Best air purifiers 2021: Reviews and buying advice

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The COVID pandemic—and in much of the country, smoke-filled air caused by rampant wildfires—has renewed interest in a formerly sleepy sector of the gadget universe: the air purifier. For those of us in California, air purifiers have been essential companions in the fall months, helping to rid the unyielding stench of wood smoke from the air while (we hope) protecting our health from the potential damages of inhaling toxic gasses and particles.

Updated September 7, 2021 to add our OneLife X air purifier review. This appliance is the subject of a crowd-funding campaign, but the manufacturer agreed to provide us with a sample we could review as a finished product. The attraction here is that the OneLife X doesn’t depend on air filters that must be periodically replaced, so it will be less expensive to operate over its lifetime. The tradeoff is that its relatively small size makes it suitable for smaller rooms and its upfront price of $799–discounted to $579 if you preorder during the campaign–makes it one of the most expensive units in its class. 

But do air purifiers do any good? A well-publicized Consumer Reports story from 2003 found that they were not only basically useless, but that many models produced unhealthy levels of ozone instead of removing it. The upshot was that some purifiers could make health conditions like asthma worse, not better. The Sharper Image, whose Ionic Breeze product was the poster child for air purifiers at the time, sued the magazine for libel—and lost—going out of business soon after. The air purifier had suddenly become a pariah.

In recent years, however, the EPA has reported that the typical air quality indoors (where we spend about 90 percent of our time) is much worse than it is outside, with some airborne pollutants two to five times more concentrated in the home than outdoors. These pollutants include combustion byproducts, pet dander, mold, pesticides, ozone, natural gasses like radon, and the all-encompassing category of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which include everything from formaldehyde to trichloroethylene to chloroform. (These gasses can be 10 times higher indoors than outdoors.)

And none of this stuff is healthy to breathe.

The good news is that air purifiers have come a long way since 2003 (even Consumer Reports is back on board), though there’s still plenty of confusion out there. (Purifier manufacturer Molekule was recently hit with multiple class action lawsuits alleging its devices, which cost up to $1,049, don’t actually do anything.)

blueair replacement filter Blueair

Most air purifiers use multiple filters to trap increasingly small airborne particles and typically include a HEPA filter and a activated carbon filter to neutralize odors. This particular filter is used in some Blueair air purifiers.

Do air purifiers protect you? The experts (including the EPA) say that HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters are effective at reducing airborne contaminants of all types—including viruses—but are careful to note that on their own they are not enough to protect you from viruses and bacteria, and that you should still be practicing the standard battery of safeguards even if you have a great purifier on hand. That said, a purifier won’t hurt, and they are also effective at reducing (but not eliminating) indoor pollution.

At TechHive, we generally focus our air purifier coverage on smart devices; models that have some level of app support and wireless connectivity. While we don’t have the facilities to scientifically test the pollution-reduction claims of each purifier, we do report on the manufacturers’ specifications on that front, and you’ll find some guidance regarding those claims in our “what to look for” section, below.



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