Wood-burning fireplaces, tobacco products, candles, cooking accidents, and other sources of smoke may be polluting your indoor air. Smoky air can irritate the eyes, sinuses, and throat, which might seem like only passing discomfort, but the effects add up. The main health threat from smoke is fine particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs. Extended exposure can lead to heart and lung diseases and possibly even premature death. An air purifier can help minimize adverse side effects and benefit your health.
Home air purifiers filter out fine particles of harmful smoke as well as dust, pollen, mold spores, and other unwanted pollutants. These appliances help relieve asthma and allergies and can reduce the spread of airborne bacteria and viruses. But not all are equally capable. The best air purifier for smoke uses high-efficiency particulate air filtration to remove the fine particles, and activated carbon filtration to remove odors. If you’re dealing with indoor smoke and need a way to clean the air, one of these units may be the answer.
- BEST OVERALL: Levoit Smart Wi-Fi Air Purifier LV-PUR131S
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Honeywell HPA030 Tower Air Purifier
- BEST SMART TECH: RabbitAir MinusA2 HEPA Air Purifier w/WiFi SPA-780N
- BEST FOR LARGE SPACES: Hathaspace Smart True HEPA Air Purifier HSP002
- BEST FOR SMALL ROOMS: Honeywell HPA020B Tabletop Air Purifier
- BEST FOR BEDROOMS: Bissell air320 Smart Air Purifier
- BEST FOR TRAVEL: Westinghouse 1804 Portable Air Purifier
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Air Purifier for Smoke
If you’ve never owned an air purifier, finding the best model for your home is much easier if you understand the technical features, as well as air and environmental ratings. There are numerous acronyms that can be somewhat confusing, but learning about them makes comparison shopping much simpler. Below you’ll read about the considerations we used to determine which units made our list.
The best home air purifiers use mechanical HEPA filtration to remove larger unwanted particles combined with activated carbon filtration, which targets smaller pollutants.
HEPA is a designation used to describe mechanical air filters that trap 99.97 percent of particles that are between 0.3 and 10 microns. This is the particle size most likely to escape filtration in non-HEPA systems, including pet dander, pollen, and dust mites. HEPA also removes the contaminants found in visible smoke including those emitted by wildfires, cigarette smoke, and cooking. It’s important to note that not all HEPA filters are created equal, since manufacturers can produce their own. Medical-grade HEPA filters are the most efficient.
HEPA filters are made from interwoven glass fibers that create a barrier maze. As air travels through the filter, particles are removed from circulation by either direct impact, sieving, interception, or diffusion. Washable HEPA filters should be cleaned with cold water once every 3 months. Be careful not to touch the filter material while washing, as the material is easily damaged when wet. It should be completely dry before reinstalling the filter into the purifier.
Some purifiers also contain prefilters that capture large particles in the air before reaching and clogging the filtration system. HEPA filters are more costly to replace than prefilters, so the inclusion of both saves money in the long run. Maintaining the prefilter involves monthly cleaning and replacing it if it gets damaged.
Activated carbon filters remove unwanted odors and VOCs (volatile organic compounds), which are commonly found in household products. These contaminants are removed by absorption and adsorption. The carbon filter chemically attracts the unwanted elements and traps them in interior pores (absorption) or on its textured surface (adsorption). Carbon filters should be replaced every 3 to 6 months, following manufacturer recommendations.
Air purifiers are labeled for specific room sizes, which are described in square feet. You can calculate square footage of a room by multiplying the length times the width. If you’d like to buy one air purifier to handle multiple rooms, add up the square footage for each room.
These machines are also labeled with a Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR). This value is influenced by filter efficiency and air flow in cubic feet per minute (CFM). The higher the CADR rating, the faster the unit can deliver clean air. CADR values can reach a maximum of 450 for smoke and pollen, while 400 is the highest score for dust.
While CADR is a standard for air purifier performance in the U.S., the values can be misleading for purifiers that contain filters other than standard HEPA filtration. Some manufacturers design air purifiers to circulate a lot of air at a faster rate, filtering only the larger contaminants. The CADR test does not take into account gases, odors, or VOCs, which are targeted by carbon filters.
Adding filter options reduces the air flow rate, and CADR only measures certain filtering capabilities, meaning it does not provide a full picture of how clean the air is. If gaseous contaminants are a health concern for you, CADR value should not be the only metric taken into account when choosing an air filter.
Another figure to keep in mind is the number of air changes per hour (ACH). This number shows how many times per hour the entire air volume of a room will be filtered. The rating may be shown for a different room size than the product’s “filters up to X square feet” statement, so be sure to read the fine print.
Energy Star is a joint program of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE). The program’s goal is to help customers, businesses, and industries save money and protect the environment using energy-efficient products and practices.
An Energy Star certification means that the unit uses less energy than standard products. These certified energy-efficient appliances usually have lower operating costs and create less air pollution than standard equipment. Look for the blue Energy Star logo to find certified products.
Air Quality Indicator
The Air Quality Index (AQI) is a national system managed by the EPA that is used to measure and report air quality. AQI is affected by five major pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act: particle pollution, ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide. A benefit of using a home air purifier is that it can improve the AQI inside the home.
AQI ranges from 0 to 500, with high values indicating greater air pollution levels. Good air quality conditions fall in the 0 to 50 range. Unhealthy values start at 100, indicating the air is a moderate health concern for sensitive groups including people with lung or heart disease, older adults, and children. Air is considered unhealthy for everyone if the AQI value is greater than 151, with the risks of adverse health effects increasing until conditions are deemed hazardous between 300 and 500.
If you live in an area associated with higher levels in air pollution, such as a city or town with industrial factories, power plants, or chemical facilities, awareness of AQI is especially important. Certain home air purifiers feature an air quality indicator, which typically uses an infrared beam and sensor to detect particulate matter. Some smart air purifiers are capable of automatically adjusting in response to higher or lower detected air quality levels.
Noise level can be an important factor when selecting an air purifier. Many air purifiers operate at about 60 decibels (dB), at about the same noise level as a normal conversation. Quiet air purifiers operate at a noise level below 55 decibels, making them a better alternative for bedrooms and home offices. There also are quiet models that operate at 25 dB or lower.
Various smart technologies help home air purifiers perform efficiently and maximize user control. Onboard air quality sensors can automatically adjust the output of the unit in response to the air quality in a home. Bluetooth connectivity, smart device apps, and compatibility with personal digital assistants allow you to monitor air quality conditions and control the unit while away from home.
Some air purifiers are designed for travel. When in a new environment, they can help you sleep better and reduce exposure to pollutants by using a small, portable air purifier. These devices perform the same function as larger devices but are sized for smaller rooms. If you need an air purifier for travel, you may want to look for a purifier with a minimum CADR of 217, suitable for an average hotel room size of about 325 square feet.
Different comfort and convenience features can make a good air purifier even better. Popular features include quiet operation, easy access for filter maintenance, dimensions that fit well in your home, caster wheels, handles, remote control, multiple speeds, and filter change indicators.
Filters need to be changed periodically, so it helps to have indicator lights that remind you when it’s time for a change. Changing a filter tends to be easier when filter covers and access points are located near the top or front of the machine and are fastened with magnets or sliding latches instead of screws.
Handles and caster wheels make it easier to move the machine when needed. Variable speed options allow you to increase or decrease filtration power in response to changing conditions, like when there’s a fire in the fireplace. Remote control ability using a smart device app makes it easier to adjust operation from other places in the home or away from home.
Our Top Picks
The Levoit Smart Wi-Fi Air Purifier LV-PUR131S offers proficient filtration capability and several convenient features. A cloth prefilter and HEPA filter remove larger pollutants like pet hair, dust, and pollen, while an activated carbon filter removes VOCs and harmful odors. Operating on Max Mode, this Levoit purifier cycles clean air in a 900-square-foot room once per hour, or every 15 minutes for a 500-square-foot room. For individuals with allergies, the Levoit functions best in rooms up to 350 square feet.
This Levoit purifier has three operating speeds and runs at a quiet 27 decibels on the lowest setting. An air quality sensor automatically adjusts the operating speed in response to higher or lower air particulate content. The Energy Star-rated unit works by voice command with the Vesync app via Alexa or Google Home Assistant. The Vesync app comes with over 10 advanced features including direct control, scheduled air purifying, air quality display, cleaning modes, and filter life.
The Honeywell HPA030 tower air purifier includes a HEPA filter that removes smoke, dust, mold spores, pollen, and other allergens. It features a Honeywell activated carbon prefilter that removes VOCs, gases, and odors. The device cleans the air in rooms up to 170 square feet, circulating purified air five times per hour.
This model is Energy Star certified and operates at four cleaning levels, with one-touch LED controls and an automatic filter replacement indicator. The cost of this Honeywell unit is significantly lower than many competitors with similar filtration ability.
The RabbitAir MinusA2 SPA-780N air purifier uses an advanced six-stage filtration system to remove larger particles, smoke, odors, and VOC pollution from the air. This model provides two air changes per hour in spaces up to 700 square feet. For those who suffer allergies, this unit functions well in rooms up to 350 square feet, with four air changes each hour. The sound range of 25.6 to 51.3 decibels is much quieter than most other air purifiers.
Air passes through a prefilter, medium filter, and HEPA filter to progressively trap larger particulates. A customized filter reduces airborne bacteria, viruses, mold spores, and other germs. Air continues through an activated charcoal filter to remove chemicals and VOCs, before finally passing through an ion generator to freshen the air. This smart air purifier has integrated particle sensors that respond to changing air quality by increasing or decreasing power as needed.
You can adjust the RabbitAir’s LED light display, mood light, and air quality indicator to give off more or less light, depending on what you prefer. Connect it to Wi-Fi and use the RabbitAir app to monitor and control the device remotely, or to set a daily air purifying schedule. Other useful features include a removable base mount for tabletop or wall-mount applications.
The Hathaspace Smart True HEPA Air Purifier boasts a 5-in-1 filtration system that targets pollen, dust, pet pander, mold, bacteria, VOCs, smoke, and odors. This unit includes a washable prefilter, polypropylene prefilter, H13 medical grade HEPA filter, activated carbon filter, and cold catalyst filter that together eliminate over 99% of allergens and pollutants down to 0.1 microns. This powerful Hathaspace purifier cleans air in a 1,500-square-foot room up to 24 times per day, with Energy Star, CARB, and ETL certifications for energy efficiency and safety.
Using the sleek touch panel, users can enable Auto Mode or a quiet Sleep Mode and choose from five operating speeds. The Hathaspace includes an air quality sensor based on AQI; when the device is on Auto Mode, this monitoring feature will automatically adjust the fan speed to meet air quality needs.
The small but mighty Honeywell HPA020B features a two-stage filtration to remove odors and particulates from the air. The activated carbon prefilter removes VOCs, gases, and odors, while the HEPA filter reduces concentrations of fine pollutants like smoke, mold, pollen, and certain bacteria. This compact tabletop device is suitable for small rooms up to 80 square feet, providing five air changes per hour.
Designed to sit on a table, desk, or shelf, this air purifier is sized for small spaces like walk-in closets, small bedrooms, or bathrooms. The Honeywell operates on three speeds and a replacement indicator shows when it’s time to change the filter.
The Bissell air320 uses three-stage filtration, including a cloth prefilter, HEPA filter, and activated carbon filter to remove smoke, VOCs, odors, dust, and other large contaminants from the air. This model can filter up to 1,000 square feet in one hour, with features that are particularly well suited for bedrooms. The smart purifier monitors the air quality to automatically adjust speed when pollutant levels change, maintaining air quality as you sleep.
The Bissell Smart Purifier includes five air cleaning settings and a pleasantly quiet operating range of 34 to 51 decibels, and an automated night mode dims the LEDs on the unit. The Bissell air220 includes elevated legs for easier cleaning beneath the unit, with convenient front panel filter access.
The Westinghouse 1804 Portable Air Purifier uses a combination of HEPA filtration and nano confined catalytic oxidation (NCCO) technology to remove and decompose airborne pollutants. Incoming air passes through an oxygen generator, HEPA filter, and NCCO reactor. In the patented NCCO process, activated oxygen particles and polluted air pass through a nano tunnel where transition metals vibrate the air, reducing pollutants to harmless materials that include carbon and water molecules.
This personal, portable air purifier is ideal for car, plane, and train travel, as well as compact spaces including bathrooms and small offices. It’s incredibly quiet and weighs only 2 pounds, with a leather strap for easy transport. The rechargeable lithium-ion battery provides 8 hours of run time per charge on low power.
The Advantages of Owning an Air Purifier
Indoor air pollutants like smoke can cause a range of acute symptoms and may lead to chronic illness after prolonged exposure. Some of these pollutants may be aired out by simply opening a window, but that isn’t always possible. Air purifiers improve indoor air quality overall, using a mechanical and chemical filtration to remove pollutants from the air.
- Air purifiers can eliminate pet hair, mildew, smoke, odors, and more.
- Air purifiers improve the quality of life for people dealing with asthma and allergies.
- Air purifiers can protect the health of vulnerable groups including older adults, young children, and individuals with heart or lung disease.
FAQs About Air Purifiers
If you still have questions about air purifiers, this section addresses some of the most common queries and their answers. Read on to learn more about the effectiveness of air purifiers for smoke removal.
Q. How do air purifiers work?
A typical filtration system includes a HEPA filter for larger particles including dust, pollen, pet dander, and other allergens. Some include an activated carbon filter for VOCs, gases, and odors. Additionally, certain air purifiers also include a fabric prefilter to trap larger particles before reaching and clogging the other filters.
Q. How well do air purifiers work for smoke?
This depends on the type, since smoke particles vary in type and size. The best air purifiers can effectively reduce particle concentration of visible smoke. For example, they decrease the amount of wildfire smoke in the air by up to 85 percent, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Q. Does a HEPA filter remove smoke?
Yes, though only some types of smoke. A HEPA filtration system is the best solution for smoke available in purifiers, but certain forms of smoke contain particles that pass through the filter. Smoke particles can be as small as 0.001 microns, while HEPA filters trap 99.97 percent of particles between 0.3 and 10 microns. HEPA filtration traps visible matter, such as smoke from wildfires, cigarettes, and burning food.