Do Air Filters Really Make a Difference?

Do air filters really do anything? Research has shown that filtering air can help remove hazardous particles from indoor spaces, particularly allergens, smoke, and mold. However, air purifiers are most effective when used in combination with proper filtration and home cleaning techniques. Wood-burning fireplaces, cakes that fill with bubbles during baking, and even lit candles can create smoke in the home that can trigger allergy symptoms. Air purifiers can remove smoke from the air, but it takes time and some are better at the task than others. Although a HEPA filter can trap airborne ash, to eliminate smoke odor, look for an air purifier that contains an activated carbon filter.

Air purifiers are effective at reducing particles in the air. Some types can have health benefits for people with allergies, asthma, and other conditions. However, there are many factors to consider when choosing the most effective air purifier. HEPA filters have the most research to back them up and can filter out extremely small particles. So the answer to the question is yes; do air purifiers really work? But it's important to understand what they can and cannot do, which we'll explain later.

Air and HVAC filters are designed to filter contaminants or pollutants from the air passing through them. Cleaning and filtering the air can help reduce pollutants in the air, including particles that contain viruses. HVAC systems in large buildings typically filter air before it is distributed throughout the building, so consider upgrading HVAC filters as appropriate for your specific building and HVAC system (consult an HVAC professional). In one study, HEPA air purifiers significantly decreased the concentration of allergens (which were predominantly dust mites) in both air and bedding. Research shows that HEPA air purifiers can reduce indoor toxins produced by 3D printers, although it is more effective if the filter is integrated into the printer itself. The Clean Air Supply Rate (CADR) is a number you'll find on most air purifier packaging, or at least any company that voluntarily ships their machine to the Appliance Manufacturers Association (AHAM).

Many air purifiers work through a filtration system to remove particles from the air and recirculate clean air. So yes, using air filters alone cannot guarantee adequate air quality, especially when there are significant sources of pollutants and insufficient ventilation. Homes have a portable indoor air purifier, including those that come as part of a fan, says Perry Santanachote, home editor of Consumer Reports. While this improves air quality, these particles remain and can recirculate in the air the next time you sweep, sit on the couch, lean on a wall, or walk on the floor. Try to place your air purifier where there is airflow and where you think there is a high concentration of pollutants.

Research has shown that HEPA filters are very effective in removing fungi, mold and other allergens from indoor air. Air purifiers can reduce these pollutants and help you feel better, but not all air purifiers are created equal. As air moves through the filter, contaminants and particles are captured, and clean air is expelled into the living space. Some models claim to clean countertops and other surfaces as well as treated air is expelled from the vents throughout your home. If routine allergies or asthma symptoms adversely affect your life, evidence that a HEPA filter improves respiratory health may encourage you to seek an air purifier. If you want to do your best, there are units with multiple filters to capture particles in the air plus an activated carbon filter to eliminate odors.

Hannah Sawatzki
Hannah Sawatzki

Hipster-friendly pop culture maven. Hipster-friendly web practitioner. Infuriatingly humble bacon nerd. General social media fan. Hipster-friendly beer enthusiast.