Many of the things we do to keep energy costs down in winter, such as fixing drafty doors and leaky windows, can also seal in pesky pollutants and irritants. To keep the air clean, use the exhaust fans in your kitchen and bathroom and vacuum frequently, especially if you have pets. And ditch the scented candles. If that doesn’t do the trick, you may want to consider an air purifier.
Consumer Reports tested dozens of portable air purifiers and whole-house air filters that use high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) or similar filters to clean the air. If you have a forced-air furnace, it may simply need a filter upgrade. The best filters are designed to capture pollen, dust, or smoke particles; regular furnace filters don’t do that. If you don’t have a forced-air system, check out our top portable room air purifiers. But skip electrostatic air purifiers, which can produce small amounts of ozone, a respiratory irritant, and ozone generators, which emit higher levels of ozone. Here are some affordable air cleaners to consider.
Clearing the Air
What They Do Well
The better air purifiers are especially good at filtering pollutant particles such as dust, smoke from candles or fireplaces, and pollen.
What’s Not So Great
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from adhesives, paints, and cleaning products, and other types of gaseous pollutants, however, are another matter. Some portable models with carbon pre-filters are claimed to filter VOCs, but the Environmental Protection Agency warns that such filters are specific to certain gaseous pollutants, not for others, and that no air purifier is expected to remove all gaseous pollutants found in the typical home. Carbon filters also must be replaced often, typically every 3 to 6 months, or they stop working.
Things to Consider
Many portable models have annual operating costs of $150 to $200 for filter replacement and electricity (with the majority of that cost being for filters). Filter prices can range from around $10 each up to about $100 (with some priced well into the hundreds). Some units use a pre-filter to capture large airborne particles before they reach the HEPA filter, possibly extending its life.
Depending on usage, you typically need to replace the carbon filters every 3 months, and the main filter yearly. To cut costs, look for room models that are Energy Star qualified, meaning they are relatively energy-efficient compared to standard models. Some models have washable filters that can be reused.
Keep it Clean
Any type of air purifier won’t work well if the filter is clogged and dusty, and, if filter is full, it may stop working entirely.
Noise level is important, especially if you run an air purifier in a room where you sleep or work. For the sake of efficiency (and quietness), we recommend picking a larger unit and running it on a lower speed, rather than cranking up a small one.