The Winix 5500-2 cleans the air with a true HEPA filter, carbon filter, and plasma technology that helps remove odors. It has intuitive controls and thoughtful extras like a sleep mode, and timer.
We spend most of our time indoors, and the air quality in our homes and offices can be surprisingly poor. Poor air quality comes from many sources including, wildfire smoke, allergy-causing pollen and dust mites, viruses and bacteria, and common household chemicals. Air purifiers improve indoor air quality by removing these pollutants.
After extensive testing, we have identified the Winix 5500-2(available at Amazon) as the best all-round air purifier, combining multiple filters to remove particles and chemicals.
However, if you have a specific reason you need an air purifier—like allergies or to remove chemicals—you should consider how different filter types work before choosing an air purifier. Purifiers with high-efficiency particle (HEPA) filters trap wildfire smoke, help with pollen and dust mite allergies, and reduce the spread of airborne viruses that cause COVID and flu. Particle filters don’t remove chemicals, though. To tackle these, your purifier will need an activated carbon filter or another type of chemical removal stage.
The Medify MA-50 (available at Amazon) is the best we’ve tested for pure HEPA filtering power. This purifier combines high-quality HEPA filters that trap even the tiniest particles with a powerful fan that works well in larger spaces.
For a more budget-friendly option, we recommend the IKEA Förnuftig (available at IKEA) as our best value pick. It performs well in small spaces and looks great, more like a vintage speaker than an air purifier.
Here are the best air purifiers we tested ranked, in order:
Aeris Aair Lite
Cuisinart PuRXium CAP-500
The Winix 5500-2 is our best overall performer, scoring well for particle and chemical removal, ease of use, and low filter replacement costs.
The high score for purifying performance comes from the combination of several filtering steps. A washable pre-filter stops the largest items, including pet hair, and protects the other filters from being clogged too quickly. A carbon filter absorbs chemical pollutants, like VOCs from paint and cleaning products and is washable to extend its life. Next comes a true HEPA filter rated to capture microscopic particles. Finally, the Plasmawave stage produces reactive ions that break down chemical pollutants.
We love the automatic features. An air sensor adjusts performance to match the air quality, and a light sensor dims the controls and turns down the fan for sleep mode when the room goes dark. The washable filter stages and relatively long filter life also keep down the annual filter replacement costs.
The IKEA Förnuftig is a simple, inexpensive purifier that’s well suited to smaller spaces. The replacement filters are an equally good value, so the annual running cost is low.
It’s also one of the better-looking air purifiers we tested. The fabric cover gives it the appearance of a speaker. It also has the flexibility to be free-standing or wall-mounted, the only air purifier we tested with both options.
The fabric cover acts as a prefilter, and, with the optional carbon filter in place, the Förnuftig was excellent at removing chemical pollutants like VOCs.
The main area where the Förnuftig falls short is particle filtering. The filter is EPA rather than HEPA rated. This rating means that although the filter is very effective at trapping particles, it has a slightly lower efficiency than HEPA-rated filters.
The Medify MA-50 is a powerful air purifier with true HEPA filtration. Its efficient design, with a central fan pulling air through filters on all four sides, packs a lot of filtration into a relatively compact design.
The Medify’s filters are rated HEPA 13, a high-efficiency type often used in medical facilities that are effective at removing the aerosols that spread SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID.
The downside to high-quality filters is that they’re expensive, so the annual filter replacement costs are high. Also, the better the filter, the more it blocks airflow. This means that the fans need to be powerful in order to pull air through the filter, making the fans noisy at the higher settings. Pricy filters and powerful fans are a feature of all high-capacity HEPA air purifiers.
The MA-50 is designed for large spaces, so it is better suited to an open plan home or office. Fortunately, Medify also has a range of air purifiers with the same HEPA filtration rating, but for smaller spaces. These are the Medify MA-40, MA-25, and MA14. We didn’t test the smaller units directly, but their similar filter design should give equivalent high performance.
We challenged the air purifiers with high levels of dust, smoke, and VOCs in an enclosed space, measuring how quickly they could clean up the pollutants. They were also rated on noise and display light levels, how easy they were to set up and use, their looks, and the running costs to replace filters.
Hi, I’m Dave Ellerby, the Chief Scientist in the Reviewed labs. I got my Ph.D. from the University of Leeds in 2000, and my bachelor of science from the University of Manchester in 1997. I have wide-ranging interests. Before joining Reviewed, I worked in exercise physiology. I’m also interested in thermodynamics and testing the strength of materials, which is a fancy way of saying I occasionally have to set things on fire or break them in the name of science.
I oversee our lab testing, develop tests for new products, and update tests to ensure they’re as meaningful as possible. Pollen allergies in the spring and the year-round aroma of two large dogs make me particularly interested in indoor air quality.
We measured how quickly each purifier could remove particles and volatile organics compounds (VOCs) from the air. To do this, we built an airtight chamber in our lab. Inside the chamber, we added dust, smoke, and VOCs to create poor air quality. Fans inside the enclosure distributed the pollutants evenly. Each purifier was placed in the middle of the chamber and turned to its maximum fan setting. If extra filtration mechanisms were available, we switched these on. We monitored changes in particulate and total VOC levels to get a pollutant removal rate for each purifier. For particles, we focused on those smaller than 10 microns as they’re small enough to make it into your lungs.
We also assessed how hard it was to get the purifier running and change its filters, how many settings and filter stages it had, and the yearly cost of replacing the filters on the manufacturer’s recommended schedule. The air purifiers also went home so we could see if fan noise and display lights affected sleeping, conversation, and TV watching. This also allowed us to assess how they look in a domestic setting.
What You Should Know About Buying an Air Purifier
Air purifiers come in a vast range of sizes, types, and prices. The best choice for you depends on the size of your space, the air pollutants you’re most concerned about, and how automated you want your purifier to be.
First, buy a purifier that’s appropriate for your room size. Too small, and it won’t filter the air effectively. Too large, and you’re paying for fan power and filter sizes you don’t need.
Second, think about your main air quality concerns. Air pollutants come in two main types: particles and chemicals, and how well your purifier removes these depend on which filtering mechanism it uses.
Removing Smoke, Dust, Pollen, and Viruses
Particles include bacteria, smoke, household dust, allergens like pollen, and the airborne droplets of liquid that spread viruses (like flu, and SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID). Smoke, bacteria, and virus-carrying droplets fall at the small end of the size range for airborne particles; allergens like pollen grains are at the larger end. This may affect your particle filter choice. If you’re worried about COVID or smoke, then a higher-end HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter is the best choice.
HEPA filters are effective at trapping small particles. Although they all meet a minimum standard, not all HEPA filters are created equal; they have a number rating based on how effective they are at trapping the smallest particles. H10 and H11 filters are sometimes described as “True HEPA,” and H13 and H14 filters as “Medical Grade.” If your main concerns are viruses, bacteria, and smoke, look for a HEPA filter rated H13 or H14.
Be careful in your choice, as some filter manufacturers use the terms “HEPA like” or “HEPA type.” These are just marketing terms, and unless the manufacturer reports the filter performance, you have no idea how effective the filter will be.
Pet owners should also look for a purifier with a pre-filter. These trap larger items, like pet hair, before they get to your other filter stages. There’s no point paying for a high-end HEPA filter if it quickly gets clogged with cat hair!
Removing Chemical Pollutants
VOCs are a major chemical pollutant. Their many sources include paint, plastics, cleaning products, hair spray, and glue. Not all VOCs are harmful, but some are a health concern, and HEPA or other particle filters do not remove VOCs. If you’re worried about chemical pollutants, ensure your purifier has carbon filters or other mechanisms specifically designed to trap or neutralize VOCs.
A multi-stage purifier that includes mechanisms for removing particles and chemicals is the best overall solution for removing the full range of potential air pollutants.
You Get What You Pay For
Finally, with air purifiers, their cost is based on their complexity and the quality of their filters. The heart of most air purifiers is a fan that pulls room air through the filters. That, plus a switch to control fan speed, is all there is in the simplest purifiers. More sophisticated purifiers may include an air quality sampler that automatically adjusts fan speed to match the pollution levels in your home. You’ll also pay extra for multiple purification steps and smart connectivity.
Your choice depends on how you want to use your air purifier. If you’re happy to adjust the settings yourself, then a simpler unit is a good choice. Alternatively, if you want to just switch it on and leave the hard work to the purifier, you should pay more for an air quality sensor and automatic control. Automatic control with a sensor may have advantages in the long term as it means that filter and power use are set at the appropriate level, and you could avoid wasting energy and filters by choosing manual settings that are too high for the air quality level.
If air quality is a major issue, either because you live in a high pollution area, or have someone in your household with allergies or breathing problems, then the investment in a higher quality air purifier is probably worthwhile.
Other Air Purifiers We Tested
The OdorStop OSAP5 combined the most filtering mechanisms of any purifier we tested. There’s a HEPA filter and an ionizer for particles, plus activated carbon and UV light for chemicals. There’s an air quality sensor built-in, so in automatic mode, it monitors and adjusts to the current air quality.
Its circular shape with a central fan also allows for a large filter area in a relatively small space. The OdorStop was also one of the quieter purifiers we tested. The low noise, plus the dimmable display, make this a good choice for bedrooms.
Filtrete Smart Room Air Purifier FAP-SC02W, Medium
The Filtrete FAP-SC02W is a smart purifier designed for smaller rooms. It comes supplied with a HEPA filter only, so the basic unit isn’t equipped to tackle chemical pollutants like VOCs. You can add a carbon chemical filter as an option, though.
This purifier is packed with smart features that allow automatic air quality monitoring and connectivity with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. You can also monitor purifier performance via a phone app.
If particle filtering is your main concern, and you want a purifier you can set and forget, then this is a good choice for you.
The Aeris Aair Lite has an outer fabric cover that comes in three colours. The fabric makes for an attractive appearance relative to the plastic construction of most air purifiers. The fabric isn’t just for decoration; it contains zinc pyrithione, which has antibacterial and antifungal properties. We weren’t able to test the effectiveness of this filter stage directly, though.
This is another purifier where the emphasis is on particle removal, and it contains a HEPA filter rated for high performance at removing even the smallest particles from the air. An air quality sensor also allows the purifier to run in automatic mode, adjusting the fan setting to the current air quality.
The Cuisinart PuRXium has multiple filtering stages: HEPA, carbon, and UV light. The HEPA filter has a high-performance H13 rating, with efficient removal of the smallest particles. A large filter that wraps around all four sides of the purifier packing a lot of filtering capacity into a relatively small footprint.
The Cuisinart performed well at both VOC and particle removal in our tests. Like all high-grade HEPA purifiers it suffers from high filter replacement costs. The power needed to pull air through the filter also means the higher fan settings are noisy. There is a sleep setting though, that dims the display and turns down the fan speed.
The controls and settings are simple to use. There’s no air sampling feature, and this means you’ll need to be more hands-on with choosing the fan speed as there’s no automatic mode to adjust to air quality.
The Aura Air was an excellent performer at VOC removal, but it was less effective at particle filtering. This was the only air purifier we tested that didn’t have a physical control panel. It has to be set up and controlled with an Android or iPhone app. Without app control it defaults to a single fan setting.
We also had some questions about the performance claims made by the manufacturer. The performance study available for download describes a HEPA filter, but HEPA isn’t mentioned in the manufacturer’s description of the purifier. The website also claims successful removal of Sars-CoV-2, the COVID causing virus, but the research to back this up was on another type of virus.
The Aura Air combines multiple filtering mechanisms, a prefilter, a filter for particles, and VOCs. The filter also contains copper, which combined with UV light, targets bacteria and viruses.
The Aura Air was the only purifier we tested that had to be wall-mounted. This location could improve airflow through the purifier, placing the unit at a higher level than portable floor units.
The fan is also powerful, but noisy. The downside of wall mounting is that once installed, you can’t move it to other parts of your home. Also, remember that you’ll need to mount it near a power outlet, and there’ll be a power cord running down your wall.
The Aura Air could be a good choice if you are mainly concerned about VOCs, bacteria, and viruses and are happy with a wall-mounted purifier.
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