The Complete Buyers Guide to Choosing the Best Air Purifier

Air purifiers have been around for a little while now, but recent years have seen a surge in sales as more and more people learn of their existence and the importance of good indoor air quality.

In this article we’re going to take a look at:

  • some possible reasons behind the rise in popularity of home air purifiers and the importance of good indoor air quality
  • how air purifiers may help to alleviate certain medical symptoms and conditions
  • how they work (including all-important filter ratings) and key points to bear in mind when making a selection
  • and all you need to know about how to operate and maintain them

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Some Surprising Facts About The Air That We Breathe

Many governments of countries across the globe have committed to measures aimed at reducing outdoor air pollution, and rightly so.

But what about the air we breathe INSIDE our homes, workplaces and recreational areas such as cinemas and restaurants?

Would it surprise you to learn that indoor air can often be far more contaminated than the air outside?!

We each take approximately 20,000 breaths each day, a large percentage of which are taken indoors, either at work or at home.

In addition to pollutants which have been brought in from the outside such as smoke, pollen, pet dander and dust, there are also many seemingly innocent everyday items inside our living and working environments which may be contributing to a toxic build-up of chemical contaminants.

These include synthetically-fragranced products (many derived from petroleum) such as perfumes, aftershaves, air fresheners, candles and household cleaning products.

Chemical pollutants can also emanate from different types of building materials, furnishings, flooring and paints.

Add into the mix unpleasant mold spores which can occur when there’s too much moisture in the air, or the occasional airborne virus and it’s not a pretty picture.

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To make matters worse, we often seal up our indoor spaces as tightly as possible with improved insulation in a bid to make them as energy-efficient as possible, thereby trapping in and recirculating stale and unsavoury particles.

And it doesn’t help that we’re increasingly sharing our spaces with even larger numbers of people, as open plan offices with lots of employees working in close proximity to each other becomes the norm.

So, lots of us all breathing in and exhaling out the same less-than-fresh air.

But Does Any of This Really Matter?

Well, there’s a body of research emerging which would seem to suggest that there’s a correlation between air quality and health.

Poor air quality may have a detrimental effect on us both physiologically and psychologically – may impact negatively both on our physical and mental well-being and even our brain power.

This may be more acute in people with pre-existing medical conditions such as allergies, neurological complaints or respiratory problems such as asthma.

Sufferers of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) may also find their condition aggravated by high (or even low) concentrations of chemicals in the indoor air.

If you’ve never heard of MCS you can read a bit more about it here.  It’s something which has been growing in recognition in recent years, and has led some organisations in the U.S. and Canada to adopt fragrance-free workplace policies.

A full examination of all the medical evidence relating to air quality is beyond the scope of this article, but you can of course do some further research of your own if you so wish.

To clarify at this point – nothing said here is in any way intended as a substitute for the advice of your own medical professional. Please always consult them if you have any specific questions or concerns.

How Air Purifiers Can Help To Improve Indoor Air Quality

So, now that we’ve had a look at why good air quality is so important, let’s take a look at where air purifiers come into the equation.

The name of these devices acts as a not-so-subtle clue.  In simple terms an air purifier purifies air!

Without going into overly technical detail, an air purifier essentially works by pulling air in through the unit, captures polluted particles in a filter, and then pumps out ‘clean’ air.

However, the amount of pollutants that are removed from the air very much depends on the type of filter and particle size, and not all filters are created equally.

What is a HEPA Filter?

From the start I’d say always go for an air purifier with a HEPA filter if your budget allows (HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air Filter).

HEPA filters are far superior in terms of contaminant removal as they are able to trap the most microscopic of airborne particles.

Other filters are sometimes only able to capture larger ones, and may not therefore be capable of getting rid of the one particular thing you want them to.

What is a MERV Value?

When looking at different filter ratings you may come across the term MERV.

This stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value and is a number from 1 – 16.

The higher the MERV rating, the smaller the holes in the filter, and the better it is at removing tiny particles from the airflow.

Below is a table of different MERV ratings, the size (in microns) of particles that each particular filter can capture, and typical contaminants you may find at that size.

HEPA filters perform at the top of this scale in the 17-20 MERV category, and are effective at removing 99.97% of the very smallest particles.

Many models on the market nowadays also come with some extra filters in addition to the main one, and we’ll take a look at what each of these do now.

1. Pre-Filter – these remove the larger particles in the trapped air and help to extend the life of the more expensive HEPA filters (more on this shortly).

2. Activated Carbon or Charcoal Filter – these absorbent materials act as a sponge to suck in unpleasant and lingering odours and bad smells.

Enhanced carbon filters are also effective at trapping a wider range of gases, vapours and chemicals including Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) – i.e. those nasties given off by some paints and household cleaning products.

What Technology is Used in an Air Purifier?

In addition to the different types of filters which are available to choose from, you may also come across air purifiers which feature ionisers or ultraviolet (UV) technology.

These essentially alter the characteristics of polluted particles, as opposed to trapping them.

In the case of air purifiers with UV lamps, the germicidal ultraviolet light acts to inactivate bacteria and viruses in airborne particles by preventing them from reproducing.

Ionisers electrically charge the particles as they pass through the unit, causing them to attach to a collection surface.

This process emits ozone, levels of which are usually considered well below those at which there is a risk to public health.

However, there has been some research which suggests that ozone emissions may react with certain chemicals given off by some common household items such as cleaning products, and may be associated with adverse health effects in susceptible populations.

Again, always please check with your own doctor or physician if you have any specific health concerns regarding ozone and the use of air purifiers.

Key Features And Benefits of Home Air Purifiers

If you’ve been searching online for air purifiers you’re probably aware that there’s a large selection to choose from, depending on your own personal preference, but many will have the same key features.

Let’s take a look at some of these features now.

Variable Air Speed Setting

Lots of models come with variable speed settings so you can adjust the particle-pulling power as you see fit.  Generally speaking, the higher the setting the harder the unit is working.

Some people like to run their unit on the highest setting when they first come into a room to draw as many pollutants out of the air as possible, then switch down to a lower setting when less is required to maintain the air at optimum levels.

You can also get air purifiers that do all this for you, using smart sensor technology to determine when an extra boost is required, and then automatically switching down to a lower setting when the air quality has improved.

Some even come with nifty LED light displays which change colour to signify the quality of the indoor air.

Remote Control

Some units are operated manually, while others come with remote controls to allow you to control the unit from the comfort of your sofa or bed.

Automatic On/Off Timers

You can buy models which are also equipped with timers which switch the device off after a set amount of time has elapsed.

This is ideal if you plan on using the air purifier before bedtime but don’t necessarily need or want it to run all through the night once you’ve nodded off.

Mobile Phone Integration

Tech fans will be pleased to hear that there are a few new models on the market where you can control your unit remotely with an app on your phone.

Some are also compatible with Amazon Alexa.

Filter Change Indicator

Some air purifiers also come with filter change indicator lights which take the guesswork out of when it’s time to remove and replace your filters.

Caring For Your Air Purifier

On the subject of filters, these need to be changed at regular intervals to make sure your unit stays working properly.

And it’s really important to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines as to when these filter changes should be done.  Failure to do so may render any warranties null and void.

That said, it’s usually fairly straightforward and simple to change the filters on most units.

Generally you simply pop open the casing, pull out the current filter, slot in a new one, and close the unit back up.

Some pre-filters don’t need to be replaced but do need you to clean them regularly.  Instructions are provided by each individual manufacturer but generally involve washing the filter in soapy water or vacuuming to remove particle build-up.

A few minutes spent on maintenance each month can help to prolong the life of your filters and save you some money on replacements.

9 Important Things To Consider Before Buying An Air Purifier

With such a large and bewildering choice of air purifiers for homes and offices now on sale, there are some important things to take into account before you make a purchase to help you make sure you buy the one that’s exactly right for you.

My top 9 factors to consider before buying an air purifier are:

1. Capacity

Always choose a unit that can cope with your room size.

Capacity is usually expressed in square feet, and ideally you want something which can refresh the air in your room up to 4-5 times per hour.

Don’t be tempted to go for something which is recommended for use in rooms smaller than your own. It won’t be able to adequately cope with the volume and is a waste of both money and energy.

2. Performance

Consider exactly what it is you want to remove from the air and make sure the model you select has a MERV rating which can handle that.

For example, there’s little point in selecting a unit with a low MERV rating when smoke is the thing you’re looking to get rid of.

On the subject of performance, another term you may come across when looking for an air purifier is CADR.

CADR stands for Clean Air Delivery Rate and is usually expressed in cubic feet per minute.  As a general rule the higher the CADR, the faster the air will be cleaned.

So when making your selection, if budget allows, it’s a good idea to go for something with both a high MERV and a high CADR.

3. Noise Levels

While it is possible to purchase an air purifier without a fan, and therefore one that is a bit quieter, these usually aren’t nearly as powerful as those with.

Noise is of course a subjective thing. What’s loud for one person is barely noticeable to the next. As a rule of thumb, the higher the fan speed the more noise is omitted. Around 35 decibels is generally deemed ‘quiet’.

Check out reviews from previous customers to gauge noise levels.  From much research into air purifiers I’d say the vast majority of them produce only relatively small amounts which are easily tolerated in exchange for improved air quality.

4. Ease of Use

One the whole, most units are pretty user-friendly and simple to operate, requiring no self-assembly – just take out of the packaging, plug in and you’re good to go!

But again, refer to reviews beforehand to ascertain how easy it is to operate and maintain the machine, particularly in relation to filter changing.

5. Maintenance Costs

On the subject of filters, another point to take into account before making any purchase is the cost of replacement filters.

HEPA filters are a bit more expensive to replace but in my opinion are really are worth the additional cost, and calculated over their anticipated lifespan work out at a very modest amount per day.

But it’s always good to know upfront what sort of capital outlay will be required in the future.

6. Looks

Again, another subjective matter.

With such a wide range of units available on the market you’re sure to find something that you personally find aesthetically pleasing.

You may want to go for a sleek, futuristic model which stands out, or something more subtle which blends in with your existing decor.

There’s even a brand where you can design the front panel of the unit yourself – the choice is yours!

7. Portability

Many people just purchase one air purifier and then use it in whichever room they need it in at a particular time.

For example, you may perhaps want to operate the unit in your main living space when you’re relaxing after a hard day’s work before taking it through to your bedroom in the evening.

If that’s the case pay attention to the weight and dimensions of the unit, and whether it’s equipped with castors to make it easy for you to wheel about from room to room.

8. Manufacturer Reputation and Customer Service

Reviews from previous customers will give you an indication of a unit’s reliability, and the response of the manufacturer should any issues ever arise.

Most reported issues tend to stem from damage caused in transit, as opposed to faulty units, but do a little bit of research to see how prompt and efficient a company is at handling customer complaints and resolving any problems.

9. Warranties

Look for a unit that comes with a comprehensive warranty that covers repairs to internal parts.

Be aware of any actions you have to do in order to validate the warranty, such as registering your purchase online.

Also take note of any obligations on your part in order to protect the validity of the warranty, such as replacing filters at specified intervals.

To Sum Up – Some Final Points To Help You Make The Right Choice

We consumers are now spoiled by a wide range of air purifiers to choose from so it’s prudent to do a little bit of research before making any purchase to ensure you pick the model that’s exactly right for your needs.

Think about what you want to use the air purifier for, and consider whether your preferred option has a sufficient MERV rating to adequately trap the type of particles you’re looking to remove from the air. Is it smoke, pet dander or perhaps pollen or other allergens?

Also think about the size of room(s) you’ll be using the air purifier in and make sure any model you choose can comfortably handle the dimensions.

Next, consider if looks are important, or if you don’t care too much about design but are on a budget and value and cost are important to you.

Once you’ve made your purchase and are all set up and running, please do take the time to regularly clean the filters to prolong their lifespan and to help keep your unit in tip-top condition.

Then simply sit back, relax and enjoying breathing in all that fresh, clean, unlimited air 🙂

What is important to you?

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