Best Air Purifiers for Wildfire Smoke

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Consumer Reports has no financial relationship with advertisers on this site.

Every year, raging wildfires create hazardous air quality conditions across the country. In 2017 and 2018 alone, tens of thousands of individual fires burned more than 18 million acres combined, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

During these years, sales of portable air purifiers skyrocketed by about 1 million units, according to the trade publication HomeWorld Business. And now an estimated 1 in 4 American households owns an air purifier

If you live in an area prone to wildfires, an air purifier can help get rid of harmful particulates from the smoke.

The smoke can cause your eyes to burn and your nose to run, and the microscopic particles in smoke can get deep into your lungs and cause illnesses such as bronchitis, asthma attacks, and even heart attacks and strokes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency. These fine particles have even been linked to premature deaths in people with heart and lung diseases. Children who breathe in wildfire smoke can experience chest pain and tightness, wheezing, coughing, dizziness, and trouble breathing.

Choosing an Air Purifier for Wildfire Smoke

Not all air purifiers do a good job of removing smoke particulates. As a group, the most effective type of air purifiers against smoke are those that use HEPA filters, which use a fan to force air through the fine-mesh pleated filter to trap particles.

The very best air purifiers fitted with HEPA filters can reduce particle concentrations by as much as 85 percent, according to the EPA. If you want to get rid of the smell of smoke in addition to particles, you’ll want an air purifier that also has a carbon filter to adsorb odors.

Generally, HEPA air purifiers range in price from $50 to more than $1,000, but our experts advise against buying one sized for rooms smaller than 150 square feet because those models perform poorly in our tests. Models for rooms larger than 350 square feet are much better at removing smoke in our tests. All of CR’s recommended air purifiers fall into this category.

To test how well these machines trap the small particulates from smoke, we inject cigarette smoke particles as small as 0.1 micron into a sealed room and use a particle counter to measure the number and size of particles in the room as an air purifier works. Because air purifiers typically have a number of speed settings, we test for smoke removal both at the highest speed and at a lower speed. (Some models that perform well at high speeds don’t do as well at low speeds.)

We also measure noise levels at every speed a machine has because you’ll need to run it 24 hours a day—even overnight—for it to be effective. We also calculate annual operating costs, which includes filter replacements and energy use.

For more information on air purifiers, check out CR’s air purifier buying guide. Read on for ratings and reviews of three air purifiers from our tests that work well at reducing wildfire particulates. Plus, see our additional tips, below, for keeping your home smoke-free.

More Tips for Clearing the Smoke

Smoke can travel hundreds of miles from the source, so even if you live far away from the fire and are in no immediate danger, you could still have harmful smoke coming into your house. Using an air purifier helps, but there’s more you can do to keep your home as smoke-free as possible:

  • Close all your windows and doors tight, and seal any air leaks with weather sealing, if available; even masking tape is better than nothing. 

  • Try to spend the bulk of your time in a room with the fewest windows and no fireplace or ventilation ducts that connect to the outside. 

  • Use your air purifier in this room and keep it running 24/7.

  • Change the filter as soon as the indicator light comes on, or according to the time frame specified in the manual. Once a filter is full, it no longer works properly to trap particulates in the air.

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