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Nobody wants to breathe in dust, dander, pollen, and mold. Unfortunately, though, the air in our homes is loaded with these pollutants, thanks to poor ventilation systems and the use of household chemicals, gas-burning appliances, and smoke-producing tobacco products. The airborne irritants act as allergens and can cause many respiratory issues—especially in those who suffer from asthma and allergies. Air purifiers can help alleviate these negative health effects by removing contaminants from the air. Before you buy one, however, it’s a good idea to consider the following factors to ensure that you’re choosing the best air purifier for allergies.
How Do Air Purifiers Work?
The best air purifiers draw air through one or more filters, which trap the impurities before recirculating clean air back into the room. These machines work in a similar manner to masks worn by surgeons in the operating room: As the surgeons breathe, airborne particles become trapped on the inside surface of the mask, preventing germs from being transmitted from doctor to patient. Both the masks and air purifiers act as filters that allow air to pass through but blocks other damaging particles. Purifiers equipped with high-quality filters can better remove unwanted dust, animal dander, pollen, mold spores, and other pollutants from the air.
HEPA: Best Filter for Allergy Sufferers
Air purifiers with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters are most effective at removing the airborne irritants that plague allergy sufferers. These filters are certified to trap 99.97 percent of all particles of a certain length (0.3 microns or larger). Most pollutants are so microscopic that they can’t be seen by the human eye, so investing in a reliable filter is crucial. The downside of HEPA filters is their replacement cost, which runs anywhere from $25 to $100, depending on size. Some purifiers incorporate additional filters to trap larger particles before they reach the HEPA filter; buying a purifier with this design will help your HEPA filter last longer.
Additional Filtering Options
• Carbon filters can reduce the amount of some volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are gaseous particles often found in paint, varnish, cleaning products, carpeting, wood preservatives, and other common household items. These filters can also remove odors. But they, too, must be replaced every few months to maintain effectiveness. For best results, carbon filters should be included as part of the prefiltering system in units that also contain HEPA filters.
• Ozone-producing air cleaners claim to work by increasing oxygen molecules and activating negative ions to eliminate harmful airborne bacteria. The EPA has determined, however, that ozone is detrimental to the human respiratory system. For that reason, some health experts discourage the use of ozone-producing air cleaners and their use is often regulated.
• Ion-exchange technology and electrostatic technology can increase the effectiveness of filter-type air purifiers by attracting particles through static electricity and trapping them. When combined with HEPA filtering, these products can be quite effective. They require frequent cleaning, however, to keep them working well. After conducting extensive tests on air purifiers, Consumer Reports warned that some ion-exchange and electrostatic purifiers can emit ozone as a by-product of purifying the air. We recommend checking the purifier’s operating manual (or the information on the box) to ensure that a specific model does not emit ozone.
Choosing an Air Purifier That Meets Your Needs
When shopping for a purifier, consider the filter replacement cost as well as the machine’s initial price. An inexpensive unit that requires expensive replacement filters may not be a bargain. Air purifiers with HEPA filters range in price from around $100 for small units to upwards of $900 for high-capacity models with multiple filtering systems that treat large areas.
Air purifiers are tested and rated according to the Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) scale, which indicates the volume of air that a particular machine can clear of a given size of particle, as measured in cubic feet per minute. Ratings for pollen range from 25 to 450, 10 to 450 for tobacco smoke, and 10 to 400 for dust, with a higher rating correlating with greater efficiency. The purifier’s box and the owner’s manual should also indicate the machine’s air-cleaning capacity according to room size, meaning that it’s been tested and was effective in purifying the air in a room of a given area. For example, the Honeywell HPA300 we recommend below is CADR rated for spaces up to 465 square feet. Keep in mind, however, that dirty filters reduce an air purifier’s effectiveness. To increase the useful life of any HEPA filter, take additional steps to keep the air clean, such as vacuuming and dusting daily, banning indoor smoking, and limiting the use of candles.
Bells and Whistles
First-time air purifier shoppers may be surprised at the technology incorporated in even the less expensive models. Multiple speed settings, programmable day and night cycles, sealed systems for noise reduction, and remote controls are common features for many brands. Despite manufacturer’s claims, however, not all air purifiers perform at the same level. We’ve scouted reviews from consumers and publications alike to zero in on the today’s options for the best air purifier for allergies. Check out our leading contenders below.
Honeywell HPA300 ($175)
For the purifier’s exceptional ability to remove smoke, dust, and pollen, Consumer Reports recommends the Honeywell HPA300, which also won top honors for its large-capacity HEPA filter. More than 900 Amazon customers agree, awarding the Honeywell a strong 4.4 out of 5 stars. With an activated carbon prefilter, this economic model is rated for spaces up to 465 square feet, with CADR scores of 300 (tobacco smoke), 320 (dust), and 300 (pollen). Customers love the Honeywell HPA300’s electronic reminder system, which lets them know when to replace the filters. The machine comes with three regular purifying levels and a Turbo Clean level. A height of 13.2 inches and weight of 21 pounds makes the easy-to-relocate unit ideal for living rooms and other mid- to large-size spaces. Replacement filters run about $40 for a HEPA two-pack, and $10 for a single carbon filter. Available on Amazon.
Coway AP-1512HH Mighty Air Purifier ($223)
Thanks to its high performance, sleek appearance, and affordable filter replacement cost, the Coway AP-1512HH Mighty Air Purifier gets a big thumbs-up from Business Insider. Amazon buyers gave the Coway Mighty 4.4 stars and rave about the machine’s features, which include a filter replacement indicator and an air quality indicator that automatically switches the machine into different gears based on air particle conditions. Users also report that the unit’s four-stage filtration system successfully removes unpleasant household odors. Weighing in at 12.3 pounds and standing just 18 inches tall, this compact purifier has a CADR rating of 233 (smoke), 246 (dust), and 240 (pollen) in spaces up to 360 square feet, which means that this machine is best suited for small- to medium-size rooms. Filter replacement cost (for a package of two carbon prefilters and a single HEPA filter) runs about $50. Available on Amazon.
Winix 5500-2 Air Purifier with PlasmaWave Technology ($186)
Home Depot shoppers rave about the Winix 5500-2 Air Purifier with PlasmaWave Technology, awarding it a stellar rating of 4.7 stars. This model is also a top performer in extensive Sweethome testing, where it reduced particulate concentration in a room to just 10 percent of its original concentration after 20 minutes. The Winix 5500-2 employs a three-stage filtration process and comes with a HEPA Plus-4 filter that incorporates a built-in carbon prefilter. It’s also equipped with smart sensors that gauge air quality and PlasmaWave technology that breaks down chemical vapors without producing harmful ozone. The Winix has CADR scores of 232 (smoke), 243 (dust), and 246 (pollen), and features a sleep mode for near-silent night operation. At less than 15 inches high and weighing 18 pounds, the Winix is best suited for small- to mid-size rooms up to 360 square feet. A replacement HEPA Plus-4 filter runs about $45. Available on HomeDepot.com.