Best air purifier for 2021

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A lot of us understandably are still concerned about protecting ourselves and our families from  — even with the . Air purifiers might be one of the best methods of removing  from the air inside your home. They’re also excellent at capturing other airborne pollutants such as dust particles, , pet dander, pet hair and mold spores. 

Once you’re ready to start shopping, it can be tricky to determine the best air purifier for your needs on your own — there are a multitude of different machines to choose from, and they all tout various methods of purification. I’m here to help you sort through your options.

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I’ve researched the field of products, interviewed experts in the field of indoor air quality and air purification and tested the features of a dozen of the most popular models, taking into consideration factors like the frequency of filter replacement, whether the filter has an air quality monitor, clean air delivery rate and more. The result is a definitive list of the best air purifier options around — keep reading to learn how to improve your indoor air quality and freshen up your home.

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 is the best air purifier 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 , 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 indoor air pollutants and airborne particles you might otherwise inhale. These are usually High Efficiency Particulate Absorbing filters and they’re designed to capture 99.97% of airborne particles sized 0.3 micron or larger. A HEPA filter reliably removes indoor air pollution including , pollen, spores, dust mites 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. “[A carbon filter is] 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.

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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 in recent years, the benefits an ionic purifier offers over a HEPA filter are in many cases negligible — particularly given the risk an ionizer occasionally poses.

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 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.

It’s also important to note that many of the home air purifier models I tested have been going in and out of stock in recent months, given the demand for such devices during the ongoing pandemic. While that might mean some of the options below are out of stock, we’ve decided to keep our recommendations — and the rationales behind them — posted, so you can use them to find the best product for you. For now, though, our recommendations are based on the included prices, and we would recommend avoiding sellers offering the same devices for significantly different price tags. We’ll update this list periodically as we review new products.

For the devices below, I primarily considered the power for the price (that is, the higher the CADR and the lower the price, the better). Secondarily, I looked 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.

David Priest/CNET

Honeywell’s $225 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 Honeywell 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 this Honeywell HPA300.

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After months of use in my own home, Coway’s HEPA air purifier has cemented itself as my favorite HEPA air cleaner around. While it saw great deals in recent months, its price tag at Amazon is up to an uncomfortable $250 — which is only decent for the 361-square-foot coverage it offers. Luckily, its unique design and ion filtration technology that removes pet dander, dust and other allergen particles set it apart from many other purifiers in the price range. The Coway’s striking, retro design was one of my favorites among the devices I tested.

Personally, while using this air purifier brand, I’ve experienced fewer allergy symptoms during typically difficult seasons for me. A colleague’s mother also recently bought a Coway for smoke in her home during the West Coast wildfires, and she noticed an immediate improvement in the air quality.

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

David Priest/CNET

The Blueair Blue Pure 411 is a simple, straightforward purifier with smart design and solid bang for your buck. You get particle and carbon filtration (the activated carbon filter removes odors, pet dander, airborne allergens and gaseous airborne 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 Blue Pure 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 of the Blue Pure is the lack of extra goodies, like timer buttons.

Ry Crist/CNET

I have mixed feelings about Dyson’s $550 TP04, but if price isn’t a concern and Dyson’s signature modern design appeals to you, it might be worth the splurge. The TP04 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 Dyson air purifier 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. Our tower fan reviewer for the TP04. But is all that worth the price bump from, say, Coway’s purifier?

For most people, the answer is likely no — especially considering that Dyson’s device hasn’t stacked up especially well against the competition in third-party testing, such as , where its performance was in line with the far more affordable Blueair 411. That said, if you love the aesthetic, the flashy extras and the built-in tower fan — and you don’t mind the asking price — Dyson’s TP04 might be a justifiable splurge.

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The rest of the field

The above recommendations are only four of the 12 devices I tested. Other HEPA cleaners, like the $100 , the $160 , the $90 and the $85 all offer only so-so power for their prices. All four of those models offer a carbon filter or charcoal filters for removing odors, pet dander 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 wasn’t among the devices I tested, in part because I was looking at more affordable options. But IQAir’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.

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

David Priest/CNET

Two devices I tested featured an ionic filter: the $250 I mentioned above and the $180 . Sharp’s CADR rating is only 259 square feet, which is significantly lower than Coway’s and not great for the price.

The ($48) and ($42) air purifiers were the most affordable devices I tested and they both provide a true HEPA filter option for small rooms. If you are looking for a portable air purifier, I could see them being used 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 air purification is a high priority.

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