Air filters can work, and work well, against a variety of unsavory things floating in the air like contaminants, smoke, viruses and allergens, experts say. “Air cleaning and filtration can help reduce airborne contaminants, including particles containing viruses,” the EPA says, adding that when used with other safe practices like masking, “filtration can be part of a plan to reduce the potential for airborne transmission of COVID-19 indoors.” And for anyone with allergies to things like dust, mold and pollen, “air purifiers may be used as part of a multicomponent intervention,” says Dr. Merin Kuruvilla Kalangara, assistant professor of allergy and immunology at Emory University. What’s more, if you’re worried about wildfire smoke, they’re something to consider too, says Dan Jaffe, professor of atmospheric chemistry at University of Washington Bothell. Here are the air filters that experts use in their own homes.
The budget solution: MERV-13 filters ($8 per filter on Amazon)
“Most furnaces and HVAC systems can accommodate a MERV 13 filter without creating equipment problems,” and the MERV 13 “can remove as much as 95% of the particles that pass through it,” the EPA notes. This is what Jaffe opts for in his home (and it’s a lower cost solution than many portable air purifiers). “We have shown that it can be nearly as effective as more expensive options. By using a low-cost air purifier, one can have more of them and therefore cover more rooms,” says Jaffe.
Learn more: MERV-13 filters ($8 per filter on Amazon)
The portable air purifier solution: Germ Guardian True HEPA Filter Air Purifier ($85 on Amazon)
This is what V. Faye McNeill, professor of chemical engineering and earth and environmental sciences at Columbia University, uses in her home: “We live in the city in an older building, which can be quite dusty, and my children have asthma, so I have used these small units in my children’s bedrooms for years — we leave the UV light off,” says McNeill. When buying a portable air filter make sure you look at the manufacturer’s note about how many square feet it can handle.
Learn more more: Germ Guardian True HEPA Filter Air Purifier ($85 on Amazon).
Other solutions that work:
Any air cleaner that is equipped with a HEPA filter will work as long as the air cleaner is sized correctly for the space in which it is used,” says Jordan Peccia, professor of environmental engineering at Yale University, who recommends following following the manufacturer’s recommendations on the square footage of the room where the air cleaner will operate. “HEPA filters can be effective at removing small particles within suitably sized airspaces, with adequate airflow passing through the filter,” says Kevin M. Stewart, director of environmental health at the American Lung Association. And Jaffe adds that he looks for air purifiers that remove greater than 90% of sub-micron particles and that do not generate ozone, which can be harmful to your health. If neither of the above solutions work, here are some other expert-recommended air purifiers.
Blueair Blue Pure 211+, $249 on Amazon
Consumer Reports recommends this reasonably priced purifier because of its ability to remove particles at both high- and low-speed settings. A machine-washable filter captures larger particles like pet hair, though they caution when the unit is running at high speed, it can be noisy.
Learn more: Blueair Blue Pure 211+, $249 on Amazon
Honeywell InSight HPA5300B, $289 on Best Buy
This portable air purifier gets high marks from Consumer Reports, scoring 5/5 for filtering dust, pollen and smoke in its high speed mode. It’s easy to operate and contains a filter indicator that lets you know when it’s time to change or clean the main filter, though filters can be pricey.
Learn more: Honeywell InSight HPA5300B, $289 on Best Buy
Coway AP-1512HH Mighty, $249 on Bed, Bath & Beyond
Bed Bath & Beyond
Wirecutter’s pick for most effective, efficient and inexpensive air purifier is lauded for being one of the best-performing, most durable and most economical purifiers tested. Their review notes that within 30 minutes, this HEPA-filter purifier reduced heavy smoke pollution in a 135-square-foot office by as much as 99.6%.
Learn more: Coway AP-1512HH Mighty, $249 on Bed, Bath & Beyond
Levoit Core 300, $109 on Walmart
This budget-friendly pick has a HEPA filter and can be used in a small bedroom or office of approximately 200 square feet. Wirecutter tests revealed that it reduced particulates by more than 97% on its high setting in just 30 minutes and on its medium setting, it reduced them by more than 92%. At just 14 and-a-half inches tall, this small but mighty purifier is a great portable option for smaller spaces.
Learn more: Levoit Core 300, $109 on Walmart