HOW TO SELECT THE BEST AIR PURIFIER FOR YOU
Discover Air Purifier Benefits
Find the Best Air Cleaners for Mold, Smoke, Dust, Pet Dander, Allergies, Asthma, and VOCs
Deciding on an air purifier is a big decision. You need the facts because you don't want to buy an inferior product that won't work as advertised.
We've compiled the information you need to make the best decision.
And, while we hope you'll buy from us, it's okay if you don't. We're more interested in you becoming a knowledgeable buyer.
So, let's get started. By the time you finish this article, you should know which air purifier you're going to buy.
Why You Want an Air Purifier that Removes Both Types of Indoor Pollutants
Indoor air pollutants fall into two categories. For your health, it is important to control both types. And, it's good to remember, indoor air is 2 to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air (source: epa.gov).
- Fine & Coarse Particulate Matter (PM) - includes dust, cooking and tobacco smoke, pollen and plant spores, animal dander, dust mites, molds, bacteria, and viruses. Exposure to Fine PM has been linked to numerous health risks including premature death (EPA.GOV).
- Gaseous Pollutants or Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) - These can come from flooring, gas cooking stoves, carpets, upholstered furniture, paint, adhesives, cleaning products, pesticides, new construction, electronics, and sadly enough air fresheners. One of the most prevalent VOCs in the home is formaldehyde, a known carcinogen.
Research shows that VOCs from common indoor materials and finishes, cleaning products, personal care products, and other consumer products result in increased risk of asthma, pulmonary infections, and allergies (Mendell 2007). Some chemicals may have health impacts at extremely low levels; studies have found that exposure to very small traces of VOCs in homes and schools can disrupt the endocrine system (hormones), gene activation, and brain development.
The best air purifiers reduce PM and VOCs. Reducing these in your home is important to your health.
Isn't My HVAC System Filtering My Indoor Air?
You're probably thinking that your HVAC system has air filters that you change every 1-3 months, so aren’t they filtering your indoor air?
While it is true that your HVAC has in-line air filters, these filters were really designed to protect your furnace and air conditioning system from dust and other large airborne particles. They will not remove fine PM or VOCs.
How to Remove Dangerous PM From Your Home
The best solution for removing indoor PM is a HEPA filter. In order to trap the finer, more dangerous particles that can travel deep into the lungs and cause health problems, you need a filter that incorporates a High-Efficiency Particulate Arrestance (HEPA) filter. True HEPA medical filters remove at least 99.97% of all airborne particles 0.3 microns in diameter or greater.
When buying an air purifier look for true HEPA medical filters. If the description doesn't say HEPA medical filter, don't buy it. Pay attention to the number of sq. ft. of HEPA medical filter. The higher the sq. footage of filter, the longer the filter will last and the higher the value to you.
How to Remove Unhealthy VOCs From Your Home
VOCs are generally so small they cannot be removed by HEPA filters. To remove these pollutants, you need a material called a “sorbent” which is a highly porous substance that can adsorb or bind with VOCs on a molecular basis across a large internal surface area.
The most common adsorbent (not a typo - there really is a word adsorbent) material used in air filters is activated carbon. One pound of activated carbon has an equivalent surface area equal to about 125 acres. Another adsorbent is the alumino-silicate crystal structure known as “zeolite”.
Activated carbon and zeolite have different pore sizes and structures, and when used together have the ability to absorb a greater range of chemicals. Finally, there are “chemisorbents” that are targeted to remove specific chemicals and impregnated into the filter.
When evaluating air purifiers, pay special attention to the adsorbents. Adsorbent materials have a finite capacity, so the more activated carbon and/or zeolite present in your filter, the greater the capacity to remove VOCs and the longer the life of the filter.
Compare the number of pounds of activated carbon in air purifier filters. Determine if the filter has additional adsorbents and chemisorbents. The best air purifiers have many pounds of activated carbon along with additional adsorbents and chemisorbents.
Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) Doesn't Tell the Whole Story (so don't be fooled)
The CADR is flawed. CADR measures (1) an air filter’s effectiveness at removing specific particles-dust, pollen, and smoke; and (2) the volume of air cleaned during a 20-minute test.
Sounds great - right? Well, there's more to the story.
There are good reasons to look beyond these numbers when deciding which air filter to purchase. First, the CADR standard only tests for particle filtration and does not consider VOC removal which is critical for clean air. Second, the range of particles tested is from 0.1 to 11.0 microns, but it does not specify results at removing smaller particles vs. larger particles, just overall removal. And, we know that the Fine PM is the most damaging to our health, it is important to know the air filters efficiency at removing these finer particles.
So, when comparing air purifiers, don't bother using the CADR to decide. Why? Because an air purifier could have a very good CADR, but it could be failing to remove the most dangerous contaminants like Fine PM and VOCs.
What Does CFM Mean for Clean Air?
CFM is a measure of how many cubic feet/minute the air purifier handles. The higher the CFM, the more air changes per hour and the cleaner your air.
Here's the formula to understand how many times an hour your air is changed/cleaned based on the air purifier's CFM cleaning rate:
(CFM x 60 min) / (room height x width x length in feet)
Example: (400 CFM x 60 min) / (9' x 40' x 30') = 2.2 changes/hour
Compare a lower CFM rating of 250:
(250 x 60) / (9' x 40' x 30') = 1.4 changes/hour
The air purifier you buy should have a high CFM to be most effective at cleaning your air.
AIR PURIFIER REVIEWS - A Look at the Best
We searched the marketplace for air purifiers that could effectively remove PM and VOCs. We scoured the spec sheets on dozens of air filters and spoke with the manufacturers. We also looked at a lot of “best-rated air filters” web sites (most are set up to push one particular brand, certainly not the best). What we found was just a lot of plain old bad or misleading information.
Most of the companies that claimed their filters removed VOC’s were actually using filters “impregnated” with activated carbon and not a true carbon filter. BEWARE! If you are serious about removing VOC’s and gasses from your indoor air, you'll want an air filter that measures their activated carbon in pounds, not ounces.
Ultimately, we found only a handful of companies that were making air purifiers that used significant amounts of both true HEPA medical filters and activated carbon in their filters. We included those in the final air cleaner rankings and reviews listed below.
And, we also looked at the cost of ownership over five years. Wow - some of the air purifiers are really expensive to own because the filters must be changed frequently.
AIR PURIFIER RATINGS - Key Comparisons
Why We Recommend Austin Air Cleaners
Clearly, in terms of performance and long term value, no other air cleaner manufacturer really comes close to Austin Air. Austin Air Cleaners are ranked at the top in size of HEPA filter, the number of pounds of Activated Carbon, additional Chemisorbents, the amount of air cleaned per minute (CFM), filter life and total five-year cost of ownership.
In fact, the Austin Air machines are the only ones who have a five-year filter cost LESS than the initial purchase price. That means the disparity in the total cost of owning those other machines is only going to INCREASE the longer you own them!
The more closely you look at Austin Air Cleaners, the more impressed you will become. In addition to having a large HEPA filter, pounds of Activated Carbon, additional VOC/gasses removal capability, great air cleaning power and the lowest cost of ownership, the other benefits include:
- Austin Air unit is well-designed. By vacuuming the outside of the case, you are also vacuuming the pre-filter. This allows Austin Air to project an overall filter life of up to 5 years
- Only company to offer any type of filter warranty and it's a full five years
- Made in the USA for more than 30 years
- Made with highest quality materials certified to not off-gas; powder coated all metal housing
- Designed and built for continuous 24/7 operation
- Chosen by the US Government (after extensive independent testing) to fulfill the largest deployment of air cleaners in American history
- Selected by FEMA and The Red Cross to address serious indoor air quality concerns after 9/11
Why We Don't Recommend IQAir
IQAir, a Swiss company, makes a number of different models that feature gas and VOC removal. The IQAir HealthPro Plus™ model ($899.00) has a filter cartridge with 53 sq. ft. of HEPA filtration, but it only has 5 lbs. of activated carbon and alumina. The IQAir GC MultiGas model ($1199.00) does not have quite as much HEPA filtration, only 32 sq. ft., but does give you 12 lbs. of activated carbon and alumina. (Remember, the Healthmate has 60 sq. ft. of HEPA and 15 lbs of activated carbon and zeolite.)
And, while IQAir points out their machines are certified for continuous 24/7 operation, they base their filter life expectancy on only running your machine 10 hours a day. If you end up running your air cleaner 24/7 like most people, then your actual filter life span will be less than half of what they claim (avg. life claim 1 year on pre-filters, 2 years on gas/carbon, up to 4 years on HEPA) making these air filters very expensive to own over the long haul. This could be why they have chosen to use only 10 hours of operation to rate their filter life. Finally, the housing is made of ABS plastic rather than metal and the maximum CFM falls short at only 300.
Why We Don't Recommend Airpura
Airpura is a relatively new Canadian company and the Airpura R600 ($649.00) is their all purpose air filter. It comes equipped with 40 sq. ft. of true HEPA filtration and 18 lbs. of activated carbon. This is a substantial filter system with a strong fan rated to 560 CFM encased in an all steel housing.
Here are some concerns. First, Airpura is new to the marketplace, so there is no long-term data on how well their machines will perform over time. Second, the activated carbon filter is just that, activated carbon and does not include any complementary filter media to enhance and expand its ability to remove a wider range of gasses and VOC’s which is so important to your health. Finally, the frequency of which they recommend you change filters will add to the long-term cost of owning this air filter: pre-filter every year, carbon filter every 2 years, and the HEPA filter every 3-5 years. The five-year cost of ownership is twice that of Austin Air HealthMate™.
Why We Don't Recommend Amaircare
Amaircare is another Canadian company producing a respectable air filter. The Amaircare 3000 VOC air purifier ($799.00) comes with 100 sq. ft. of true HEPA filtration and a 12 lb. activated carbon filter (only in the VOC model) contained in a powder coated steel housing.
Here are my concerns about this purifier. First, the fan is mounted at the bottom of the unit, as are the controls making them hard to reach, and the fresh air is expelled downwards towards the floor (all other machines have top mounted controls and release filtered air upwards at the top). Second, it is only rated at 225 CFM, lowest of the group. And last, this machine recommends changing the pre and post filters every 3-6 months, the carbon filter every 2 years, and the HEPA filter 2-5 years. That gives the Amaircare 3000 VOC one of the highest annual filter costs making it one of the most expensive to own over 5 years.
Why We Don't Recommend Blueair
Blueair is a Swedish company that manufactures their products in China and the USA. Their products are attractively designed and come in sleek all steel cases. On the lower fan setting, Blueair has some of the quietest air filters available. They offer a number of different models and we selected the mid-priced Blueair 503™ ($659.00) to evaluate and compare. Blueair markets their HEPASilent filtration technology, which is a combination of electrostatic and mechanical filters, as capable of removing 99.97% of all PM down to 0.1 microns.
The only problem is their “standard” HEPASilent filter set only offers “impregnated” carbon to help control odors and VOCs. In order to get a more robust activated carbon filter, you have to purchase their SmokeStop filter set ($149.00) at an additional cost. The SmokeStop filters offer 45 sq. ft. of HEPASilent filtration and only 4 lbs. of activated carbon, but they also utilize magnesium dioxide and copper oxide which expands their gas and VOC removal range. They are rated at 414 CFM but note that the SmokeStop filters would reduce that rate by approximately 10% down to 372 CFM.
There are a couple of major drawbacks to Blueair machines. Unlike all of the other units we investigated, their internal filters are not well sealed with rubber or felt gaskets so there is a much higher degree of “leaked”, unfiltered air passing through. Also, they do not incorporate any type of pre-filter and therefore recommend you change the filter sets every 6 months, which gives this machine and extremely high annual filter cost and one of the most expensive overall to own.
Which Austin Air Cleaner is Right for You?
Austin Air HealthMate™ Standard comes with 60 sq. ft. of certified medical-grade true HEPA filtration that removes 99.97% of all particulates as small as 0.3 microns, and 95% of all particulates 0.1 microns and smaller.
In addition to an impressive HEPA filter, they use a full 15 lbs. of a proprietary blend of activated carbon and zeolite, the only company using such a blend in that large a quantity. Austin Air uses a powder coated all metal housing and is rated to 400 CFM.
Austin Air unit is well-designed. By vacuuming the outside of the case, you are also vacuuming the pre-filter. This allows Austin Air to project an overall filter and pre-filter life of 3-5 years, and they are the only company that offers a 5-year pro-rated warranty on their core HEPA/Carbon filter so if it does have to be replaced before 5 years, you will get a pro-rated cost reduction. This means the long-term cost of ownership for Austin Air is significantly better than their competition.
In addition to the HealthMate™, Austin Air offers the HealthMate Plus™ developed for people suffering from chemical sensitivity as well as for people who have remodeled or are have future remodeling planned. Like the HealthMate™, the HealthMate Plus™ uses 15 lbs. of activated carbon/zeolite but the Plus air cleaner is impregnated with potassium iodide to offer even greater gas and VOC removal.
We think everyone needs the expanded gas and VOC removal capabilities since just about everything you bring into your home off-gases. Furniture, flooring, paint, wall and window coverings, cleaners, pesticides, air fresheners and more all release chemicals into your indoor air that are simply not good for you.
For those people suffering from extreme chemical sensitivities, selecting the HealthMate rather than the Plus is a good idea. A small group of highly chemical sensitive people can smell the potassium iodide and are better off with the standard version.
Austin Air also offers the Allergy Machine™ designed for people struggling with severe allergies, asthma, and those living in areas prone to high amounts of seasonal pollen and dust issues. Austin Air developed a unique HEGA (High-Efficiency Gas Absorption) filter for the Allergy machine. The HEGA filter combines a high-tech Military Grade Carbon Cloth filter for removing gas, VOC’s and odors with their medical-grade true HEPA filter to deliver a filter especially well suited to removing airborne allergens.
Why Do We Only Sell Austin Air Cleaners?
We only sell Austin Air Cleaners for two simple reasons: first, we know we are selling the best product with the best value and second, it's our mission to make your life easier. Having to review different choices and read a lot of comparisons and research makes your life hard. So, we've kept it simple. We're fanatics about details and research so you can relax, buy an air purifier and move on with your life. Sound good?