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Indoor air can be two to five times as dirty as outside air, so it makes sense that interest in air purifiers spikes in winter, when cold weather keeps us indoors with the windows shut.
To clear the air, more and more consumers are turning to air purifiers. In 2018, sales of portable air purifiers skyrocketed by about 1 million units, according to the trade publication HomeWorld Business. Now, an estimated 1 in 4 American households owns an air purifier.
But air purifiers aren’t cheap. Most models that CR recommends cost more than $200, and up to $900. They can be expensive to operate, too, because they typically require filter replacements once or twice a year and should be run around the clock. (See our chart below for a breakdown of annual costs.) Some models have multiple filters that need replacing. For instance, activated carbon filters that are claimed to remove odors need to be replaced every three months and can cost up to $50 a pop. That’s on top of the main filters, which range from $20 to over $200 each.
Fortunately, there are ways to spend less for clean air. Start by purchasing an Energy Star certified model, which is 40 percent more energy-efficient than a standard model and costs $30 per year less to run. And because energy savings don’t matter if the machine doesn’t do its job, check how well the air purifiers perform in our tests at removing smoke, pollen, and dust on both high and low speeds (important for noise).
In our lab, we also calculate how much it costs to run each model 24 hours a day for one year. We combine that number with the cost of replacement filters for a year (based on the manufacturer’s replacement recommendation) to get our annual operating cost.
Here, we break it down even further using five highly rated models as examples. The total for the first year includes the purchase of the air purifier, and the fifth year represents the total you will have spent after five years of use.
Annual Energy Cost
Total, First Year
Total, Fifth Year
Blueair Blue Pure 211+
Are Air Purifiers Worth It?
The best ways to improve indoor air are to remove any pollutant sources and ventilate with clean outdoor air. When those methods aren’t possible—or they’re not enough—portable air purifiers can help reduce indoor pollution.
The air purifiers that do well in our ratings capably filter dust, smoke, and pollen from the air.
EPA-reviewed studies have also shown improved cardiovascular health and modest improvements in allergy and asthma symptoms among participants. However, scientific and medical communities can’t definitively link the use of air purifiers to health benefits because reported health benefits are inconsistent among participants and there have been very few long-term studies.
There are also limits to what an air purifier can do. An air purifier can only remove allergens while they’re floating in the air. Larger, heavier allergens, such as mites, mold, and pollen, settle to the ground so quickly that the air purifier can’t capture them all in time. Studies are inconclusive on air purifiers’ ability to tackle gases.
Because the health benefits from using air purifiers vary from person to person and depend on the types of pollutants in your home, it’s ultimately your call if paying for—and running—an air purifier is worth it. We provide the data, you make the call.
Energy Efficient Air Purifiers
If you want to keep annual costs down, these three air purifiers rank in the top tier of our ratings and are relatively cost-effective when it comes to energy use (and filter replacements).
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