I’m slow to catch on sometimes. Even though I’d had intermittent wheezing over the years, I didn’t learn I had asthma until my 30s. And even though air purifiers are widely recommended by almost everybody in the asthma and allergy world, I never looked into them. A “purifier,” really? Sounds hokey.
But since getting one, my symptoms have been a lot more manageable. And if you have allergies yourself (with or without asthma) you may want to think about getting one yourself. Right now we are in the midst of asthma peak week, the time of year when indoor allergies, outdoor allergies, and seasonal colds can team up on us. If you live in wildfire country, smoke can be in the mix, too. Your lungs have a lot to deal with; an air cleaner can help.
What is an air purifier?
If you go shopping for an “air purifier” or “air cleaner,” you’ll find plug-in units that stand in a corner of a room. They suck air in, filter it—ideally through a HEPA filter—and blow it back out. Manufacturers’ tests show that these units do remove particulates from the air, which may include pollen or dust.
That said, there is a major caveat: There is no conclusive evidence that air purifiers substantially improve people’s asthma or allergy symptoms. The EPA says that they may “possibly” improve symptoms, based on research that shows small improvements. But we do know that they remove something from the air, and many people—myself included—anecdotally find that our symptoms improve when we have an air purifier going.
Last winter, it seemed like my allergy symptoms would act up every time I laid down in bed. I had already encased my mattress, pillows, and duvet in dust-mite-proof covers, which helped. But then I thought I might as well try getting an air purifier, as well. Within the first day or two, those bedtime symptoms stopped happening. Can I prove the air purifier cured me? No. But am I going to keep using it? You bet.
To get the most out of your air purifier, it helps to remember that you have other ways of keeping allergens out of the air in the first place. Keep windows closed during pollen seasons if you have a pollen allergy, for example; be good about dusting and vacuuming if you have a dust allergy. We have more tips on keeping allergen levels low here.
What kind should I get?
First off, you should know that the kind of air purifier that stands in the corner of a room is not the only way to clean your air. The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology recommends using an air cleaner in a single room, and/or a MERV filter for your whole-house heating and ventilation system, if you have one. (If you only have central air conditioning but not heat, or vice versa, remember that the filter is only going to help in whichever season the system is running.) The higher the MERV rating on your filter, the better; 13 should be a minimum. Don’t forget to replace the filter on schedule.
If you do go for a standalone (“portable”) unit, instead or in addition, make sure it’s got a HEPA filter, and pay attention to the CADR rating. CADR refers to the clean air delivery rate, or how many cubic feet of air it can move per minute. Use this chart from the EPA to figure out what CADR rating you will need for a given room. For example, a 10x10-foot bedroom will be okay with a purifier that’s rated for 65 cubic feet per minute. But if you’re looking for something that can clean the air in a 600-square-foot area, you’ll want a CADR of 390 cubic feet per minute.
In my house, we have a MERV filter on the central air system, and I have a plug-in purifier in my bedroom. It runs quietly most of the time, occasionally kicking up into some kind of turbo mode when it detects more particulates than usual in the air. There’s a light on top that I know I can turn off somehow, but I prefer the low-tech solution of draping a sock on top. And then there are the filters inside of it that need to be cleaned and replaced from time to time. I’m not great about remembering to do that on schedule, but now that it’s peak week again, I think it’s time.
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