During wildfire season, lingering smoke creates dangerous air quality conditions. Wildfire smoke consists of harmful gases and fine particles from burning plants and other materials. These extremely small particles are a health concern because they can penetrate deep into the lungs. Reducing wildfire smoke exposure is critical—and that’s where air purifiers help.
Air purifiers help reduce airborne particle levels to improve indoor air quality. The best air purifiers for wildfire smoke use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to trap fine particulate matter.
- BEST OVERALL: Medify Air MA-40-W V2.0 Air Purifier with HEPA filter
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Honeywell HPA030 Tower Air Purifier
- BEST SMART TECH: RabbitAir MinusA2 Ultra Quiet HEPA Air Purifier
- BEST FOR LARGE ROOMS: Medify Air MA-112 V2.0 Air Purifier with HEPA filter
- BEST FOR SMALL ROOMS: Honeywell HPA020B Tabletop Air Purifier True HEPA
- BEST FOR BEDROOMS: Bissell Smart Purifier with HEPA and Carbon Filters
- BEST FOR TRAVEL: Westinghouse 1804 Portable Air Purifier with True HEPA Filter
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Air Purifier for Wildfire Smoke
Because of the possible health hazards of wildfire smoke, it’s important to choose your air purifier thoughtfully. Air purifiers are nearly essential during smoky seasons, but they are useful year-round to maintain good indoor air quality. Besides smoke, the best air purifiers filter a range of common pollutants and allergens like dust, pet dander, and pollen.
Technical features like filter type and coverage area are important considerations for an air purifier meant to stand up to wildfire smoke. Many of the best air purifiers also include smart features, air quality monitoring, and energy efficiency. Since air purifiers usually stay in the most lived-in rooms, the look and design might be important aspects, too.
HEPA filters are the gold standard of air filtration. HEPA filters trap 99.97 percent of particles with a size of 0.3 microns or larger. That includes a range of pollutants and allergens such as pollen, pet dander, dust mite waste, mold spores, and smoke.
HEPA filters last six to 12 months and then need to be replaced. Look for an air purifier that uses “true HEPA” or “HEPA” filters. Purifiers labeled “HEPA-type” or “HEPA-like” often don’t have a real HEPA filter at all. These types of filters don’t always meet U.S. Department of Energy standards, which requires 99.97 percent filtration of 0.3-micron particles.
Keep in mind that HEPA filters trap particles, not odors and gases. For filtering smoke, consider an added activated carbon filter. Activated carbon filters capture and hold airborne molecules like odors and gases on their surface. People use them to eliminate common home odors like pet odors and cooking smells. They may also capture some of the gaseous molecules found in wildfire smoke and reduce the strong odor of it.
Air purifiers filter air inside a closed room. It’s important to choose an air purifier that has a sufficient clean air delivery rate (CADR) for the room it will live in.
CADR is a measure of how much clean air a purifier delivers in cubic feet per minute. This is based on the efficiency of particle filtration (for example, from pollen, smoke, and dust particles) and not gas or odor filtration. The higher the CADR, the faster the purifier filters the air and the larger the room it can function in.
Choose an air purifier with a sufficient CADR for your space. Most manufacturers convert the CADR into a maximum recommended room size. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends a minimum CADR of 60 for small rooms of up to 100 square feet, 130 for rooms of 200 square feet, and 260 for rooms up to 400 square feet. CADR measures go as high as 400 for dust and 450 for pollen and smoke. However, only homes with open floor plans or very large rooms would need an air purifier that works that quickly.
If, for example, the air purifier will stay in a living room that’s open to the kitchen, dining room, and other common areas without doors between them, consider the square footage of the entire area or consider more than one air purifier.
Air purifiers should run around the clock to be most effective, especially in the face of wildfire smoke. An Energy Star-certified air purifier will help keep the operating and energy cost of 24-hour air purification to a minimum.
Energy Star-certified products meet EPA Energy Star energy efficiency guidelines. Air purifiers with this certification are up to 40 percent more energy efficient than standard purifiers.
Air Quality Indicator
Some air purifiers feature an air quality indicator to take real-time measurements using the air quality index (AQI) and give an idea of how healthy the surrounding air is.
AQI is a numerical value that ranges from 0 to 500 and applies to indoor or outdoor air. An AQI under 50 is considered healthy, while over 100 is considered poor. Heavy wildfire smoke tends to spike the AQI into unhealthy territory due to high levels of particulate matter. An AQI over 300 indicates dangerously unhealthy air.
A built-in air quality indicator may also chart changes in air quality throughout the day. Air purifiers may have automatic modes that adjust settings in response to real-time air quality.
Air purifiers use a fan to draw air in, which means they make noise while in use. Noise levels might be a concern particularly for air purifiers in bedrooms and living rooms. An air purifier’s noise level depends on the model and the fan setting. A higher fan setting will be louder. Some air purifiers display a noise rating in decibels, so buyers can make an informed decision.
Many purifiers also have a sleep or night mode setting, which quiets the machine down to 20 to 30 decibels. To put that noise level into perspective, the hum of a refrigerator is around 40 decibels. On the louder end of the spectrum, some air purifiers run at around 60 decibels or more, which is comparable to the volume of a normal conversation.
One way to reduce noise is to choose an air purifier certified for a larger room than needed so the purifier can filter the air in a smaller space at a lower setting.
Smart technology features maximize user control. Some air purifiers have air quality indicators that trigger automatic programs when the AQI reaches a certain level.
Features like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity allow for remote control. With smartphone apps, users adjust fan speed, timers, and other settings remotely. Apps may also provide remote readings of air quality and filter status.
Some purifiers pair with AI virtual assistants like Alexa and Google Home to give users voice control of the appliance.
Air purifiers are available in a range of sizes, from small travel models to large floor units. Travel air purifiers, which may be cordless, are small and light enough to stow in a suitcase.
Desktop units are relatively lightweight for easy transport to the office. Given how much time people spend there, the workplace may expose people to as much smoke as the home during wildfire season. A desktop air purifier will help.
Some purifiers include rolling casters and handles to help move them from room to room if needed. Heavier models should live in the most-used rooms, like the bedroom, living room, and kitchen.
Additional features add to the convenience of a good air purifier. A dimmable display, for example, is great for overnight air purification in a dark bedroom. Variable fan speed options adjust to room size and may cut down on noise. Remote controls, scheduling and timer options, and easy-access filter hatches all streamline use of these machines.
Many air purifiers have multistep filtration systems. A prefilter is a convenient and cost-saving feature. Prefilters filter out large particles to prevent them from clogging finer HEPA filters. This extends the life of the HEPA filter. Some air purifiers have a washable, permanent prefilter, which cuts down on replacement costs. An activated carbon filter is another optional filtration step. Activated carbon catches gas and odor pollutants present in wildfire smoke that HEPA filters don’t pick up.
Also consider the frequency and cost of replacing filters. HEPA filters need occasional replacement. A good filter is especially important for smoke. Another useful feature is a filter indicator light, which is a helpful reminder for when it’s time for a filter change.
When shopping for an air purifier, consider choosing an ozone-free option. Ozone generators and ionic air purifiers may produce ozone gas, which the EPA considers a lung irritant. For air purifiers that will become a fixture in living rooms or bedrooms, the look of the machine might be an important consideration, too.
Our Top Picks
In the face of wildfire smoke, an air purifier needs a fine enough filter to trap smoke particulates. The best air purifiers for wildfire smoke use HEPA filtration for cleaner air. Air purifiers should run around the clock and are usually in living spaces, so energy efficiency and design are two more factors to consider. Lastly, make sure to choose an air purifier with a CADR sufficient for your home. These top picks take these factors into consideration.
Medify Air’s efficient air purifier has a three-stage, all-in-one filtering system. The prefilter, H13 HEPA filter, and carbon layer are in one easy-to-change piece. An H13 HEPA filter is a higher grade filter that takes filtration up a small notch over standard true HEPA filters.
This Energy Star-certified unit cycles the air in a 420-square-foot room four times an hour and once an hour in a 1,600-square-foot room. The stylish glass display includes controls for the three fan speeds, night-mode setting, timer, child lock, and the optional ionizer.
The optional ionizer uses electrically charged molecules to remove contaminants from the air, which may create some ozone by-product, a gas that could irritate the lungs. Those who are concerned about ozone can switch the ionizer off. But, bear in mind, this air purifier is CARB (California Air Resources Board) certified, which means it meets CARB’s acceptable ozone emission limits.
Honeywell’s affordable tower air purifier has a small footprint and a simple, slim design. The tower-style air purifier has a true HEPA filter to capture small particles, including smoke particulate. It also has an activated carbon prefilter for gases and odors.
The one-touch LED control panel includes settings for the four air-cleaning levels and indicates when it’s time to change filters.
This unit, which is appropriate for small rooms, filters the air up to five times an hour in rooms up to 170 square feet. It’s a simple and effective air purifier at an affordable price.
RabbitAir’s smart air purifier is both functional and versatile. Wi-Fi connectivity allows control from anywhere through the RabbitAir app. Users can monitor real-time air quality and control a range of features, including timers and the dimmable LED display and mood light from their smartphone.
Instead of a true HEPA filter, the RabbitAir uses a BioGS HEPA filter. According to the manufacturer, it traps 99.97 percent of 0.3-micron particles just like a true HEPA filter. The six-step filtration includes prefilters, a BioGS HEPA filter, an activated carbon filter, and an optional ionizer.
The sleek unit sits on a desk or the floor or mounts to a wall to maximize space. It’s recommended for rooms of up to 815 square feet. It provides up to four air changes per hour in rooms up to 350 square feet, and two air changes in 700-square-foot rooms.
The Energy Star-certified unit features powerful fans, dual air intake, and an oversize air chamber. This design allows it to draw in large quantities of air to filter bigger rooms quickly and efficiently. In rooms of up to 1,250 square feet, it will purify the air four times an hour. It can filter the air in a 3,700-square-foot room once an hour.
The touch screen display panel controls four fan speeds, a sleep setting, a timer, and a child lock feature. An optional CARB-certified ionizer meets acceptable ozone emission limits. The powerful and sleek design is ideal for most spaces, from large living rooms to open floor plans. Hidden wheels make it easy to move from room to room.
This desktop air purifier from Honeywell is a compact but powerful unit for small rooms.
The true HEPA filter cycles the air up to five times an hour in rooms up to 80 square feet. The three-step filter includes a prefilter, a true HEPA filter for particles, and an activated carbon layer for odors. A light indicates when it’s time to replace.
Honeywell’s tabletop model measures 12.1 inches by 8.5 inches by 11.2 inches for a nice fit on side tables, desks, and shelves. It’s a great pick for small bedrooms or offices, and it’s a cinch to store if it’s not needed year-round.
The Bissell Smart Purifier looks like a stylish furniture piece; its four legs and rounded corners give it a midcentury modern aesthetic. The soft-touch dial is easy to use and doesn’t detract from this machine’s sleek design, so it won’t be an eyesore in a bedroom. The easy-access front filter hatch and discreet cord wrap add function to its attractive form.
A prefilter, true HEPA filter, and activated carbon filter keep the air clean and odor-free. A color-coded air quality indicator monitors and responds to air quality in the room in real time. When the air quality drops, the fan speed adjusts accordingly. This unit has five speeds, including a quiet mode and auto-dimming display for nighttime.
The Smart Purifier is recommended for rooms under 800 square feet. However, since it only circulates air once an hour in a room that size, it will do better in smaller rooms.
Weighing in at only two pounds, this compact portable air purifier is well suited for travel. It measures 6.3 inches by 6.3 inches by 3.5 inches and has a stylish leather carrying handle. The rechargeable battery lasts for eight hours on a single charge, so there’s no cord to worry about.
Despite its small size, this purifier has a three-stage filtering system, which includes an oxygen generator, true HEPA filter, and NCCO reactor. The NCCO feature uses active oxygen to destroy pollutants like bacteria and viruses.
Two fan speeds provide efficient filtration in spaces under 100 square feet, such as cars, sleeper cars, and hotel rooms.
FAQs About Air Purifiers for Wildfire Smoke
Escaping air pollution is tough when nearby wildfires burn. To stay healthy and avoid inhaling harmful smoke, it’s best to stay indoors. Indoor air purifiers help create even cleaner and healthier air. They are also useful year-round for allergy sufferers and pet owners. Air purifiers are simple to use and maintain. Here are some frequently asked questions about these useful devices.
Q. How do air purifiers work?
A fan sucks air into the air purifier, forcing it through a purifying filter that removes contaminants. The cleaner air is then pushed back out into the room.
Q. Does a HEPA filter remove smoke?
HEPA filters trap 99.97 percent of particles that are 0.3 microns in size and larger. The concerning particles in wildfire smoke are around 2.5 microns size or smaller, so HEPA filters capture them.
Q. How well do air purifiers work for smoke?
This depends on the type of filter. HEPA filtration is the most effective and reduces particle concentration of wildfire smoke by up to 85 percent, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.