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The 3 best air purifiers for bacteria and viruses we have tested

High-performance air purifiers to create a healthier home, free from bacteria and viruses.
By
Updated on February 9, 2024
Written by
Paul Allen
Paul is a staff writer for HouseFresh, with a focus on product recommendations and advice for smokers and apartment dwellers. He started writing in November 2020, when he joined the content production team at NeoMam Studios (our parent company).

Our verdict

  • My top recommendation is the IQAir HealthPro Plus. Equipped with a HyperHEPA filter, this unit can remove 99.5% of the smallest virus particles.
  • For large spaces, consider the Smart Air Blast Mini. This is the most powerful purifier we’ve tested and can circulate the air in a 915 sq. ft. room.
  • Looking for a cost-effective unit that gets the job done? The Winix 5500-2 cleared our test space in just 19 minutes while costing a fraction of other top-end purifiers.

Bacteria and viruses are one set of pollutants you really want to keep at bay.

While other pollutants, be it dust mites or cooking odors, are inconvenient, bacteria and viruses can wreak havoc on your health in no time at all.

We have all witnessed the devastating effects viruses and bacteria can have on our society. As recent global events like the COVID-19 pandemic showed us the importance of stopping the spread of infection in our homes and workplaces. 

Guidance from health authorities like the CDC and NHS now recommends using HEPA-equipped air purifiers to curb the spread of airborne viruses like COVID-19. Advice that, if shared earlier, could have helped save lives and open up public spaces sooner.

Microscopic bacteria and virus particles can be introduced into a space by an infected person or recirculated as you clean down surfaces and vacuum flooring. 

Once inside, they can remain suspended in the air for hours and soon start accumulating in an enclosed space.

To reduce this build-up of particles, you should aim to change the air inside your space as often as possible. This can be achieved by opening doors and windows and by utilizing a fan or HVAC system. However, the average home only manages to complete 0.5 air changes per hour. 

Air purifiers, on the other hand, can achieve much better air circulation. With the right unit, you should be able to see as many as 5 air changes per hour. Plus, if equipped with medical grade H13 filters, it can remove the smallest bacteria and virus particles, leaving clean and healthy air to be redistributed throughout your space.

Bacteria and virus particles will exist in every home. Whether the cold and flu virus, mold, E. coli, salmonella, or even super viruses such as MRSA. If left unchecked, exposure to these particles can have severe health implications.

As these particles are so small, they can remain airborne for hours. This is where an air purifier can help keep your home free from viruses and bacteria. When compiling this list, I’ve paid close attention to units utilizing HEPA filters (ideally H13 certified) to guarantee the removal of the smallest virus particles. 

  1. In our home lab of 728 cubic ft, 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.
    purpleair
  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

Having analyzed our testing data, I have selected the best air purifiers for bacteria and viruses available on the market right now.

Staff pick: IQAir HealthPro Plus

With industry-leading filter technology, the HeathPro Plus is trusted in hospitals around the world.

IQAir has been in the air purification business since 1963, making it a leader in the industry. It is a family-owned business headquartered in Switzerland with offices in Germany, the U.S. and China. All their air purifiers are developed in Switzerland, with manufacturing facilities located in Switzerland and Germany.

The IQAir HealthPro Plus is a powerful air purifier perfect for large rooms up to 1,125 square feet, winning several awards for its performance in cleaning indoor air, including the top air purifier award from the Evening Standard in the UK. 

What we really like

Each unit is tested in a lab before being sent to customers
High-grade filters combined with a large amount of activated carbon
Independently tested filters that can remove 99.5% of particles as small as 0.003 microns 
The filters can last up to four years
It comes with a 10-year warranty

What we think could be better

The price is quite high for 300 CFM performance
It requires extra space due to its large size
With no smart features and a plain appearance, the design of this unit is a little dated

Part of the reason why the IQAir HealthPro Plus is so well regarded is due to the powerful filtration under the hood. The HealthPro Plus employs what the company calls HyperHEPA filtration technology, which is independently verified to capture ultra-fine particles that are ten times smaller than a virus.

When we tested this air purifier in our home lab, we weren’t surprised to see how fast it could clear the air from incense smoke pollutants and the associated smells. You can see the speed at which the HealthPro Plus works in the video below:

The filter of the HealthPro Plus also contains a powerful V5 Cell activated carbon filter that removes odor, VOCs and other gaseous pollutants from the air in your home.

Unfortunately, all this high-performing technology comes at a cost. With each unit made and tested meticulously in IQAirs’ Swiss factory, the HealthPro Plus is the most expensive unit on our list. Having tried this unit in my home for a while, I can testify that it is worth the price.

SPECS & FEATURES

HouseFresh Rating:★★★★★
Time to clean our test room:25 minutes
Air purifier technology:HyperHEPA and V50-CELL gas and odor filter
Recommended room size:450 to 1125 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 (low – high):25 – 69dB
Filter life:4 years
Manufacturer’s warranty:10 years
Estimated energy consumption:$165.04 per year
Country of manufacture:Switzerland

Best for less than $200: Winix 5500-2 

The Winix 5500-2 provides comprehensive cover from bacteria and viruses without costing a fortune.

Winix has been making air purifiers since the 70s, so it’s fair to say they know a thing or two about keeping indoor spaces free from pollutants like bacteria and viruses. Each of their units is designed and made in South Korea to meet the needs of the modern user in a complex, modern world.  

Despite its wallet-friendly price tag, the Winix 5500-2 ticks all the right boxes. It provides powerful air circulation in rooms up to 360 sqt ft. and high-quality filters to remove tiny particles, which we saw firsthand during our air cleaning speed test, where it cleared all traces of simulated pollutants in just 19 minutes. Another key stat to take away is the excellent CADR score of 240 CFM. This figure is AHAM verified and really drives home the great value on offer.   

What we really like

Performs just as well as units twice its price
The units Plasmawave technology (ionizer) can be switched off
Without its ionizer, it completed our speed test just 3 minutes slower than with it switched on. (22 vs 19 mins)
It uses True HEPA filters that are independently tested
You’re able to remove and clean the unit’s pre and carbon filter

What we think could be better

When comparing the speed performance without an ionizer, the Levoit Vital 200S is slightly faster
Important to remember to switch off the Plasmawave if you are immunocompromised
No Winix app for remote operation

The 5500-2 uses a True HEPA filter that, according to Winix, is capable of capturing 99.99% of the particles as small as 0.003 microns. This means even the most minuscule virus particles will be removed from the air. The 5500-2 also comes with a pre-filter and activated carbon filter. both of which are removable and washable to keep them performing at their best for longer.

This unit also uses Plasmawave, which is just a fancy name for an ionizer. For those who have respiratory conditions, the good news is that this function can be switched off completely. And even without it, you won’t see a drop off in air cleaning functionality either — we ran two tests with this unit, and without its ionizer, it completed our speed test just three minutes slower.  

SPECS & FEATURES

HouseFresh Rating:★★★★☆
Time to clean our test room:– 18 minutes with PlasmaWave ionizer
– 22 minutes without PlasmaWave enabled
Air purifier technology:PlasmaWave, removable pre-filter, washable activated carbon filter and True HEPA filter
Recommended room size:360 sq. ft. (4.8 ACH)
Clean air delivery rate (CADR):– Smoke: 232 CFM- Dust:  243 CFM- Pollen: 246 CFM
Dimensions (in inches / cm):15W x 8.2D x 23.6H inches (38W x 21D x 60H cm)
Weight (in pounds / in kg):14.8 lbs (6.7kg)
Noise level (low – high):Low speed: 27 dB
Medium speed: 47 dB
Top speed: 59.5 dB
Filter life:12 months
Manufacturer’s warranty;2 year
Estimated energy consumption:53.2 watts ($42.05) per year
Country of manufacture:South Korea

Best for large spaces: Smart Air Blast Mini

The Blast Mini is a behemoth air purifier that will surprise you with its super quiet operating volume.

Smart Air is relatively new to the market, but their Blast Mini air purifier is a force to be reckoned with despite its “Mini” title. The Smart Air Blast Mini is a high-capacity, quiet HEPA air purifier effective for schools, hospitals and homes. This unit can deliver 820 cubic feet per minute (CFM) of air, making it excellent for use in large spaces of up to 915 sq. ft. 

What we really like

True HEPA 13 filters and activated carbon filters
Despite being the most powerful unit on this list, it remains the quietest we’ve tested when used at its top speed
Simple design, which makes it easier to operate
High-capacity purifier can deliver 820 CFM
It comes on castor wheels for easier maneuverability

What we think could be better

A very heavy unit, weighing a whopping 59 lbs
It doesn’t include an activated carbon filter as a standard
It may prove to be overkill for the average home

The Blast Mini comes equipped with a True H13 HEPA filter, capable of capturing both 0.3-micron and 0.07-micron particles. These filters can effectively eliminate dangerous airborne viruses, bacteria and other pollutants from the indoor air. A heavyweight activated carbon filter also traps gaseous pollutants such as radon, smoke and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). 

The Blast Mini is easy to operate as it lacks intelligent controls. It only features one dial that allows you to select between its three-speed settings. While you won’t find a smart sensor or digital display, you’ll appreciate its power and ability to deliver clean air in extra-large rooms. 

SPECS & FEATURES

HouseFresh Rating:★★★★☆
Time to clean our test room:17 minutes
Air purifier technology:H13 HEPA Filter
Recommended room size:915 sq. ft.
Clean air delivery rate (CADR):435 CFM (740 m³/h)
Dimensions (in inches / in cm):22.6L x 13W x 24.8H inches (57.5L × 33W × 63H cm)
Weight (in pounds / in kg):59 lbs (26.8 kg)
Noise level (low – high):36 – 49 dB
Filter life:33 months
Manufacturer’s warranty:1 year
Estimated energy consumption:$277.70 per year
Country of manufacture:China

Other air purifiers that can help with bacteria and viruses

  • Honeywell HPA300 – With a CADR of 300 CFM (509 m³/h), the HPA300 is a powerful air purifier for rooms as large as 465 sq. ft. that will cost you less than $250. It uses True HEPA filters, so you can rest assured that virus and bacteria particles as small as 0.3 microns will be removed. This unit didn’t make our staff picks because it is a little dated (no smart functions) and, despite being Energy Star certified, it is power-hungry in comparison to more modern air purifiers.
  • Alen BreatheSmart 75i – The Alen 75i is an excellent air purifier for large rooms up to 1,300 sq. ft. It boasts a CADR of 347 CFM and comes equipped with a True HEPA filter and large amounts of activated carbon, meaning it can remove 99.99% of airborne contaminants down to 0.1 microns as well as odors and VOCs. The 75i didn’t make the staff picks because it is bulky and it comes at a high price tag, considering its performance.
  • Mila Air Purifier – Packed full of high-tech air sensors, the Mila is the smartest purifier on the market, with a CADR of 263 CFM (447 m³/hr) and a selection of seven customizable HEPA filters to tackle the main indoor pollution issues the average household is likely to experience. It looks like a beautiful piece of furniture but it didn’t make it to our staff picks list because it is really expensive due to the eight sensors that make the smart magic happen.

  • Levoit Vital 200S – With a CADR of 245 CFM, the Levoit Vital 200S is capable of delivering 5 air changes an hour in a room as large as 375 sq. ft. This makes it one of the best-performing air purifiers on the market for less than $200. Levoit currently advertises that the Vital 200S comes with a medical grade H13 HEPA filter, but this unit didn’t make the staff picks because we can’t 100% trust that claim after Levoit had to stop advertising the use of True HEPA H13 filters in other units after being challenged by Dyson through the BBB National Programs National Advertising Division (NAD).

The units we tested but don’t recommend for bacteria and viruses

  • Austin Air HealthMate – With one of the biggest carbon filters out there, the Austin Air certainly has its merits. When it comes to bacteria and viruses, however, I found it lacks the air cleaning speed to capture particles before they pose a threat. 
  • Levoit EverestAir – Despite being the fastest air purifier we’ve ever tested, we wanted to focus our top picks for bacteria and viruses on units that use medical grade HEPA filters, which are guaranteed to remove the smallest particles.

  • Levoit Core 300SFor everyday use, the 300S is a great, cost-effective unit. Yet as a small unit with less powerful fan speeds, it’ll struggle to make a dent if pitted against a room with a high viral load.

  • Blueair Blue Pure 211+Blueair makes a range of excellent air purifiers, with the 211+ being the pick of the bunch. But their stellar performance is seriously let down by the fact you can’t switch off the unit’s ionizer function. This feature is far from ideal for any users with immunodeficiency disorders or respiratory issues.

What to look for when buying an air purifier for bacteria and viruses 

1. Does the air purifier use high-quality filters? 

Air entering the air purifier will pass through a series of filters responsible for removing pollutants such as bacteria and viruses. 

To remove these particles effectively, the air purifier must use high-quality filters. A great rule of thumb is to look for the HEPA certification. This guarantees the filter will be able to remove 99.97% of particles as small as 0.3 microns – the average particle size of a virus. 

Many other types of filters exist, including HEPA-type, UV-C, Ionizoer and PECO. After reviewing each of these types of filters, I advise you to steer well clear of any unit that relies on these technologies. 

HEPA-type and PECO are simply not good enough to remove the smallest particles. While Ionizers and UV-C technology, which is often described as a bacteria neutralizer, can be even more problematic as they have both been found to emit ozone into the atmosphere. Which in turn can trigger respiratory conditions and exacerbate illness and disease. 

2. Is the air purifier powerful enough for your space?

As the CDC recommends a minimum of 5 air changes per hour to reduce the risk of viruses such as COVID-19, you’ll need to ensure the air purifier you choose is powerful enough to achieve such results. 

Manufacturers often share a recommended room size for each of their units to allow consumers to gauge if the purifier can adequately circulate the air in their space. 

This is a good starting point to help you narrow down options, but I recommend looking into each option’s CADR score for a better (and independently verified) picture of how powerful an air purifier is. 

Use our easy-to-use calculator below to find the minimum CADR requirements an air purifier will need to circulate air effectively in your specific space.

3. Is the air purifier easy to live with?

Bacteria and viruses exist in our homes around the clock, so in order to remove particles and limit your exposure, you’ll likely need to use your air purifier 24/7 too. 

This means you need to consider how much the purifier will cost to run and whether or not it will create sound volumes that will disturb your day-to-day life.

During our hands-on air purifier reviews, we measure the watts consumed on each speed setting as well as the volumes an air purifier creates. Be sure to check out our findings on your chosen air purifier’s in-depth review or take a peek at the Specs and Features table found below each unit in this article. 

Common questions about air purifiers, bacteria and viruses

Studies have found that approximately 60% of respiratory and gastrointestinal infections affecting humans are contracted indoors.

The most common viruses found indoors are:

  • The common cold is characterized by sneezing, a runny or congested nose, sore throat, coughing, watery eyes and sometimes fever.
  • The flu is marked by fever, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue.
  • Bronchitis presents with chest congestion, wheezing, coughing, headaches, body aches, fever and fatigue.
  • Gastrointestinal infections lead to symptoms like gastroenteritis, diarrhea and vomiting.

Common bacteria found in homes include:

  • Staphylococcus can induce skin infections ranging from minor boils to severe antibiotic-resistant or flesh-eating conditions, depending on the strength and depth of the infection.
  • Bacillus is associated with two forms of food poisoning — a rapid-onset variation with nausea and vomiting and a slower-onset version with diarrhea.
  • Micrococcus can provoke skin infections with intense itching, occasionally escalating to severe conditions like septic shock and pneumonia.
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis triggers TB disease, and the symptoms depend on where TB bacteria are growing in the body. Typically, TB bacteria grow in the lungs and can cause bad cough, pain in the chest, coughing up blood or phlegm, fatigue, fever and lack of appetite.

Germs spread through direct and indirect contact. Through direct contact, germs can spread person-to-person through a handshake, hugs, or kissing. As for indirect contact, they move around via people touching a surface with germs and then touching their face (e.g., eyes, nose, mouth). They can spread through saliva as well from sharing drinks.

Germs can also be airborne. When someone coughs or sneezes, the droplets fly into the air, containing contagious bacteria and virus particles. They can travel up to 6ft away, remaining airborne for hours at a time, before landing on either a surface or another person.

Understanding the difference between bacteria and viruses requires some biological insight. With bacteria, they are free-living cells. They can survive as quickly outside a body as they can inside it. On the other hand, viruses are a collection of non-living molecules. So, they need a host to live.

Viruses are some of the smallest airborne particles found inside the home, measuring as small as 0.1 micron. So in order to remove them, you’ll need an air purifier with dense enough filters.

Filters are made up of tightly woven fiberglass strands. How well they perform correlates to how dense these strands are packed, which creates a tighter net to catch particles. 

Look out for a HEPA certification to identify a quality filter that will work against the smallest virus particles. This sliding scale determines how effective a filter is, ranging from H10 HEPA, which is guaranteed to remove 85% of particles as small as 0.3 microns, to H14 HEPA, which can remove 99.995% of particles:

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, studies have looked into how effective HEPA filters are at removing coronavirus particles, which can measure as small as 0.1 micron. Results showed that HEPA filters were highly effective at removing the microscopic virus, with increased air changes leading to a 99.97% removal rate.

Portable air purifiers have seen an increase in popularity following the COVID-19 pandemic. Designed to be worn on a necklace by the user, they claim to offer protection from viruses in the wearer’s immediate airspace.

Although this sounds like a great idea in practice, in reality, the technology isn’t there just yet. 

As these are super small devices, they lack the powerful fans and filters required to circulate air and remove pollutants before being inhaled by the user. Instead, manufacturers are opting for ionizer technology to achieve better results. 

Besides running the risks of exposure to ozone with this filtration method, it can also act as a magnet for harmful pollutants. As the ions attach to the virus particles, they then land on your clothing, skin or face without being drawn into the personal purifier device – actually increasing the risk of being exposed to a viral pathogen.  

An independent study looked into personal purifier effectiveness, with pretty dismal results. Having tested four different options, each utilizing an ionizer to enhance performance, three units only managed to clear 10% of particles from the controlled space. With even worse performance expected in the real world.

Similar to viruses, air purifiers can work wonders against bacteria if they possess powerful fans and quality filters. 

Bacteria particles range between 1 and 10 microns, meaning they fall within the size range that HEPA filters can remove.  

Remember that an air purifier can only remove bacteria particles that are airborne. Bacteria that exist on surfaces like handrails, cell phones and tables will continue to pose a threat. Use your air purifier in conjunction with regular sanitizing of surfaces for comprehensive protection.

Wrapping up

Bacteria and viruses are sadly a part of life, and each time you go outside, there’s a chance you or your family can bring them back home. So, one of the best ways to combat this situation is by installing a high-quality air purifier in your rooms.

Air purifiers can reduce contaminants like germs, as they contain HEPA filters of different gradients. Household air purifiers’ most effective HEPA filters are H13 or medical grade. These will clear 99.99% of pollutants like bacteria and viruses from the air in your home.

You must choose the right air purifier for the size of your room. Choosing one too large or too small won’t work as efficiently as it should. So make sure to measure your space before shopping.

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

Paul Allen

Paul is a staff writer for HouseFresh, with a focus on product recommendations and advice for smokers and apartment dwellers. He started writing in November 2020, when he joined the content production team at NeoMam Studios (our parent company).