Tech Shortcuts for Life

How To Choose the Right Air Purifier for Every Room in Your House

Photo Illustration: Save As/Medium

Bad air quality can take years off your life. I used to think that air pollution was mainly an annoyance. But in doing research for an article about wildfire smoke last year, I learned that poor quality air, especially air with a lot of small particulate matter (referred to as PM2.5), can be deadly. During a recent series of wildfires in California, scientists estimated that wildfire smoke killed more than 3,000 people — about 300 times more than died in the fires themselves. Small particulates in polluted air can enter your bloodstream, and even reach your brain. Worldwide, air pollution kills 4.2 million people per year.

You don’t have much control over the air quality outdoors. It’s primarily determined by weather, heavy industry, automobile traffic near your home, and similar factors. But you have a lot of control over the air quality inside your home. With the right tech, you can turn it into a clean air sanctuary for you and your family.

The best way to do this is to install HEPA air purifiers. I invested in a Temtop P10 meter to measure fine particulates and measure the Air Quality Index inside my home and found that air purifiers really do work to dramatically improve your home’s air quality, more so than any other measures I tested. After seeing their impact for myself, I went on an air purifier buying spree. I also looked at air purifiers used by local businesses in my area and received air purifiers to test out from brands including Medify Air and Aeris.

Here’s my guide to choosing the best air purifier for every room of your house—and your car.

The kitchen

Cooking makes your house smell wonderful. But it also releases lots of potentially harmful small particulates into the air. According to the California Air Resources Board, cooking indoors can “generate unhealthy air pollutants from heating oil, fat, and other food ingredients, especially at high temperatures.” Those pollutants can “cause or worsen a wide range of health problems such as nose and throat irritation, headaches, fatigue and nausea,” and are especially harmful to “young children, people with asthma and people with heart or lung disease.”

If you cook a lot, it’s a good idea to have an air purifier in or near your kitchen, especially if you’re like me and have a lot of young kids in your house. You probably only use your kitchen intermittently, though, so it’s likely not necessary to run your purifier all the time. And if you mainly cook low-polluting dishes like soups, you might not always need the purifier on, either.

That’s why my favorite purifier for the kitchen is the Aeris Aair Lite. The Aair Lite is a Swiss-made purifier with a HEPA 13 filter, which means it’s even better at removing fine particulates than a traditional HEPA. That’s useful when you’re trying to rapidly remove cooking smoke from the air. It also includes a washable outer cover and a pre-filter, which helps to extend the life of the more-expensive HEPA filter, especially when it’s powering through oily cooking vapors.

The best feature of the Aair Lite, though, is a mode that allows the purifier to automatically adjust its fan settings using artificial intelligence and a built-in Air Quality Index sensor, which looks at both PM2.5 and PM10 particulates in the air. When the Aair Lite senses that your air quality has dropped (like if you burn that Baked Alaska you’re cooking), it automatically ramps up its fan speed, pulling more air through its HEPA filter and clearing away the smoke. The Aair Lite pairs with a mobile app, too, so you can activate it remotely, and see a graph of your home’s air quality over time.

Aeris sent me an Aair Lite to test out. Mine came wrapped in a Sailor Blue cover, which made it look like some kind of giant, high-end subwoofer. The purifier has a pre-filter and HEPA filter pre-installed. After some challenges setting up an account through the Aeris app’s somewhat clunky interface, I was able to sync my phone to the Aair Lite and set up remote control and monitoring. The app asked for a name for my Aair Lite, and suggested “Garfield.” I liked this and kept it.

I found Garfield’s front control panel a bit challenging to figure out at first, but it’s fairly straightforward to use after you get the basics down. The interface is a minimalist swoosh, with a night mode button on one side, a Smart mode button on the other. Running your finger along the swoosh increases or decreases the fan speed. There’s also a neat retro-looking readout that shows the current AQI in your home using a series of LED dots. I set Garfield to Smart Mode, which uses the purifier’s sensors to automatically adjust its cleaning power, and left him to do his thing.

For days, Garfield showed an AQI of 1. I assumed he must be broken, so I contacted Aeris. They told me that my purifier was working fine — it was simply doing its job, and as a result the air in my home was very clean. They also suggested that I cook something near Garfield, so I could see him actively cleaning the air.

A few days later, I set Garfield up in the family room near my open-concept kitchen. I got some 80/20 ground beef, made burger patties, and cooked them on my stove top. Fatty burgers are one of the smokiest things you can safely cook inside, so this felt like a good way to put Garfield through his paces. At first, the AQI number on Garfield’s display barely budged. But as the burgers browned and started to smoke a bit, the number crept up, and Garfield ramped up his fan speed accordingly.

To really test him out, I let the fat from the burgers sit in the hot pan for just a bit longer than I normally would, until it was really smoking. This time Garfield’s AQI meter leapt to nearly 300, and his fan ran so quickly that he sounded like a small jet engine. In about 20 minutes he had dropped the AQI back down to 80, and in around an hour it was down to baseline. On other days when I cooked less-smoky dishes, I noticed in the Aeris app that the AQI would jump to around 20-30. Garfield would switch on, and it would come back down.

At $399, the Aeris Aair Lite isn’t cheap. If you live in an area where the air quality is consistently bad, you probably don’t need its AI-driven automated features, because you can just leave your purifier on all the time. But if you cook a lot — or smoke, light candles, or do other activities which result in intermittent drops in air quality in your home— the Aair Lite’s automatic functions are a great way to keep the air in your home clean without having to remember to switch a purifier on and off.

The living room

The Aair Lite is a great fit for a targeted area of your home, like the kitchen. But for bigger spaces — like a living room or great room — it helps to have a purifier that can handle higher volumes of air. For these bigger spaces, you often don’t need as high a level of filtration — you’re probably dealing more with dust, pollen, and pet hair than small particulates. A HEPA 13 filter is perfect for removing cooking smoke or removing allergens in a sleeping space (more on that below). But for bigger areas of your home, a traditional HEPA filter generally provides plenty of filtration power.

One good option for the living room is the Blueair 211+. With a retail price of $299, it’s substantially cheaper than higher-end models like the Aair Lite. The Blueair 211+ still uses a traditional HEPA filter, so it will remove smoke, allergens, and the particles which carry viruses and bacteria. But because it’s filtering to a somewhat lower standard than a HEPA 13, it’s a cheaper device and can move air through its filter faster. Whereas the Aair Lite is rated for rooms up to 350 square feet, the Blueair 211+ can handle a 540 square foot space, which makes it perfect for a bigger living space, or the main floor of an open-concept home.

Another good choice is the Coway Mighty, a budget purifier with a retail price of $229. Like the Blueair, the Coway uses a traditional HEPA filter. It handles a somewhat smaller room size of 361 square feet. But because it’s much cheaper than competing purifiers , you can buy two or more purifiers for the cost of one higher-end device. That allows you to divide and conquer. You can either place several purifiers around one big room, or place a Coway Mighty in each room of a more traditional, divided-floor plan home.

If you want your purifier to clean the air and also make a statement, consider Dyson’s line of Pure Cool purifiers. Like all Dyson products, the Pure Cool has clean lines, and looks more like a piece of modern art than an appliance. And like all Dyson products, the Pure Cool is blindingly expensive. The top-of-the-line purifier goes for $649.99, and comes in two bespoke colors. The lowest-priced model in the range sells for $399.99, comparable to the Aair Lite.

The bedroom

The average person spends nearly half their time in the bedroom. During Covid-19, when many people have found themselves working from bed, that proportion has likely gone up. Keeping the air in your bedroom clean is essential. And if you have kids, keeping the air in their nursery clean is even more important, as kids’ less-developed respiratory systems make them more susceptible to air pollution.

In the bedroom or nursery, opt for a HEPA 13 purifier to ensure that you’re removing as many pollutants and particles from the air as possible. Of course, if you plan to sleep near your purifier it’s also important to choose a model which is quiet, and which has options to switch off annoying lights which might disrupt your circadian rhythms. For this part of your home, I recommend choosing a purifier from Medify Air.

Photo courtesy of the author

Medify Air’s purifiers were originally intended for use in medical settings, and I’ve seen them used in doctor’s offices and dentist’s offices around the Bay Area. They’re HEPA 13 purifiers, but their no-frills design and basic styling makes them an affordable choice for use in your home, too. For a bigger bedroom or primary bedroom suite, I like the Medify MA-25. It can handle a room up to 500 square feet. And because it uses two filters, it doesn’t have to work as hard to move air as many single-filter purifiers, which makes it quieter. The MA-25 also has a night mode, which disables its LEDs when you’re sleeping.

For smaller rooms I like the MA-14, which covers 200 square feet and retails for $99. If you have a large primary bedroom suite (you fancy-pants!), go for the MA-40, which retails for $349 and can handle a room up to 850 square feet. Don’t expect luxury Swiss-made fabric wraps or advanced AI functions; Medify’s purifiers have basic controls, and their styling is similarly functional, with a design that looks like it comes from a several-generations-old iPod.

In terms of price and performance, though, Medify’s purifiers are a great buy. In my own testing during wildfire season, I was impressed with how an MA-25 dropped the AQI in my home office (measured with an external meter) from 151 to 20 in about 30 minutes, taking my air from a rating of “Unhealthy” to “Good.” If you don’t mind switching the purifier on manually each night — and if you don’t mind a more utilitarian look — Medify’s purifiers are a great addition to your bedroom. I have an MA-25 in my primary bedroom, and an MA-14 in each of my kids’ bedrooms.

Your car

Medify has one more trick up its sleeve. During the last fire season in California, I felt pretty good about the air quality in my home. But like most Californians, my family spends a lot of time in our car. Driving through thick smoke on bad fire days, I felt that we were still being exposed to quite a lot of particulates and potentially harmful chemicals. Some new cars use HEPA filters for their interiors, but my minivan doesn’t appear to do so, as the AQI inside often veered into Unhealthy territory during fire season.

Would it be possible, I wondered, to install a standalone air purifier in my car? Medify apparently thought the same thing, as they launched a new portable air purifier, the MA-CAR, in November of 2020. Medify sent me an MA-CAR to review for this article. The purifier is designed to attach to the back of a seat in your car, or to slide under either of your front seats. It runs on the 12 volt power from your car’s battery and alternator, and plugs into an accessory (cigarette lighter) outlet. Like Medify’s other purifiers, the MA-CAR uses a HEPA 13 filter. Medify says that it cleans a 40 square foot space, which is about the size of a 7 passenger car.

I tested out the MA-CAR in my Honda Odyssey minivan. I plugged the unit into the accessory outlet in the back of the minivan, and tucked it behind my second-row seats, so that its control panel was accessible as I got into the car. One small annoyance with the MA-CAR is the fact that it doesn’t switch on automatically when you start your car — you have to press the power button on the unit each time you want to use it. That likely prolongs its filter life, but also means there’s an extra step each time you start a car ride.

Besides that, though, the MA-CAR is easy to use. It’s basically a tiny HEPA 13 filter with a 12 volt fan and a simple control panel. The panel allows you to select three different fan speeds. Even on the highest setting, I could barely hear the unit over the background sound of my minivan’s engine running. The MA-CAR blows out a steady stream of purified air into your car’s interior. The purifier also includes an optional ionizer. The EPA says that ionizers generate ozone, which is a lung irritant and is considered a pollutant, so I won’t be using this feature. It’s likely there so that you can remove more stubborn odors from your car — like that musty smell you sometimes get when your floor mats get wet. But I wouldn’t leave the ionizer on during normal operation, because it’s likely doing more harm than good in terms of overall air quality.

Medify markets the MA-CAR to people affected by wildfires, as well as commuters who spend a lot of time driving in stop-and-go traffic and breathing in exhaust fumes. They also market the device to ride-share drivers, suggesting that installing a purifier will help keep them safe as they ferry potentially maskless passengers around town.

I doubt that I’ll run the MA-CAR all the time. But I’ll definitely be using mine during our next fire season, and might switch it on if we’re driving through an especially polluted area or behind a truck belching diesel fumes on the I5.

Another option to purify your car would be to pair a small traditional purifier like the MA-14 with a car power inverter. This might yield higher cleaning power than a 12-volt unit. You can also purchase HEPA cabin air filter replacements, but unless your car is designed to use a HEPA filter, these may reduce the life of your ventilation system, or be too small to really clean your car’s air. A standalone purifier like the MA-CAR or a traditional purifier with an inverter is likely a better option.

Air pollution is a silent killer, in that pollution-related deaths normally show up as heart attacks, asthma fatalities, and a slew of other seemingly unrelated conditions. Improving air quality can potentially improve your long-term health, as well as your short-term productivity and even possibly your mood. Adding air purifiers to your home (and car) is an easy, relatively inexpensive way to take control of this important aspect of your health and wellness. Make your own air purification plan, and then select the purifiers which are the best fit for your own spaces and lifestyle.

Just remember that if you buy an Aeris Aair Lite, though, the name Garfield is spoken for!

Co-Founder & CEO of Gado Images. I write, speak and consult about tech, privacy, AI and photography. tom@gadoimages.com

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