Why Buy an Air Purifier?
The top performers in our review are the Coway AP-1512HH, the Gold Award winner; the Whirlpool Whispure AP51030K, the Silver Award winner; and the Idylis AC-2118, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing an air purifier that meets your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of these 10 products.
The Environmental Protection Agency provides a lot of information on indoor air quality. In certain studies, researchers have found that indoor air can be many times worse than outdoor air, as indoor air has a hard time escaping and tends to collect particulates and pollutants. These pollutants can cause a variety of health problems, especially if you already suffer from asthma or allergies. Air purifiers alleviate these problems by removing the pollutants in your home.
Which Air Purifier Is Right for You?
The first thing to consider when you look for the best air purifier is a machine's Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR), which gives you an idea of how effective it is at cleaning the air in a room. The CADR score was established by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) to indicate how much filtered air a purifier delivers to the room it's in. Essentially, each air purifier we reviewed has three separate CADR scores: one for smoke, one for dust and one for pollen. The higher the CADR scores, the better the machine is at removing airborne pollutants in your home. Note that not every air purifier on the market has CADR scores, making it difficult to compare them against others. To learn more about machines without CADR scores, check out our article on these air cleaners.
CADR scores can also help you determine the size of room to use the machine in. AHAM takes the smoke CADR score and multiples it by 1.55 to establish an air purifier's recommended room size. As a rule of thumb, you never want to use an air purifier in a room larger than the recommended size, as it becomes ineffective or even useless. Rather, you want to buy an air purifier that has a recommended room size greater than the size of the actual room you will use it in.
To further this idea, you also want to pay attention to the number of air changes an air purifier can perform per hour. This specification tells you how many times the machine can filter the air in a room every hour, which is especially important if you suffer from allergies and want to alleviate your symptoms. The more air changes a purifier can perform, the more times air in your room moves through the system and is stripped of pollutants.
Another element to consider is an air cleaner's airflow, or the rate of moving air through the filters and cleaning systems. Although this specification does not directly correlate with CADR scores (even though many manufacturers market their products this way), airflow can help you determine whether a machine is right for your situation or not. Airflow is measured in cubic feet per minute, and the more cubic feet of air that moves through the unit, the more opportunity the machine has to remove pollutants. Generally speaking, the higher the airflow, the better.
While you search for the best air purifier for you, make sure you find one that uses HEPA filters, which remove 99.97 percent of 0.3-micrometer particles. HEPA filters are the industry standard, as they can remove particulates that other types of filters can't match. Many purifiers also include a pre-filter, usually made of carbon, which captures larger particles so you don't have to replace HEPA filters as often and helps eliminate odors. Some air purifiers include other filters to help remove particulates such as pet dander and germs.
Aside from physical air filters, many manufacturers use other cleaning methods to deliver clean air in your room, although the effectiveness and safety of these systems are still being heavily scrutinized. Ionizers, for example, are a relatively common feature in air purifiers that have met some controversy, as they produce trace amounts of ozone. Although most ionizers create even less ozone than the industry-standard safe level, if you are worried about breathing ozone, look for a purifier that either does not have this technology or allows you to turn it off.
Some manufacturers also use ultraviolet (UV) light bulbs as a cleaning method, but the effectiveness is debatable. Although UV light is a common method of sterilizing medical equipment, these contaminants are exposed to UV for an extended time in a controlled environment. In other words, contaminants have to be exposed to UV multiple times over a long period for it to make a significant difference.
In theory, the longer you use a purifier with a UV cleaning stage in the same room, the more effective the UV cleaning method will be. However, air moves through purifiers rather quickly, meaning particulates are not exposed to the light for a long time, reducing the effectiveness of this cleaning method. All things considered, the UV cleaning stage is not a critical feature in an air purifier.
Air Purifiers: What We Evaluated, What We Found
During our evaluation of each air purifier, we tested the noise levels, airflow and energy consumption to develop a deeper understanding of each model and help you find the right one for your needs.
While you search for your air cleaner, make sure you consider which room you want it to be located. If you want to use the machine in the kitchen or living room during the day, you don't really need to worry about how loud it is during operation. Just remember that many of these purifiers can reach 60 dB or greater, which is about as loud as a vacuum cleaner. If you are looking for an air cleaner to use in your bedroom while you sleep, noise level is a major concern. For a bedroom air purifier, make sure its lowest setting produces under 30 dB, which is about as loud as a whisper.
Another element to consider is the airflow. We tested each air purifier's airflow and found that our results were similar to the manufacturer specifications. This means the listed airflow in cubic feet per minute on the manufacturers' websites are accurate as to what you can expect. The airflow helps you determine how many air changes take place in an hour, which is especially important if you suffer from allergies. The more air changes a purifier produces in an hour, the better it is for people who have allergies or just want the cleanest air.
Finally, we measured how much energy each machine uses on its maximum settings to help you determine how much your purifier will affect your energy bill. Generally speaking, you don't have to worry about these machines breaking the bank if you use them daily, as even the most expensive purifier from an energy standpoint runs at around $60 a year, or $5 a month.
What Should You Look for in an Air Purifier?
One of the first things to consider when you look for the right air purifier is its area coverage, or the size of room it can clean effectively. You want to make sure the purifier can clean the room it's in, or there's no point buying one. However, you don't have to worry about buying an air purifier that is too powerful for a given room. A high-powered air purifier is preferable if you suffer from allergies, as it can clean the air in a room, a process also known as an air change, multiple times in an hour. For example, if you have a room that is around 250 square feet and you purchase a purifier that can make one air change an hour in rooms up to 500 square feet, you effectively have a purifier that will make two air changes every hour.
Cleaning Capabilities & Modes
One of the first things you'll notice when you look for an air purifier is a series of numbers in the specifications for the CADR. These numbers indicate how effective the unit is at cleaning smoke, dust and pollen out of the air, which can carry pollutants or be harmful themselves. The higher the CADR rating for a specific particulate, the better it is at removing that substance from the air.
Part of what makes an air purifier efficient is its ability to move air through its system. For this reason, pay attention to the airflow and air changes per hour, as these specs determine how quickly the purifier can clean the air in a given room. Also check out how many cleaning cycles each machine has, as the more filters and cleaning cycles a machine has, the more opportunity it has to capture pollutants in the air.
Every air purifier we reviewed uses HEPA filters, which are capable of removing 99.97 percent of small particles from the air. This filter type is an industry standard, so a purifier should use HEPA or equivalent filters. Many air purifiers use carbon pre-filters to capture larger particles so you don't have to replace your HEPA filter as often, which can even reduce strong odors.
As we discussed earlier, many air purifiers come with alternative cleaning methods that have been met with scrutiny. First, some models use ionizers to charge particles as they pass through the machine so that they attach themselves to a surface, thus removing themselves from the air. These devices produce small amounts of ozone, though they meet the industry safety standard. If you are concerned with breathing ozone, look for a purifier that does not have this feature, or at least allows you to turn the ionizer off. Additionally, some models use UV light to try to sterilize these pollutants, though the effectiveness of this technology in air purifiers is highly debatable. Unless you want every method of air purification possible, you don't have to focus on finding a model with UV lights.
Additionally, many air purifiers have a sleep, or quiet, mode that sets the machine at its lowest fan setting so it can run in your bedroom without disturbing your sleep. Some models even dim the lights or have an auto-adjust feature that changes the purifier's settings after a few hours, usually eight, in this mode. Finally, look for an air purifier that has an auto mode, which uses an air-quality sensor to detect pollutants in the air and adjust the cleaning settings to meet what is needed. This feature maximizes the effectiveness and efficiency of the purifier, as it only runs on higher settings when needed.
While you're considering which air purifier is right for you, make sure you pay attention to the overall dimensions of the product. If you want to use the purifier in multiple rooms, moving it around as you need, make sure it is light enough to move or carry with ease. You also want to make sure you have enough space in the main room it will be in, because purifiers work best when they don't have walls or furniture obstructing any airflow.
If you want to use the purifier while you sleep, make sure you understand how loud the unit is on its lowest settings. We tested the noise of all the air purifiers we reviewed on both their highest and lowest settings to give you an idea of how noisy they are. On average, the purifiers we tested reached around 30 dB, which is about the volume of a whisper, on their lowest settings. Air purifiers that make more noise than this average may be too disruptive for you to get restful sleep.
Also look for extra design features that add convenience. For example, with an operation timer, you can set the purifier to run for a few a few hours before it turns off automatically. Some models even allow you to schedule future times for the machine to turn on, which is highly convenient when you're leaving for the day or on vacation.
Energy & Certifications
One of the first things to consider with any new appliance is the energy cost. Although the energy cost of one appliance may not be extensive, with all of our electrical devices these days, the electrical bill starts adding up. Look for an air purifier that doesn't use an extensive amount of electricity so that you can save some money. On average, we found that air purifiers use around 86 watts of energy on their highest settings. Purifiers that use less energy on average will save you some money in the long run.
If saving energy is important to you, look for products that are Energy Star certified, as they are generally 20 to 30 percent more energy-efficient than what federal standards require. This also means that they are typically more energy-efficient than other products that don't carry the Energy Star mark. There are also certifications that show products meet certain safety standards, such as UL and CARB designations.
Help & Support
Warranties protect you from manufacturer defects that cause the unit to malfunction, so your warranty can be the difference between a minor frustration with a faulty machine or the need to purchase a new purifier altogether. Warranties that last longer than a year give you the peace of mind that you aren't going to have to break the bank if you find an issue with your air purifier.
Additionally, most companies offer an online user manual that you can download in case you lose the physical copy that comes with the model. Also look for a company that offers a FAQs page, as this level of support can answer many of your basic questions before you need to reach customer support. Some of the best companies offer live chat, which is an effective and convenient level of customer support. If you prefer to speak to a representative directly, look for a company that offers telephone support. Every company we reviewed offers email support.
Air Purifiers: Our Verdict & Recommendations
While we searched for the best air purifiers, we found that the Coway AP-1512HH, the Whirlpool Whispure AP51030K and the Idylis AC-2118 are the three best models on the market today. These three machines effectively clean the air in your home, offer numerous operation modes and have convenient design features.
The Coway AP-1512HH took our top prize because of its highly portable design, convenient features and energy efficiency. This air cleaner is one of the lightest we reviewed, weighing just over 15 pounds, meaning you can move it from room to room as you need without breaking your back. It also has a number of helpful features to help it effectively clean the air in your home, such as a programmable timer, an auto mode and an optional ionizer. Finally, this air purifier is one of the most energy-efficient models we reviewed, so you don't have to worry about seeing a major increase on your electrical bill.
The Whirlpool Whispure AP51030K is one of the most effective air cleaners we reviewed because of its high CADR scores, quiet operation and various operation settings. This air purifier has the best CADR scores out of all the models we reviewed, indicating that it's highly capable of removing indoor pollutants from the air in your home. This is also the quietest air cleaner we reviewed, so you can sleep with it in your room without much issue. Its programmable timer and sleep timer are both convenient features that let you use the machine right when you want to.
The Idylis AC-2118 is a versatile air purifier that incorporates a number of useful functions in its design and is one of the best at cleaning your indoor air. It includes an auto mode to switch settings based on the air quality, a sleep mode to clean the air while you sleep without disturbing you, and a programmable timer that you can use to schedule specific cleaning times on specific dates. This air cleaner also has relatively high CADR scores, meaning it can effectively remove pollutants in the air.