Do I Need an Air Purifier for My Woodshop?

Woodshops at every level can benefit from having an air purifier.
Woodshops at every level can benefit from having an air purifier.

Air purifiers should be present in professional and hobbyist woodshops alike. Woodshops can be dusty and the products you use can be dangerous to inhale, especially over an extended period of time. A good air purifier will make your woodshop a better place for you, your equipment, and even your projects!

The air purifiers that I’m talking about are not the same thing as the dust collector that you may have, want, or have at least seen in a woodshop at some point.

The air purifier that I’m talking about is far more focused on your health than any dust collection system out there.

What’s an Air Purifier?

Air purifiers are machines that exist for the sole reason of filtering certain things out of the air of the room that you put them in. For example, HEPA filters will filter out particles as small as .3 microns, activated carbon filters will filter toxins out of the air you breathe.

Of course, there are lots of other kinds of air purifiers and air filters, but our greatest concern for today revolves around how an air purifier can help you in your woodshop.

If you’ve already got a dust collector, then you might have one that is capable of capturing sawdust as fine as .3 microns. Most are and you can find aftermarket filters that can take care of even smaller particles. Since you know that, you might be thinking that there’s no point in getting an air purifier.

But dust isn’t the main concern that you should have if you’ve already got a dust collector. It’s a concern, one that an air purifier can help with, but it isn’t the main one.

On top of that, most air purifiers probably wouldn’t be able to keep up with the amount of dust that your woodworking creates, especially if you’re doing a whole lot of sanding. (Of course, if you’re a hobbyist woodworker, then it could be a cheap option that might be worth getting.)

I mean, your air purifier will still help with dust, I’m sure you’re well aware that you’ve still got dust all around your shop despite your dust collector, but sawdust isn’t the main thing that I’m getting at today.

Okay, so what’s the point of getting an air purifier in your shop if it isn’t for the dust?

Well, I’m sure you’ve all balked at the smell of at least one of the chemicals that you’ve used at some point. Odds are it was when you first started woodworking, or when you just got a new chemical. After using it for a while, you’ve probably gotten to the point that it doesn’t bother you anymore.

And what’s the point of worrying about something that doesn’t phase you?

Well, just about every chemical out there releases something called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) which are toxic to humans. That’s why so many of the chemicals that you’re using will say to apply them outside, even though most of us ignore that.

If you’re curious what VOCs are, I’ll talk about them a little more in a bit.

Now, VOCs are dangerous and there isn’t much that any normal dust collector can do about them. Since VOCs are a gas, simple dust collection will never cut it in that arena.

Activated carbon filters, unlike HEPA filters and dust collectors, are designed to capture toxic gasses out of the air. These toxins include things like radon and VOCs.

But, activated carbon filters also work to eliminate odors. Let’s face it, woodshops can stink sometimes and we’re not always the best judges to know if something smells bad or not. With an activated carbon filter in your air purifier, you won’t have to worry about lingering smells that your guests and customers might find off-putting.

Think of an activated carbon filter as your usual two bird one stone situation. You’re getting air that isn’t going to kill you (with VOCs) and your air will smell better at the same time.

How Does an Air Purifier Make My Woodshop’s Air Healthier?

Air purifiers are great at increasing the air quality in the rooms they are in. Better air quality can equate to better health. Better health means you can continue doing what you love for years to come.

A lot of stains and varnishes are full of VOCs

Air purifiers are able to improve the air quality in areas like woodshops by pulling airborne particles and gasses out of the air. These particles and gasses can be bad for your health, and people with allergies can especially benefit from having an air purifier.

Now, I’m sure everyone here has inhaled something at some point that made them cough for hours on end. That’s no fun.

Since we’re looking at woodshops, I can say that there are things that might get in the air that are particles that might tear up our lungs too. A HEPA filter can work to capture those troublesome airborne particles before you breathe them in.

But that’s not too special, as I’ve said before. Dust collectors can do that too.

But, what a dust collector can’t do is capture VOCs.

VOCs are commonly man-made and they are compounds that will “off-gas” in most environments. That off-gassing basically just means that the chemical or compound is released into the air over time.

VOCs are known to have short and/or long term health issues, depending on the particular VOC. The term VOC is very broad, so there are many different compounds that are seen as VOCs. Some can be a lot more dangerous than others.

VOCs are released into the air from many different things that people deal with in their daily lives. Woodworkers are probably exposed to a whole lot more VOCs than anyone else, thanks to all the varnishes, stains, glues, and everything else that they use in their line of work.

VOC levels can be ten times higher in our homes than they are outside, according to the EPA.

Now, think about how you use so many chemicals on your projects that you don’t use inside of your home. Some of those chemicals can be full of VOCs that are toxic. Imagine how high the levels of VOCs are in your woodshop!

Now, there’s a few simple fixes to the VOC problem, so, here are the ones I came up with according to their cost:

  1. Use the chemicals outside.
  2. Install fans the vent out the air of a particular spot where you apply the chemicals when you are unable to do so outside.
  3. Use non-toxic chemicals, there are more and more of those coming out nowadays.
  4. Get an air purifier with activated carbon filters to capture the VOCs that are off-gassed (and still do all you can to work with your chemicals in well-ventilated areas, as the instructions of the bottles usually recommend.

But, I know that I’m probably talking to a lot of guys here, and we don’t like being told what to do. We especially don’t like people on the internet telling us what to do.

So, I’ve compiled a limited list of VOCs that are present in a lot of woodworking and what those VOCs can do to your health.

VOC NameShort Term Health Effects*Long Term Health Effects*Source
AcetoneIrritation, headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and more.From animal studies, it causes liver damage, kidney damage and even nerve damage, and more.DHSS
EthanolHeadache, nausea, vomiting, unconsciousness, impaired vision, and more.Liver and nervous system damage. NJ DOH
FormaldehydeIrritation to skin, respiratory system, and eyes, coughing, nausea, and more.Several kinds of cancer including leukemia, nasopharynx, and more. NIH

*Please note, the listed health effects are not exhaustive and are just a sampling.

I must also note that reproductive organs in women and men alike can be adversely affected by many of the above VOCs. Unborn children can be as well. I left that out of the list and will let you look up the health risks of every one of these chemicals, should you so please. (It’s always best to know what you’re working with and what it can do to you.)

This list is anything but complete and serves only to show that VOCs can be hazardous to one’s health. There are many kinds of VOCs that people may be exposed to and there is a lot of grey area in what exposure to those VOCs may do to one’s health. Do your own research for the chemicals you work with every day to know what risks you might be taking, especially if you are working in a poorly ventilated area.

Now, with that out of the way, I would like to remind you all that activated carbon filters in an air purifier can take care of the VOCs that are off-gassed. The activated carbon will be able to pull those VOCs into its pores and it will hold it there, saving you from having to breathe it all in.

It’s probably best if you get an air purifier that’s rated for a room that’s larger than your shop, since that means that the fan will be stronger and able to cycle your shop’s air better.

Either that, or you could pick up an industrial grade or commercial grade air purifier, but that’ll just burn a hole in your wallet.

Just a normal air purifier with an activated carbon filter should do for your shop, especially if you get one that’s going to be a little overkill for the square footage.

But don’t make your purchase just yet! I have a couple other things that you need to look for when you’re picking up an air purifier for your woodshop!

If you’re done reading and just want to see my recommendations, then you can skip to the bottom of this article. I’ve got a section labelled “Recommended Air Purifiers for Woodshops”. That’s what you’ll want to see!

How is an Air Purifier Good for My Woodshop Equipment?

Despite having a dust collection system, odds are that there’s still a lot of sawdust all over your woodshop. While shop equipment is designed to receive some abuse, allowing the dust to remain thick on the tools could potentially impact their lifespan.

Sawdust has a way of gathering and retaining moisture, and that moisture can make your equipment rust.

In addition to that, electronics are always temperamental, and super fine sawdust has a way of getting into the worst possible places. That sawdust could damage your electronics as it gets into places it shouldn’t go.

Anyone that's worked on wood knows that sawdust gets everywhere.

An air purifier with a HEPA filter will be able to provide just a little more air purification and help to cut down how much dust is able to remain on your equipment.

Of course, that probably will not remove the need to keep your equipment clean, but it should provide you with a noticeable improvement in your shop’s air quality.

How Can an Air Purifier Help My Woodshop Crafts?

Some projects, especially those that are dealing with resin, need to have a pretty long dry time. In that time, the last thing anyone would want is for a layer of dust to land on it and imbed itself into your masterpiece. A lot of air purifiers can be moved and you can move your air purifier close to the project as it dries in an effort to capture any dust that might try to ruin your work.

Woodshops of any size can benefit from having an air purifier.

Of course, this isn’t a foolproof perk of having an air purifier, but it can potentially help.

More importantly, however, is the fact that you can have your finished projects out on your shop floor and you won’t have to spend as much time dusting them off before you deliver the finished products, as you may have had to do in the past.

Yeah, I know, this is my weakest argument for air purifiers. But, it wasn’t ever meant to be what convinced you. You have a dust collector, maybe even one that can do better than an air purifier.

The key perk that air purifiers offer here, as far as dust collection goes, is that they can be moved around a lot more easily than that massive dust collection system that’s mounted in the corner of your shop.

It’s surprising how noticeable of a difference an air purifier can make in a localized area especially and, now that I think of it, I might write an article of a test of that effect some time in the future, that could be cool.

Recommended Air Purifiers for Woodshops

The best air purifier for any woodshop will have a pre-filter that’s easy to clean, an activated carbon filter, and a HEPA filter. Your air purifier should be well built and able to take a hit or two as well! And finally, the air purifier should not have an ionizer, but, if it does, buy a unit that you can turn that setting off.

Now, I haven’t mentioned pre-filters up until now, but I’m sure you’re all well-aware of how they work, more or less. The whole concept is that the pre-filter captures the larger particles in the air before they clog up your air purifier’s main filters.

HEPA filters and activated carbon filters can be expensive to replace. Your pre-filter buys you more time with those main filters, saving you money in the long run.

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering what I am talking about the ionizer side of things.

Ionizers fill the air around them with ionized particles that are usually negatively charged.

Those charged particles then attach themselves to any air that they come into contact with and that makes it sink to the ground or stick to any nearby surfaces.

While that might sound nice, it can actually become quite the issue. It can make the dust in your woodshop stick to even more things. Some people don’t mind this, others do. I personally am not a fan of it because it makes things a little unpredictable. In addition to that, I don’t want any dust sticking to any tools or walls that I can’t clean very easily.

With all that said, I’d like to say one last time that it will probably be worth getting an air purifier that’s rated for a room larger than however big your woodshop is. Or, possibly better yet, you can get a few units that you can move around your shop as you need.

With all of that out of the way, here are my top picks for air purifiers for woodshops!

Recommended Units

All the units I recommend here will be machines I’ve either used, or I can see someone being able to use in their woodshop. Every machine will have a pre-filter, HEPA filter, and an activated carbon filter.

100-200 Square Feet

Rated for 161 square feet, this Levoit air purifier is cheap, but still well built. It’s small too, so it won’t take up too much of your shop space. You can stick it up on a shelf, should you so please as well.

Alas, this air purifier’s pre-filter is not labeled as a washable one, which is a big negative, especially when you’re dealing with so much sawdust. That being said, it’s built well enough that you should be able to take a shop vac to it every now and then to keep it clear. You’ll have to replace it eventually, but I’m a believer in shop vacs!

You can check this unit’s current price on Amazon here.

200-400 Square Feet

This will probably be the size of most hobbyist’s woodshops, I’m willing to bet.

This air purifier is rated for rooms up to 400 square feet. Like the others, it’s got the three filters I recommended. This level of air purifier took me a bit to find the perfect unit, but I think this is the best one you can get for its price. There are costlier units that can do more, but I think this one will be able to hold its own as long as you need it to.

It also has an ionizer, which I still am not a fan of, but that could just be a preference thing. You can make your own decision, should you so please.

Unfortunately, this air purifier’s replacements are a bit costly, but it looks like the filter itself should be strong enough for you to shop vac out a few times.

The filter is a three in one filter, including its pre-filter, HEPA filter, and activated carbon filter. To get the most out of this filter once you shop vac it and/or blow it out with compressed air, leave it out in the sun so the activated carbon can let go of the VOCs and everything else that it picked up. You will need to replace the filter for the best possible results, but sometimes saving a few bucks is what you have to do.

You can order this air purifier from Amazon here. (But, before you do, read my next recommendation. This isn’t the best one out there, but it might work for you. Just know that the next one is just a bit more expensive though!)

500-600 Square Feet *Strongly Recommend!*

Yes, I know that this is barely bigger than the last air purifier, but it’s got my strongest recommendation. I hate to sound spammy, but I think this is a really good one.

The VEVA air purifier is made for rooms up to 600 square feet and it is really good at cleaning the air. And, on top of all of that, it’s got a pre-filter that explicitly says is washable, which is nice. That alone is a worthwhile selling point to me because I don’t have to fear not being able to get the best possible air quality.

In addition to that, its replacement filters are a lot more affordable than the above option.

All around, I think this is the superior machine.

Oh, and it doesn’t have an ion generator, which is something I like too! I mean, ion generators can be nice, but I don’t think they belong in places where you have valuable equipment.

You can order this air purifier from Amazon here.

600-1000 Square Feet

The Green Air Encore is built to cover up to 1,000 square feet and I would like to say, right off the bat, that I really dig how it looks. It looks super modern and fancy. It made me feel like I was looking at a spaceship part.

In fact, I’ve never seen this machine before today, but I intend to buy it now. I’ll do a review and some tests on it once I do, and I’ll try to link that to here when I get it.

Anyways, back to the machine.

This air purifier has a pre-filter that’s one of the best ones out there. It uses a mesh, which makes it super easy to clean off. These pre-filters are some of my most preferred ones for heavy-duty applications, like that of a woodshop.

It has an activated carbon filter and a HEPA filter in addition to its pre-filter, so that’s exactly what you’ll need. This air purifier’s little blue light also serves as an indicator too, which is cool.

If you’re interested in this air purifier, then you can check it out on Amazon here.

1000+ Square Feet

So, this Gocheer air purifier is for rooms that are from 2,500 to 6,000 square feet. I know that’s a big step past 1,000 feet, but it’s slim pickings for good shop-worthy air purifiers for larger areas.

A lot of those air purifiers for larger rooms are made for homes and likely wouldn’t last very long in a shop’s setting.

In addition to that, a lot of them are really expensive.

If you’d like to check out the Gocheer air purifier, you can buy it on Amazon here.

Either they’re expensive because they’re for luxury homes, or because they’re for industrial and commercial settings. Sure the latter two options will be great for a woodshop, but they’re a tad costly, so that puts them out of a lot of people’s price ranges. If you’d like to shop for the bigger and better air purifiers, I recommend you look around on Amazon, here’s a link to a search that already has the setting put in that you’ll need.

Now, back to the Gocheer air purifier.

This air purifier’s pre-filter is also washable, which is a must. It’s got a lot of great sensors and other options that make it super capable too.

If you’d like to check out the Gocheer air purifier on Amazon, you can do so here.

Want to read up some more on air purifiers? Check out some of my other pieces here!

Air Purifier Buying Guide: How do I Find an Air Purifier Worth Buying?

What is a Pre-Filter? Does My Air Purifier Need a Pre-Filter?

What is a Water Based Air Purifier? | The Pros & Cons of Water Air Revitalizers

What are VOCs? Can Air Purifiers Help with VOCs?

Jonathon Silva

Jonathan Silva is our longtime Air Purifier Essentials author. He has been writing on air purification technologies for his entire professional career.

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