What Are Air Purifiers For?

Air purifiers are designed for cleaning the air around them. There are many ways that air purifiers clean the air, but the most common method of air cleaning utilizes a physical (also called mechanical) filter that can be cleaned or replaced. Air purifiers are made to cleanse the air of allergens, dust, germs, and even gasses and odors from the air.

I’m sure you’ve still got questions besides “what are air purifiers for” if you’re still reading, and I’d like to take you into a deeper dive into what these little machines are most commonly used for!

Right off the bat, I’d like to list off some of the most common things that air purifiers clean out of the air, this list isn’t all-inclusive, but it does cover the bases pretty well!

Air purifiers are used to cleanse the air of:

  • Dust
  • Pollen
  • Dander
  • Mold & Mildew Spores
  • Smoke
  • Bacteria & Viruses
  • Odors
  • VOCs
  • Radioactive Particles
  • Radon
  • And a Whole Lot More

Now, I must add that the effectiveness of any given air purifier varies and that not every air purifier can capture everything, but that’s what the internet is for! With the internet, you can poke around to find out just what air purifier you need to address your particular challenges. (And you can look around my site for your answers as well!)

What Kind of Air Purifier Do I Need to Cash in on the Cleanest Possible Air?

So, let’s just assume that you’re looking at (or already have) an air purifier with a HEPA filter. These are some of the most common air purifiers out there, so it’s what a lot of you may end up buying.

If you’re using an air purifier with a HEPA filter, then your air purifier will do great at capturing dust, pollen, dander, other allergens, some odors, smoke, mold, mildew, bacteria (and a few viruses), and radioactive particles. (Fun fact, HEPA filters were first made to capture radioactive particles.)

That’s pretty stinking good, if you ask me! If just a HEPA filter can capture that much stuff, then I’m sure you can tell how helpful a HEPA filter is!

If you’d like an air purifier that does better than just what a HEPA filter can do, then it might be worth finding an air purifier that has an activated carbon filter. Before that scares you off, let me just say that this is a filter type that’s usually included in a ton of air purifiers and it doesn’t come at much, if any, of an added cost.

And there are other filtration types besides activated carbon that further work to clean the air and/or extend the life of your air purifier’s filters, but that’s not the main focus of this helpful little post.

Let me just say that you’re more likely to get cleaner air with more expensive and/or more capable air purifiers.

No, the costlier air purifiers aren’t guaranteed to give you the cleanest possible air, nor are the air purifiers with the most bells and whistles, but the best air purifiers out there usually cost a chunk more than the 25 dollar ones you might see out there.

Just to run some numbers by you, air purifiers for your bedroom that will give you some of the best air quality will cost between 40 dollars and 100-ish. For larger rooms, that price jumps up to 80 to 200-ish. Now, there are lots of outliers to those prices, but that’s just an idea of what you might end up spending.

Pictured above is an Enviroklenz air purifier that cost about 800 dollars around the time of my writing this article. I know, that’s a ton of money! But I’ve yet to find any air purifier as effective as this one–especially for large rooms. And you want to know something weird about it? It’s only got TWO filters and an air sanitizer. Nothing more! The lesson from this is that it doesn’t take a whole lot for an air purifier to work great!

But you’re not just here to get told prices, you’re here to learn about what air purifiers are for, so back to that!

What Are the Health Benefits of Air Purifiers?

I’m going to keep this one as short as I can for the sake of not wasting the time of those who don’t care enough to read too much!

If you’d like to learn more about any of the things that I’m about to mention, I’ve got links to some of my other posts and articles for you! (But there are tons of other pieces I’ve written that you can check out too!)

Air purifiers are beneficial to the health of people with compromised immune systems, asthma, allergies, and for those who have increased levels of VOCs, radon, mold, and mildew. Air purifiers are also very helpful for people who live in wildfire country.

Air purifiers help those with compromised immune systems by cleansing the air of things that could harm them including viruses and bacteria. Hospitals like St. Jude use air purifiers and recommend that you do the same if you’ve got a compromised immune system, and even WebMD recommends air purifiers to reduce the risk of viral infections.

If you’re curious about some of the benefits of having air purifiers, check out some of these articles:

Do I Need an Air Purifier in My Bathroom? | 6 Reasons Why You Should Get an Air Purifier for Your Bathroom

What Are the Top 7 Proven Reasons to Have an Air Purifier in my Bedroom?

If you’ve got allergies or asthma, then air purifiers are great at removing the particles from the air that might trigger an asthma attack. It’s basically an absolute must that people with allergic asthma get air purifiers to lessen the amount of allergens in the air.

Air purifiers with HEPA filters should be able to address most of your asthma and allergy needs, and I’d recommend that you start there. Air purifiers with ionizers, sanitizers, and other bulkier systems can cost a chunk of money, so it can’t hurt to start small with just an air purifier with a HEPA filter for your bedroom and maybe your living room/office.

Once you realize that you feel a whole lot better and aren’t getting as many asthma attacks, you can look into getting costlier air purifiers, personal/portable air purifiers, and other such systems that I talk about on this site.

If you’d like to read up more on air purifiers for allergens and asthma, check out these articles:

Do Air Purifiers Help with Dust Allergies and Asthma?

Which is the Best Air Purifier for Asthma? | The 3 Things to Look for in Air Purifiers that Can Help with Asthma

New Parent Air Purifier: Air Purifier for Babies with Asthma

If you’re worried about gasses like VOCs and radon that are known to cause lots of ill health effects later in life, then air purifiers can help you there too. However, there’s a caveat. Two, actually.

The first caveat is that prevention is your best bet when dealing with VOCs and radon. (Radon is a toxic, radioactive gas that enters your home from the ground. VOCs, on the other hand, are “Volatile Organic Compounds” that come out of a lot of the stuff in our homes today.) For VOCs, your “prevention” includes following the directions and warning labels on household cleaning chemicals and other things and also ensuring that your home has lots of ventilation. Running tests for VOCs could be helpful as well. Radon, like VOCs, needs to be tested for if you want to have an accurate idea of the threat to your home. Radon tests are easy to do, and here’s a link to a recent article of mine on testing your home for radon (more accurately, it’s on the top three ways to test your home for radon).

The second caveat is that air purifiers can’t do the job alone. You can’t just buy an air purifier for radon or VOCs and call it good if you’ve got a serious problem. In fact, most places recommend that you mitigate the source of radon and VOCs before buying an air purifier, but I have to point of that air purifiers can in fact help with radon and VOCs.

The US DOE (Department of Energy) did a test years ago that found that air purifiers were effective at reducing the amount of VOCs and radon from the air. (I don’t recommend reading the piece, it’s boring! Hahaha) Part of this test showed that just a HEPA filter could help to reduce these two dangerous types of gasses, but the EPA (and me too) recommend against depending on just a HEPA filter to clean the air of gasses. What you need to get is an air purifier with an activated carbon filter.

What you see pictured is an air purifier with a filter that has activated carbon in the HEPA filter itself. A filter like this is what you’re looking for–either this, or one that has some other form of activated carbon in it.

Activate carbon is used to filter the air itself of gasses while a HEPA filter is just used to clean the air of solids–albeit very, very small particles.

If you’d like to read more on radon, VOCs, and/or air purifiers for radon and VOCs, check out one of the articles below:

Do Air Purifiers Help with Radon Gas? | What’s the Number 1 Best Way to Deal with Radon Gas in My Home?

What are VOCs? Can Air Purifiers Help with VOCs?

Do I Need an Air Purifier for My Woodshop?

What is the Best Air Purifier for Radon Gas?

How Much is a Radon Test Kit? | What is the Cost to Test My Home’s Air for Radon Gas?

Is Radon a Problem Where I Live in the USA?

What is a Radon Detector, Do I Need a Radon Detector, and What is the Best Radon Sensor on the Market Today?

Will an Activated Carbon Air Purifier Get Rid of Radon Gas?

Do Air Purifiers Help with Radon Gas? | What’s the Number 1 Best Way to Deal with Radon Gas in My Home?

Does a HEPA Filter Help With Radon? | Can a HEPA Filter Remove Radon from My Home’s Air?

Yes, I know, that’s a huge list of articles, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what I’ve written on air purifiers for radon and VOCs! I just wanted to be sure that there was plenty of stuff for interested people to check out easily. Sorry for the huge directory!

Alright, now the final thing for health stuff. Mold and fungus. So, mold and fungi spread by sending out spores. These spores have adverse health effects and can be dealt with by the proper air purifier. Even a simple HEPA filter can work to cut down on the number of spores in the air, but an air sanitizer might be a better call long-term to help you with spores if that’s a major concern. Additionally, dehumidifiers take moisture out of the air, making your home a little less appealing for mold and fungi to take up residence!

However, as is the case with radon and VOCs, mitigation and removal of the threat at the source is your best option. Air purifiers can help keep your air cleaner and healthier, they can even limit the spread of mold, mildew, and fungi, but they can’t kill mold at the source.

If you know there’s mold in your house then it has to be removed, plain and simple. There are ways that you can do it yourself, or you can hire professionals, but at the end of the day, the mold has to go. No number of air purifiers can kill mold at the source, cleaning has to happen.

If you’d like to read up on how to remove mold from your home, or check out one of my pieces on mold, mildew, and fungi, you can check out one of my other posts.

How Can I Check My House for Mold? | How Can I Clean Mold?

What is the Best Air Purifier for Mold and Fungus?

How Do I Know if I Need a Dehumidifier or a Humidifier? | What’s the Right Humidity for My Home?

What Kinds of Air Purifiers Are There?

There are lots of different air purifiers out there and they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. They address a huge range of issues as well.

Some air purifiers are made to cut down on dust while also making the air a little more pleasant (like water-based air purifiers), others are made to kill germs, others are made to mitigate odors, others still are made to mitigate dangerous gasses, others are made to deal with smoke, the list goes on and on and on.

Something interesting about air purifiers is that they also come as tiny wearable units (personal air purifiers), some can be operated from battery banks and laptops and be used anywhere, like I mentioned in this article, Can I Run a USB Air Purifier from a Laptop Computer | 1 Cool Tip About Desktop Personal Air Purifiers, and some are stinking massive, like the Enviroklenz air purifier that I have the picture of earlier in this article. That air purifier is seriously the size of a mini-fridge and (believe it or not) it’s not even the biggest air purifier out there!

But most air purifiers that you will be looking at aren’t going to be huge.

Odds are that they’ll be about the size of a desk lamp.

Of course, some are bigger and some are smaller, but that’s the usual size that I find.

Now, onto the next logical question about air purifiers. What kinds of filters and whatnot are there?

There are mechanical filters, air ionizers, ozone generators, carbon filters, electrostatic plates, water filters, air sanitizers, and a whole lot more.

Yeah, that’s a big, scary list.

I’d say that most people, maybe 70 percent of people, won’t need to care about a lot of these. Why? Because they’re usually just present of the air purifiers that cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars. If this is your first time thinking about getting an air purifier, then odds are that you don’t want to spend that much–I know I didn’t.

So, I’ll just address what you will come across.

“Mechanical filters” are physical filters like a HEPA filter. This is the most common thing that you’ll come across, and I recommend that you pick up an air purifier with a “True HEPA Filter” an “H-13” HEPA filter, or a “Medical Grade” HEPA filter. Avoid “HEPA type” air filters because those aren’t real HEPA filters–they don’t clean the air like real ones do.

Again, this is what you’re most likely to find when you’re shopping, and it’s what I recommend most often.

Next up are carbon/charcoal filters. These are great to have and they help fight against odors, VOCs, radon, and smoke. I like to say that they pick up where HEPA filters leave some slack. They’re great complements to one another.

If you’d like a list of the air purifiers that I recommend that have real HEPA filters and activated carbon filters, then please check out my personal list of top picks here. I actually own and use these air purifiers, so I know what I’m talking about with them!

Next up are ionizers. These are pretty common among personal/portable air purifiers. They aren’t as effective at cleaning the air as air purifiers that have HEPA filters, but they do help to clean the air a bit. They’re pretty neat devices! A lot of costlier air purifiers have these as a feature.

And finally, we have water air filtration. As the name suggests, these air purifiers literally use water as their sole means of cleaning the air. I think this is pretty stinking cool, and I’ve bought a few water-based air purifiers in order to check them out. I love them. But, there’s an issue with them–they’re not as good at cleaning the air as an air purifier with a HEPA filter. As such, I can’t recommend them as strongly as I’d like to. Not yet, at least. (I’m working on designing an air purifier that has a HEPA filter and uses water as a filter.)

Now, the other kinds of air purifiers out there are important, and there are other kinds of filters too, but those are all things that I don’t want to address in this (now super long) post. If you’d like to learn more, you can check out some of my other articles on them!

How Important are Air Purifier Filters?

What Are Air Purifiers with Ozone Generators?

What Does a Water Air Purifier Do? | The Surprising Benefits of Using Water as an Air Filter

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

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

What is an Air Purifier with Ionizers? How Ionizers Remove Particles from the Air

What Are Air Purifiers with Humidifiers?

What Are Air Purifiers with Dehumidifiers?

And that’s about it for this article. Sorry it went so long, there were just so many things I had to share on! I’d link a few articles answering other questions you might have like “do air purifiers work?” “how do air purifiers work?” and so many others like that, but I’ve already inundated you with links!

So, I guess I’ll just leave you with this, thank you for reading, and I hope you’ll be able to make the right decision on finding the right air purifier for you!

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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