What is a Personal Air Purifier and How Do They Work?

If you’ve been shopping around for air purifiers for any amount of time, then odds are that you’ve seen a personal air purifier or two.

Or maybe you’ve just seen the phrase and got to wondering.

Well, wonder no more, I’ll tell you all about personal air purifiers, what they do, and how they work.

Personal air purifiers are devices that are made to cleanse the air immediately around someone of dust, allergens, and even germs. They usually come in either a wearable necklace form or a desktop/tabletop form.

What makes a personal air purifier a personal air purifier is how they clean the air only around an individual instead of the air in an entire room.

What Are Personal Air Purifiers Good For?

Personal air purifiers have a lot of uses, just like normal air purifiers, but their coverage area (the area that they can clean air) is usually much more limited.

But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The smaller size allows for your air purifier to travel with you, which is something that a lot of normal air purifiers simply can’t do. In addition to that, the right personal air purifier can operate while you’re on the go too–that might mean that it is a wearable one that runs on a battery while you’re out and about, or it can run in your car, on your desk at work, or anywhere else for that matter.

Quick side note here, you can actually run certain personal air purifiers off the USB ports on your laptop! I wrote a little article on that (and some other relevant interesting info) here: Can I Run a USB Air Purifier from a Laptop Computer | 1 Cool Tip About Desktop Personal Air Purifiers.

What Are Personal Air Purifiers?

Air purifiers in general have become even more popular over the past few years, and it’s for good reason.

No matter where we live, there’s stuff in the air we breathe that might not be the best for us. Allergens, germs, dangerous gasses, and a whole lot of other things can hurt us in the long run, which is where air purifiers come into the picture.

This story is a whole lot worse for people who live in and around urban areas.

Which leads me to my next point, indoor air is usually a whole lot more dirty than the air outside. (There’s a reason why people open their windows to let some fresh air in!) How much dirtier? Well, according to the EPA, the air inside your home is two to five times dirtier than the air outside.

Old people, young children, people with cardiovascular disease, and those with respiratory diseases are especially prone to be adversely impacted by the pollutants in the air. (Source: EPA) If you or a family member fit in any of those categories, then it could be worth getting an air purifier for your home, and not just a personal air purifier to bring along with you.

But hey, we’re not here to talk about air purifiers in general, we’re here for personal air purifiers in particular. Which, spoiler alert, are a lot like normal air purifiers, they just can’t clean the air in a big room, like full-sized air purifiers can.

And, if you are here to read up on air purifiers in general, then you can check out this article: What Are Air Purifiers For? Or you can read this one too: What is an Air Purifier and What Do Air Purifiers Do?

So, what is the difference between a normal air purifier and a personal air purifier?

Besides the coverage area being smaller, personal air purifiers (at least the smaller ones) usually aren’t as good at cleaning the air. Many times the smallest personal air purifiers only have one filtration type which isn’t nearly as good as your standard air purifier that will often have three or more filtration types to ensure the cleanest possible air.

But that isn’t to say that you aren’t getting clean air with the right personal air purifier! Problem is, it can just be a little hard to find a good one. (And I’ll tell you what to look for in a good one later on.)

In addition to having less filters, personal air purifiers themselves are usually a lot smaller than standard air purifiers as well. Personal air purifiers usually have batteries and/or USB ports to plug into as well, rather than a standard plug that normal air purifiers use.

Besides all of that, personal air purifiers are a whole lot like normal air purifiers.

How Do Personal Air Purifiers Work?

There are three many ways that personal air purifiers clean the air that you’ll see while you’re shopping around. These include HEPA filter, air ionizer, and activated carbon. Some personal air purifiers might have electrostatic plates that will work wonders, but those are often very costly. There are some other kinds of personal air purifiers out there too that you might come across, but I won’t be addressing these other kinds, since they’re less common.

Air ionizers are, at least in my opinion, the least effective type of personal air purifier, since they don’t remove things from the air directly, like mechanical air filters do. Air ionizers send ions into the air called anions that cause the particles in the air to collect and precipitate from the air. Problem is, that’s not entirely guaranteed and it is a passive form of air cleaning.

That passive method isn’t guaranteed to work, whereas active, mechanical air purifiers are basically guaranteed to work. They draw in particles from the air and capture them, sequestering them and ensuring that you won’t be breathing them ever again.

Mechanical filters, including HEPA and activated carbon filters, are therefore my preferred method of air filtration and air purifier.

There are personal air purifiers out there that have just a HEPA filter, just an activated carbon filter, and some even have filters that are both HEPA and activated carbon in one.

If you’d like to red up on air ionizers and air ionization, then you can check out this article here: What is an Air Ionizer? I won’t be addressing that more in this article in order to save you time on your reading.

So, how do mechanical filters work? It’s actually pretty simple, they have a filter on one end and a fan that pulls air through on the other. As the air is pulled through the filter it is sent through the filter and the particles are captured along the way.

There are also passive air filters that are activated carbon, but those are mostly meant to capture odors and they don’t help with allergens like pollen, dust, and dander. That, however, is a subject for another day and another article.

Are Personal Air Purifiers Effective?

There is some debate as to how effective personal air purifiers are, and I am in the camp that says that they usually aren’t nearly as good as full-size air purifiers. On top of that, I’d like to point out that there are a lot of personal air purifiers out there that cost more than standard air purifiers even though they clean less air.

Because of all of that, I have to say that I’d recommend you choose a standard air purifier for places like your office and other places (or an air purifier that you can put on your desk) and not a wearable personal air purifier. The wearable ones, from my experience, just aren’t worth the cost and they don’t work nearly as well as you might hope.

With that said, however, there are a lot of personal air purifiers that are very effective and also a great value too!

Those air purifiers are the ones that you can stick on your desktop, bedside table, or anywhere else that you like and they plug into your wall (or to a USB port). These particular personal air purifiers are the most like the standard air purifiers you’ll see and that may very well be why they’re some of the best one that you can get.

But what makes these particular personal air purifiers the most effective ones?

Well, as I mentioned earlier, they are the most like full-sized air purifiers and it’s the full-size ones that have been around so long and done so much to earn a great name for themselves. Since they’re the most like the tried and true models, they’re more apt to work the best. They aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel, they’re just shrinking things down.

Activated Carbon filters are great at absorbing radon. You can even get air purifiers that have radon infused in the HEPA filter.

The wearable personal air purifiers and other things like that just can’t compete with air purifiers that are made like standard ones.

And, for the record, when you’re shopping for a personal air purifier, just remember that replaceable or cleanable filters are a must. Don’t spend too much either, you can get some really nice ones for twenty to thirty dollars-ish that work great.

Additionally, the wearable personal air purifiers, in addition to being overpriced for how much they clean the air, aren’t all that you might think they are. They can’t clean the air you’re breathing as you walk, especially if you walk fast. They clean the air around you and that takes time. The only way a wearable air purifier can get the job done is if you aren’t moving–which is another reason why you might as well get an air purifier that plugs in. The entire point of getting one that you can use on the go is just about meritless.


In conclusion, personal air purifiers are just miniaturized versions of the full-size air purifiers that you are used to seeing. Not all of them work, however, so be sure to shop around. The wearable ones are often overpriced and largely all hype and not as good at cleaning the air whereas desktop ones that are much more like full-size air purifiers usually work the best, especially for their lower prices.

If you’re interested in getting a personal air purifier that you can put in your car, on your desk, or anywhere else, when I have a recommendation that I share in my list of top picks here: Air Purifier Essentials Top Picks: Best HEPA Air Purifiers on the Market. Just a heads up, the air purifier I’m talking about here is the one at the top of the list.

Thanks for the read and for your time! I hope you enjoyed and I was able to enlighten you a bit on personal air purifiers! If you’d like to support me and the site, be sure to use the above link of my top picks of air purifiers and buy one! Or, if you need to read some more, check out some of my related articles below.

What Is A Personal Air Purifier? | What Should I Look For in the Best Personal Air Purifier?

Is a HEPA Filter Worth it in My Air Purifier – Why You Should Get an Air Purifier with a HEPA Filter

Are Air Purifiers a Waste of Money? | The Worth of a Good Air Purifier

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

Do Air Purifiers Help with Dust Allergies and Asthma?

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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