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The best activated charcoal air purifiers

Updated on November 22, 2023
Written by
Danny Ashton
Danny is the founder of HouseFresh and has been writing about air purifiers and indoor air quality since 2010. He is our lead tester, conducting all the tests we use to evaluate air quality products. That is why you will always see his name attached to our reviews.

If you are not the owner of a water purification system or an aquarium, you might be surprised how activated carbon is used as an air purifier filter. The use of carbon filters for water purification is considered the oldest method of water purification.

People have used it for centuries to filter impurities from drinking water. In the aquarium industry, activated carbon is currently one of the most effective adsorbents and the largest-selling maintenance product. It removes dissolved organic molecules, chloramines, chlorine, and some heavy metals. It is also used to remove residual dyes and medications like antibiotics.

Activated carbon, also known as activated charcoal, is derived from charcoal. It is a form of carbon that has a small charge of electro-positive added to it. The added charge makes it more attractive to impurities and chemicals that are negatively charged. Charcoals used in making activated carbon are made by burning coconut husks, nutshells, hardwood, and other carbon-based materials.

To make it available for chemical reactions and adsorption, carbon is also processed to have a huge surface area and make it very porous. Through the help of nitrogen gas adsorption, it is determined that only 1 gram of activated carbon usually has a surface area of 500 square meters or 1/10 the area of a football field, and 1 pound of activated carbon has 200 miles of fissures and pores with an area of 4 million square feet.

Activated carbon, especially the granulated one combined with the packed tower aeration method, is recognized by EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) to remove carbon tetrachloride from drinking water to below 0.005 milligrams per liter or 5 ppb.

Activated carbon is frequently combined with other minerals like zeolite in air purifiers. Zeolite can act as a chemical sieve and a filer for absorbing molecules and ions.

In several models of air purifiers, the carbon is impregnated with potassium iodide and mixed with impregnated active alumina for the absorbent qualities to increase. People with MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity) will benefit from these air purifiers because they can absorb formaldehyde found in furniture upholstery, wood paneling, and carpet. These air purifiers can also remove perfumes and household cleaning chemicals, making your house fresher and breathable for the elderly, children, babies, asthma sufferers, and people in general.

Type of air pollutants activated carbon air filters can remove

Below is a chart that rates the activated carbon filter’s performance on its ability to remove the following contaminants:

chart contaminants carbon filters remove

Most fumes from household cleaners, cooking, and organic odors can be removed or reduced by activated carbon filters. It can also remove VOC (Volatile Organic Chemicals), solvents, radon, THM (trihalomethane), benzene, Nitrogen dioxide, chlorine, herbicides, pesticides, and many other manmade gasses.

Choosing the right activated carbon air purifier

When buying an activated carbon air purifier, you should choose a filter with a large amount of activated carbon; when we evaluate activated carbon air purifiers, we look at the size in lbs. Many low-quality air purifiers sold in the market contain only a tiny amount of activated carbon. These air purifiers will perform poorly compared to those with bigger volumes of activated carbon.

Another point to consider is whether the activated carbon media can be replaced without changing the whole cartridge. A complete cartridge unit is much more expensive compared to bulk media.

Most lists of air purifiers are nothing more than a list of that year’s bestselling purifiers. Here at HouseFresh, we review and test the performance of all the air purifiers in our home lab. We don’t let manufacturers send us free units as our goal is to be unbiased so we can be free to say if an purifier is terrible. Our ultimate goal is to allow our readers to look beyond marketing hype and discover the right air purifier for their homes.

  1. In our home lab of 728 cubic feet, we light an incense stick to generate particle pollution and VOCs.
  2. We set up our trusted Purpleair Indoor Sensor with the latest Bosch gas sensor to track levels of PM1ug/m3, PM2.5ug/m3 and PM10ug/m3 and VOCs in the air.
  3. We switch the air purifier to its highest speed and measure how long it takes to get our room air quality down to PM1 level to 0.
  4. We use an energy meter to measure precisely how much electricity is used when running the unit at the lowest and highest fan speed settings.
  5. We track sound levels emitted by the air purifier at different fan speeds with the help of a commercial sound meter.
    sound meter

All the air purifiers we recommend here have a large amount of activated charcoal, either as a separate filter, as with the IQAir Healthpro Plus or as a combined filter, as with the Alen 75i. All the units on our list combine activated charcoal with a high-quality HEPA filter, which has been proven to be the most effective technique for dealing with particulate pollutants. You will notice that none of the air purifiers on our list are low-priced, and this is to be expected as activated carbon isn’t cheap and requires high airflow to be effective.

Now, let’s move forward with the two best-activated carbon air purifiers:

1. IQAir Healthpro Plus

The first thing that stood out for me when we got to review the IQAir Healthpro Plus was the size of the included carbon filters. IQAir calls it a V5-Cell, which is 5.5 lbs and is made of activated carbon and KMnO4-impregnated alumina. As of 2022, this air purifier is our number 1 choice as the best-activated carbon air purifier.

When we got a chance to test the IQAir Healthpro Plus at removing PM1, PM2.5 and PM10 particulate pollutants, it was able to remove all pollutants in 25 minutes, which is one of the better scores we had seen.

One thing to be aware of is that this air purifier is big, which makes sense when considering the large amount of carbon used as part of the filter. Inside the IQAir Health Pro Plus, all the internal space is used to house a pre-filter, HyperHEPA, activated charcoal filter and fan.

What we really like

Largest activated charcoal filter we have evaluated with over 2.5kgs/5.5lbs of carbon used
HyperHEPA is one the highest quality HEPA filters we have seen in a residential air purifier, which goes beyond the standard H13 HEPA that is used in most air purifiers
Remote control is simple to use and can allow you to control without being in the same room
Wheels make it easy to move into different positions in the house

What we think could be better

High initial costs and long-term costs for both electricity and filter replacements
No smart features or app support


HouseFresh Rating:★★★★★
Time to clean our test room:PurpleAir Touch: 24 minutes
PurpleAir Zen: 28 minutes
Air purifier technology:HyperHEPA and V50-CELL gas and odor filter
Recommended room size:450 to 1,125 sq. ft. 
Clean air delivery rate (CADR):300 CFM (510 m³/h)
Dimensions (in inches / in cm):28H x 18W x 16D inches (71H x 38W x 41D cm)
Weight (in pounds / in kg):35 lbs (16 kg)
Noise level (measured from 3 ft. away):Speed 1: 36.9 dB
Speed 2: 40.9 dB
Speed 3: 47.2 dB
Speed 4: 53.9 dB
Speed 5: 61.2 dB
Speed 6: 69 dB
Filter life:4 years
Electricity consumption (kilowatt-hour):Standby mode: 1 kWh
Speed 1: 16.5 kWh
Speed 2: 32.7 kWh
Speed 3: 47.3 kWh
Speed 4: 69 kWh
Speed 5: 94.3 kWh
Speed 6: 145.2 kWh
Estimated running costs (electricity consumption + filter replacements):$437.34 per year
Manufacturer’s warranty:10 years
Country of manufacture:Switzerland / Germany

2. Alen Breathsmart 75i

Another air purifier that stood out in our tests for having a huge activated carbon filter was 2.6 lbs/1.17kg. You need to make sure that you choose the right air filter that contains the largest amount of carbon, the B7-MP-Pet/Odor that costs $139.00 to replace every 6 months.

When we tested the Alen 75i at removing tiny particulate pollutants of PM1, PM2.5 and PM10, it removed everything in 24 minutes, one of the fastest units we have tested at removing particulate pollutants

As with the IQAir unit, the Alen 75i doesn’t come cheap at around $800 with the odor carbon filter option. It does come with a range of smart features with App support and auto-mode that switches the unit on as soon it detects pollutants. The stand-out feature with Alen is that they offer a lifetime warranty if you get the filter subscription which is not something that exists with other air purifier brands.

What we really like

Second largest carbon filter we have seen used in a consumer air purifier with 2.6lbs of activated carbon
High performance for removing particulate pollutants, it has a CADR of 347 CFM and cleaned our test room in 24 minutes
Smart features make this an easy air purifier to live with, thanks to the auto-mode and scheduling options using the App
Pink noise and low sound level makes this a good option for those looking for a quiet air purifier with a large carbon filter

What we think could be better

A large unit that may be too big for rooms like a bedroom
High initial cost


HouseFresh Rating:★★★★☆
Time to clean our test room:24 minutes
Air purifier technology:True HEPA H13 filters with activated carbon pellets + Ionizer technology
Recommended room size:Up to 1,300 sq. ft. (2 ACH)
Clean air delivery rate (CADR):347 CFM (589 m³/h)
Dimensions (in inches / in cm):27H x 18.5W x 11.5D inches (68.58H x 46.99W x 29.21D cm)
Weight (in pounds / in kg):12.2 kg (27 lbs)
Noise level (low – high):24 – 49dB
Filter life:12 – 15 months
Manufacturer’s warranty:Lifetime (with product registration & active filter subscription)
Estimated energy consumption:$47.30 per year
Country of manufacture:China

Final thoughts

Many cheap air purifiers include carbon, such as the Levoit Core 300 and Taotronics AP-003. While these will be fine to deal with the odors created in a home, they will be unable to deal with major issues with VOCs and gasses such as Nitrogen dioxide. If you have an issue with gasses, you will need an air purifier with a large, activated carbon filter such as Alen 75i or IQAir Healthpro Plus. I hope the above guide is helpful and be sure to email me if you have any specific questions or issues that you need help with.

At HouseFresh, we have been reviewing air quality products since 2010. In all these years, we learned not to rely on manufacturers’ claims and the ever-so-glowing marketing materials. That is why we buy products with our own money, so we can write unbiased reviews after we’ve had enough time to evaluate air quality products in our home lab. Every unit we recommend has been thoroughly tested to assess its performance, energy consumption, and noise levels emitted in real-life environments. If you have any questions about our testing process for different types of air quality products, just drop us an email at hello@housefresh.com.
About the author

Danny Ashton

Danny is the founder of HouseFresh and has been writing about air purifiers and indoor air quality since 2010. He is our lead tester, conducting all the tests we use to evaluate air quality products. That is why you will always see his name attached to our reviews.

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