Why You Should Keep an Air Purifier in Your Kitchen — Plus the 2 Best Options You Can Buy

published Nov 6, 2021
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Air Purifier In Modern Kitchen For Fresh Air, Healthy Life, Cleaning And Removing Dust.
Credit: Getty Images/ onurdongel

These days, we’re all thinking a lot more about the quality of the air we breathe. While wearing masks and keeping our social distance minimizes the risk of contaminated air in public, the safeguards we take with the air we breathe in our own living spaces is now getting attention, too.

In light of this, you may have heard the recent buzz around home air purifiers — they’ve become a hot topic on the news and there’s been an uptick in sales. With a number of air purifiers on the market to choose from, it can be pretty hard to know which one to buy (or whether you should buy one at all). And so we spoke with some health experts to get their thoughts and suggestions. Here’s an informative look at what you need to know about air purifiers, including what they do and what to look for when buying one for your home.

What’s an air purifier?

To begin, air purifiers neutralize and deactivate airborne toxins, explains Kambez Benam, a pulmonologist who studies lung biology, tissue engineering, and inhalation toxicology. These airborne contaminants can include gases, bacteria, viruses, fungi, and toxic pathogens, as well as pollen, dust, and cigarette smoke. That’s a lot for your lungs to contend with.

Before we get any deeper into this, it’s worth noting the subtle difference between air filtration and air purification. “Air filtration removes pollutants from the atmosphere, and air purification sanitizes the air — both allowing improvement in the quality of air we breathe,” says Benam.

All HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) systems contain air filters. If you have an HVAC system, you already have air filters — they’re situated in the unit. However, they vary greatly in price, effectiveness, and durability. And they must be changed (or, in the case of reusable filters, cleaned) regularly. In contrast, air purifiers are separate units, which you can choose to install or place directly in your home. Of course, air purifiers have in-unit filters, too — but their technology allows them to both filter and purify the air.

What kinds of air purifiers are available?

There are two major types of air purifiers: whole-house systems and portable air purifiers. Whole-house systems are, unsurprisingly, more expensive, but can provide peace of mind to those who suffer from severe allergies. Kevin Stewart, the director of environmental health at the American Lung Association (ALA), notes that a portable air purifier could be enough to establish a “safe haven” in one section of your home and that could be enough, depending on your needs.

Whole-house air-purification systems should be installed with an expert’s consultation, Stewart says, with American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers’ MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Values) ratings taken into consideration. (A MERV score rates how effectively particles of various sizes are removed or neutralized from the air.)

For portable systems, installation is as simple as taking the thing out of the box. Here, the scale to consider is the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers’ CADR rating. CADR is an acronym for “clean air delivery rate,” and measures how quickly tobacco smoke, pollen, and dust are removed from the air. The higher the number, the faster the air is cleaned.

Portable home air purifiers typically use at least one of the following: pleated filters, activated carbon, and UV (ultraviolet) light to sanitize the air. Like regular pleated filters, carbon filters should be changed regularly, whenever they are saturated. As Benam explains, UV light can causes cellular or genetic damage to the air contaminants, as opposed to simply “trapping” them in a filter. A HEPA filter can trap more than 99 percent of airborne particles with a size of 0.3 microns. (In case you were wondering, COVID-19 particles are about 1.2 microns in diameter.) 

What should you look for when buying an air purifier?

When picking a unit, look for a filter that has activated carbon. Benam notes that activated carbon can be helpful in trapping gases and chemicals (i.e., smoke and odor). These filters are adept at absorbing smelly molecules, but they don’t trap large particles. Stewart says, “Activated carbon filtration [filters] … available for residential use are often easily overpowered, as filters tend to be small and can quickly become saturated.”

So it’s optimal to find a model that makes use of some combination of the three lines of defense: UV light, activated carbon filters, or pleated HEPA filters. As you shop around, look for models that contain pleated filters treated with activated carbon. And again, don’t forget: You need to change filters regularly!

When choosing an air purifier, Stewart notes that it’s important to consider size and capability in relation to your space. Small air purifiers are typically efficient at treating the air in rooms smaller than 200 square feet. A large air purifier can typically treat air in rooms up to 1,400 square feet. If you have a larger space, consider investing in two units. When maintained, air purifiers can certainly improve the quality of air you and your household breathe, especially when partnered with other healthy air-practices, such as routine HVAC maintenance. Says Benam: “Using quality and certified air purifiers and air filtration systems at the same time can be the right step to having cleaner air to breathe!”

Credit: skaman306/Getty Images

Where should you set up your air purifier?

Your kitchen is a smart place for your standalone air purifier. “Cooking can be associated with a variety of odors and small particles release (particularly when frying), which makes it a good idea to consider using air filtration and purification systems,” says Benam. It’s also recommended to place your air purifier in a room where you spend the most amount of time. For many of us, that’s definitely the kitchen.

Our Top Air Purifier Pick

We found a model that makes the grade for efficiency, cost, and effectiveness. From the makers of the Instant Pot (yep, that Instant Pot), this portable unit checks all the key boxes. It uses a combo of HEPA filters and activated carbon in one very hard-working unit to trap airborne particles. It also has a high CADR rating and is proven to filter the air multiple times an hour (square footage-dependent, of course). It’s quiet, which, as Stewart notes, is crucial for at-home use. And if you are planning on putting it in your kitchen, it’s adept at reducing odors. It’s also available in two sizes, and the filter conveniently alerts you when it’s time to swap it out.

An American Lung Association-Approved Air Purifier

Although the ALA says it does not endorse specific products, Swiss-made IQAir is one of the organization’s educational partners. While it comes in at a pretty hefty price, the IQAir HealthPro Plus Air Purifier is known for its advanced medical-grade air filtration using both a HyperHEPA filter and odor-removing V5-Cell filter to clean ultra-fine particles as small as 0.003 microns! What makes it so great? It filters particles, including dust, smoke, pollen, and pet dander, with 99.5 percent accuracy and is suitable as a whole-house air purifier for areas up to 1,125 square feet. Plus, it’s got a high CADR rating, and it’s energy efficient.

Do you use an air purifier? Tell us in the comments below.