also offer extended warranty plans. 
    4. Think outside the box if cost is a driving factor. For example, in a ~700 sq ft. living area, it's much cheaper up front and in long term costs to operate two Coway Mighty units than it is to purchase and operate one Coway Airmega 400 model. 

    *Please consider supporting our site through the affiliate links offered through our picks. The commission we earn through these links goes a long way in supporting our awesome content. This guide is updated on an annual basis, consider signing up for our newsletter for updates to guides like this. 

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