Spring has sprung which means allergy season is here too. Pollen from blooming flowers and trees triggers sneezes, watery eyes, and sometimes shortness of breath for many people.
For others, allergy season is a year-round event because irritants such as mold, dust, and pet dander don’t stick to a calendar. Neither does air pollution from auto and industrial emissions which taint our indoor air, making it more difficult to breathe.
And with the novel coronavirus keeping people home more, indoor air quality matters more than ever. An air purifier could improve the air quality in your home or office by filtering allergens, bacteria, and other microbes from the air.
Air Purifier Shopping Tips
If you'd like an air purifier for your home or office, Dr. Jacqueline Jones, author of Medical Parenting: How to Navigate Health, Wellness, & the Medical System for Your Child, has a few shopping tips:
- Look for “a brand that has a HEPA filter which filters 99.97 percent of particles of a certain size,” Jones says.
- She also suggests a charcoal filter that will “absorb odor-causing particles from the air.” Some brands use the term carbon filter instead of a charcoal filter.
- “Choose an air purifier that alerts you to when it’s time to change your filters,” Jones says.
- Appliances with Energy Star ratings help lower your electricity bill. Air purifiers are meant to run hour after hour, so look for this label before deciding on the model you want.
- Also, look for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) certification. It’s “an extra seal of approval,” Jones says.
The 12 Best Air Purifiers
Here are 12 of the best air purifiers to help control your allergies:
- Germ Guardian Air Purifier for Home
- AIRDOCTOR 4-in-1 Air Purifier UltraHEPA
- IQAir HealthPro Plus Air Purifier Medical Grade Air HyperHEPA Filter
- BlueAir Blue Pure 411 Particle and Carbon Filter
- Austin Air
- Honeywell HPA300
- Alen BreatheSmart 75i
- Rabbit Air Minus A2
- Coway Airmega 400
- Coway Mighty
- Winix FresHome WACP450
Doctor Recommended: Best Air Purifiers
With carbon filtering, ease of use, and efficiency in mind, we've chosen some air purifiers for your consideration. Our first choices come highly recommended by doctors who treat allergies.
Dr. Christian Gonzalez is an integrative cancer oncologist and naturopathic doctor and non-toxic living expert. And if you have a large space to purify or if your allergies cause you real problems, Gonzalez recommends pulling out one of the big guns, either the AIRDOCTOR or IQAir.
“A lot of physicians get behind the AIRDOCTOR in particular, but IQAir is another good one,” he says. “They’re very similar.”
“The difference between the Germ Guardian and these is that there’s different sizes to these particles. For instance, if you take pollen versus mold, mold tends to be bigger whereas viruses tend to be smaller.
"So, for the AIRDOCTOR and IQAir, they kill and destroy particles at .003 microns, as compared to the Germ Guardian that destroys particles at 0.3 microns.”
That may seem like a small difference. But Gonzalez says “this is important because viruses and other particles are smaller.
“The AIRPOCTOR and IQAir also have a formaldehyde and VOC (volatile organic compounds) filter which is really cool because formaldehyde is one of the number one VOCs that we’re being exposed to,” he says.
“Another cool aspect of this, especially with the AIRDOCTOR, is that it has an alert that will sound when it’s exposed to higher than normal amounts of VOCs, and then it’ll up its purification process to clean up the air.”
The AIRDOCTOR also qualifies as an Energy Star appliance.
She treats allergies regularly, and she recommends the BlueAir line of HEPA filters.
“I always recommend a HEPA filter,” she says, “and I like BlueAir because it’s a compromise between top of the line and less effective.”
We'd like to add that BlueAir Blue Pure 411 (and its more advanced sister product, the BlueAir Blue Pure 211) come in several different colors so your purifier can match your home decor.
“In Los Angeles, the air is crap,” says Dr. Gonzalez, “so you need an air filter.”
“For the most part, almost all air filters are HEPA (High-Efficiency Particle Absorber),” which “are said to remove 99.95 to 99.97 percent of all microbes.
"Most of these air filters have a UV light, and when you activate that it usually kills these particles,” he says.
Dr. Gonzalez says if you’re on a tight budget or you just want to take care of a small room, try the Germ Guardian Air Purifier which retails for less than $100.
“They don’t cover a huge space, but they’ll be really good for say, under 200 square feet. The Germ Guardian uses HEPA and UV, and they kill a lot.”
More of the Best Air Purifiers
The physicians we interviewed didn't recommend the following purifiers by name, but these models may still be on your shopping list so we took a look at them.
All of these models meet HEPA guidelines for micron size and filtering 99.97 percent of particles.
Austin Air: A Medically Rated Original
Hospital operating rooms across the country use Austin Air's air purifiers. Austin has several at-home models, including the company's "Junior" series designed for small spaces and several large room air purifiers.
Austin's systems combine true HEPA filtration with carbon activation filtering. The price tag tends to be on the higher end -- often $600.
Honeywell HPA300 True HEPA Air Purifier: Good for Small Spaces
You could clean about 450 square feet with this carbon filter-enabled model that retails for about $250. This Honeywell model is less than two feet tall and weighs 21 pounds — ideal for purifying a problem room.
Alen Breathesmart 75i: Good for an Entire Apartment
This large room model can filter up to 1,300 square feet -- an entire apartment. This one checks all the boxes plus some.
It features a sleep mode with low lighting -- and it shows air quality with a built-in indicator. The Breathesmart 75i retails for about $700 and comes with a lifetime guarantee.
RabbitAir MinusA2: Perfect for a Living Room
It's low profile, it's super quiet, and it can clear the air in up to 800 square feet of space. The RabbitAir MinusA2 makes a great choice for a living room.
Since it resembles a flat-screen TV you could mount this model on the wall to save floor space. The Rabbit Air retails for about $600. Its 6-stages of air purification include one you can customize to eliminate odors, fight germs, or filter out pet dander.
Levoit LV-H132 Air Purifier: Good for a Small Room on a Small Budget
You could put this model on a tabletop in the corner of a small room. Retailing at $100, the Levoit LV-H132 could fit your smaller budget, too. The H132 works in up to 86 square feet so it's ideal for a small bedroom if you need air purification while you sleep.
Coway Airmega 400: A Workhorse for a House
The Coway Airmega 400 can handle the workload of an entire house. It's rated for about 1,500 square feet. The 400's permanent pre-filter eliminates larger particles so the replaceable filter stays cleaner throughout the year. You can remove and wash the pre-filter as needed.
This model retails around $650, but it's a big step up from the Airmega 300 which cost about $500.
Coway Mighty AP-1512HH HEPA Air Purifier: A Great Portable Option
The Coway Mighty AP-1512HH is lightweight at 13 pounds, but it packs a big punch in a 350-square-foot or smaller room.
This model, which retails at $250, covers all the important bases. It has multi-fan speeds, an air quality indicator, a pre-filter, an ionizer, an auto-off timer and an eco mode.
Other Models We Considered
We were captivated by the low noise Dyson TP04 and the easy-to-operate Molekule Air but would like to see more improvement in these models before recommending them.
HEPA Filter vs. True HEPA Filter vs. HEPA-Type Filter
Drs. Jones, Gonzalez, and Deville all recommended HEPA filtration to improve air quality in your home or office. But manufacturers use a wider variety of terms, including True HEPA and HEPA-type -- along with UV filtration, ionization, and carbon activation filtration.
Should you make a distinction between these terms as you shop?
HEPA stands High-Efficiency Particulate Air. To meet the HEPA standard in the U.S., filters must remove 99.97 percent of air particles which are 0.3 microns. Based on this standard, a filter must catch at least 9,997 out of every 10,000 particles measuring 0.3 microns or larger to qualify as a HEPA filter. For reference, 1 micron is way too small to see. You could possibly see a particle 10 microns in diameter floating in the air.
True HEPA Filter
Companies use the phrase True HEPA to specify their product meets the HEPA requirement and doesn't simply emulate it.
Many less expensive air filters use the phrase HEPA-type filter but these products don't have to meet the same standard. A filter's efficiency could come close to 99.97 percent without always reaching that standard, but it may not always achieve that level. HEPA-Type means you don’t really know.
An ionizer charges particles as they pass through the device so they’ll be attracted to, and captured on, an oppositely charged panel. An ionizer can trap particles smaller than the HEPA-required 0.3 microns. However, without a standard to meet, a consumer can't know for sure how many particles escape ionization. Ionizers work best within a system that also includes true HEPA filtration.
UV Light Filter
UV light can kill tiny bacteria but it won't destroy pet dander or all mold spores. This feature can enhance your system, but it should always accompany HEPA in your filtration system to achieve the best air quality.
Activated carbon filters can also work to enhance a True HEPA air purifier. Some models use carbon in a pre-filter to keep your HEPA filter cleaner longer. The carbon absorbs gases in the air so it's good at cleaning up air pollution and smoke odors.
Do You Really Need Annual Filter Replacements?
Replacement filters can be a hassle to buy and change. If you forget to replace yours, will it affect the performance of your purifier?
Yes. Like any physical product, an air purifier's filter will eventually wear thin. Follow your manufacturer's guidelines which usually call for annual filter replacements.
Check out your pre-filter’s cleaning schedule, too. Some models have permanent pre-filters which you should remove and clean every few months.
But if you tend to forget, find a way to connect your annual filter change to another routine household chore such as changing smoke detector batteries or opening or closing your home's foundation vents.
The nicest purifiers include light-up indicators that tell you when to change the filter.
Nice Features In an Air Purification System
- Multiple Fan Speeds: Systems with more than three fan speeds offer more options. Often the highest speeds clear the air more quickly but also make more noise.
- Air Quality Indicator: A lot of homeowners question the accuracy of a filtration system's light-up indicators -- both for air quality and for changing the filter. But this still can be a nice feature.
- Higher CADR Rating: You hear a lot about HEPA, but what about your system's CADR rating? CADR stands for clean air delivery rate. It measures how quickly your air purifier can clean a specific space. A system with a CADR rating of 300 cfm works faster than a system rated at 200 cfm in a same-sized space (cfm stands for cubic feet per minute). Even if you don't need to clear the air quickly, a higher CADR rating can indicate the strength of your system -- sort of like having horsepower in a car whether or not you use it.
- Eco Mode: If you plan to run your system around the clock, be sure to consider Energy Star ratings and eco mode features as you shop. Many purifiers can drop into a lower-energy mode when the air is cleaner even if you haven't changed the settings.
- WiFi Connections: It's not a make-or-break feature but a WiFi-connected air purifier feels pretty smart. You could turn the system on with your smart home app a few hours before returning home. You could also connect your purification system to Alexa or Google Home.
What's Your Top Pick for Best Air Purifier?
Air cleaning is a big job -- too big to depend on someone else's recommendations for your home. We’ve tried to give you some quality choices, but your top pick for best air purifier will depend on your home's unique challenges -- and on your medical needs.
True HEPA filtration is a must, especially if you struggle with year-round allergies. Your other challenges may include:
- Germs: A system with UV light filtration can enhance your air quality. Some shoppers are asking whether this kind of technology can kill the novel coronavirus which causes Covid-19. There's no data on this yet.
- Air Pollution: A system with an activated carbon filter along with true HEPA could step up your ability to filter out smoke and other pollutants.
- Pet Dander and Dust: True HEPA qualification exists specifically to remove these heavy particles from the air. For best results pay attention to your system's recommendations for square footage. And get a system with a higher CADR rating if you have multiple pets.
Other Ways to Clean Air of Allergens
Buying an air purifier could alleviate some suffering, especially if you're home a lot. You can also find other ways to clear the air.
We checked in with a physician to get tips on keeping the air cleaner before it goes through your air purification system.
Whatever you're allergic to, mitigating your exposure to allergens will make your home more breathable, said Dr. J. Allen Meadows, M.D., the president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology in Arlington Heights, Illinois.
He offered these suggestions:
Dust Mite Allergy
Meadows calls dust mites one “of the most common indoor allergens and a year-round annoyance.” And cleaning the house can make your allergies worse.
“Often, you’ll notice your symptoms immediately after vacuuming, sweeping or dusting,” Meadows says. “Molds, pollen, pet hair, fur or feathers can also contribute to a dust allergy.”
But it’s not hopeless -- and there are several ways to start purifying the air.
“You can lessen or avoid your symptoms by removing items that cause dust allergies. Choose wood floors instead of carpet, clean your house with a vacuum that has a HEPA filter, use mite-proof cases on your mattresses and pillows and wash your linens regularly in hot water,” Meadows says.
“Consider installing a high-efficiency disposable filter in your HVAC system. The filter should have a MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) rating of 11 to 13 — the higher the MERV rating the better.”
It’s tough fighting what you can’t see. Mold thrives in moist places like bathrooms and kitchens, Meadows says, “and unfortunately, many molds aren’t visible to the naked eye. As the spores become airborne, they can cause allergic reactions and worsen asthma symptoms.”
So what to do? Meadows suggests that you wear a mask when doing yard work, “and once inside, take a shower and rinse your nose with a saline solution to remove mold spores.”
He also recommends that “in the kitchen, clean up any spills or leaks quickly to prevent mold from growing. Use a dehumidifier to reduce moisture in areas like bathrooms and basements. Clean your garbage cans and fridge drawers. For serious mold problems, call a professional.”
Man’s best friend doesn’t mean to make your eyes water. Neither do the lazy house cats of the world (we think). But they can’t help what their micron-sized dander does to some noses.
“It’s a heartbreaking situation for pet lovers if they have allergy symptoms after being with their pets," Meadows says. "Allergy symptoms can be constant because exposure can occur anywhere — in pet-friendly workplaces, restaurants, and stores, at school, in daycare, anywhere a pet owner has been."
“Avoidance is the best way to manage a pet allergy, but you don’t have to part with your furry family members. Keep your pet out of your bedroom, wash your hands with soap and water after petting or playing with your pet, vacuum with a HEPA vacuum, and bathe your pet once a week.”
Combining prevention with the right air purification system could equal a better quality of life in your home.