The air inside our homes is full of microscopic airborne allergens: dust mites, pollen, pet dander and more.
For people who are sensitive to these allergens, portable air purifiers can help create some much-needed breathing room. But not all air purifiers are created equal.
Different air purifiers use different methods of filtration, each designed to deal with specific types of airborne particles. Some models combine filtration types to catch a wider range of allergens.
What this means is that although air purifiers can remove specific allergens, not all air purifiers will help with all kinds of allergies or environmental sensitivities.
Need help choosing a model that is suitable for a specific sensitivity? You’re not alone. Below, we’ve prepared an overview of the best type of air purifier for different allergens.
Types of Air Purifiers
Before we jump into specific allergens, it helps to understand the different filtration methods you’ll find in portable air purifiers.
- HEPA: HEPA stands for High-Efficiency Particulate Air. A HEPA system uses a fan to draw air through a pleated, glass-fibre filter, with an outer layer to trap large particles and a dense inner layer for smaller ones. A “true” or “absolute” HEPA filter traps 99.97% of particles that are 0.3 microns in diameter or larger (to compare, a typical human hair is between 50.0 and 150.0 microns.)
- Activated carbon: Activated carbon is carbon that has been treated with oxygen to open millions of tiny pores between each carbon atom. When air passes over them, these pores pull carbon-based particles out of the air and trap them through a process called adsorption.
- Ionizer/Ionic filter: Ionization is a high-tech filtration method that harnesses an effect like static electricity. Essentially, an ionizer releases a small cloud of negatively-charged ions that electrifies airborne particles and makes them cling to the ionizer’s collection plate.
- UV-C light: UV-C is a type of ultraviolet light. When air passes through its wavelengths, the light destroys the cells of airborne organic particles like bacteria, mold, and viruses.
Best Type of Air Purifier for Different Allergens
In the following sections, we’ll discuss which type of air purifier will have the best results for the following allergens:
- Dust mites
- Pet dander
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
Dust mites are microscopic, insect-like creatures that live in carpets, upholstery, and other dusty areas throughout the home. Although dust mites don’t bite or sting, they leave behind body fragments and fecal matter that can trigger allergy symptoms.
HEPA filters are helpful when it comes to controlling dust mite, but only if you replace the filter as it fills up with particles on a regular basis. In addition to portable air purifiers with HEPA filtration, adding HEPA filters to your vacuum cleaner or HVAC system can make a difference.
Ionizers can also aid in trapping dust particles. However, most ionizers produce a small amount of ozone, which can be harmful to some people.
Common culprits for pollen allergies include grass, ragweed, oak and birch trees. About 35 million Americans are sensitive to pollen, and since it readily clings to clothing and pet fur, it’s practically impossible to keep out of the house in the warmer months.
Air purifiers equipped with HEPA filtration can help keep pollen out of circulation once it enters a room. However, be sure to replace the filter on a regular basis and do it outdoors to avoid releasing pollen back into the house.
Most people with pet allergies aren’t allergic to fur, but rather skin flakes or ‘dander’ from cats, dogs, or other furred/feathered creatures. Any pet who brushes up against furniture, bedding, or carpeting is bound to leave shed microscopic dander.
Like dust mites, airborne pet dander can be removed from circulation by HEPA filters and ionizers. These filters won’t do much for the smell, however – for that, you’ll want to invest in an air purifier with activated carbon as well.
Activated carbon does a great job of neutralizing odours, including those that originate from pets. Combined with HEPA or ionic filtration. But it won’t stop dander without another form of filtration as well.
Mold and Mildew
Mold exists just about everywhere, but it’s worse worst in dark, damp spaces. Exposure to mold can trigger allergic reactions and more serious asthma symptoms in people who are sensitive.
Certain types of air purifier can help to manage mold by decreasing the presence of mold spores in the surrounding air. However, it won’t address the root of the problem, which is dampness in the home that creates an environment for mold to grow.
Mold spores are between 3 and 12 microns in size, meaning a HEPA filter can remove them from the air. HEPA filtration alone will not kill the mold, however, and it may continue to grow inside the filter itself. An air purifier with UV-C filtration will effectively destroy mold.
Activated carbon, while not useful for trapping or killing mold, can help neutralize musty mold odour. This, combined with HEPA and UV-C filtration, can make the mold less noticeable while you act to get rid of it at the source.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
A volatile organic compound or VOC is a chemical compound that contributes to chronic respiratory issues, headaches, and allergy symptoms. Many building materials, paints, adhesives, and cleaning supplies emit fumes that contain a small quantity of VOCs.
The best type of air purifier for dealing with VOCs is one with activated carbon filtration. Activated carbon is designed to trap carbon-based particles, including VOCs and other chemicals like chlorine.
Bacteria and Viruses
Viruses and bacteria can enter the home in all sorts of ways: people, pets, pests, compost bins and more. Once inside, they can become airborne and circulate in the air. In addition to causing and contributing to illnesses, some people are allergic to substances called endotoxins that come from broken-down bacteria cells.
True HEPA filters can catch airborne bacteria and viruses, but these germs can often continue to spread and live inside the filter, and those that die there can release endotoxins. To effectively eliminate bacteria and viruses from the air, the best type of air purifier is one with both a HEPA filter and UV-C filtration.
If airborne viruses and bacteria are concerns, an air purifier should be combined with other germ-fighting practices: good ventilation, limiting moisture, and healthy behaviours like hand washing and disinfecting common surfaces.
Portable Air Purifiers for Airborne Allergens
Recognizing that the best systems use a combination of methods, both Danby portable air purifiers employ multi-stage filtration to capture a range of airborne particles.
- The Danby 02Clean 186 sq. ft. Air Purifier is equipped with a true HEPA filter and UV-C light purification to capture and destroy organic particles like mold, bacteria and viruses.
- The Danby 02Clean 170 sq. ft. Air Purifier combines powerful HEPA filtration with ionization and activated carbon to catch airborne particles and quash the unwanted odours that come with them.
Check out our air purifiers buyers guide to learn more.