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Are Air Purifiers a Waste of Money?

Last updated April 7, 2022

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

Claims about air purifiers are often a little outlandish. Some brands seem to propose that their product will change your entire life, making you feel alive, productive, free – and everything else you could ever want. 

While those claims are of course too good to be true, it is true that air purifiers can do a lot to benefit your home and health. So if you’re asking “are air purifiers a waste of money”, we’re going to run through some ideas that might help you clear up that question. 

How Do Air Purifiers Work?

It’s important to start by understanding how an air purifier works in the first place. Purifiers use a fan to draw a room’s air inward. The fan takes that air and moves it through a filter, or a number of filters, to collect all of the impurities in the air

Some devices use a charcoal filter, also known as a carbon filter, to absorb impurities. Activated charcoal is charged in such a way that the surface area of the porous material expands, allowing it to absorb more impurities. When air passes through, many of the small molecules that constitute odor, dust, and different pollutants are taken in. 

HEPA filters are another common version of air purifiers. These filters are very effective at picking up impurities – even those that are as small as a few microns. That’s very small! (For some perspective, the tip of a strand of human hair is around 70 microns in diameter, and our eyes can’t see anything that’s smaller than 40 microns. A red blood cell is about 8 microns in size.) The HEPA filter can pick up all of those tiny particulates and take them out of the air.

How does air quality affect your overall health, though? Here are three peer-reviewed studies that display the health benefits of purifiers. 

3 Academic Studies That Prove Purifiers Are Useful for Health

Our first study cites the danger that indoor air pollution causes. The home is subject to pollutants from both outdoor and indoor sources, and these may exacerbate symptoms like coughing and sneezing, but also enhance existing respiratory illnesses. 

The study suggests that reducing the number of particulates in the air reduces symptoms and slows the onset of independent respiratory illness and disease. 

The European Respiratory Journal carried out a double-blind study on the effects of purifiers in the homes of those with asthma. The study cited significant amounts of dust, cat allergens, and dust mite allergens collected by the devices. It also found that those with air purifiers noticed an improvement in airway hyperresponsiveness. 

Another study, from The University of Michigan School of Public Health, measured the efficacy of stand-alone filters and purifiers for the bedrooms of children with asthma. The results showed that particulate matter, on average, was reduced by 50% when a purifier was present. 

So, according to the studies above, reducing the amount of particulates in your home with a purifier does make a positive impact on respiratory health. 


The Benefits of Air Purifiers

In a lot of cases, you may find that dust and other airborne particles don’t directly impact you that much. However, the more impurities and different substances you have floating in your home air, the more your body has to sift through and deal with. 

Because homes are well insulated these days, the same air circulates through the whole of the house. You might introduce new pollutants frequently, but a lack of ventilation makes it hard for anything to leave unless you have a door or window open. 

That means there’s a constant stream of different bacteria, pollens, and even viruses that circulate through your airways. When you breathe them in, your immune system kicks in to protect you – and the fewer times your body needs to do that, the stronger you’ll stay. 

Air purifiers both reduce the chances that you’ll get sick from air pollutants and make sure your immune system isn’t overworked by the air inside your home. 

In a recent study, it was shown that even small levels of PM2.5 can have a direct negative effect on overall health issues relating to strokes and heart attacks. 

How to Make The Most of Your Purifier

It’s important that you have a purifier big enough for the room you’re targeting. Most purifiers cite the square footage that they’re equipped to handle in the owner’s manual or on the box. This is super important as you don’t want to overpay for a small room or minor issue such as vaping. But you also don’t want to avoid a smaller unit than is recommended as you will use up filters quicker and may not be able to keep a room totally free of pollutants.

You should place the purifier away from any walls so that the device can pull air in effectively. If you place the purifier right up against a wall, the efficacy is significantly reduced. 

It is recommended that if you live in an area with very high outdoor pollution you should run your purifier all of the time at full power in order to maintain air quality and address particulates as soon as possible. 

Homes With Strong Odors

Smells are simply caused by different molecules floating through the air and interacting with our olfactory nerves and brains in different ways. When you have a very smelly house, you just have a lot of those little molecules floating around and dominating your sense of smell. Placing an air purifier in a room near the source of that smell is a great way to reduce the odor of your home. 

Similarly, a purifier helps to maintain a neutral smell in your home even if there aren’t any particular odors that dominate. 

Unrealistic Expectations of an Air Purifier

While there are a lot of fantastic air purifiers out there, there are a few things that you should avoid for permanent home use.

The first of these are ozone generators. Some companies sell ozone generators and claim that they circulate purified or healthier oxygen, but it’s important to understand how to use these correctly, as ozone is a chemical that’s toxic to humans at high levels.

It’s also worth noting that there are a number of flimsy, ineffective purifiers out there. Personal air purifiers, for example, are often not as good as they’re marketed to be. In fact, many air purifiers don’t do a great job and simply rely on fancy marketing and design tricks. 

Further, some of the claims made by purifier companies are plain untrue or unproven. For example, any companies that say their products use UV light to kill mold and bacteria are pushing a technology that works in one application (medical apparatus) but is useless for something that uses fast-moving air like you get with air purification.

For peace of mind, make sure that the model you buy is certified by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. This ensures that it’s been tested and proven to be effective. 

So, Are Air Purifiers a Waste of Money?

Are air purifiers a waste of money after all? The answer is no: air purifiers can do a quality job of reducing particulates and improving respiratory health.

But you do need to be aware of getting the right sized unit for the space you want to clean.

Be aware of manufacturers’ claims of new technology and go for filters like activated carbon and HEPA that have been shown over many years to perform well in academic peer-reviewed studies.

We recently published our study of the best air purifiers as of 2022 – you won’t go wrong with a unit from this list just beware of the right size for your room.