The Best Air Purifier

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It took more than 100 hours of research and testing—conducted by an airborne-particle physicist and former NOAA scientist using $100,000-plus of equipment—to find the best air purifier for most people: the $250 Coway AP-1512HH Mighty. If you’re primarily concerned about common particle allergens such as pollen, mold, or dander, the Coway offers the best value compared with the competition. According to our tests, it’s as effective at removing particulate pollution from the air as machines that are more than twice its size and cost twice as much. If you turn it on when you enter a bedroom/home office, it will remove virtually all airborne particles within a half hour and keep it that way until you turn it off.

Last Updated: July 15, 2016
After a second intensive round of lab tests, our top pick for air purifiers is unchanged: The Coway AP-1512HH Mighty is the best for most people. It’s among the highest-performing and least-expensive HEPA-rated purifiers available, and is the least expensive to run and maintain for five years. Crucially, it also maintained its exceptional performance over the two years we’ve used it, exhibiting no falloff in particle filtration even while using the original filters. Our new runner-up is the Winix 5500-2, which performs similarly to our previous runner-up, the to-be-discontinued Winix 6300. For large spaces and/or people with acute sensitivity to particulate pollution, we have a new pick: the Coway Airmega 300. It replaces the Blue Air 503, whose performance dropped off precipitously over two years of use. For those with chemical sensitivity, our pick remains the Austin Air Healthmate Standard HM-400: Its 15-pound activated-carbon filter removes odors and VOCs better than any purifier we’ve tested. Finally, while “smart” purifiers are increasingly available, we’re not yet convinced they’re worth the price premium. Air purifiers are “always-on” and self-monitoring; there’s little need to monitor or control them from afar.
Expand Most Recent Updates
March 22, 2016: Thanks to a reader inquiry, we discovered an error in our guide. Our pick does not come with an extra carbon odor filter. We’ve updated the guide to reflect this.
March 16, 2016: Not content with lightbulbs, thermostats and locks, the Internet of Things revolution is looking to transform air purifiers as well. If you’ve ever been at work and become frustrated that you can’t check to see what the air quality is like at your house, this could be your year. We’ve added our notes about some of these new “smart” air purifiers below.
June 23, 2015: Both our main pick and runner-up choice are back in stock.
April 27, 2015: Our main pick and runner-up choice are both currently out of stock. If you need a new air purifier right away, we recommend you check out the Sharp Plasmacluster FP-A80U Air Purifier ($237) and Winix WAC5500 ($177). More details below.
April 1, 2015: Dyson announced it would add HEPA filters to its bladeless fan, the Pure Cool, enabling it to also act as an air purifier. The new Pure Cool will be available in China and Japan in April, but its availability (and price) in the U.S. and elsewhere is unknown right now. See the What to Look Forward to section for more detail.
Coway AP-1512HH Mighty
For most allergy sufferers, the Coway AP-1512HH Mighty is exceptionally effective at removing particles from the air—in our tests, it did better than some that cost twice as much. It’s also extremely quiet and has the lowest operating costs of all the machines we looked at.

What’s more, the Coway has the lowest filter replacement costs of any of the units we looked at, meaning it will cost you less to maintain over time. It’s energy-efficient, too—using barely more electricity than an LED lightbulb under normal usage settings. The Conway doesn’t do much for odors, but you’d have to spend about twice as much to get anything that’s truly effective in that regard.

Also Great

*At the time of publishing, the price was $200.

Winix PlasmaWave 6300
It's similar in performance and value to our top pick, but slightly noisier and has slightly higher operating costs. Also, some features are accessible only via remote, which can be lost.
If the Coway is unavailable, the Winix PlasmaWave 6300 Air Purifier is a close runner-up in terms of performance against common particle irritants. The Winix costs slightly less to buy up front (about $200 versus the Coway’s $250), but it is a bit less energy-efficient and uses slightly more expensive filters. This means it will end up costing more in the long run after just a couple years’ worth of filter changes.

If the Coway and the Winix 6300 are out of stock and you need a new air purifier right away, we have recommendations below.

While most people don’t need cleaner air beyond what the Coway (or Winix) offers, those who need something that works faster because the door is constantly opening and closing, or who are sensitive to chemicals will need more than the Coway can deliver. This is why we have a few other recommendations to cover the vast majority of at-home use cases, including picks for those with more severe allergies and those with chemical/odor sensitivity issues.

Also Great
Blueair 503
The Blueair 503 filters out particles at a faster rate than any other machine (great for rooms where doors and windows are constantly opening) and is extremely quiet. However, it costs about five times as much as our top pick over five years.
If you have severe allergies to particle allergens or other health issues related to air quality, or you’re willing to pay a premium for a machine that can be extremely efficient while running quietly, we recommend our step up pick, the $660 Blueair 503 with the $160 SmokeStop filter package. It uses an electrostatic charging process that allows more air to flow through the filter while creating less noise—that means you can run it at higher speeds without filling your entire home with the whir of a fan.

In our noise-limited tests, it removed more than 90% of the particles from our bedroom-sized testing area in 10 minutes—that’s over 10% more than the next best purifier and over 60% more effective than the control. This makes it a good choice for areas where you might expect lots of air to be exchanging (e.g., any room that includes a high-traffic door or window to the outside). Meanwhile, the SmokeStop filter’s 4.2 lbs. of activated charcoal reduces odors and some potentially harmful gases almost as well as the far more expensive IQAir HealthPro Plus, while costing about $109 less per year to operate (including filter replacement and electricity cost estimates).

Also Great
Austin Air HealthMate Standard HM-400
It contains 15 lbs. of chemical sorbents, which helps it remove odors, chemicals, and other molecular pollutants more effectively than any other purifier. It’s great for those who live by highways, factories, farms, and other problematic environments.
While the Coway and Winix were both great at removing particles, they did very little to reduce odors (though that’s the same across the board for air purifiers costing less than $400). The Blueair, with its charcoal packet, fared a bit better. However, if you live in a problematic environment with microscopic chemical pollutants (e.g., a freeway, non-organic farm, chemical/power plant, or refinery), or are particularly sensitive to odors and/or other volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde, we recommend the $530 Austin Air HealthMate Standard HM-400.

In our tests for odor removal, its 15 lbs. of activated carbon bested all other air purifiers by a wide margin. Its exceptional performance in this area is a big part of why FEMA and the Red Cross chose Austin Air units for deployment at Ground Zero and the surrounding areas in the aftermath of 9/11. Its annual operating cost of $283 also makes it by far the cheapest high-end purifier to run. This is due to a filter that’s designed to be replaced every five years instead of annually. It’s worth noting that when running the fan at comfortable sound levels, the Austin Air was less efficient than all other models at removing particles from the environment. But a little extra background noise isn’t too much to ask if serious health concerns over pollutants are an issue.

Table of Contents

What you should know before buying (and reading on)

Before you jump in, know that effective air purifiers are expensive to both purchase and operate. And despite the prolific marketing to the contrary, scientific studies do not support claims that they improve your health. We cover this in greater detail below in What is purified air anyway? and Who should buy this? Granted, we were not in a position to perform health studies, but we were able to evaluate the air purifiers’ effectiveness at removing particulate matter and odors.

The instruments we used to test these machines are capable of detecting particles as small as 0.010 micron, which is far below the threshold of civilian equipment and the 0.3 micron threshold tested for the HEPA standard. We also conducted a first-of-its-kind odor-control test using a VOC meter. No expense was spared to bring you the most comprehensive review of air purifiers to date. 

The downside to all this comprehensive testing is that there’s a whole lot of information to parse. For those who are interested, we lay it all out in How we tested, which includes our procedures, methods, and results, complete with tables and graphs. If you’re not interested in the nitty-gritty, feel free to skip to Our pick (and the subsequent Also Great sections) to read about why we chose the picks that we did.

What do I know about air purifiers?

My name is John Holecek, MS, and I’ve been involved in researching airborne particles since 1999. I’ve studied atmospheric particles in locations ranging from the Continental US, to the Arctic, to the remote island nation of the Maldives. These field campaigns were government-sponsored research programs aiming to improve our understanding of Earth’s climate in part by determining the sources, transport, and fate of particles. I’ve also led research to develop aerosol particles with specific optical properties capable of producing a thick smoke cloud that would protect soldiers from sensors and threats.

I’m well versed in sources of particulates and the physics behind the mechanisms of removal. My latest research project was as a principal investigator to develop a more comfortable and effective personal respirator. This ultra-low pressure drop filtration device incorporated innovative high aspect ratio nanoscale fibers to trap particles with minimal pressure drop due to the fibers themselves.

What is purified air anyway?

In short, purified air is just air, minus all the particulate components (i.e., dust, pollen, ash, dander).

Modern air purifiers are not complicated, but they are very good at their job, which is removing particulate matter from the air. The mechanical purification process for most purifiers involves using a fan to force dirty air through a filter array in order to trap all the particulates while letting the air itself flow out back into the room. (There are other methods,1 but mechanical filtration is the most cost effective and efficient.) Once all the air has been purified, you’re left with mostly “pure” air. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s clean or safe air.

For example, it could still contain harmful gases like radon, or volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as formaldehyde. Some purifiers come with equipment that can adsorb (the gaseous equivalent of absorbing liquids) odors and other gases, but this is never 100% efficient. Air purifiers also can’t do anything about contaminants not in the air. Many allergens—mites and some mold spores, for example—are larger particles that sink rapidly once airborne, remaining in the environment even after the air has been purified. 

That being said, purifying your air certainly won’t hurt. Air quality is very important to our health and well-being. Degraded air quality from particulate matter is a serious issue in the US and around the world. Elevated levels of particulate matter (PM) are a known cause of acute respiratory issues, aggravated asthma, chronic bronchitis, and even premature death—particularly in the elderly, those already suffering from heart and lung conditions, asthmatics, and children. Fine particles—those less than 2.5 microns in size—are particularly dangerous because they can reach the deepest recesses of the lungs. Air pollution from US combustion emissions alone results in 200,000 premature deaths a year—more than half of these are attributable to PM from road transportation and power generation, according to a 2013 MIT study. Indoor air quality is important as well, as the average person spends 87% of his or her time indoors. But those are all statistics. Whether air purification will actually have any benefits for you personally is a more difficult question to answer.

Will an air purifier improve my health?

As of this writing, there’s no conclusive evidence that purifying your air will lead to any tangible health benefits, but that’s not an indictment of air purifiers themselves. The short answer to a complex question is that the human body is an extremely complicated system, and it’s really difficult to tell how changing one factor in a complicated environment affects its overall well-being. Indeed, the only real way to determine if this will help you personally is to get one, run it for a while, and decide for yourself. Hopefully, you can get a satisfactory answer before the return policy is up.

Who should buy this?

Air purifiers can help when it comes to creating breathable air, but they can do only so much. As the EPA says, “The best way to address residential indoor air pollution usually is to control or eliminate the source of the pollutants and to ventilate the home with clean outdoor air.”

That means: Don’t smoke indoors, eliminate cheap pressboard furniture that leaks formaldehyde, vacuum and dust regularly, keep your pets outside when possible, and test for radon gas. These measures alone should be enough to ease many people’s symptoms, but they’re insufficient if you don’t have clean outdoor air to begin with.

The one kind of person who should definitely try an air purifier is someone who is sensitive to air quality and does not have access to clean outdoor air.

The one kind of person who should definitely try an air purifier is someone who is sensitive to air quality and does not have access to clean outdoor air. Basically, if you have any kind of respiratory affliction (whether that’s asthma, allergies, or something else) and live or work on or near busy roads, factories, power plants, or any other major source of pollutants (or if your allergies are caused by outdoor airborne allergens like pollen), you should definitely give an air purifier a try.

But make sure you get the model that fits your needs as outlined in the introduction above and the pick sections below (certain models handle different pollutants better than others). Similarly, if you’ve already taken all the steps to eliminate sources of air pollution and are still struggling with air quality, you should try out one.

For just about everyone else, it’s a matter of personal preference—if having one gives you peace of mind, by all means get one, but remember that they are not magical devices.

For this guide, we focused on portable air purifiers, which is basically a blanket term for anything not installed directly into your home HVAC system. If instead you want to protect your entire building from airborne chemical, biological, or radiological attacks, check out this report from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

This means they can be moved from room to room as needed. But since most of your time at home (assuming you don’t work from home) will be spent sleeping, we focused primarily on finding something that would cover a bedroom-sized space with flexibility to cover larger rooms as well. More coverage costs a lot more money, and there’s no reason to pay extra for it unless you need it.

If you’ve lived your whole life without an air purifier and haven’t had any issues so far, you’ll probably be fine without one.

As for who shouldn’t get one, if you’ve lived your whole life without an air purifier and haven’t had any issues so far, you’ll probably be fine without one. They are expensive to purchase and even more expensive to operate. Also, you should not expect it to help with easing allergy symptoms if airborne allergens aren’t your concern. If you’re allergic to dust mites, for example, you’d be better served by hypoallergenic bedding than an air purifier. Finally, while one study showed that having air purifiers slightly improved the health of asthmatic children who live with smokers, that does not mean that you can smoke around your kids or pets and not cause any harm. (Again, removing sources of pollution whenever possible is more effective than trying to clean them out after they’ve already been introduced.)

How we picked what to test

There are hundreds of air purifiers to choose from at price points as low as $20 to over $1,000. Our ultimate goal was to find the few that offered the most effective filtration for the least money, while still being quiet and easy to operate.

Particle filtration

We decided to focus on mechanical air purifiers that could remove both particles and gaseous odors by using a fan to force air through a physical particle filter and sometimes a chemical filter as well. It’s simple, but it works, which is why mechanical filtration is recommended by just about every authority on the subject, including Achoo Allergy, Allergy Buyers Club,2 Consumer Reports, and Air-Purifier-Power, to name a few. There are other technologies of varying efficacy, but as of this writing, they’re unproven at best.3

Beware of the very commonly marketed substandard filters described as “HEPA type,” which are not true HEPA filters.

The particle filter must be rated as a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter, which removes greater than 99.97% of the 0.3 micron test particles. Instead of just being a mesh that traps large particles, which would clog quickly, HEPA filters have a thick layer of very thin fibers that moving particles collide with, while allowing air to pass through. (You can read about size-dependent particle filtration efficiency in this overview of particle filtration.) Beware of the very commonly marketed substandard filters described as “HEPA type,” which are not true HEPA filters.

Chemical filtration

The higher end machines we looked at also had chemical sorbent filters, often made from activated carbon or zeolite, both of which are very high-surface-area materials for adsorbing odors, VOCs, and some gases. These work by physically adsorbing odors—similar to flies on fly paper.4 When it comes to the amount of sorbent, more is better because the bigger sorbent filter has a larger capacity to capture and store the VOCs before becoming saturated and releasing them instead. In other words, once a filter is saturated, it not only stops removing the odors/VOCs, but also can actually become a source of these harmful pollutants.

Models surveyed

We surveyed more than a hundred models, from Amazon best seller list, big-box stores (Best Buy, Home Depot), Consumer Reports, specialty air purifier sites catering to allergy or asthma customers, such as Allergy Buyers Club, Achoo Allergy, and whichever review sites we could find that had decent information and methodology. These included the hidden gems Air Purifier Power, written by Edgar V. Sherbenou, and Air Purifier Review, which has one of the cleanest and easy to use websites with surprisingly informative content.

Testing standards

Unfortunately, there are no federal health standards for air purifier performance and the measures that do exist are limited in scope and utility to the average customer. The closest thing we have to a standardized performance figure is the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers’ (AHAM) somewhat problematic clean air delivery rate (CADR), which according to them is the “volume of filtered air delivered by an air cleaner. The higher the tobacco smoke, pollen and dust numbers, the faster the unit filters the air.” Another way of saying it is that an air purifier with a CADR rating of 200 can reduce the particle concentration the same amount as adding 200 cubic feet per minute (CFM) of clean air to the room. Typically, a midsize home unit will score about 150 to 200. The upper limit of the test is 400, but you can’t get that high without being super loud and windy, which won’t work for most people.

We wanted units that could achieve more air changes per given unit of time without being too loud.

One common mistake people make when shopping for an air purifier is selecting a model that is too small for the designated space. The result of this choice is that the purifier is either run on high, producing an obnoxious amount of noise, or set to a quieter speed that does not move enough air. We wanted units that could achieve more air changes per given unit of time without being too loud, so we focused on purifiers purifiers in the $200 to $350 range.5

On the surface, this appears to be a pretty good test for efficiency, but that’s only one part of what makes a good air purifier. Even if you set aside noise levels and energy efficiency, CADR isn’t even all that helpful for comparing air filtering capabilities. For one, it tests units only during the first few minutes of operation, which is not indicative of real world usage since these things are meant to run 24/7 in the background. There’s also no information about odor removal abilities.

Finally, and perhaps most important, it does not describe filtration of the very important very small particles that are linked to adverse health effects. Perhaps the best single example of the flaws in CADR is the fact that the IQAir (were it to be tested) would score under 300. But this is due to the fact that it uses a very thick, multistage filter array that’s a bit slower, but is actually more efficient at removing particles and especially odors in the long run. The added filters increase surface area and reduce clogging of the HEPA filter, lowering the CADR score, but leading to more consistent airflow rates over the long haul. Basically, a higher CADR score is not necessarily indicative of better performance.

That being said, the CADR is still the only standard we have as a point of comparison. And while an unusually high score doesn’t mean that a unit is necessarily good, an exceptionally low score can indicate that a particular unit is not powerful enough. You’ll want a CADR of 200 or greater in order to provide the recommended five air changes per hour in a typical 100-  to 200-square-foot bedroom.6 This will give you about 10 air exchanges per hour on high, enough extra capacity to still be very effective when run on a slower and quieter fan setting.

Technologies to avoid

Ozone-generating components, such as ion generators are best avoided, as even low levels of ozone can be harmful. California Air Resources Board (CARB)-approved models emit less than 50 parts per billion (ppb), but even that level may irritate sensitive people. Therefore, we included only those models with ion generators that had a switch for this feature.

We also passed on promising, but less well-established technologies, including photocatalytic oxidation (PCO), and ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI), which is ill-suited for use in a portable air purifier—the air passing through a purifier would not be exposed for long enough to have any significant effects on air quality.

Tested models

You’re much better off spending a little bit more up front to get a unit that will run efficiently and quietly for years to come.

From our list of more than a hundred purifiers, we came up with 10 contenders that use a HEPA filter, have a CADR (dust) of greater than 200, and have no ozone-generating components.

As far as pricing goes, a straw poll with our readers indicated that most people would prefer to spend less than $200 up front, but our research showed that it’s impossible to get something in that price range that you’ll want to live with. We found that you’ll need to spend at least $200 to get a quality air purifier. Cheaper purifiers are either too loud, too ineffective, or too cost-inefficient in the long run. You’re much better off spending a little bit more up front to get a unit that will run efficiently and quietly for years to come. In the end, we found 10 testing candidates:

All the purifiers we tested

All the purifiers we tested.

These models range from the least expensive Honeywell 50250-S ($116) to the most expensive IQAir ($899). While our focus was on the relatively affordable models in the $200 to $500 range, we also included three highly recommended premium models ($539-899) to see how cheaper models would stack up against them. These were the venerable Austin Air, Consumer Reports’ top pick Blueair, and the gold standard IQAir.

Seven of the air purifiers made it past the visual inspection and sound test (see below) and were evaluated for their ability to filter particles and odors. The Holmes, Whirlpool, and Honeywell, however, were tossed out of contention because all three had flaws that would have prevented them from becoming the pick, even if they had done well in testing.

How we tested

We go into all the detail you’d ever want below, but here’s the summary. For starters, all the units we tested were very effective at removing even the smallest detectable particulates from the air—it doesn’t matter if you’re paying $200 or $1,000, they all work about the same. While some were more efficient than others in the short run, after just an hour of running on high, all were able to bring particle counts down to virtually zero (less than 1% of the initial particle count).

What sets the $500-plus machines apart is their ability to adsorb VOCs (an analog for odors) more effectively.

What sets the $500-plus machines apart is their ability to adsorb VOCs (an analog for odors) more effectively. That effectiveness is entirely dependent on how much adsorption material is found in the filter array. The more, the better, but also the more you have to pay when it comes time to replace (the Austin Air is an exception).

The total calculated cost of ownership is perhaps the most telling tidbit of data we found. If all the machines are relatively similar in air purification capabilities (VOCs aside), then why pay more for a higher end model? Well, you shouldn’t unless you are particularly sensitive to chemicals and odors and need the added protection.

While it’s often the case that spending more up front will lead to savings in the long run, this is not always the case with air purifiers. It’s true to a point; for example, the $250 Coway uses 90% less energy and has 50% cheaper filter costs compared with the $125 Honeywell 50250-S. But if you spend much more than that, you’re actually going to end up paying more in the long run. For example, the IQAir costs about three and a half times as much as the Coway up front and nearly six times as much as the Coway over the course of five years. The gap actually gets wider as time goes on because these advanced purifiers rely on more complex and expensive filters that need to be replaced. This trend is consistent for the higher end purifiers that have meaningful odor-reducing filters.

Sound levels

Air purifiers need to be running in order to purify the air, so one of the first things we looked at was the noise level while running. We measured the noise (technically it’s called the sound pressure level) at every fan speed using the following method:

Sound pressure levels of each unit were measured at a distance of 1 meter away and 0.5 meter above the ground. Measurements were taken with an iPhone 5S running a NoiSee app, one of the top recommended apps in a survey of 192 apps by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) where it came within +/-2 dB(A), or A-weighted decibels, of reference measurements. That’s plenty accurate for our purposes.

A noise level of 55 dB(A), about the highest that would not interfere with normal conversation (60 dB(A) was used as a selection criteria. The Honeywell 50250 was tossed out because it exceeded this at the lowest fan setting, 56 dB(A). The other models did not exceed 55 dB(A) even at the highest fan level.) For reference, a quiet office is 40 dB(A), moderate rainfall is 50 dB(A), and normal conversation is around 60 dB(A).

Model Noise range (dB) Speed tested Noise level as tested (dB)
Austin HealthMate Standard HM400 50-69 1/3 50.2
Blueair 503 33-67 3/4 52.1
Coway AP-1512HH Mighty 33-64 2/4 50.9
Holmes-HAP756-U 48-61 n/a n/a
Honeywell 50250-S 56-68 n/a n/a
IQAir® New Edition HealthPro® Plus 36-65 3/6 51.5
Rabbit Air MinusA2 SPA-700A 31-58 4/5 53.1
Sharp Plasmacluster FP-A80U Air Purifier 30-65 2/3 49.6
Whirlpool-Whispure-Purifier-Cleaner-AP51030K 47-60 n/a n/a
Winix PlasmaWave 6300 Air Purifier 32-65 2/4 48.7

 Table 1. Results of sound testing, including the noise range, speed used for subsequent testing/total number of speeds available, and noise level at tested speed.

Particle removal

Seven air purifiers that passed the initial review were tested for their effectiveness in removing particles and odors in a test office measuring 10 by 13 by 8 feet tall. This gave us a 130-square-foot test area, corresponding to a midsize to small bedroom.

Drawing on my 12 years of experience measuring airborne particles, three materials were selected to produce a dirty, particle-filled room. Combustion from two Diamond safety matches produced small smoke particles (0.010-0.300 micron); 5 milligrams of a white, powdered titanium dioxide, commonly used to provide the white pigment in plastics and paints, was used to generate midsize particles (0.3-1 micron); and 25 milligrams of a brown powder, an ISO dust sample, was used  for the 1-20 micron particles.

Our “contaminants” starting at top going clockwise: matches, titanium dioxide, ISO dust sample

Our contaminants (from top clockwise) were matches, titanium dioxide, and an ISO dust sample.

 After measuring the background levels of fine and coarse particles, I donned a 3M N95 particulate mask, safety glasses, and ear protection. I lit and burned two matches, then launched the two powders using a high flow of compressed nitrogen gas through a custom venturi nozzle, similar to a carburetor, but on a larger scale. 

The venturi nozzle used to disperse the particles

I used a venturi nozzle to disperse the particles.

Particle counts, as measured with professional grade equipment used for atmospheric research (TSI Inc. 3080/3010 Scanning Mobility Particle Sizer and 3321 Aerodynamic Particle Sizer), leaped a hundred fold from clean background levels of 500 particles per cubic centimeter (#/cm^3) to 50,000 for smaller combustion particles and from 10 to 1,000/cm^3 for the larger titanium dioxide and dust particles. The particles were too small to detect by eye, so no visible change was seen, though I could smell the smoke from the matches. After launching, I started the air purifier and quickly left the room.

The TSI Inc. 3080/3010 Scanning Mobility Particle Sizer and 3321 Aerodynamic Particle Sizer hooked up to my laptop

The TSI Inc. 3080/3010 Scanning Mobility Particle Sizer and 3321 Aerodynamic Particle Sizer were hooked up to my laptop.

To quantify and compare the effectiveness of the air purifiers, the particle concentration after 10 minutes was compared with that of the initial reading. Trials were repeated three times, and the results averaged.

The resulting data is similar to what you would get from a CADR score, but more useful in two important aspects: We were able to measure the machines’ efficiency at removing much smaller particles (which are the really harmful kind), and it accounts for noise levels so that a really fast but unbearably loud machine won’t score as high since it would have to lower its fan speed in order to compete.

With no purifiers running, the particle concentration decreased over the course of 10 minutes so that 64% of smoke particles remained and 73% of titania and dust particles remained.

All air purifiers were effective at reducing the particle concentration in all size ranges, but one unit stood out: the Blueair 503. It was able to reduce that to 9% and 8% respectively. The next closest competitor was the Sharp Plasmacluster FP-A80U Air Purifier, which left 22% of smoke and 18% of titania and dust particles remaining. The Rabbit Air MinusA2 SPA-700A, Coway AP-1512HH Mighty, and Winix PlasmaWave 6300 Air Purifier all produced similar good results, leaving 30% or less of the particles. Oddly, the heralded IQAir New Edition HealthPro Plus put in only a fair showing, leaving 32% and 33% of particles. The Austin Air HealthMate Standard HM400 Air Purifier performed noticeably worse at this test, likely because it was run on the lowest setting in order to meet the sound level requirement. 

Figure 1. Percent of particles remaining after 10 minutes of air purification. Lower values are better.

High-speed testing

What if you need to establish the cleanest air possible with these units, and noise levels are of no concern? We ran another set of particle tests with the air purifiers on their highest fan setting, expecting to see the premium units being able to produce cleaner air than the more economical units.

We ran our particle tests as above, but with the units turned up high and the test time extended for an hour. We found that all the units tested had very similar performance. What this means is that CADR scores aside, they will all perform well in the long run. 

Figure 2. Chart of fine (0.010-0.5 micron) particle concentration over a one-hour period with the air purifiers on high. Initial test particle concentrations are approximately 50,000 particles per cubic centimeter, and final particle concentrations are approximately 100 particles per cubic centimeter. After about a half hour, all the machines were able to reduce particle counts to effectively zero and keep them at that level for the rest of the night.

Overnight tests

We ran extended tests overnight with the air purifiers on the highest setting to see how low we could bring the particle counts. Smoke and dust particles were introduced to the room as in the tests above, and the particle concentration was measured every two minutes. Initial concentrations were approximately 50,000 for the smoke particles (0.010-0.5 micron) and 500 for the larger dust particles (0.5-20 micron). After a 12-hour period, we found that all the air purifiers were very effective at reducing the particle concentration and producing air that was very clean (see Table XX). Smoke particles were reduced to 27-166 particles per cubic centimeter, and dust particles were reduced to 0.42-3.7 particles per cubic centimeter.

Generally, particle concentrations less than 1,000/cm^3 for smoke (0.010-5 microns) and less than 10/cm^3 for dust (0.5-20 microns) is considered very clean. Based on the continuous monitoring of background conditions during a one-week period, the variation in the numbers in the purified air was attributed to variation in the background concentrations rather than variations in the filtration abilities of the air purifiers.

You should know that running your unit on high for an hour will reduce the particle concentration to very low levels.

In the 130-square-foot test area, the air purifiers running on high were able to clean the air of the test particles to these low levels within a one-hour period. Over the next 11 hours, only very small incremental gains were made. For the home user, you should know that running your unit on high for an hour will reduce the particle concentration to very low levels, and you can either leave it on high for the cleanest possible air, or lower the fan speed for less noise and higher particle counts.

 Model

Total particles remaining per cubic centimeter (0.010 – 0.5 micron)

Total particles remaining per cubic centimeter (0.5 – 20 micron)

Austin Air 166 3.7
Blueair 69 0.62
IQAir 156 1.3
Coway 65 0.42
Rabbit Air 27 0.68

Table 3. Particle concentration (number per cubic centimeter) after 12 hours of running on high. Initial concentrations were approximately 50,000 for the smoke particles (0.010 -0.5 micron), and 500 for the larger dust particles (0.5-20 microns).

Odor removal

Air purifiers were evaluated for their effectiveness at removing odors using a $3000 RAE Systems miniRAE 3000 VOC meter to detect levels of ethanol introduced to the room. Five milliliters of ethanol were added to a Pyrex dish heated to 50 degrees Celsius (122 F) where it quickly evaporated. Ethanol vapors were distributed through the room with a 16 inch round fan on medium setting. Concentrations of ethanol were measured at the beginning at approximately 35 parts per million, and again after 15 minutes of running the air purifier at its test speed.

VOC dispersal equipment

VOC dispersal equipment

The results from the VOC testing were illuminating. While all air purifiers tested had filters which claimed to be effective at removing odors, the Winix (49% of VOC remaining) and Coway (46%) units showed almost no difference from the control (52%). But this was to be expected since these units only used a thin activated carbon pad (think of a 3M scrubbing pad in the kitchen). The Rabbit Air (42%) and Sharp (44%) were better than the control, because they each had pellets of an adsorbent, probably zeolite. The Rabbit Air had about a pound, and the Sharp had much less, which we would estimate as about a quarter pound.

Here is where three premium models stand out. The Austin Air, which contains 15 lbs. of activated carbon and zeolite, left only 13% of VOC remaining, twice the performance (26%) of the next closest competitor, the IQAir, which has 5 lbs. of activated carbon and alumina pellets. The Blueair left 32% of VOC and contains 4.2 pounds of activated carbon.

Figure 2. Percent of volatile organic compound remaining after 15 minutes of air purification. Lower values are better.

Cost

Operating costs are a significant part of owning an air purifier. These units can be expected to last for several years, so we took a long view at the cost of ownership, including the purchase price, and recommendeda  filter replacement schedule, using the shortest time for filter replacement if a range was specified.

Power consumption of units was measured at each setting using a Sperry DSA-500 clamp-on ammeter. The table below, and calculations used for cost of ownership are based on the highest fan setting that didn’t exceed the 55 dB(A) noise limit. Electricity rates are based on residential rates in my area of 0.15396 ($/kWh) and operation 24 hours a day.

Model Power (watts) Electricity cost per year
Austin HealthMate Standard HM400 87.6 $118.15
Blueair 503 62.4 $84.16
Coway AP-1512HH Mighty 15.6 $21.04
IQAir® New Edition HealthPro® Plus 184.8 $249.24
Rabbit Air MinusA2 SPA-700A 12 $16.18
Sharp Plasmacluster FP-A80U 20.4 $27.51
Winix PlasmaWave 6300 18 $24.28

 

Cost over 5 years

Model Purchase price
Annual cost Total 5-year cost with purchase, filters, power
Austin Air HealthMate Standard HM400 $539 $283 $1,414
Blueair 503 $659 $516 $2,580
Coway AP-1512HH Mighty $250 $111 $555
IQAir® New Edition HealthPro® Plus $899 $635 $3,175
Rabbit Air MinusA2 SPA-700A $460 $176 $881
Sharp Plasmacluster FP-A80U $300 $176 $880
Winix PlasmaWave 6300 $200 $115 $577

Our pick

Coway AP-1512HH Mighty
For most allergy sufferers, the Coway AP-1512HH Mighty is exceptionally effective at removing particles from the air—in our tests, it did better than some that cost twice as much. It’s also extremely quiet and has the lowest operating costs of all the machines we looked at.

The Coway AP-1512HH Mighty earns our pick for being an overachiever in every regard. Despite its low price and small size, our testing found it was just as effective at removing particulate contamination from a bedroom-sized area as larger, more expensive purifiers costing two to four times as much. In fact, thanks to its quiet brushless motor, it was actually able to outperform some of the high-end models in the short run, since it can run at a higher fan setting while keeping noise levels down.

In addition to its strong performance, it’s actually the cheapest to own over a five-year period out of all the models we tested. It was also easily the smallest and lightest unit tested at 17 inches wide x 10 inches deep x 19 inches high with a weight of 13 pounds. That means you can move it to wherever it’s needed and put it in a discreet location. Not that you need to hide it—Coway actually took the time to give it a decently attractive design, a rarity in the world of air purifiers.

The Coway Mighty is small, but… mighty

The Coway Mighty is small, but…mighty.

What initially impressed us most about the Coway was how well it was able to keep up with the far more expensive competitors when it comes to particulate removal. It has a CADR rating of 246 for dust and is recommended for rooms up to 325 square feet—that’s more than adequate for most bedrooms and can even work for a medium-size living room.

[It’s] a great option for removing pollens, dust, dander, and other non-molecular contaminants from the air.

In our tests, we found that when it comes to removing particulates from the air, it was able to go toe-to-toe against much more expensive competitors and more than hold its ground. That makes it a great option for removing pollens, dust, dander, and other non-molecular contaminants from the air. While it wasn’t first place in any of the particulate removal tests, it did hold its own against much more expensive equipment. Besides, what we ultimately found was that once you run these things for any extended period of time, they’re all about equally effective at removing particulates from the air.

The Coway’s energy efficiency is perhaps even more impressive than its filtration performance. It uses only 15.6 watts when operating on its medium fan setting, which is what we recommend running it on. To put that in perspective, that’s only 2.1 watts more than a single Cree True White LED lightbulb.

And that number drops even further to 6 to 7 watts if you’re using the low setting. That’s less than a tenth as much power as the IQAir, which we measured at a whopping 184.8 watts on medium. The only purifier that was more energy-efficient was the Rabbit Air MinusA2, which sips power at only 12 watts, but costs about twice as much up front and uses more expensive filters.

Filters
Coway Replacement Filter Pack for AP1512HH
The Coway’s replacement filters cost $50 per set, the lowest of any model we tested, and last a year.
 The Coway’s low operation costs extend beyond power savings into filter costs as well. A set of new filters costs only $50, the lowest of any model we tested. The HEPA filter is good for one year, and the fiberglass prefilter, which holds the very thin (3/16-inch) activated-carbon odor filters in place, requires changing every six months (the filter kit gives you two of them). You should clean these prefilters by vacuuming them or rinsing them with water every two to four weeks. A filter-change indicator light will let you know when it’s time to replace the filter.

Changing the filter is super simple. Grab the sides near the top and pull the cover loose and lift off. Then press down on the two tabs holding the fiberglass prefilter in place. These are hidden along the top, so I found it easier to tilt the whole unit on its back (which is easy since it weighs just 15 pounds). Once the tabs are bent, the prefilter comes out and you can access both the activated carbon filter and the HEPA, which is clearly labeled so you can orient it correctly and has pull tabs to assist with removal. I changed the filter in a couple of minutes the first time, and in mere seconds the second time.

Setting up and using the Coway was a fairly straightforward affair. However, note that before using the Coway for the first time, you will need to open the front cover by pulling at the top and removing the filter from the plastic bag. This was not obvious, and we initially overlooked it. A clear label taped on the front panel that explains the bagged filter, like the one Sharp put on its unit, would have helped, but now you know, so you can avoid making the same mistake.

The Coway is controlled using buttons along the top. They are well laid out and simple to use. The fan has three speed settings of 1, 2, and 3, plus an auto and an eco mode. The eco mode claims to maximize energy efficiency by shutting the fan off after 30 minutes of low particle concentrations, and the auto mode uses input from the air quality particle sensor to adjust the fan speed. The sensor also has an indicator light that shines red for dirty air, blue for clean air, and purple for somewhere in between. It’s not terribly useful. Additional features include a timer with one-hour, four-hour, and eight-hour intervals, and the fact that it saves your last used settings if it loses power, which is a great example of getting the little things right.

The Coway’s discreet size and attractive design should mesh well with most decor

The Coway’s discreet size and attractive design should mesh well with most decor.

The Coway’s design is another highlight. Air purifiers are typically pretty pedestrian appliances with all the design flourish of an AC window unit, so the Coway’s compact size and sleek, shiny black plastic finish with a white accent ring really sets it apart from the pack—it doesn’t scream “appliance” when you look at it. While this won’t integrate seamlessly with every decor, it would blend right into a modern or retro-future themed room. That’s better than sticking out like a sore thumb in every setting, which was the case with most of the other models we looked at. 

Finally, should anything go wrong, it comes backed by a three-year warranty with US-based customer support. That is longer than the typical one-year affair usually found in this price range.

Who else likes it?

 The Coway was awarded a silver medal for the past two years by Top Ten Reviews, which called it “the best small room air purifier.” They ranked it a 9.48/10 and praised the filtration capabilities as better than that of units meant for larger rooms. They didn’t like the middling odor control, but again that shouldn’t be expected of purifiers in this price range.

Air-Purifier-Power also rated it highly with an overall score of 84, noting its strengths as being a good particle collector, having reasonable price and operating costs, and offering US-based customer service.

For what it’s worth, Amazon users like it, too. It has an exceptionally high average score of 4.7 stars (more than 23 reviews) with reviewers praising its quiet operation, striking design, and ability to produce noticeable results. One user from Shanghai reports, “[It] has made a huge difference in my quality of life. This air purifier is quiet and small, but very effective. I used to wake up with a sore throat every morning due to the pollution here, but since getting this I’ve had no such problems.”

Flaws but not dealbreakers

The Coway is excellent at removing particles, but the biggest flaw is that it is ineffective at removing odors (though that’s true across the board for purifiers in this price range). The thin 3/16-inch activated carbon filter is just not up to the task. It’s simply there as a prefilter for larger particles; our tests showed it was too lightweight to handle odor removal.

While we think the design is pretty sleek, we’re sure that there are others who will disagree. The shininess of the finish can attract dust over time, but we haven’t found it to be a major issue so long as the unit is running and circulating air. 

Setting the air purifier to a fixed, higher fan setting allows greater airflow through the filter and more air changes per hour in your room.

Another issue is that the “auto” mode shouldn’t really be trusted—though that’s not unique to the Coway. The idea of saving power when it’s not “needed” is nice in theory, but in practice, the optical particle sensors found in the Coway and other similar models are only sensitive to larger particles (over 0.5 microns) in their immediate vicinity. That means it will miss smaller, potentially harmful pollutants and could lead to it turning off before the whole room is clean. Setting the air purifier to a fixed, higher fan setting allows greater air flow through the filter and more air changes per hour in your room. We found medium to be both effective and quiet.

Other minor cons are the somewhat annoying chimes during power up and shut down, and the aforementioned absence of labels indicating the filters are wrapped in plastic and need to be removed prior to initial operation.

The runner-up

Also Great

*At the time of publishing, the price was $200.

Winix PlasmaWave 6300
It's similar in performance and value to our top pick, but slightly noisier and has slightly higher operating costs. Also, some features are accessible only via remote, which can be lost.
The Winix PlasmaWave 6300 Air Purifier, $200, was a close runner-up to the Coway in terms of performance and features. It is $50 cheaper to purchase than the Coway, though the annual operating costs are approximately $20 higher, so the initial savings will run out after a couple years of use. Like the Coway, it was quite effective at removing particles, but weak in removing odors. The Winix is well-built, compact, and efficient, very similar to our pick, but we ultimately preferred the Coway for its longer warranty (3 years versus 1) and cheaper filters. 

The Winix has PlasmaWave Technology, which Winix claims “creates positive and negative ions that combine with natural water vapor to form hydroxyls that instantly neutralize viruses, bacteria, chemical vapors, odors and gases in the air by converting them into water vapor and other harmless molecules.”

This sounds great, but there is some concern that it may generate trace amounts of ozone and only partially break down molecules to a still harmful intermediate state, rather than fully to water vapor. The PlasmaWave is on by default, indicated by a big green light on the front. Fortunately, you can turn it off, but only with the remote (so don’t lose it!). We chose to leave PlasmaWave on during our testing, but even with it, the odor removal performance was poor.

We found the user interface workable but a little cumbersome. There is a single button for selecting between modes and speeds. It requires multiple presses to cycle through all the variations. Annoyingly, once you select a mode or speed, if the power is interrupted, it goes back to default settings. This was not a problem with the Coway.

Filters

*At the time of publishing, the price was $66.

Winix 115115 True HEPA Plus 4 Replacement Filter
Like with the Coway, the Winix filter needs changing once a year, though the prefilters have to be replaced every quarter.
 A set of filters currently costs about $60. Like the Coway, the HEPA needs changing once a year whereas the prefilters need quarterly replacing. To access the filters, remove the front panel by grasping on the lower sides and pulling toward you and upward at the same time, then lift the top free. Then you can simply swap out the carbon prefilter, or replace both the prefilter and HEPA filter if it’s been a year. Be sure to reset the HEPA filter change indicator by pushing the reset button under the front for three to five seconds while you have the cover off.

Some users report out-gassing from the carbon prefilters for up to two weeks. This appears to vary between different batches of prefilters. We did not observe this issue, but according to Air-Purifier-Power, “Winix concedes that the new 6300 can outgas strong odors, with no finite time period for wearing off.”

During our testing, we found the particle sensor easy to interpret, with its five-bar series of green lights that indicate poor to good air quality. Unfortunately, the sensor was not very accurate—despite elevated particle concentration, it indicated “good” air during our tests.

Still, the Winix represents a good value, with effective particle filtration at the lowest purchase price. We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it if our top pick is sold out.

If our other picks aren’t available

These two are great options as well if our main pick and runner-up choice are unavailable.

The Sharp Plasmacluster FP-A80U Air Purifier ($237) is an excellent performer, with a cost that reflects its good filtration and build quality. It outperformed both the Coway and Winix models in particle filtration, coming in second only to the Blueair. It was also nearly the quietest, just 1 dB louder than the Winix model, and it edged out both the Coway and Winix models in the VOC removal (leaving 44% vs. 49 and 46% respectively). It’s an excellent performer, but the operating costs are quite a bit higher, about $60/year higher considering the cost of both electricity and filters.

Winix WAC5500 ($177) is a predecessor to the WAC6300. While we didn’t test it, it’s nearly the same as the 6300 model we did test, with the main difference being that the 5500 model included a washable HEPA filter that can extend the life of the filter. These washable filters were a temporary fad and have fallen out of fashion now. Regardless, it uses the same size filters as the 6300 model, so filter replacement costs will be low. If you are on a budget and need the lowest cost option and find the Winix WAC6300 is sold out, we can confidently recommend the 5500 model.

An (expensive) upgrade for heavy-duty air cleaning

Also Great
Blueair 503
The Blueair 503 filters out particles at a faster rate than any other machine (great for rooms where doors and windows are constantly opening) and is extremely quiet. However, it costs about five times as much as our top pick over five years.
If you need a higher level of air purification for health reasons, the Blueair 503, at a purchase price of $659 plus optional SmokeStop filters ($150), will deliver cleaner air in a shorter amount of time, which makes it a great choice for higher-traffic zones with frequently opening doors and/or windows. 

The Coway is plenty enough for most allergy sufferers who just want to remove allergens from a bedroom, home office, or other similar space, but the Blueair is the obvious choice for people with mild chemical sensitivities or who are bothered by smoke and other odors (though those with serious sensitivities to pollutants or who live in problematic environments will want to look at our other step up pick). It adds a meaningful ability to remove odors and just rocks at removing particles, all while running at noise levels just over a whisper.

The Blueair is a physically large unit, twice the size of the Coway (53 liters) and comparable in size to the IQAir (111 liters versus 110 liters in volume). It’s a big, tall light- and dark-gray box, similar in shape to a large desktop computer, but it’s twice the size at 20 inches wide by 13 inches deep by 26 inches high.

The Blueair was by far the most effective particle collector of the 10 models tested. In our initial test at moderate fan speeds, fewer than 10% of the particles remained after 10 minutes of operation. That’s half the number of particles compared with the next closest model, the Sharp Plasmacluster.

The Blueair filters particles very effectively because it charges particles prior to filtering them with a low-pressure-drop polypropylene fiber filter. The charging process uses a relatively low voltage to safely negatively charge particles without generating any ozone. Blueair states that independent laboratory testing confirms that the ozone concentration of the filtered air is less than that prior to filtration. Together, the electrostatic charging process and physical filter deliver filtration performance comparable to that of a traditional HEPA filter, but with a lower pressure drop. Translation: More air can flow through the Blueair’s filter at lower and quieter fan speeds.

The Blueair is an all-around solid performer. It was the top performer at particle removal, and it provided meaningful reductions of VOCs as well, unlike the lower tier models. In our testing of VOC removal, its optional SmokeStop filters with 4.2 lbs. of activated charcoal brought the concentration down to 32% of the initial concentration in the first 15 minutes. The two other high-end models still reduced more VOCs, though: The IQAir (5 lbs.) hit 26%, and the Austin Air (15 lbs. of activated carbon) dropped to 13%. However, the IQAir and Austin Air make these gains at a huge cost in energy consumption and noisiness, respectively. The IQAir will run you a whopping $825 more in energy costs over the course of five years, while the Austin Air requires turning the fan up to annoyingly loud speeds in order to get anything better than mediocre particle removal performance.

The Blueair 503 is well built from metal components, rolls easily on casters, and is very simple to use. A single rotary knob allows you to choose from four speeds. A blue LED indicates the unit is on. The interface is much easier to use than that of the IQAir, which has an informative, but more complicated, LCD display with multiple control buttons.

Filters
Blueair Smokestop Filter for Blueair 500/600 Series Air Purifiers, Set of 3
The Blueair filters are dead simple to change but cost $150 a year.
 Filters are dead simple to change and cost $150 a year. Just remove the top panel by lifting up—it’s a friction fit—and replace the three filter packages. One is on the top, and two are on the side. These filters are not sealed with gaskets, but they clearly work well.

The Blueair 503 is not without its flaws. I found myself accidentally removing the top panel while moving it around. And the HEPA filters lack a prefilter, potentially reducing the lifetime of the HEPA filters. Several resourceful people have added a DIY filter sheet across the filter intake.

Also, the $1,921 five-year operating cost is hard to ignore, though still cheaper than the IQAir’s $2,540 five-year figure.

The Blueair 503 represents a premium quality air purifier for combined particle and odor removal. Of the premium three units tested, we believe it’s the best value for most people needing more air filtration than the Coway unit.

A pick for chemical and odor sensitivity

Also Great
Austin Air HealthMate Standard HM-400
It contains 15 lbs. of chemical sorbents, which helps it remove odors, chemicals, and other molecular pollutants more effectively than any other purifier. It’s great for those who live by highways, factories, farms, and other problematic environments.
If you live in an environment where smells and molecular/chemical pollution pose a health concern (e.g., close to a highway, factory, chemical/power plant, refinery, or sewage treatment facility), the Blueair’s 4.2 lbs. of activated carbon might be enough to make a difference. When it comes to odor and molecular contaminant removal, nothing can beat the $539 Austin Air HealthMate Standard HM400.

It not only contains a whopping 15 lbs. of sorbent material (a blend of activated carbon and zeolite), but also works with a $215 filter that needs replacing only once every five years, which means it has the lowest total five-year operating costs of all the high-end purifiers we looked at: $1,414, including the cost of purchase. That’s about $1,000 cheaper than the Blueair and about $2,000 cheaper than the IQAir.

Our testing showed that while the IQAir and BlueAir (which contain 5 lbs and 4.2 lbs of sorbent respectively) will reduce odors effectively if given time, the Austin Air will do so almost immediately.

The main attraction here though is the 15 lbs. of sorbent material. That’s three times as much as the IQAir. Our testing showed that while the IQAir and Blueair (which contain 5 lbs and 4.2 lbs of sorbent respectively) will reduce odors effectively if given time, the Austin Air will do so almost immediately. Fifteen minutes after introducing the contaminant, the HealthMate reduced VOC levels down to 13% of their original concentration. That’s 100% better than the second-place IQAir and 400% better than the control (no filtration). No other purifier comes close in this regard, which is likely a big reason Austin Air’s purifiers were chosen by FEMA and the Red Cross for deployment in the extremely hazardous aftermath of 9/11.

As far as construction and operation goes, the HealthMate is solidly built from powder-coated sheet metal and is very easy to operate—just crank a dial to the desired setting and you’re good to go. It’s not the prettiest purifier, but its boxy design isn’t that much worse than, say, a mini fridge or large subwoofer.

Filters
Austin Air FR400 HealthMate Air Purifier (HM400) Filter Replacement - Black
Austin Air’s $215 filter needs replacing only once every five years, meaning that it has the lowest total five-year operating costs of all the high-end purifiers we examined.
 Filter changes are required only once every five years, but when they do occur, it is a bit of an awkward process involving many steps. First, you have to flip the 47-pound machine upside down. Then you remove the four screws, lift the bottom cover off, and pull the round filter out. Next, you remove the prefilter that sits against the metal screen and replace (or clean with vacuum). After inserting a clean prefilter, drop in the main filter—note the alignment (the bottom should face up since it’s upside down). After that, replace the bottom cover and insert the four screws, which is a bit fiddly, given that the body of the unit is made of sheet metal. Finally, flip it back over and run on high for at least an hour.

Unfortunately, the Austin Air performed very poorly on our particle filtration test due to its loud fan, which restricted the fan speed. But if noise is not a concern, you can run it at higher settings for improved particle removal. Presumably, if you’re using this thing for serious health issues, a little extra noise isn’t too high of a price to pay for effective filtration.

Finally, while other competitors had great warranties on the machines themselves, Austin Air not only has a five-year warranty on the machine, but also an additional five-year warranty on the filter. That means that if your first filter fails within five years of initial purchase, they’ll replace it at a pro-rated rate (40% of the $215 value during the first two years, then it climbs each year: 60% for year three, 80% year four, and 90% for the fifth year).

What to look forward to

In April 2015, Dyson announced it would add HEPA filters to its bladeless fan, the Pure Cool, so that it would also act as an air purifier. The new Pure Cool will be available in China and Japan in April, but its availability (and price) in the US and elsewhere is unknown right now. Engadget writes: “After 450 prototypes, the company claims that this filter removes 99.95 percent of ultrafine particles, and it’s good for up to 4,382 hours or about six months of continuous use. In other words, if you use the Pure Cool for 12 hours each day, then you’ll only need to replace the filter after a year.” We will keep our eye on this one and test it if it looks poised to be a contender.

Many of the big names in air purifiers are hoping to capitalize on the excitement surrounding the Internet of Things. For people who want real-time monitoring of their home’s air quality from anywhere (more people than you might assume), this year will be exciting.

Winix’s HR1000 connected air purifier is rated for up to 380 square feet, and its phone app can show when the unit’s True HEPA filter needs replacing. Conveniently, you can access the Winix store to order replacements through the same smartphone app. What else can the app do? We aren’t sure, but the press release makes the following promise: “[The] smart app was developed with consumer education in mind and will offer users educational and interactive data.”

Coway, the manufacturer of the air purifier we recommend for most people, revealed the big Airmega, a stylish rectangle-shaped R2-D2-like machine that’s rated for 780 square feet. It allows scheduling, and it indicates when filters need washing or changing. The purifier includes a sensor and app that together measure and track the indoor air quality, with comparisons against the outdoor Air Quality Index. Mashable dubbed the unit “your clean air police” after its debut at the CES trade show, and WIRED calls it “(reasonably) attractive.”

Swedish company Blueair showed off a chic tabletop sensor called the Aware that works with the Blueair Friend app to show indoor air quality, which the company claims is worse than outdoors. The Aware sensor measures particulate matter, total VOC, carbon dioxide, temperature, and humidity.

The competition

The IQAir New Edition HealthPro Plus, at $899, is widely considered the gold standard, but it’s also the most expensive purchase and operate by a wide margin. It’s an easy to use, quality unit. It was second best at odor removal, edging out the Blueair (26% versus 32%), but only fair at particle removal at the tested speed. It scored second behind the Blueair at particle removal on the high-speed tests. The filter contains 5 pounds of active carbon and alumina pellets. A really big factor is cost. It had the highest power consumption over five years of $1,236, more than double that of any other unit (the second place Austin Air cost “just” $591), and highest overall cost. Budget a whopping $2,276 over the first five years for operating costs alone.

The $460 Rabbit Air MinusA2 SPA-700A seems to be a rebranded Coway AP-1005AH Air Purifier, but with better customer support and often a lower sticker price. Rabbit Air’s schtick is that they offer 24/7 California-based phone support and a generous five-year warranty, but for a bit more money up front. If you feel that’s worth paying 100% extra over the Coway or Winix, you can consider getting it, but don’t expect any increases in performance. It’s a very quiet and efficient machine that we’d love to have in our own homes, but it’s just too expensive for what you get.

Another solid model is the Sharp Plasmacluster FP-A80U Air Purifier. It is very similar in shape, size, and operation to the $200 Winix model that came in as a runner-up. However, it will run you about $300 to purchase and $580 to operate over the next five years. Pros are that it has a nicer build quality and is packaged well, and the setup instructions are very clear and simple. The Plasmacluster was very quiet and excelled at the particle removal test, outperforming the Coway and placing second behind the Blueair. It was able to make a slight reduction in odors during the VOC testing. However, it has only an estimated quarter pound of chemical adsorbent (probably zeolite) for odor capture, which is both not very effective initially and will quickly become saturated and re-emit odors. Overall, it is a nice unit, nearly tied with RabbitAir in performance, and with lower initial cost. Unfortunately, we can’t recommend it as replacement filters very hard to find. In fact, after several minutes of web searching, we found them at only one location.

The Holmes HAP756-U unit was initially attractive due to the low entry price, but after inspection, we dismissed it for very poor seals on the filters and overall poor build quality. Despite its low price and a Consumer Reports recommendation in April 2014, it’s not a good value.

The Whirlpool Whispure Purifier Cleaner AP51030K was dismissed as well, because it has the least attractive, yellowing white plastic, similar to a 1990s vintage computer, and very loud squeaks from the EPS foam used to shape the airflow out of the unit. Some users have found outgassing from the polystyrene foam to be irritating. Since our testing, a newer black model has been released. If those factors don’t concern you, it does perform well at particle removal. User reviews indicate issues with unbalanced fans causing lots of noise and hitting the Styrofoam, and some have issues with off-gassing odor. Other factors are a somewhat steep purchase price of $300 and higher than average filter costs at $106/year. We’d expect it to perform on par with the Coway, but for more money.

The Honeywell 50250-S is a well-built unit with simple-to-use controls (a single rotary knob) and a robust HEPA filter, complete with supporting wire frame and gasket seals. It’s a highly effective particle collector that I’ve used in my lab for years. Unfortunately, it is both noisy and an electricity guzzler. For the home environment, there are better choices that are just as effective, yet quieter to run and cheaper to operate.

Since we initially began testing, Consumer Reports started recommending the Honeywell HPA 300 as its best buy pick. It costs $250 and has a high CADR rating of 300, which is good. However, they estimate the annual cost of operation at a whopping $193—almost double the Coway’s $111. TopTenReviews didn’t like it as much as the Coway, citing filter costs and unimpressive particle removal, so we didn’t see a reason to further delay this guide in order to test it.

We also dismissed a great number of others without further testing for one reason another, whether it was lack of a true HEPA filter, presence of an ozone generator that couldn’t be turned off, poor user/pro reviews, being too pricy while not offering enough on paper, too low of a CADR score, or other issues. Here they are in alphabetical order:

A2Z Ozone Aqua 6  – Nope. Ozone generator.

Airfree Air Sterilizers – Onix 3000  – Not HEPA. Uses heated ceramic at 400F. Slow and no filter.

Airgle AG800 PurePal® Air Purifier  – Not HEPA, 99% filter, otherwise looks like quality item.

Airgle AG850 PurePal® Plus Air Purifier  – Uses photocatalytic oxidation (PCO). We ruled these out for now.

Airgle AG950 PurePal® MultiGas Air Purifier  – Expensive at $1,000, recommended by Allergy Buyers Club.

Airocide  – No HEPA, only effective against organic compounds.

Airpura T600 Tobacco Smoke Air Purifiers  – Best for smoke: 26 lbs. of carbon. No HEPA.

Alen Air A375UV  – Effective, (non HEPA) and highly rated by Beijing doctor, not selected here due to PCO and non HEPA.

Alen BreatheSmart HEPA Air Purifier  – Not HEPA, up to 99% in spaces up to 1100 sq ft.

Alen® A350 – Allergen Reducing HEPA Style  – Not HEPA, 98% of 0.3 micron particles.

Alen® Paralda – Dual Airflow  – Stylish, but very pricy for performance.

Alen® T300 Tower Air Purifier  – Not HEPA, only 94% of 0.3 micron particles.

Alive Air  – Rebranded and $100 more than Surround Air XJ-3800 Large Intelligent Air Purifier.

Amaircare 2500 Air Purifiers  – 4 of 5 stars at Allergy Buyers Club. Not tested as the CADR is 150, but looks like solid unit.

AtmosAir T400  – Not certified as <0.05 ppb Ozone per California regulations. No HEPA.

Austin Air Jr. HealthMate Air Purifier HM200  – Good value for smaller rooms. We chose to test the regular-size model.

Blueair 203 Particle Purifier with extra Smokestop Filter  – Selected larger 503 instead.

Blueair 403 Air Purifier  – Selected larger 503 instead.

Blueair 650E Air Purifier  – Second place at APP, highly rated, CR recommended, but pricey at $850. We tested the 503 instead.

Claritin True HEPA Permanent Filter  – Not HEPA, removes up to 99.97% particles for 0.3 micron, also described as 1 micron on Amazon.

Coway-AP-1012GH  – Similar to tested Coway model but for smaller rooms.

CritterZone  – No, ozone generator.

Electrolux PureOxygen Allergy 400  – Likely rebranded Winix, pricy. Unsure if you are able to turn off Plasma function.

Electrolux PureOxygen Allergy 450  – Likely rebranded Winix, pricy. Unsure if you are able to turn off Plasma function.

Fellowes 9320301 AeraMax 100  – CADR < 150.

Fellowes 9320401 AeraMax 200  – CADR < 150.

Fellowes 9320501 AeraMax 300 Air Purifier with True HEPA Filter  — Well-ranked on Amazon, but some reviewers had problems with quality control and noise.

Fellowes Quiet Air Purifier with True HEPA Filter (AP-230PH)  — Rebranded Winix, not able to turn off Plasma function.

Fellowes Quiet Air Purifier with True HEPA Filter (AP-300PH)  – Rebranded Winix, not able to turn off Plasma function.

FIVE-STAR-FS8088  – Revised “Ionic Breeze” knock-off with fan and ozone just under limit.

Freidrich C90A and updated B model  – Highly effective, but needs cleaning (wash plates in dishwasher every 3 days!), discontinued.

Friedrich AP260 5-Stage  – Similar to, but weaker than, the tested Winix and Sharp models, typo in marketing “HEPA captures 99.97% of 0.03 micron particles” should read 0.3 microns.

Germ Guardian 3-in-1 UV-C & True HEPA Air Cleaning System  – CADR < 150.

Germ Guardian 3-in-1 UV-C & True HEPA Digital Air Cleaning System with Pet Pure Filter  – CADR < 150.

Germ-Guardian-AC5000E-Cleaning-System-Reduction  – CADR < 150.

Germ-Guardian-AC5250PT  – CADR < 150.

GT50 Professional-Grade Plug-In Adjustable Ionic  – Wall plug-in type unit, no HEPA.

Guardian-Technologies GG1000  – Wall plug-in type unit, no filter.

Hamilton Beach True Air Odor Eliminator  – Wall plug-in type unit, no filter.

Hamilton Beach TrueAir Room Odor Eliminator  – No particle filter or HEPA.

Hamilton-Beach-04383  – No HEPA, 99% of particles as small as 3 microns.

Hamilton-Beach-04383A  – No HEPA, 99% of particles as small as 3 microns.

Hamilton-Beach-04386A  – No HEPA, 99% of particles as small as 3 microns.

Hamilton-Beach-04386-Allergen-Reducing-Cleaner  – Not HEPA, only 99% of 3.0 micron particles.

Hamilton-Beach-TrueAir-Compact-Purifier  – No HEPA.

Holmes-HAP242-UC  – No HEPA.

Holmes-HAP726-U  – Very loud.

Honeywell 16200  – CADR < 150.

Honeywell 17000  – CADR < 150.

Honeywell 50150-N  – Selected larger 50250-S instead.

Honeywell AirGenius4-Cleaner-Reducer-HFD310  – Not HEPA.

Honeywell AirGenius5  – No HEPA.

Honeywell HFD-120-Q  – CADR < 150.

Honeywell HHT-090 Permanent Hepa Filter Tower  – Not HEPA, only 99% of 2.0 micron particles, CADR < 150.

Honeywell QuietClean Tower Air Purifier with Permanent Filter, HFD-110  — not HEPA, only 99% of indoor particles.

Honeywell QuietClean-Purifier-Permanent-HFD-010  – CADR < 150.

Honeywell True HEPA Allergen Remover  – Weaker and more expensive than the tested Honeywell 50250-S.

Honeywell-HHT-011  – Not HEPA.

Hoover Air Purifier with TiO2 Technology – WH10600  – CADR < 150.

Hoover-WH10100-Air-Purifier  – Lacked CADR rating.

Hunter 30057  – CADR < 150.

Ionic-Compact-Ionizer-90IP1RCMB-CA200C  – Revised “Ionic Breeze” knock-off with fan and ozone just under limit.

IQAir GC Multigas Air Purifiers  – Similar to HealthPro Plus model tested, emphasizes gases.

IQAir HealthPro  – Good, but louder with brush motor, expensive to operate.

IQAir HealthPro Compact Plus Air Purifiers  – Similar to HealthPro Plus model tested, smaller than HPP, similar filtration.

IQAir New Edition HealthPro Compact Air Purifiers  – Similar to HPP model tested, smaller than HealthPro Plus, similar filtration, newer edition.

O-Ion-B1000  – No HEPA, ozone generator can’t be turned off, small unit for small room.

Oreck Optimax Medium Room  – Not HEPA, 99% of 1 micron particles.

Oreck RAIRP-B Professional Air Purifier, X-Large  – No HEPA, area too small at 120 sq. ft., very frequent cleaning of plates.

Oreck XL  — Junk. Not HEPA.

Rabbit Air BIOGS 2.0 SPA-550A Air Purifier  — Seems to be rebranded Coway, good customer service, brushless DC motor, CADR < 150.

Rabbit Air BioGS 2.0 SPA-550A Ultra Quiet HEPA Air Purifier  – Solid model, differs from minusA2 by smaller air flow and no custom filter choice.

Rabbit Air BIOGS 2.0 SPA-625A Air Purifier  – Solid model, differs from minusA2 by smaller air flow and no custom filter choice.

Rabbit Air MinusA2 SPA-780A (covers up to 815 sq. ft.) Ultra Quiet HEPA Air Purifier  – Air-Purifier-Power Top 5 pick. Similar to 700, but louder, with just a touch more flow at highest setting. See http://www.rabbitair.com/choose-your-air-purifier.aspx

Rabbit Air BioGS 421A  – Discontinued, out of stock.

Sharp FPA60UW Plasmacluster Ion  – Solid model, selected FP-A80U instead. Missing auto features.

Sharp Plasmacluster Air Purifier model FPN60CX  — Expensive filter replacement, ~$200/year.

Sharp Plasmacluster FP-A60U Air Purifier  – Simpler and smaller than 800.

Sharp Plasmacluster KC-860U  – Adds humidifier.

Smokebuddy-Jr-Personal-Filter  – Out of category.

Smoke-Buddy-Personal-Air-Filter  – Out of category.

Smoke-Buddy-Personal-Filter-Purifier  – Out of category.

Sonoma Breeze 100  – No HEPA, but excellent for VOCs.

Surround Air XJ-3800 Large Intelligent Air Purifier  – Decent performer, often rebranded as Heaven Fresh Naturopure HF-380, AliveAir, Real Spirit Newport 9000, Advanced Pure Air Air Shield, Maier bioHepa Hybird, Neotec XJ-3800, Gemni BioHEPA, AirPodCleaner Airpod AS.

Winix FresHome Model P150  – CADR < 150.

Winix FresHome Model P300  – Plasma not switchable.

Winix FresHome Model P450  – Plasma not switchable.

Winix PlasmaWave 5000 Air Purifier  – Discontinued.

Winix WAC5500 True HEPA Air Cleaner with PlasmaWave  – Upgrade (and price hike) from 5300.

Winix WAC9500 Ultimate Pet True HEPA Air Cleaner with PlasmaWave  – 5-stage filtration, Flagship model. Selected 6300 to test in this economy class as better value.

Winix-PlasmaWave-5300  — Replaced by 5500, No switch for Plasma.

Wrapping it up

Remember that removing sources of pollution when possible is more effective than trying to clean already-polluted air. But if that’s not an option, or if it’s not enough, our picks should help further clean the air in your home or office. If effective particle filtration is what you’re after to help deal with allergies or poor air quality, the Coway is a great pick. Otherwise, if it’s a serious health issue, consider stepping up to the Blueair 503. Finally, if you have serious odor-control issues or are allergic to airborne chemicals, the Austin Air HealthMate is what you need.

Footnotes:

1. Technologies for most people to avoid include electrostatic precipitators that charge particles and then collect them on oppositely charged plates. This method requires frequent cleaning to be effective. Ion generators disperse charged particles without collection plates and the ions attach to particles which then attract each other or deposit onto walls and surfaces. The ionizing process uses a high voltage to generate ionized fields, which may generate ozone as a by product. The chemical reaction of ozone with VOCs can produce by products harmful to your health, even at low levels. Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation UVGI, effective at killing germs on a surface, but ill suited to air cleaners due to the short interaction time of the UV light and air passing through.

Promising but unproven technologies for portable air purifiers include photocatalytic oxidation (PCO), another UV light technology that shows promise at cleaning gaseous pollutants but is not yet mature.

For more information on air purifier technologies, see the EPA 2009 document and the Penn State University’s Architectural Engineering department also has a good reference on how the various technologies work. Jump back.

2. It’s unusual for us to cite a retailer as a source, but in the case of Allergy Buyers Club, they’re one of the few sources that actually does hands on comparison of these models. Though we link to them as a retailer, we did not discuss our picks with them. Jump back.

3. Ibid. Jump back.

4. Adsorption is a physical process where gas molecules are trapped on the surface of the adsorbent material. Jump back.

5. The CADR is measured using a ANSI/AHAM AC-1 standard. Briefly, the purifier is placed in a 1008 cubic foot chamber, the concentration of particles is measured, then the purifier is run for 20 minutes, the final particle concentration is measured and compared to the natural rate of removal. For these tests, tobacco smoke is defined as 0.09–1.0 μm, dust as 0.5–3 μm, pollen as 5–11 μm. Jump back.

6. Typical new home master bedrooms are 309 square feet for master. Other bedrooms add up to 481 square feet combined, according to National Association of Home Builders. Given that there are a lot more existing homes and apartments, we estimate 100 – 200 as typical. Jump back.

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Sources

  1. Edgar V. Sherbenou, Coway AP-1512HH “Mighty Air” Air Purifier Review, Air Purifier Power, 11/14/13
  2. N/A, Coway AP-1512HH, Top Ten Reviews, Date N/A

Originally published: October 22, 2014

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