Updated November 2018 - Coming here for wildfire smoke?
With air quality dropping in many areas due to the large fires burning throughout much of the western US, many people are buying air purifiers for the first time. If you want to get an air purifier quickly to reduce exposure to smoky air, here is our crash course:
Luckily, all of the models we tested were very effective at clearing smoke particles from the air, so pretty much any purifier is going to be significantly better than no purifier. If you want extra peace of mind look for a purifier with a True HEPA filter. HEPA filters are certified to trap 99.97% of particles with a diameter of 0.3 microns, and the smallest smoke particles measure about 0.4 microns. If your area is particularly smoky you'll likely want to get the largest purifier your budget allows, but at the very least you'll want to make sure you get a model with an advertised CADR (clean air delivery rate) that is at least 2/3 the square footage of the main room that you want to clean (for example, a 300 square foot room ideally needs a CADR of at least 200).
Best Overall Air Purifier
Particulate Reduction (1 hour)
: 99.84% | Estimated Lifetime Cost
Excellent air cleaning performance
Average lifetime cost
For those that want to wage all out war against pollen and other airborne particulates, the Coway AP-1512HH will be the strongest weapon in your arsenal. In just 30 minutes it was able to remove 99.3% of the airborne particles from our 150 square foot testing room. This was more particle reduction than most other models were able to achieve over an entire hour. To boot the Coway's fan is both powerful enough to keep things cool during those sweltering summer nights, and quiet enough to not drown out your next Netflix marathon. We also like that the accurate, built-in air quality meter lets the machine autonomously turn on and off as needed.
The only real hurdle we ran into with the Coway
was its cost. The list price of $230 is quite steep. However, the Coway
does have less expensive filters and uses electricity more economically than most models, so in the long run you end with average costs. If you can make the investment upfront, the Coway
gives you top notch performance with a reasonable lifetime cost.
Read review: Coway AP-1512HH
What about ionizers?
Some air purifiers use ionizers to produce charged particles that stick to dust and pollen, making them easier to trap in a filter. However, these ionizers are somewhat controversial as there are many claims that they can produce ozone, which is a harmful lung irritant. Many manufacturers claim that their ionizers are ozone free, but in cases such as these we take the conservative route. Therefore we only tested models that can be run without an ionizer.
Best Buy on a Tight Budget
Particulate Reduction (1 hour)
: 99.39% | Estimated Lifetime Cost
Low operating costs
Good air cleaning performance
Somewhat expensive filters
If you're looking for the most air cleaning power per dollar, the GermGuardian AC4300BPTCA is the clear frontrunner. It removed an impressive 99.39% of airborne particulates in our testing room over the course of an hour, despite generally selling for around $100. Its fan also makes a relatively innocuous noise, and it won't add too much to your electric bill.
Really the only realistic complaint one could levy against the AC4300BPTCA
is that it doesn't have an air quality meter. However, that would be a lot to expect given this model's price. Also, while the fan is quieter than average and the air cleaning performance is above average, the AC4300BPTCA
is not the best in either of those categories. Those that are very sensitive to noise or live in areas with particularly bad air quality may benefit from making a bigger investment in the Coway
. For most people, however, the AC4300BPTCA
offers a near perfect balance of performance and price.
Read review: GermGuardian AC4300BPTCA
Best Bang for the Buck
Particulate Reduction (1 hour)
: 99.50% | Estimated Lifetime Cost
Good air cleaning performance
Simple to use
Somewhat expensive filters
If you want all the bells and whistles of a top shelf purifier, but don't want to make the initial investment required by the Coway, the GermGuardian AC5350B would be a worthy substitute. Its packed with features like an on/off timer, 5 fan speed settings, and a UV bulb that is meant to kill bacteria. It also performed quite well in our air cleaning tests, achieving a 99.5% particulate reduction after 1 hour. And it does all this without the same sticker shock as the Coway.
While the AC5350B does have a more attractive upfront cost, its filters are quite expensive. In the long term it ends up costing about the same as the Coway, so we would still suggest going with the Coway if you don't mind spending more initially.
Read review: GermGuardian AC5350B
Top Pick for Small Rooms
Particulate Reduction (1 hour)
: 95.32% | Estimated Lifetime Cost
Low operating costs
Low list price
Good performance for a compact model
Most people only really need an air purifier for their bedroom, and if your bedroom is on the small side (~100 square feet) the GermGuardian AC4100 is an inexpensive and effective way to get rid of pollen while you sleep. Our testing indicated that it has enough power to get airborne particulate out of small rooms, and it is nearly silent on its low fan setting. Combine that with a super simple interface and you've got a great machine to fight the pollen all summer long.
is noticeably less powerful than other purifiers, so even when used in a small room you'll likely want to run it for an hour or so before you go to be to get the full effect. IT can also get a bit loud when set on the medium or high settings. If you can live with those minor flaws, we think this is the best and most economical purifier available for small rooms.
Read review: GermGuardian AC4100
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The Editor's Choice Award winning Coway, and our resident feline allergy tester.
Analysis and Test Results
When used correctly air purifiers can potentially bring some much-needed relief to the everyday symptoms of airborne allergy sufferers and those with sensitive respiratory systems. After conducting extensive research we bought and tested 10 of the best models on the market and put them through a stringent series of tests so that you can decide which will serve you best.
Most of our testing focused on how quickly and effectively each model was able to remove particulate matter from the air. We also looked beyond air cleaning capabilities to the other ways having one of these machines in your home might affect your day to day life, like how easy they are to operate, how noisy they are, and how much they cost to run. If you're not sure whether an air purifier would benefit you, there is some helpful advice in our buying advice article.
When it comes to air purifiers, you generally have to pay more for better power, capacity, and features. However, a big pricetag doesn't always mean you're getting the best products. As you can see in the chart above, the $230 Coway outperformed multiple models in the $300-$500 range. If you don't need top shelf performance and aren't fussed about extra features, the GermGuardian AC4300BPTCA and AC4100 both offer good performance at relatively low prices.
When shopping for an air purifier don't forget to factor in the cost of replacement filters and electricity usage. Some models that are less expensive upfront, like the GermGuardian AC5350B, end up burning the same amount of cash in the long run as the top performing Coway.
We turned out testing room into a smoky haze to evaluate air cleaning performance. The Coway (left) and GermGuardain AC4100 (right) were the best in their respective size ranges at cleaning up that smoke.
Air Cleaning Performance
If an air purifier doesn't significantly reduce airborne particulate concentration, then it is not worth buying. To test the air cleaning performance of our purifiers we sealed off a 150 square foot room and burned incense, paper, and matches to create a smoky environment. We then put each purifier into the haze and ran it on high for one hour, monitoring the particulate concentration with an air quality meter. Most of our score was based on how quickly and by how much each model was able to reduce airborne particulates in the room. We also considered odor elimination, but to a lesser extent as no model really excelled in this regard. In general we found models that use True HEPA filters perform better than those that use HEPA Type filters, with a couple notable exceptions.
Somewhat surprisingly one of the HEPA Type models, the Blueair Pure 211, was one of the best performing models in our test
. After 30 minutes it had reduced airborne particulate concentration by nearly 99%, and by the 45 minute mark had the concentration very close to zero. However it does not have a carbon filter, and left a good amount of smoke smell in the room.
Three other models were basically on par with the Blueair. The Honeywell True HEPA Allergen Remover, the Coway AP-1512HH, and the Winix 9500 all posted particulate reductions of at least 99% by the half-hour mark. They also all had concentrations close to zero by the end of the test, though not quite as close to zero as the Blueair. All of these models do have carbon filters, and were thus slightly better at reducing that smoky odor. The Honeywell True HEPA Allergen Remover was slightly better than the others in this regard, but all were good. The room still smelt strongly of smoke, but not overpoweringly so.
The majority of the models we tested fell either at the top or the bottom of the air cleaning performance spectrum, with the Levoit LV-PUR131
the lonely occupant of the average, middle ground. After running for 30 minutes the Levoit LV-PUR131
had reduced particulate concentration by about 85%, which was far off from what the top scorers achieved in the same time frame. After an hour that figure bumped up to 99%, which feels acceptable, but still wasn't as good as the 99.9% figures the top scorers produced. It also removed more of the smoke odor than most other models, but a strong smell still remained.
All of the models we tested were able to remove the majority of airborne particulates, but some were able to maintain much lower concentrations than others.
Both the GermGuardian AC4300BPTCA
and the GermGuardian AC5350B
performed very similarly to the Levoit
. These models were slightly faster out of the gate, both hitting around a 95% reduction in particulates by the half-hour mark, and both improving to over 99% by after a full hour. Both these models and the Levoit
would be able to remove the vast majority of particulates if you were to run them in your bedroom overnight, but would likely never get the air quite as clean as the top scorers.
About half of the models we tested were not able to achieve a 99% reduction of airborne particulates within the allotted 1-hour window. The best of these underachieving models was the Dyson Pure Cool Link. It came out of the gate somewhat strong, hitting an 87% reduction after a half hour, but that progress petered out eventually, posting only a 97% reduction after an hour. IT was also the least effective model we tested in terms of odor elimination. The PureZone 3-in-1 started slow and ended slow, reducing airborne particulates by 77% and 93.6% at the half and full hours marks, respectively.
Two of the smaller units we tested, the GermGuardian AC4100 and the Levoit LV-H132, only achieved a 95% reduction after an hour in our smokey testing room. While those figures aren't;'t impressive, both models would likely be able to help out an allergy sufferer sleeping in a 150 square foot bedroom. However, we definitely wouldn't recommend them for larger rooms.
The Blueair has more horsepower than any of the models we tested, and achieved the largest reduction in airborne particles (by a hair).
The worst performers in our air cleaning tests were the Holmes HEPA Type Desktop and the Hamilton Beach TrueAir. Both of these models failed to hit a 90% reduction after an hour of cleaning, and both really struggled to remove any of the smoke odor in the room. Granted, both of these units are small, but the equally small GermGuardian AC4100 was significantly more effective.
It can be hard to combine high fan power and quiet operation, like the Coway does.
Perhaps the largest potential downside of bringing an air purifier into your home is the fact that it makes noise. Since a purifier is only useful if used in your direct vicinity, you're probably going to notice that noise. Luckily most of the models we tested are relatively quiet. When using a decibel meter we never got a reading higher than 61, which is right around normal conversational volume. However, some models have higher pitch sounds that can be annoying, even at low volumes. We listened to every model at their high, medium, and low settings to determine which ones might disrupt your TV watching, and which ones you'll barely notice.
For those that are particularly sensitive to noise, the GermGuardian AC5350B would be our top recommendation. We really had to strain to hear it when on its lowest setting, and even on the highest setting all that is audible is a relatively innocuous, low-pitched hum.
The Coway AP-1512HH is also quite friendly to those with noise sensitivity. Its sound is barely discernable when on the low setting, and on high produces a generally inoffensive hum that is just slightly higher pitched than that of the GermGuardian AC5350B.
Also sitting atop our noise scoreboard are the PureZone 3-in-1 and the Levoit LV-H132. Again, these models are practically silent when on the low setting, and on the highest settings are audible but not grating. It should also be noted that these units are smaller than the Coway and GermGuardian and thus have less powerful fans.
A slew of models scored just below the top step in our noise testing. The Levoit LV-PUR131's high setting produces a low-pitched hum, similar to that of the top scoring models, but on low it is a bit louder than the nearly silent low settings of models like the Coway. The Winix 9500 has a nearly silent low setting, but its high setting has a more medium pitched sound, making it a bit more noticeable. The Blueair Pure 211 keeps a low rumble that blends into the background when on its highest setting, but that low rumble seems to be just as noticeable when you turn it down to its lowest setting.
Multiple fan speeds give you more control over noise levels. The Dyson offers 10.
Just behind the top contenders in our noise testing was the Hamilton Beach TrueAir
. On high it emits a fairly low pitched hum that can mostly fade into the background, but not completely. On low it is quiet, but still much more noticeable than the top performers.
The two average performers in our noise testing were the Holmes HEPA Type Desktop and the Dyson Pure Cool Link. The Holmes was fairly average across the board in our testing. At high settings it produced a buzzing sound that was hard to ignore, but not completely annoying. At low settings it creates a medium pitched hum that isn't too loud, but definitely noticeable. The Dyson was almost completely silent on low settings, but at high settings the fan emits a higher pitched roar that is hard not to notice, and may even make you click up the volume a few notches on the TV.
Many models, like the Levoit pictured here, offer a sleep mode that reduces fan noise.
Two different models tied for the bottom slot in our noise testing. Both GermGuardian models that we tested, the AC4100 belched out a high pitch when used on their highest setting that is quite hard to ignore. On their low setting the pitch got a bit lower and less grating but was still very noticeable. The Honeywell True HEPA Allergen Remover produced and even louder high pitched noise on its high setting, but was slightly quieter on its low setting.
Purifiers are generally easy to use, but extra touches like of off timer can really improve your experience.
Ease of Use
Though air purifiers are generally simple and require no real maintenance beyond replacing the filter periodically. However, there are certain touches that can make day to day use a bit more enjoyable. Variable fan modes let you dial down the noise if you're watching TV. Remote controls let you do that without even leaving the couch. Handles and wheels make it easy to move the purifier around if you want it to follow you from the living room and into the bedroom. Timers keep you from forgetting to turn the purifier off when you leave the house.We evaluated all these aspects of our to purifiers to ascertain how easy they are to operate and incorporate into your daily routine.
Both the Coway AP-152HH and the Levoit LV-PUR131 provided similarly user-friendly experiences in our testing. These models both have streamlined control panels, convenient carry handles, and air quality sensors that allow the machines to automatically kick in when the air quality gets back, and power down to save energy when the quality gets better. Both models also weigh about 12 pounds, light enough to move around without too much hassle. Of the two we have a slight preference for the Coway as we found its air quality meter to be slightly more accurate. The Levoit's air quality meter is still accurate enough to be useful, but we would be more likely to use that feature on the Coway.
We also found the GermGuardian AC5350B to be very user-friendly. The control panel is simple and intuitive, it is on the lighter side at just over 11 pounds, and it has an automatic off timer, so you won't be wasting electricity if you forget to turn it off when you leave the house.
Remote controls, like this one included with the Winix 9500, let you change settings without leaving the couch or bed.
Slightly behind the top scorers were three models that we felt were quite easy to use, but did have some minor drawbacks. The Dyson Pure Cool Link
is easy to set up, incredibly light, has 10 different fan speeds, and a convenient remote control. However, the purifier itself only has an on/off button, so if you lose that remote you lose quite a bit of functionality. The Honeywell True HEPA Allergen Remover
has a clean interface and all the bells and whistles, but at 17 pounds it is one of the least portable of the bunch. The GermGuardian AC4100
is very simple and compact, and user friendly, but only has 3 fan speeds and does not have an automatic off timer. The GermGuardian AC4300BPTCA
has incredibly simple and easy to use controls but lacks an auto-off timer.
Across the board we found replacing filters to be an easy process, thus it did not factor into our ease of use scoring.
The Holmes HEPA Type Desktop
was just a bit harder to deal with than the Blueair
, but still wasn't frustrating to use. At 4.7 pounds it is very portable and is ready to go out of the box. However, the plastic knobs used to adjust the fan speed and ionizer feel a bit cheap and flimsy, and it only has three fan settings. The Levoit LV-H132
's user experience is similar. It is small and light at 6.5 pounds and easy to setup, but it only has 3 fan settings and no extra features like an off timer.
The Winix 9500 and the Hamilton Beach TrueAir were both at the bottom of our ease of use scoresheet. Purifiers are quite simple machines, so even these models weren't particularly difficult to operate, but they were a bit less streamlined than the other models. The Winix's controls were comparatively cumbersome to use. We didn't find the odor and air quality meters to be accurate. Accessing full functionality requires the remote control, which is fairly well designed. Also, at 18 pounds and with no carry handles, the Winix was our least favorite model to carry around. The Hamilton Beach TrueAir was the only model that required some actual assembly out of the box, but it was fairly simple. It has only three fan speeds controlled with a dial that feels somewhat flimsy. It is, however, very light and portable.
Even small models, like the Hamilton Beach TrueAir, can carry hefty filter and electricity costs.
It's easy to forget that you're going to have to pay for replacement filters and electricity costs throughout the lifetime of your air purifier. Measured every purifier's energy consumption and price checked all of their replacement filters to estimate how much each will end up costing in the long run. Our lifetime cost calculations assumed the national average for electricity cost ($0.12/kWh), average usage of 12 hours a day, filters being replaced according to manufacturer recommendations, and a functioning lifetime of 5 years.
With a low list price, incredibly energy usage, and inexpensive filters, the Holmes HEPA Type Desktop
was the top performer in our operating cost testing. Its estimated lifetime cost is just $143, more than $100 less than the next best model.
Far behind the Holmes in term of estimated lifetime cost was the GermGuardian AC4100. With average electricity economy and fairly inexpensive filters, we estimated its lifetime cost at $294. The Levoit LV-H132 followed behind with an estimated lifetime cost of $323. The PureZone 3-in-1 was still in this ballpark, logging an estimated lifetime cost of $279.
The AC4300BPTCA offers the best ratio of performance to estimated lifetime cost.
Most of the models we tested fell into the $500-$600 range when it came to estimated lifetime cost. The Levoit LV-PUR131
is very economical when it comes to electricity usage, but a middle of the road list price and relatively expensive filters pushed the estimated lifetime cost to $549. The Editors' Choice winning Coway AP-151HH
also uses very little electricity, but the high list price and slightly above average filter costs led to an estimated lifetime cost of $556. The GermGuardian AC5350B
is quite cheap up front, but due to the very expensive filters will end up costing you $542 in the long run. The Hamilton Beach TrueAir
uses a filter with a relatively short life span, pushing its long-term costs up to $573. The Winix 9500
costs a lot up front but has very cheap filters, which balances to a lifetime cost of $591.
A few models garnered far above average estimated lifetime costs. Because none of these models were top performers, we would only recommend picking up that extra cost in certain extenuating circumstances. The Honeywell True HEPA Allergen Remover gulps up electricity, resulting in a high lifetime cost of $771. The Dyson Pure Cool Link uses electricity very economically, but its high list price pushes the lifetime cost to $889. That extra cost is only worth it if you're enamored with Dyson's bladeless fan technology. The Blueair Pure 211 has expensive replacement filters, resulting in a lifetime cost of $1,105. This machine also has the highest capacity of any model we tested, so that enormous extra cost might be worth it if you're trying to clean a large, 500+ square foot room.
While an air purifier certainly isn't a necessity, it can be effective at relieving some symptoms for those with bad allergies, or those with pulmonary illnesses that live in areas with poor air quality. You have to shop carefully, however, because some models are much more effective at air cleaning than others, some are whisper quiet while others are grating, and some that look like a bargain hide extra costs in the form of expensive filters. We hope that our testing results have elucidated all of those things for you, and led you to the perfect models for your home. Now go fight that pollen!