best in class

The Very Best Air Purifiers

Photo-Illustration: Retailer

In this article

The recent smoke covering New York City might have made you reconsider the efficacy of your air purifier. At the time of writing, the air-quality index in Manhattan is “good” (according to the official air-quality index). Wildfires aside, air purifiers can have a big impact on tamping down the triggers for allergies, such as dust, animal hair, and pollen. Then there are the everyday, less obvious allergy triggers to consider. “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.

But before you purchase, knowing your terminology is important. “Air cleaners use filtration to remove allergens and other particles from the air,” says Melanie Carver, chief mission officer for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). “Air purifiers sanitize the air. For allergies, you’ll want a high-quality air cleaner that captures allergens such as pollen, animal dander, dust mites, or mold spores.” I spoke to ten experts, including asthma specialists and obsessive air-purifier owners, to find out the best air purifiers for every type of home and understand what to look out for when choosing between models. I then tested their recommendations over a number of weeks. Read on for the best air purifiers for small spaces, large spaces, and more.

What we’re looking for

Filter type

Few of our experts would commit to recommending specific devices. But they did give us good advice on what features to look for. A good qualifier is to look for devices that use HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters. These are certified by the U.S. Department of Energy to eliminate 99.97 percent of particles as small as 0.3 microns. However, be aware of devices that are described as HEPA-like. “‘HEPA-like’ is not a HEPA purifier,” says Derek Hales, the founder and editor-in-chief of Modern Castle, which reviews home products. “If it’s a HEPA purifier, it’ll say ‘HEPA.’” Our experts generally preferred HEPA filters over electric or ionizing devices, which release ozone into the air to neutralize issues — but cause other issues for those with asthma. For that reason, you’ll find a lot of devices with HEPA filters in this story. However, HEPA filters need replacing roughly every 12 months, costing around $40–60, which you should factor into the cost of the unit. Be wary of brands that don’t offer replacement filters, says Hales, who adds that new brands are popping up all the time with compelling units at good prices — but they don’t offer replacement filters, forcing users to buy a new device. We’ve included the cost of filter replacement throughout.

Coverage range

A common misconception some people have is that one air purifier will clean the air in an entire home, says Dr. John McKeon, CEO of Allergy Standards Limited. “Air purifiers are room-specific,” he says, “and it’s very important to choose a product designed to clean the room size it will be used in.” So for stand-alone air-purifying devices, make sure to check the maximum square footage on the box: You can measure what you need by multiplying the length and width, in feet, of the space you want covered. We focused on devices that offer a range of coverage but are within the size of most homes.

Noise level

As with all air-modifying appliances, from fans to air-conditioning units to humidifiers, the sound volume you’re willing to put up with is an important consideration. Be honest about your tolerance for noise: The CDC says that a regular conversation is 60 decibels. If you balk at a whisper (30 decibels), keep that in mind when looking for a device. For that reason, most of the devices here range between 20 and 60 decibels.

Best overall air purifier

Filter type: HEPA Filter | Coverage range: 874 square feet | Noise level: 24–53 dB

Three editors at New York Magazine own the Coway AP-1512HH Mighty, including New York editor-at-large Choire Sicha, who also owns the Coway Air Mega. Sicha says, “Both the Coway 400 and the smaller filter are awesome and sensitive — I have an air monitor indoors and you can see when they really go to work.” The Mighty covers an area of 874 square feet (60 square feet more than the Rabbit, for a third of the price).

Though this isn’t the quietest purifier on this list (its lowest setting is 24 decibels; the Rabbit’s — below — is 21), both Sicha and city editor Chris Bonanos say the purifier is very quiet. Bonanos adds that the Coway purifier has held up well to New York City’s smoky air, though he advises not to buy it in glossy white, as it “shows every speck and streak of dust.” Additionally, while it’s listed at $230, we’ve seen the Coway Mighty on sale consistently, at an average sale price of $176.

The cost of replacement filters is also low. A set of two for the Coway Mega will set you back around $60, and a set for the Mighty costs $40 (the cheapest of all the filters on this list). “Ask for multipack replacement filters for Christmas, because they’re expensive and it’s annoying,” says Sicha. Curbed senior editor Katie McDonough agrees with Sicha and adds that hers is “inoffensive-looking.”

Best less-expensive air purifier

Filter type: HEPA Filter | Coverage range: 130 square feet | Noise level: 25 dB

Summer is prime allergy season, and for asthma sufferers like me that can mean sleepless nights as you wake up wheezing. I didn’t want to spend too much on a purifier I’d primarily use for a few months a year. Camilla Cho, SVP of e-commerce at Vox Media, ultimately convinced me to buy the Levoit. (Cho says the Levoit allowed her to live allergy-free in the same house as her dog.) The unobtrusive, small machine is brilliant: Its coverage range is more than enough for my bedroom, meaning I can blast it on full power — it has three levels — for just an hour before bed. I sleep easy, free from throat closures thanks to the high-performance activated charcoal filter, true HEPA filter, and pre-filter within. It’s not silent: The noise produced on level three is such that you probably wouldn’t want it in the same room as you while awake — it sounds like a comparatively loud fan whirring. And some might find the display lights jarring as they try to sleep, but as I tend to just run it before bed, this hasn’t been a problem. In a pinch, I’ve turned it on (on its quietest, level one) overnight when I’ve forgotten to pre-prepare the room and woken up short of breath and have had no trouble falling back to sleep. At this price, it more than does the job and is well worth using in your home.

Best quiet air purifier

Filter type: HEPA Filter | Coverage range: 815 square feet | Noise level: 21–46 dB

The Rabbit combines comparatively high coverage range with an ultraquiet noise level. This purifier has a six-stage HEPA filtration system, including filters that remove odors and a charcoal-based activated-carbon filter. Built-in odor and particle sensors activate the machine to operate at higher speed only when it senses the air needs purifying. And when it does, a specialized motor design keeps the unit quiet. We like that you can mount the purifier on the wall easily, but can also stand it up in a corner, so it’s suitable for most types of homes. Single HEPA-filter replacements start at $45. Carver points out that the Rabbit is one of those certified as asthma- and allergy-friendly by the AAFA and Allergy Standards Limited (ASL), the latter of which rigorously tests air purifiers for certification. If you want to have more control over when and how its purification is triggered, spend an extra $20 on top of the $599.99 price for the Wi-Fi-enabled version, which allows you to schedule sessions through an associated app so your home is purified for when you return from work.

Best air purifier for large spaces

Filter type: HEPA Filter | Coverage range: 1,500 square feet | Noise level: 42–62 dB

This purifier might be the most expensive on this list, but it’s also far and away the most powerful, with a coverage range of 1,500 square feet, nearly twice as much as the Coway, the next-best in terms of coverage range from our picks. Marilee Nelson, an environmental consultant and co-founder of nontoxic-cleaning formula Branch Basics, likes that it’s made without plastic, so there’s no chance of any extra chemical off-gassing into the air you are trying to purify. The Austin Air gets top marks from Nelson, too, because it eliminates very fine particulates, is rated A for mold (which means it’s picking up the very small dust particles that have mold in them), and, like the Rabbit, has a carbon filter that fights chemical pollution as well.

Best air purifier for small spaces

Filter type: HEPA Filter | Coverage range: 610 square feet | Noise level: 27–53 dB

Modern Castle’s Hales recommends the AirDoctor. “They’re absolute powerhouses. They’re extremely well-built, use the higher-rated HEPA filters, and they have a pretty wide range of model options, so you can get something appropriate for one room, or a unit that can do your whole home.” You can buy bigger AirDoctor models — the 5500 can cover 2,000 square feet — but the 2000 is an affordable, nonintrusive, power-packed one, termed “the petite defender” by its manufacturer.

Tests by Hales showed the AirDoctor 2000 stripped 82 percent of airborne particulates out of a room, with the HEPA filter catching dust and pollen down to 0.3 microns (if that percentage is too low for you, consider the slightly more expensive 3000 model). One feature worth mentioning is the option to turn on a negative-ion generator within the air purifier. This feature causes negative ions to fall to the floor where they can be vacuumed up. Apart from this, the AirDoctor range doesn’t have features like Wi-Fi connectivity and flashy screens, but its simple design makes it easier to use. Beware, however, you’re entering into a long-term investment: A full pack of replacement filters every year costs $115, nearly half the price of the machine.

Best (less-expensive) air purifier for small spaces

Filter type: HEPA Filter | Coverage range: 153 square feet | Noise level: 40 dB

The Germ Guardian True HEPA Filter Air Purifier looks huge in marketing images but is actually just under two feet tall (that’s around twice the height of the admittedly small Levoit). But what makes the Germ Guardian great is that it’s slim — around nine inches wide and six deep — and the shape means it can fit into a nook next to your bedside table. Like the Levoit, the Germ Guardian has three filters: a charcoal filter, a true HEPA filter, and a UV-C light to kill off airborne viruses. (The latter, which seems a bit gimmicky, can be turned off by pressing a button at the top of the machine.) One of the filters is impregnated with a trademarked antimicrobial agent to limit the growth of mold and mildew on the filter, which can be caused by trapped pet hair. When testing, I noticed the Germ Guardian was generally noisier than the Levoit. The 40dB noise level — equivalent to a running stream or refrigerator hum — is such that you’re probably not going to want to run it overnight. That said, there are three speeds, including an ultraquiet one, which I found to be unobtrusive.

Best non-HEPA purifier

Filter type: Photocatalytic oxidation | Coverage range: 1,500 square feet | Noise level: 47 dB

Most of our selections have focused on HEPA filters, but there is another option. Photocatalytic oxidation (PCO) is used to clean the air in the International Space Station. The Puraclenz $429 purifier deactivates viruses, bacteria, mold, fungal allergens, and other harmful pathogens in the air and on exposed surfaces using the PCO technology, and has a range the same size as the Rabbit, but for almost $200 less. “In the past five months that I’ve been using the Puraclenz (which I received as a PR sample), the air in my apartment feels noticeably fresher than it was before,” says Jeremy Rellosa, health and fitness writer at the Strategist. Cleaning is simple: The filter slides out like a cartridge and is easy to wipe using a paper towel. “It won’t filter dust or pollen to the extent that a HEPA filter will,” says Rellosa, “but given its compact size and ease of use, I think it’s an excellent air purifier for people who are looking to freshen up the air inside their homes.”

Our experts

• Nic Barnes, chief marketing officer for the air-monitor company Awair
• Chris Bonanos, New York city editor
• Melanie Carver, chief mission officer for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
• Camilla Cho, SVP of e-commerce at Vox Media
• Derek Hales, the founder and editor-in-chief of Modern Castle
• Katie McDonough, Curbed senior editor
• Dr. John McKeon, CEO of Allergy Standards Limited
• Marilee Nelson, an environmental consultant and co-founder of nontoxic cleaning formula Branch Basics
• Jeremy Rellosa, health and fitness writer at the Strategist
• Choire Sicha, New York editor-at-large

Additional reporting by Karen Iorio Anderson

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best women’s jeans, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, ultra-flattering pants, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

Every editorial product is independently selected. If you buy something through our links, New York may earn an affiliate commission.

The 7 Very Best Air Purifiers