The best car air purifiers, based on our tests inside a Tesla Model 3

Behold the best air purifiers for your car, according to our own test results — there are options for every budget, design style and air filtration technology
By
Updated on May 13, 2024
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.

Our verdict

  • My top pick is the IQAir Atem, as it is the best-performing car air purifier we have tested that doesn’t use an ionizer function.
  • The best option for small budgets is the Smart Air QT3 — its battery lasts for up to four hours, plus the USB-C cable can be used to power it on the go.
  • If ionizers are your thing, then the Westinghouse 1804 can be a good choice for you. Solid performance at a fair price.

Every ride in your car includes various decisions that protect your health. Putting on your seatbelt, watching your speed and ensuring the vehicle is well-maintained are all prerequisites for a safe journey. But the air you breathe when driving is often overlooked despite roads being a hotspot for air pollution.

It may come as no surprise to hear that burning gas and diesel generates a ton of harmful pollutants. Whether carbon monoxide, ultrafine PM2.5 and PM10 particulates, or even VOCs like benzene and formaldehyde, many nasty particles are emitted by vehicles and make their way into our cars, posing a threat to drivers and passengers.   

And it’s not just direct respiratory health issues that you should be worried about; a study by Lung showed that adults living close to a high-traffic road have increased risks of dementia.

Although some newer models of cars, such as high-end Teslas and Volvos, come with a HEPA filter as part of the system to keep your air clean, most cars only use a pollen filter that will be unable to protect against smaller particles. That’s why I suggest adding an air purifier equipped with HEPA filters to your car’s arsenal. 

You will also want to invest in a purifier that contains activated carbon to combat VOCs such as formaldehyde and benzene. This adsorbs gaseous pollutants while also removing any odors as a secondary benefit. 

Sadly, most lists of the “best car air purifiers” are nothing more than an updated list of the best-selling devices on Amazon.com. But here at HouseFresh, we don’t recommend any device without testing it thoroughly.

For each of the car air purifiers we recommend in this list, we tracked how long it took to remove all the PM1 particles of incense smoke from inside our Tesla Model 3, which has a volume of 97 cubic feet. We also recorded electricity consumption and noise levels generated.

  1. In our Tesla Model 3, 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 the air quality in the cabin down to PM1 level to 0.
  4. We then repeat this test inside our home lab of 728 cubic ft to see how good the unit is at cleaning the air in a small room.
    purpleair
  5. 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.

  6. We track sound levels emitted by the air purifier at different fan speeds with the help of a commercial sound meter.
    sound meter

We used the data from our car experiment to look beyond the marketing hype to truly identify what is the best car air purifier right now.

Staff picks: Top 3 air purifiers for cars

If you don’t have much time to go through my full article, then here are the main takeaways:

👑 BEST OVERALL💰 FOR TIGHT BUDGETS🛋️ FOR SMALL CARS
IQAir Atem CarSmart Air QT3Westinghouse 1804
Air cleaning speed37 minutes43 minutes47 minutes
CADR rating39 CFM (66 m3/h)24 CFM (40.7 m3/h)14.7 CFM (24 m3/h)
Filter technologyHyperHEPA plus activated carbonHEPA filter with an 800-hour lifespan True HEPA and NCCO reactor
Max room size150 sq. ft.12.9 sq. ft.100 sq. ft.
Weight8.25 lbs (3.74 kg)1.375 lbs (0.624 kg)2.12 lbs (0.96 kg)
Our reviewIQAir Atem Car reviewSmart Air QT3 reviewWestinghouse 1804 review
Price$748.99$44.99 – $47.99$189.99

Last update on 2024-05-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

With a wide range of air purifiers on the market, finding the ideal unit for your car isn’t always easy. In this article, I’ve highlighted four options across a range of budgets, styles and filtration methods:

1. Best option for large vehicles: IQAir Atem

If budget is not a concern, I would recommend the IQAir Atem regardless of the size of your car because it is the best-performing unit we’ve tested that doesn’t use an ionizer function.

Let’s get the downside of this unit out of the way – it costs $399.99. Yes, this falls in the same price range as many whole-house air purifiers, so it isn’t a budget option. But it is made by Swiss-based IQAir, one of the world’s most well-respected air purifier manufacturers and the Atem takes the mantle as the most powerful unit on this list, with a CADR score of 39 CFM and cleaned our Tesla Model 3 in the fastest time of all the air purifier on the list at 37 minutes.

What we really like

The largest Activated Charcoal and HEPA filters, with no ozone production at all
It can be attached to the back of the driver’s seat to target the breathing zone directly
Manufactured in Germany — I expect this unit to last for many years
A powerful unit considering its portability — it cleaned our Tesla Model 3 in just 37 minutes

What we think could be better

No rechargeable battery pack — so it can’t be used outside the car
Power switches off to save car battery after 30 minutes — I wish there was an option to disable this

I was a big fan of the IQAir’s flagship purifier, the Healthpro Plus, (which is the primary unit I use at home in our large open hallway). This is because their HyperHEPA filters offer the most comprehensive protection on the market and is the same technology that IQAir uses in the Atem Car 

When you open up the IQAir Atem,  you can feel the quality of the HEPA filter, which is also impregnated with activated carbon, so it can also deal with gasses and odors, which is super important for pollution from traffic. 

If you have the funds, I would choose this car air purifier for my car. If $400 exceeds your budget, check out the rest of the units on this list.

HouseFresh rating:★★★★☆
Time to clean our Tesla Model 3 (with the device running at top speed):37 minutes  
Time to clean our 728 cubic feet test room (with the device running at top speed):1 hour and 55 minutes
Air purifier technology:HyperHEPA Plus Filter
Recommended room size (4.8 air changes per hour):150 sq. ft. for car mode
Clean air delivery rate (CADR):Dust: 39 CFM
Dimensions (in inches / in cm):17.7H x 9W x 17.7D inches (29H cm x 29W x 10D cm)
Weight (in pounds / in kg):5.2 lbs (2.4 kg)
Filter life:1 year
Noise level in decibels (measured from 3 ft. away with a sound level meter):Speed 1: 35.5 dB
Speed 2: 40.5 dB
Speed 3: 58.2 dB
Electricity consumption in watts (recorded with an electricity usage monitor):Standby mode: 0.4 watts
Speed 1: 1.7 watts
Speed 2: 3.8 watts
Speed 3: 10.81 watts
Estimated running cost (electricity consumption + official filter replacement):$106.46 per year
Cost per CADR cfm (based on dust CFM as reported by AHAM):$10.23
Manufacturer’s warranty:2 years
Country of manufacture:Switzerland and Germany

2. Best option for small vehicles: Westinghouse 1804

The 1804 boasts a powerful air cleaning power thanks to its combination of HEPA filtration and an NCCO reactor, which utilizes a form of ionization to supercharge its performance.

The Westinghouse 1804 combines a HEPA H13 filter with their version of an ionizer called an NCCO reactor. In the old days, these ionizers generated a lot of ozone and could lead to further air quality issues. As used by Blueair and other leading manufacturers, this new type removes any ozone before it leaves the unit, and it is certified by CARB. I would still avoid any sort of ionizer if you suffer any issues with asthma, but the Westinghouse 1804 has passed both CARB, cETL and UL867 ozone standard testing. 

The benefit of the HEPA combined with the NCCO means that the Westinghouse 1804 can also deal with VOCs and gasses from traffic pollution, making it a great air purifier for the car. In our tests, it was only 10 minutes slower than the IQAir Atem, removing all pollutants from our Tesla Model 3 in 47 minutes.

What we really like

Portable with up to eight hours of use
Powerful cleaning power with the NCCO and HEPA used in combination
The design comes in a variety of colors
It is easy to move around with the handle

What we think could be better

The NCCO reactor may put off some users who prefer to avoid any sort of ionizer functionality
The charging port is awkward to access 

Although this isn’t the smallest option on our list, this extra size allows more powerful fans to circulate your car’s air more effectively. It is also one of the more stylish portable air purifiers on the market, coming in a range of colors and with a nice finish to the exterior.

The Westinghouse 1804 comes with a 3,000 mAh lithium-ion battery, providing up to eight hours of use on a single charge, which is good enough for even the longest of drives. Filter replacement costs also offer bang for your buck, with a set of 4 HEPA filters costing $31.99, making each filter cost just $8. 

HouseFresh rating:★★★☆☆
Time to clean our Tesla Model 3 (with the device running at top speed):47 minutes  
Time to clean our 728 cubic feet test room (with the device running at top speed):4 hours and 40 minutes
Air purifier technology:True HEPA and NCCO
Recommended room size (4.8 air changes per hour):23 sq. ft.
Clean air delivery rate (CADR):Estimated: 15 CFM
Dimensions (in inches / in cm):6.3L x 6.3W x 3.5H inches ( ‎28.39 x 21.41 x 18.28 cm)
Weight (in pounds / in kg):2.12 lbs (0.96 kg)
Filter life:3-4 months
Noise level in decibels (measured from 3 ft. away with a sound level meter):Speed 1: 36.7 dB
Speed 2: 39.8 dB
Estimated running cost (electricity consumption + official filter replacement):$27.81 per year
Cost per CADR cfm (based on dust CFM as reported by AHAM):$0.37
Manufacturer’s warranty:3 years
Country of manufacture:China

3. Best budget option: Smart Air QT3

With a CADR score of 21 CFM, this air purifier from Smart Air provides high-end performance at a budget price.

The travel version has a battery that lasts up to four hours, perfect for road trips or commuting. It also comes with a USB-C cable, so you can use an existing portable charger to keep it running longer when on the go.

The QT3 is an excellently designed purifier, being both highly portable and easy on the eye. Running costs won’t rack up too much either, with economical airflow keeping energy use down and filter replacements primarying $12.50 per unit when you buy in packs of two. If you have read any of my other reviews of Smart Air purifiers like the Blast Mini or the Smart Health S, you will know I’m a big fan of their devices and what they bring to the industry.

What we really like

Pure HEPA cleaning for less than $50
No ozone production at all 
Great design for use on the move
Battery lasts for up to four hours, plus the USB-C cable can be used to power it on the go

What we think could be better

No way to deal with VOCs and odors as only uses HEPA
Needs more places to purchase, currently missing from Amazon.com

The only major downside is that the Smart Air QT3 only uses HEPA filtration so it won’t protect against odors or VOCs. However, the benefit of this is that you don’t have to worry about any ozone production with just a tried and tested mechanical filter at work. 

Considering the cost, I was impressed that it could clean our Tesla Model 3 of all particulate pollutants in 43 minutes.

HouseFresh rating:★★★★☆
Time to clean our Tesla Model 3 (with the device running at top speed):47 minutes
Time to clean our 728 cubic feet test room (with the device running at top speed):4 hours and 27 minutes
Air purifier technology:HEPA filter made with polypropylene (PP) and polyester (PET) with an 800-hour lifespan 
Recommended room size (4.8 air changes per hour):12.9 sq. ft.
Clean air delivery rate (CADR):Dust: 21 CFM
Smoke: 21 CFM
Dimensions (in inches / in cm):5.9L x 5.7W x 7.1H inches (15cm L x 14.5cm W x 18cm H)
Weight (in pounds / in kg):1.375 lbs (0.624 kg)
Filter life:6 months
Noise level in decibels (measured from 3 ft. away with a sound level meter):Speed 1: 36.3 dB
Estimated running cost (electricity consumption + official filter replacement):$39.72 per year
Cost per CADR cfm (based on dust CFM as reported by AHAM):$0.41
Manufacturer’s warranty:1 year
Country of manufacture:China

4. Pure Enrichment PureZone Mini Air

Pure Enrichment PreZone Mini Air provides HEPA and Activated Carbon filtration for less than $50. A CADR score of 10 CFM will not break any records for air cleaning, but it will provide protection for those in smaller cars.

Thanks to its lightweight and compact design, this unit is undoubtedly an excellent option for air purification on the go. The battery on this air purifier lasts up to 12 hours, depending on the speed you use, so there is plenty of juice for longer commutes. The USB cable also makes charging the battery more convenient, but it’s worth noting this option isn’t compatible with USB-C charging. 

What we really like

Battery allows you to use this air purifier anywhere
No ionization technology — just pure HEPA and Activated Carbon, so zero ozone
Easy handle at the top will enable you to move it around quickly
Filter replacements are cheap, with genuine filters costing just $9.99 

What we think could be better

Underpowered for any space larger than a small-sized car — definitely not suitable for an SUV or RV
Not as quiet as the manufacturer suggests, as you will need to run this unit at higher (and louder) speeds to see results

The PureZone Mini provides clean air in smaller cars. Still, I recommend getting a bigger unit if you want added versatility for public transport, hotel rooms, or home use. 

HouseFresh rating:★★☆☆☆
Time to clean our Tesla Model 3 (with the device running at top speed):3 hours and 41 minutes
Time to clean our 728 cubic feet test room (with the device running at top speed):6 hours and 49 minutes
Air purifier technology:Pre-filter, HEPA filter and Activated Carbon filter 
Recommended room size (4.8 air changes per hour):54 sq. ft.
Clean air delivery rate (CADR):Estimated: 10 CFM
Dimensions (in inches / in cm):8.5H x 2.7D x 3.3W inches / 21.5H x 6.8D x 8.8W cm
Weight (in pounds / in kg):0.27 kg / 0.58 lbs
Filter life:6 months
Noise level in decibels (measured from 3 ft. away with a sound level meter):Speed 1: 35.7 dB
Speed 2: 37.5 dB
Speed 3: 43 dB
Electricity consumption in watts (recorded with an electricity usage monitor):Standby mode: 0 watts
Speed 1: 12.1 watts
Speed 2: 7.5 watts
Estimated running cost (electricity consumption + official filter replacement):$29.44 per year
Cost per CADR cfm (based on dust CFM as reported by AHAM):$0.20
Manufacturer’s warranty:5 years
Country of manufacture:China

What to look for when buying an air purifier for your car

You can’t just use any type of air purifier in a car; it needs to be able to run off its own battery, a CAR 12v DC cable or even USB-powered if you have this feature in your vehicle. 

In most cases, the larger the HEPA filter, the better the performance, and we saw that in our Tesla Model 3 test with the largest unit from IQAir, the Atem was quicked at removing all the PM1 particles from the cabin air. 

What to look for in your air purifier:

1. True HEPA filtration

Does the air purifier you are considering use a True HEPA filter? True HEPA technology is highly effective at removing particles as small as 0.3 microns from the air – much smaller than the average mold spore, around 10 microns.

2. Say no to ionizers

Avoid the ionizer units that directly plug into your cigarette socket like these:

They are usually cheap, but they can cost you your health in the long run.

I am shocked to see major publishers and magazines (ahem, Forbes) recommend them, as these plug-in units are actually air ionizers. Ionizer technology is dangerous. Air ionizers emit ozone, harmful VOCs and fine particulate matter as a by-product:

You might be wondering about the Westinghouse 1804. Even though it does use a combination of a HEPA H13 filter and what they call, an NCCO reactor, this type of ionizing technology doesn’t generate ozone at the level plug-in air ionizers will. In the case of 1804, the air purifier itself removes traces of ozone from the air before it gets the chance to leave the unit, and that is why the Westinghouse 1804 achieved a CARB certification.

3. Activated carbon filtration

You will want an activated carbon filter as part of an air purifier for your car, as it is the only type of filtration that can successfully deal with odors. HEPA filtration won’t be enough as smells will pass right through a HEPA filter without being dealt with because they are gases and not particles. 

4. Suitable car cabin size

We tested all the air purifiers we recommended in this list in our Tesla Model 3, which measures around 97 cubic feet. If you have a much larger car and choose too small a unit like the Pure Enrichment PureZone Mini Air, you will find that it takes a very long time to remove pollutants from the air. That is why I recommend the biggest purifier on the list for large vehicles and RVs: the IQAir Atem Car.

5. Power source requirements

12-volt DC plugs are mandatory in all cars in the United States, so you should be able to use them in your vehicle. You need to check what your car will be able to handle better. If you end up buying a unit that plugs into your car via USB but you don’t have a USB port, then you may need an adaptor or a solid battery pack.

We found that having a battery pack to go with your portable air purifier allows for more extended usage once the onboard battery is emptied. Yes, the battery adds extra weight but it also means you can take your portable air purifier with you when commuting or to crowded spaces like an office. 

Here is a quick view of the power source of the four car air purifiers I recommend:

Power SourceTime to clean our tesla of PM1 pollutants*
IQAir Atem CarDC37 minutes
Smart Air QT3Battery-powered and USB 43 minutes
Westinghouse 1804Battery-owered and household plug47 minutes
Pure Enrichment PureZone Mini AirBattery-powered and USB 221 minutes

Common questions about air purifiers for your car

Some of the early air purifiers that plugged into the car’s cigarette lighter gave the industry a bad name as they generated ozone to clean the air, which can lead to health problems. Nowadays, most car air purifiers are as safe as those used in the home, but you will still want to avoid those cheap ozone-emitting ionizers as they are unlikely to do anything good for the air quality in your cabin.

It depends on the specific model, but smaller portable units can be placed in the cup holder, and larger units will need to be attached to the seat, like the IQAir Atem. Whatever you decide to do, ensure that the air vents are not blocked so that the fan in the air purifier can run continuously.

To remove smells, you must choose an air purifier with air filtration technology that can remove gasses like activated carbon or NCCO. A HEPA filter alone will only remove particles and won’t be able to remove odors, gasses or VOCs from the air.

Most cars are similar to rooms in our home but much smaller, so you can use a smaller unit you would need in your bedroom. Our performance tests show that air purifiers using HEPA filters can greatly remove tiny particles.

Cars are small, enclosed spaces that allow air from outside inside the cabin. This results in toxins, fumes and other pollutant particles beginning to fill the space, affecting all passengers and drivers inside. 

So much so, medical scientists advising the UK government have warned that air pollution is worse for children and the vulnerable inside a car than if they were to walk along the street. 

If you’re still not convinced or unsure whether your car is already filtering pollutants (as some newer Teslas do), you can always test your car’s air quality to determine if you need an air purifier. However, an accurate air quality monitor can cost as much as a small portable air purifier. 

Another good reason for getting an air purifier is to handle tobacco, vaping, or cannabis smoke. This helps if you’re a smoker or you ride with smokers and non-smokers alike. Even getting rid of the odor of fast food can make air purifiers worth it in the long run but do look for a unit that can deal with odors using an Activated Carbon filter or another sort of gas filter technology.

While most of us know that cars contribute to air pollution, few fully understand the dangers of these emissions to our health.

With little to no protection installed by car manufacturers, drivers and passengers are exposed to a range of toxic pollutants each time they go for a drive. These pollutants can vary greatly. 

The emissions created when burning fuel include particulate matter, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide

These are fine enough to enter the lungs and play a role in severe respiratory issues and heart conditions

To that ‘new car smell,’ which despite being deemed as desirable, comprises a VOC concoction, including formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, xylene and acetaldehyde, all at levels dangerous to our health

A recent study published in the Cell Reports Physical Science found that exposure to this range of pollutants can increase our cancer risk.

The first step to improving air quality within the home is cutting pollutants off at the source.  This means avoiding smoking, eating or traveling at peak times when roads are congested. 

Ventilation will help to circulate air and reduce pollutants, but avoid unwinding your windows when using busy roads or highways. 

If time is not a concern, avoid the highway altogether and use smaller roads that have less traffic and thus less air pollution. Be sure to check your in-car air filter regularly, too, as a dirty filter can lead to problems even when the outside air quality isn’t an issue. 

For more information, check out advice from the American Lung Association.

Wrapping up

The average American drives just under an hour daily, so it makes sense that we want to keep the air inside our cars clean of any pollutants. 

With many outdoor pollutants capable of entering the car’s cabin, from poisonous carbon monoxide to irreparable pollen allergens, it’s wise to invest in an air purifier to keep you and your passengers breathing easily. 

To reap the best results, remember to ensure the purifier you choose comes equipped with HEPA and Activated Carbon filters while also being able to cover the space inside your vehicle. 

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.

Last update on 2024-05-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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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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