September 28, 2022

8 of the best air purifiers to deal with pets, pollen, and pollution

We know taking deep breaths is calming and all, and we don’t want to freak you out — but those big gulps of untreated air can contain a lot of harmful contaminants and irritants.

For one thing, pollen season is getting worse every year. (If your allergies seem more annoying than usual lately, it’s not your imagination.) A 2018 ABC News report pointed to climate change as a huge factor, as high temperatures and increased levels of carbon dioxide can affect the proteins in the pollen grains that cause severe allergies.

Combined with worsening levels of smog and other fine-particle air pollution amid increased natural gas use, a rise in car usage, and the now-annual wildfires that burn through the West, it’s no wonder air purifiers (or air cleaners, as they’re sometimes called) have made their way onto lists of must-have home appliances.

What are the effects of air pollution?

The issue of air pollution is often disregarded unless it’s really bad — say, the apocalyptic orange skies and heavy smoke produced by the 2020 California fires, which caused immediate health effects like stinging eyes, coughing, and headaches. 2021 was barely better, clocking in as the second-worst year on record (following 2020) for area of land burned in California. And continuing effects of climate change only promise more alarming pictures of fire and brimstone.

And even when you can’t see dirty air, it’s still present; your future self will still feel the effects of long-term exposure to it — we’re talking asthma, immune system weakening, chronic heart and lung diseases, and increased vulnerability to sick building syndrome.

That’s right — you don’t even have to venture outside to be exposed to some of the worst of it. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, concentrations of some indoor pollutants are frequently two to five times higher than those of outdoor pollutants.

What are the benefits of air purifiers?

Eliminating harmful airborne particles is the best way to cope with allergies and those aforementioned respiratory issues — and there may be no better way to trap pain-in-the-ass irritants and increase air quality than by using an air purifier with a HEPA filter.

Air purifiers are also ace when it comes to ridding a space of animal smells like litter boxes and pet beds, as well as clearing the air of smoke stench from cigarettes without opening a window. (And no, getting an air freshener is not good enough.)

Can an air purifier protect you from the coronavirus?

A good question. We’ll let the EPA take it from here: “Increasing ventilation with outdoor air and air filtration [are] important components of a larger strategy” to minimize risk of contracting COVID-19, they say. But despite preliminary data from hospitals showing possible benefits, there has yet to be a definitive answer as to air purifiers’ efficacy in prevention. The EPA concurs: “When used properly, air purifiers can help reduce airborne contaminants including viruses in a home or confined space. However, by itself, a portable air cleaner is not enough to protect people from COVID-19.” (Emphasis theirs.)

As Wirecutter reported, the issue lies in whether or not air purifiers’ HEPA filters are capable of capturing the virus before it infects you — as of spring 2022, we don’t know for sure. (Although that may be beside the point, considering experts still don’t know how much of the virus is needed for airborne transmission in an enclosed environment, especially given its ever-evolving variants.)

For now, the best way to avoid catching COVID-19 is to keep following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to wash your hands often, wear a mask in public settings, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and maintain a social distance of at least six feet away from people who aren’t in your quarantine bubble.

What is the best air purifier on the market?

We dug through Amazon, Walmart, and Best Buy to find the models with the best customer reviews and separated them by price. Whether you need something small to take traveling (responsibly) with you or you’re in the market for an air purifier that can handle the whole house, we’ve got you covered. May the relief be with you.