Summer pollen and smokey air got you feeling like flu season arrived early? Luckily we bought 13 of the most highly regarded air purifiers on the market, then put them through a series of demanding tests, all to find the best way to rid your home fo these airborne irritants. Purifiers are often advertised with many confusing statistics and marketing claims, making it difficult to find the best one for your needs and budget. We cut through the confusion by testing the performance of all these models side-by-side, so we can definitively identify the relative merits of each one. We also tested a range of sizes, so we have you covered whether you want to clean the air in a small bedroom or large living space.
The Best Air Purifiers of 2018
With fires and their associated smoke ravaging much of the western US, we've been on extra high alert to find the best and most reasonably priced air purifiers. The new and updated GermGuardian AC5350B is the best model we've found for those looking to get an inexpensive model that can still handle some heavy duty air cleaning. It offers by far the best air cleaning performance we've seen from any model that usually sells for $100 or less.
Best Overall Air Purifier
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
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
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
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
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.The AC4100 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
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
The GermGuardian AC5350B was the quietest model we tested, earning the top score of 9 out of 10. It was virtually silent when running on its lower settings, and on high it produced a low pitched hum that easily fades into the background. The Coway AP-1512HH also earned a 9 out of 10, but on high it produces just a slightly higher pitch that is thus slightly more noticeable but is still easily ignored.Rounding out the group of top scorers are the PureZone 3-in-1 and the Levoit LV-H132. Both of these models were virtually silent when we ran them on their low and medium settings, and had a fairly innocuous medium-low pitched hum on their high settings. It should also be noted that both of these models are on the small side, and thus have less powerful fans than the larger models.
A number of models scored just slightly behind the Coway in our noise testing. The Levoit LV-PUR131 emits a low pitched hum when on high that is about even with the Coway in terms of conspicuousness. On low, it is much quieter, but not nearly silent like the Coway. The Winix 9500 is a bit more noticeable than the Levoit and Coway when on high (turbo), but is essentially silent when on the low setting. The Blueair Pure 211 is as inconspicuous as the Coway when on high, but is still noticeable when used in its low mode.
Just behind the four 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.
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.
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.
The Coway AP-1512HH and the Levoit LV-PUR131 provided equally stellar user experiences in our testing. The Coway simple interface leaves no guesswork when you're dialing in settings, the carry handle and relatively light weight of 12.7 pounds make it easy to move around the house, and the built-in air quality meter was the most accurate one we encountered. this means you can just set the Coway to turn on whenever the air quality gets below a certain amount, and then pretty much leave it alone and let it do its thing.
The Levoit LV-PUR131 also provides a nice, streamlined control panel and a carry handle for easy moving. It is slightly lighter at 11.7 pounds. It does have a built-in air quality meter, but we found it to be slightly unreliable. If you set it to kick on at a certain air quality level you'll certainly end up with cleaner air, but it probably won't be super consistent. It does have an auto-off timer, so we would suggest putting on the highest level where the fan noise doesn't annoy you, and setting it to shut off when you leave the house.
Also earning a top score for user friendliness was the GermGuardian AC5350B. The controls are intuitive and the auto off timer keeps the forgetful amongst us from wasting electricity while out of the house. IT is also on the lighter side at 11.25 pounds, making it fairly easy to move from room to room.
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.
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.
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.
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 is certain extenuating circumstance. 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 lists prices 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 claena 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!
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for tips.