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Best air purifiers for 2020

"Vito Hacking" (2020-07-24)

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In a world where we are becoming more aware by the week of the air we breathe, air purifiers seem to make more sense than ever. From filtering aerosol droplets (which can carry COVID-19 virions) to pollen to wildfire smoke out of the air you breathe, air cleaning devices offer a fairly obvious value proposition. 

But with the overwhelming number of air-cleaning devices on the market, all advertising various filtration methods, how do you find the best one?

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I've extensively researched the field of products, tested the extra features on a dozen of the most popular models, interviewed various experts in the field of indoor air quality and written up the definitive list of the best air cleaners around. Ready to buy an air purifier? Look no further.

A dozen of the most popular home air purifiers on the market.

David Priest/CNET
Before the recommendations…

Before getting into the details of which devices are best and why, it's important to understand the basic mechanisms that these products use to clean your air. To get a handle on these methods, I talked to Richard Shaughnessy, director of Indoor Air Research at the University of Tulsa.

According to Shaughnessy, who has a doctorate in chemical engineering, most air cleaners run your air through a filter designed to catch particles you might otherwise inhale. These are usually High Efficiency Particulate Absorbing filters and they're designed to capture 99.97% of particles sized 0.3 micron or larger. HEPA filters reliably remove smoke (including from wildfires), pollen, dust and other particulate matter that pollutes home environments.

Activated carbon offers another type of filter, which captures odors and gaseous pollutants that can slip through a HEPA filter. "[Carbon filters are] good ... to an extent," said Shaughnessy, "but they need to have a sufficient amount of carbon. You don't want breakthrough happening where the carbon becomes fully saturated and it releases what was captured back into the air."

According to multiple researchers I talked to, most consumer air purifiers simply don't have enough activated carbon to be an effective odor filter for more than a short period of time.

Read more: Will air purifiers protect you from COVID-19, wildfire smoke and pollen?  

Another common type of air cleaning works via ionic filtering. These filters can be effective, according to Shaughnessy, but they have a number of shortcomings: Some don't actually remove particulate from the home, but rather cause them to attach themselves to surfaces around the home. Others must be cleaned consistently, or they might begin to emit ozone -- itself a pollutant.

While some ionic purifiers are effective and standards for them have risen significantly in recent years, the benefits an ionic purifier offers over a HEPA filter are in many cases negligible -- particularly given the risk they occasionally pose.

An important standard to keep an eye out for is the AHAM Verified Clean Air Delivery Rate, which tells you how much air a purifier can process in a given time frame. Not every company uses this standard, but most do.

Recommendations get a little more complicated when companies don't list a CADR, or when they employ proprietary filtration methods.


Dyson's $550 air purifier doesn't offer a CADR rating at all.

David Priest/CNET

Some major players, like Dyson and Molekule, offer their own standards. That doesn't necessarily mean that their devices are inferior, but rather that they require extra scrutiny. In these cases, I looked at the explanations presented by the companies themselves and talked to third-party specialists. By and large, such devices -- even if they do accomplish what they claim -- still end up overpriced compared with competing products with more readily accessible evidence backing up their claims.

For the recommendations below, I primarily consider the power for the price (that is, the higher the CADR and the lower the price, the better). Secondarily, I look at additional cleaning modes, the helpfulness of controls, the general design and the noise level. The perfect air cleaner looks sleek enough to fit into most modern decor, can operate as desired with minimal fiddling and can thoroughly and quietly clean your air.

Best overall air purifier

Blueair Pure 411

David Priest/CNET

The Blueair Pure 411 is a simple, straightforward purifier with smart design and solid bang for your buck. You get particle and carbon filtration (which removes odors and gaseous pollutants) that will work well in a 160-square-foot room, all for $120. Some devices, like Sharp's Air Purifier, don't even offer that much cleaning power at nearly twice the price.

The Blueair has different colored prefilter sleeves for the outside of the device, so it will fit into almost any color palette, and its single-button interface is as intuitive as it gets. The device is also light, with middle-of-the-road noise production. Besides the noise, the only real downside is the lack of extra goodies, like timer buttons.

See at Amazon

Best air purifier for large spaces

Honeywell Home HPA300

David Priest/CNET

Honeywell's $250 air purifier is a little more expensive than other HEPA models, but it can cover a larger space than almost any other purifier I tested: 465 square feet. Despite its clunky design (this thing weighs a hefty 21 pounds), the Honeywell Home is actually one of the quieter models around.

The Home's aesthetic isn't my favorite, but you get good control for setting timers and checking whether the prefilter or filter needs replacing. If you're looking for great basic performance for a reasonable price, you can't beat the Honeywell Home.

See at Amazon

Best for design

Coway AP1512HH HEPA Air Purifier

David Priest/CNET

Coway's air purifier falls between the Blueair and Honeywell models above in both price and the size of the room it can cover, but its unique design and ion filtration technology set it apart from those. The Coway can filter air for rooms up to 361 square feet and its striking, retro design was one of my favorites among the devices I tested.

While the ionic filtration technology isn't a huge plus, it also won't produce significant ozone, as tested by the California EPA. If you want an air purifier for a midsize room, Coway's purifier is one of the best options around with one of the most adventurous looks.

See at Amazon

The rest of the field

The air purifiers above are only three of the 12 devices I tested. Other HEPA cleaners, like the $100 Levoit Core 300, the $160 Winix 5500-2, the $90 Bissell and the $85 GermGuardian all offer only so-so power for their prices. All four of those models offer carbon or charcoal filters for removing odors and gaseous pollutants, but the filters in all of them contain only a few ounces of the medium, meaning they won't last long with use.

The IQ HealthPro Plus wasn't among the devices I tested, in part because I was looking at more affordable options. But IQ's $900 air cleaner is one of the few devices on the market to contain multiple kilograms of activated carbon, which will filter out odors and gaseous pollutants much more effectively than most consumer air cleaners under $1,000, according to specialists I talked to.

Two devices I tested featured ionic filters: the $184 Coway AP-1512HH I mentioned above and the $230 Sharp FPK50UW. Sharp's CADR rating is only 259 square feet, which is significantly lower than Coway's and not great for the price.


The Holmes air purifier is a cheap option for your desktop.

David Priest/CNET

The Partu ($50) and Holmes ($38) air purifiers were the most affordable devices I tested and they both offer HEPA filtering for small rooms. I could see someone using them on a desk in an office, for instance, to great effect. But both felt a little cheap and neither gave an official CADR, so I would recommend saving up for something a little more reliable if cleaner air is a high priority.

I generally found more expensive models to have some of the hardest-to-verify claims. Dyson's $550 TP04, for instance, uses a HEPA filter, but provides no CADR. A Dyson spokesperson told me, "CADR as measured by some current methods is not an accurate representation of a real home," and thus the company has developed its own testing procedures "to replicate a more realistic setting." That includes a testing room that has over double the footprint of AHAM's testing rooms, along with nine sensors placed around the space (versus AHAM's single sensor). The Dyson TP04, perhaps unsurprisingly, performs well according to Dyson's own metrics.

In addition, the TP04 features a handful of extra goodies, including an oscillating fan to help circulate clean air around larger rooms, an app with home air quality data and a small-but-nifty display. But is all that worth the $300 price bump from, say, Honeywell's Home purifier?