Compared to gifts like scarves, slippers, and trendy toys, a portable device that measures air pollutants and allergens doesn’t seem like something you’d be eager to unwrap under the Christmas tree, but last month’s New York Times story about air quality trackers does have a point. Between climate change, devastating wildfires, and weakening environmental regulations, it makes sense that you’d want to know what’s in the air you breathe.
Even if you aren’t in an area affected by fires or especially high pollution, everyday activities can change air quality in ways that can negatively affect your health and trigger allergies. “We’ve seen many examples in homes and offices where small changes like new furniture, air fresheners, cooking, [or] cleaning significantly impact the health of the air around you,” says Nic Barnes, chief marketing officer for the air monitor company Awair. And according to Michele Ann Cassalia, director of marketing at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), “the indoor level of pollutants can be two to five times higher than the outdoor levels.” Along with simple methods like keeping rooms well-ventilated and removing pollutant sources where possible, an air purifier can go a long way to improving air quality. We asked Barnes, Cassalia, an asthma and allergy doctor, and an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spokesperson about what to look for when shopping for an air purifier, and which models have proven to be the best.
In general, experts prefer high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters over electronic or ionizing devices that release ozone into the air, which can actually irritate asthma symptoms. “Devices that use HEPA filters have been shown to help decrease certain allergen exposure — those [greater than] three microns [in size] that are airborne — like animal dander and mold,” says Dr. Asriani M. Chiu, a pediatric allergy and immunology specialist at the Medical College of Wisconsin. The U.S. Department of Energy certifies true HEPA filters for their ability to effectively remove these small particles from the air, and according to the EPA, true HEPA filters have been shown to cause small improvements in cardiovascular and respiratory health, as well as a reduction of asthma and allergy symptoms, in scientific studies.
The Rabbit Air HEPA purifier comes recommended by Barnes (who likes that it filters both fine dust and volatile organic compounds, or VOCs) and Cassalia, who notes that it’s been certified by the AAFA as asthma and allergy friendly, based on third-party testing performed and reviewed by the foundation and by the independent certification company Allergy Standards Limited. Along with the particle-filtering HEPA filter, an activated carbon layer absorbs dangerous gaseous compounds in the air. The low-profile purifier can either stand on its own or be mounted on a wall, and includes an air quality indicator. A light sensor automatically transitions to a lower-power (read: quieter) mode when it’s time for bed.
HEPA filters are also judged by their clean air delivery rates (CADR), or the rates at which they remove allergens and other particles from the air. The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) measures CADR for different devices, which determines the interior areas they’re capable of cleaning. The Blueair Pro M, one of Barnes’s recommendations, has a CADR high enough for a room of up to 400 square feet and is especially quiet for how powerful it is. Like the Rabbit Air, it includes an additional filter to catch VOCs and smoke.
Certified as asthma and allergy friendly, Dyson’s air purifier also functions as a fan and a heater. It connects to the Dyson app so you can monitor air quality and control the device remotely, and it responds to voice-activated commands via Amazon Alexa.
If you don’t need the heating function, you can save on this less expensive tower fan model. It also connects to the Dyson app for air-quality monitoring and uses an AAFA-approved HEPA filter. The fan can be set to ten different speeds and with no moving blades, it’s safer around small children and pets than a standard fan.
Another AAFA-certified purifier, this LG tower is approved by the AHAM to keep the air clean in rooms of up to 217 square feet. A digital display shows the current concentration of pollutants, and the device uses colored lights to indicate air purity levels in real time.
If your budget is under $200, you can’t go wrong with a true HEPA air purifier from Honeywell. The HPA200 is certified by the AHAM for rooms of up to 310 square feet, while the smaller and sleeker HPA 160 will work in any room up to 170 square feet. Both include a carbon pre-filter to catch gaseous VOCs and they’ve been proven not to release any hazardous ozone during testing.
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