Between climate change, devastating wildfires that have become the norm in certain parts of the world, and weakening environmental regulations on pollution, it makes sense that you’d be concerned about what’s in the air you breathe every day. And while you might think you’re safe if you stay inside, 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.
One thing to be skeptical of is advertisements promoting purifiers that kill coronavirus. High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, which are currently considered the gold standard in the industry, are certified by the U.S. Department of Energy to eliminate 99.97 percent of particles as small as 0.3 microns, which — according Asriani M. Chiu, a pediatric allergy and immunology specialist at the Medical College of Wisconsin — includes mold and animal dander. Virus particles, though, are much smaller — around 0.1 microns — and won’t be trapped by a HEPA filter. Some brands, like Molekule, use a newer type of filter — photo-electrochemical oxidation (PECO) — that supposedly filters down to 0.1 microns, but their actual efficacy has yet to be proved. “It’s hard to measure how effective PECO is since most air-quality sensors can’t detect pollutants that small,” says Vera Kozyr, co-founder and CEO of air-pollution tracker Atmotube. “So it’s somewhat difficult to confirm manufacturer claims, when it comes to PECO filtration.” And Consumer Reports, which doctors, including allergists Clifford Bassett and Ronald Saff, tell us they trust for air-purifier testing, gave Molekule a failing grade.
An air purifier is still a good investment for coping with everyday allergy triggers, though. “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. We asked experts about what to look for when shopping for an air purifier, and which models have proved to be the best.
In general, experts prefer HEPA filters over electronic or ionizing devices that release ozone into the air, which can actually irritate asthma symptoms. As Kozyr explains, ionizing filters work by releasing negatively charged ions that “stick [to] small air pollutants like bacteria and viruses, forming heavier particles that eventually fall down onto surfaces.” She explains how this can even exacerbate the spread of diseases like coronavirus because, “in the end, you don’t get many pathogens in the air, but instead, you are surrounded by contaminated surfaces where the virus can survive for some period of time.” According to the Environmental Protection Agency, true HEPA filters have also 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.
For a little more, you can get a Wi-Fi-enabled Rabbit Air. This model lets you check your room’s air quality, set the purifier to a daily schedule, set reminders to replace your filter, and more from the connected app.
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.
Kozyr relies on Coway air purifiers in her own home (she has two) because “their efficiency versus price seems good.” This HEPA model is certified to clean the air in rooms up to 361 square feet and is much cheaper than the options above.
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.
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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