Few things in life are as important as clean air. Even better, is the clean cool air that follows a summer storm or the crisp air of a spring morning. Unfortunately, we spend most of our time indoors. And more often than not indoor air quality is not as good as we would like to think. We buy products to get in shape, lose weight, and make our lives easier. But, many of us never think to improve the quality of the air we breathe. Using the best air purifier is one of the best ways to improve your health and ensure the air you breathe is pure. That’s why we built this buying guide. To help you find the best air purifier for your needs.
What exactly does an air purifier do?
Air purifiers separate various contaminants from indoor air. Modern air purifier technologies and filters trap contaminants and keep them out of the air you will eventually breathe. Among the best uses for a household air purifier is in the home of an allergy sufferer or asthmatic. However, they are great additions to the homes of smokers and pet owners as well.
While smokers, pet owners, asthmatics notice the difference in air quality much easier. Almost anyone can benefit from purified air since there are many different contaminants that find their way into our homes. From dust to pollen to mold; indoor air contaminants create significant health problems in people around the world. Some particles float along aimlessly in the air, while others accumulate on surfaces…waiting to be disturbed and redistributed. The best air purifier is the one you use regularly.
Other things to consider inside a home or office are VOCs, pollution, and off gassing from everyday products. Chemicals, gases, smoke, and not only annoying odors, some can seriously impact your health. Some air purifiers can help mitigate these hazards as well.
How does an air purifier remove airborne contaminants?
Almost all air purifiers work on a basic principle. An electric motor connected to a fan moves air from one side of a filter to the other. Leaving particles too large to pass through the filter trapped, while clean air exits the other side of the device. The cycle continues as long as the machine is running, cycling the air in a room over and over.
Cleaning the air in a small space is achievable with a relatively small unit, but as the room size increases so must the air purifier. There are several different shapes and sizes of air purifiers, and each excels in a different environment. Larger models work better in open spaces (homes and large offices). While smaller models work better in small spaces like dorms and apartments.
What types of air purifiers and features are available?
Similar to finding the right size, it’s important to consider your needs before choosing a type. Afterall some filters will excel at removing weed smoke, while others will separate bird dander. Selecting a size is much easier than sorting through filter and technological differences. Some users will be satisfied by simple filters, while others will see the greatest benefit from complex technology (some originally used by NASA). Some of the best air purifiers use several filters and technologies in the same package.
Ozone generators sound like a great tool when reading through the specifications. However, there are some studies and research that indicate ozone may not be a good option for ongoing use. Especially in your home or office. The EPA ozone generators sold as air cleaners page is a great resource and explains a lot without getting too detailed. Our recommendation; skip the ozone generator. Unless you’ve done the research and completely understand the risks and reward we think you should look at other options for now. Even in relatively low amounts ozone may cause chest pain, coughing, and respiratory tract irritation.
Stand alone air ionizers do not pass air through a conventional filter. To purify air, they generate ions (a positive or negative charge) charging contaminants in the air so they bind together and drop to the ground. This technology’s goal is to remove suspended contaminants from the air.
In higher end models you will find electronic rods or ceramic plates capable of catching newly charged contaminants inside the machine. The plates are easily cleaned. You just wipe them with a damp cloth.
The downside to ionizers is that they are not able to remove contaminants as effectively as physical filter. For example, a HEPA filter will remove tobacco smoke, weed smoke, pollen, and dust much better.
HEPA Air Purifiers – The Best Air Purifier Tech
HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter technology is widely regarded as the best air purifier type. They were developed during World War II, and are now ubiquitous in the aviation industry, household vacuum cleaners, and air purifiers like those we review on Purifier Academy. HEPA filters are regulated by the government (at least in the United States). To be marketed as a HEPA filter 99.97 percent of contaminants larger than 0.3 microns must not pass through the device. That means virtually all dust, pollen, pet dander, mold, and pet dander eliminated through the use of a HEPA filter.
The common configuration for HEPA machine is a three step filtration process. First air passes through a pre-filter trapping large contaminants. Next, airborne particles encounter a carbon filter, which removes more contaminants and most importantly odor. Finally, the partially filtered air encounters the HEPA filter which removes almost all of the remaining impurities. This three part process increases HEPA filter’s longevity by dividing the workload and keeping large particles out of the HEPA filter itself.
Ultraviolet light is becoming popular in water filtration and air purifiers. Most in the industry believe that they have limited efficacy when used alone or in environments where particles might block the UV light from contacting contaminants. UV is not a standalone air purification component, like you’ll see in water purification products. UV is an additional line of defense to help eliminate germs, bacteria, and viruses. Don’t think of it as a purification method. Think of it as a way to make the best air purifier a bit better.
Common Indoor Air Pollutants
Common household air pollutants, airborne office contaminants, and other airborne particulates come in many shapes and sizes. Unfortunately, you are rarely able to see any shapes or sizes of anything that contaminates the air you breathe. The unfortunate truth is; no matter how much you clean your home or office, dust and other air pollutants will always be present (unless you work in a laboratory or manufacturing clean room). Think about it; you dust your shelves and coffee table, and dust begins to collect… immediately.
Dust is by far the most common airborne matter we see on a regular basis. So what is in that dust that plagues your shelves, lamps, and tables? Approximately 60 percent (of household dust) is tracked in on the bottoms of your shoes. While the other 40 percent comes from less appealing sources like dead skin cells, pet dander, decomposing insects (and insect excrement), continually degrading carpet fibers, and other small contributors. At one point or another those contaminants are suspended in the air you breathe. And, while it’s gross to imagine them flowing in through your nose and into your lungs; the more serious consequence is respiratory complications.
And that’s just “dust.” You also have a number of other contaminants to consider. The following list will help acquaint you with the common ones, so you’ll be better equipped to make an informed buying decision when you’re ready to scrub the air in your home or office.
Cigarette and… Other Smoke
While it seems that cigarette use is on the decline, there are still people who choose to smoke indoors. There are also more and more people who choose to smoke weed as it becomes legal in various states. And, there are also cigar smokers. But, cooking is also a culprit when it comes to indoor smoke hazards.
While it might not seem like a huge health concern, any kind of smoke smoke can damage your lungs. Granted frequent cigarette (and second hand smoke from cigarettes) is probably the worst. But, any source of smoke will have a slight impact on your respiratory system. Fortunately, there are steps you can take if you just can’t avoid the hazards of indoor smoke. You can see some of our recommendations here.
VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds)
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted into the air as gases from various solids and liquids. These compounds comprise a variety of chemicals, of which, some may present short- and others, long-term adverse health conditions. Many VOCs are found in higher concentrations indoors (up to ten times higher than what can be found outdoors). Many of the products found in your home, car and office emit VOCs. It is important to take precautions to minimize your exposure to VOC’s.
Airborne Particulate Matter
While pet hair might seem like a bigger problem for those of us who own a Golden Retriever or Labrador; pet dander is a major concern to those with allergies or respiratory problems. These are particles that are pretty tiny. Any animal with fur or feathers sheds skin cells. Cats, dogs, rodents… you get the picture. If you have a pet in the house be sure to take that into consideration when choosing the best air purifier for your individual needs.
It might come as a surprise but mold is everywhere. Indoors and out. Mold spores float aimlessly through the air, waiting for the right conditions. When the right temperature, relative humidity, and food source present themselves the spores spring into action. Most are harmless, but others are very dangerous if left unchecked. For more information on the dangers of mold we recommend that you visit the EPA’s mold website. It has a lot of useful information.
Related: Best Air Purifier for Mold
Sometimes we see it in the air. Other times it accumulates on the hood of our vehicle. For the most part it is a coarse powder-like substance. It’s essential for plant reproduction, but for allergy sufferers… it’s a sign of constant misery. There are a number of things you can do to decrease sensitivity, like prescription and OTC drugs. But there are also air purifiers and filters that can strip pesky pollen from the air you breathe.
We are all familiar with odor. It comes from myriad sources, and can either dissipate with time or linger for what seems like an eternity. Believe it or not, odor is one of the most difficult things to remove from the air. “Odor” is too small for even the finest filter. That’s why we need charcoal (or other porous compounds) to absorb it. Most odors themselves are not harmful. However some can serve as a warning sign of something that is a health concern.