Air Purifiers and the Cost of Clean Air

Replacement filters and electricity bills should factor into your clean-air budget

Indoor air can be two to five times as dirty as outside air, so it makes sense that interest in air purifiers spikes in winter, when cold weather keeps us indoors with the windows shut.

To clear the air, more and more consumers are turning to air purifiers. In 2018, sales of portable air purifiers skyrocketed by about 1 million units, according to the trade publication HomeWorld Business. Now, an estimated 1 in 4 American households owns an air purifier.

But air purifiers aren’t cheap. Most models that CR recommends cost more than $200, and up to $900. They can be expensive to operate, too, because they typically require filter replacements once or twice a year and should be run around the clock. (See our chart below for a breakdown of annual costs.) Some models have multiple filters that need replacing. For instance, activated carbon filters that are claimed to remove odors need to be replaced every three months and can cost up to $50 a pop. That’s on top of the main filters, which range from $20 to over $200 each.

Fortunately, there are ways to spend less for clean air. Start by purchasing an Energy Star certified model, which is 40 percent more energy-efficient than a standard model and costs $30 per year less to run. And because energy savings don’t matter if the machine doesn’t do its job, check how well the air purifiers perform in our tests at removing smoke, pollen, and dust on both high and low speeds (important for noise).

In our lab, we also calculate how much it costs to run each model 24 hours a day for one year. We combine that number with the cost of replacement filters for a year (based on the manufacturer’s replacement recommendation) to get our annual operating cost.

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