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Do Air Purifiers Help With Bad Smells?

Last updated February 5, 2023

This post may contain affiliate links.

Author avatar Danny Ashton

Danny as been writing about air purifiers for 10+ years. He is a major fan of home technology, which makes him the perfect person to test and evaluate products for HouseFresh

Air purifiers do a great job of filtering airborne allergens and pollutants, making the air in your home much cleaner and better for your health, but do air purifiers help with bad smells?

The answer isn’t as simple as a yes or no. Air purifiers can help combat odors and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), but only if they utilize a filter with a large amount of activated carbon.

“What’s That Smell?”

Nobody wants their home to smell bad, but unfortunately, so many elements can cause this. It can sometimes be difficult to identify where an odor is coming from, and if you can’t figure out what’s causing the bad smell, then it’s impossible to eliminate it.

Most of the bad smells you’re likely to encounter in your home can be attributed to one of four sources:

👃 Bad smell source number 1: Food 

Food is perhaps the number one cause of odors in the home. Whether from old food in the fridge that has spoiled or the lingering odors generated from your specialty dish, one way or another, food can leave bad smells around the house. If you notice a bad smell in your home, especially in the kitchen, then be sure to check your fridge; chances are that’s where you’ll find your culprit. 

👃 Bad smell source number 2: Pets 

Pets are one of the most common culprits regarding household odors. Even if your pets aren’t dropping whoopsies around the house, they can still leave an undesirable smell on your furniture and carpets. Pets tend to pick up random odors and carry them in their fur. If you notice a funky smell in your home, the first place you should check is with your furry friends. Be sure to check out our guide to the best air purifiers for pet odors, as we have tested units for how well they deal with odors from all sorts of pets. 

👃 Bad smell source number 3: Smoke

Whether from cigarettes, cigars, or weed, smoke can leave a lasting odor in your home. This is because smoke contains molecules that stick to ceilings, walls, and furniture. Smokers often don’t notice this odor because they are accustomed to it, but the smell can be overwhelming when a non-smoker enters the home. 

Be sure to look at the best air purifiers for smoke for under $100 if you want to deal with this issue on a budget.

👃 Bad smell source number 4: Garbage 

Last, and perhaps most obviously, garbage is a major cause of household odors. Garbage stinks! And so, if you have garbage around the home, whether it’s bagged or not, it will cause a bad smell sooner or later. 

So, now that you know where the bad smell comes from, what can you do about it? Eliminating the source of the odor is your first step but by no means the solution. The next step is to remove the odor itself. Fortunately, an air purifier can help with this, but only if you have the right air purifier. Let’s look at this in more detail. 

How Do Purifiers Help With Bad Smells? 

Air purifiers do a fantastic job of eliminating airborne allergens, pollutants, and particles, but many air purifiers can still leave odors lingering in the air, so why is that? The answer is a bit technical, but to put it in simple terms, they have to contain the right set of filters.

  • HEPA Filters. HEPA (​​high-efficiency particulate absorbing) is a type of pleated mechanical air filter, which is scientifically proven to be the most effective way of eliminating 99.97% of any airborne particles with a size of 0.3 microns. That said, odors almost always exist in gas form, so HEPA filters are ineffective for bad smells. To eliminate gasses, you need to use another method of air purification: adsorption. This is where activated carbon filters shine. Using an activated carbon filter along with a HEPA filter will eliminate household odors, VOC and other gasses from your home much more effectively. 

  • It would be best if you had activated Carbon Filters. If you want your air purifier to help with bad smells, then you’ll need a device that uses an activated carbon filter system, and there are many of those on the market to choose from. Many brands combine HEPA and activated carbon filters in their units so you can tackle pollutants and odors all in one.
Pro tip: Be wary when buying an air purifier with an activated carbon filter if you want to remove bad smells. If the filter doesn’t contain much carbon, it will not do a great job. You’ll need to find one packed with as much activated carbon as possible like the IQAir Healthpro Plus for it to adsorb odors.

Let’s take a closer look at how activated carbon filters work so that you can understand how these systems combat bad smells from your home. 

How Does Activated Carbon Work? 

In short, compared to filtration and other air purification methods, adsorption is a much better way of combating odors caused by gasses. The idea is that the gasses become trapped, or stuck, in the carbon, which is eventually discarded, and as such, the bad smells are eliminated from your home. 

Let’s look at what the actual scientists say:

“The porous surface of ACs can inactivate various chemical substances by adherence of an extremely thin layer of the compounds to the large surface area of the carbon. They are typically used for adsorptive removal of color, odor, taste, and undesirable organic and inorganic pollutants.” 

Hara, T., Nabei, H. and Kyuka A. (2020). Activated carbon/titanium dioxide composite to adsorb volatile organic compounds associated with human body odor. National Library of Medicine

To put it simply, activated carbon filters out odors, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and other pollutants from the air by adsorbing (trapping) the gas molecules that contain the odors, effectively preventing the molecules from circulating throughout your home.

Other Ways to Reduce Bad Odors At Home

Now that we’ve gone over the main causes of household odors and looked at how an activated charcoal filter can help combat these bad smells, let’s now look at some of the other ways that you can reduce odors in your home

1. Take out the trash

If you notice any bad smells in your home, then your best bet will often be to take out the trash. In the vast majority of cases, this will eliminate the cause of the odor. Spraying a little bit of air freshener and cleaning the area can then help remove any lingering bad smells that were being caused by the trash.

2. Remove musty smells

If you happen to notice musty smells in your closets or drawers, then the problem could be mold or mildew, both of which often cause this sort of odor. One way to combat this sort of bad smell is to use a bag filled with charcoal. Simply place the bag in the affected area and leave it to remove odors, moisture, and dampness which mold and mildew need to thrive. You can either buy one or make your own.

3. Clean your garbage disposal

Removing trash bags from your home is an excellent way to remove most of the odors you’ll encounter throughout your house, But what about your garbage disposal? Well, if you notice the smell of rotten eggs or another foul odor emanating from your garbage disposal, there is an easy trick that you can use to combat this sort of bad smell. 

Pro tip: Drop slices of lemon and a few ice cubes down the disposal and then sprinkle a little bit of salt down there. Run the disposal until all of these ingredients are blended in the disposal unit. The lemon itself is what deodorizes the garbage disposal, while the ice cubes and salt help remove any stinky residue that’s present.

3 Tips to Make Your Pet Smell Better

Nobody wants to give up their pet for a nicer smelling home, so here are a few tips on how to minimize odors from your furry family members:

  1. Bath time. If your pet goes outside, wash, dry, and brush them before allowing them to spread those outdoor odors around your home.
  2. Keep them off the furniture. As much as we love to snuggle with our pets, they can leave bad smells on our furniture and clothes. Give them their own space on their own bed.
  3. Give them a healthy diet. You’ll probably be aware of the ‘fast food farts’ from your own experience. The same happens with animals. Providing them with a healthy diet could eliminate those types of smells and keep them regular (no more accidents on the carpet).

The Best Air Purifiers for Odors & Smells

Air PurifierStyleRecommended Room Size
Best OverallAlen BreatheSmart 45iAlen BreatheSmart 45iUp to 800 sq. ft.
Best for Large SpacesIQAir Healthpro PlusUp to 1125 sq. ft.
Best Budget OptionSmart Health S1100 sq. ft.


If you want to remove bad smells from your home, then there are a few steps that you’ll need to follow. First and most importantly, you’ll need to identify where the odor is coming from. In most cases, the bad smell will be caused either by pets, smoking in the home, food, or garbage. 

Once you’ve identified the source of the odor, you can use an air purifier to help eliminate the bad smell from your home, but only if your air purifier uses an activated charcoal filter as HEPA filters are not proven to be effective at combating odors. 

All things considered, air purifiers do a great job at filtering the impurities from the air in your home, effectively removing allergens, airborne pollutants, and harmful particles, which is always a very good thing for your health and overall well-being.