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A quality portable air purifier using the latest air purification technology can cost hundreds of dollars, or in some cases more than $1,000. If you are on a tight budget, have a small space in which you want to use an air purifier or just want an additional air purifier to supplement your primary one, you might be interested in a lower cost option.

There are quite a few low cost air purifiers on the market. For our purposes, we will define “low cost” as anything under $100. The question is, will a low cost air purifier be effective, and if so, which one is the best low cost air purifier for you? To decide, you have to consider the way in which you plan to use it. And in order to ensure you really are saving money on a low cost air purifier, you also need to consider operating costs, including the cost of filter replacement and how much electricity the purifier uses. We will examine these factors to find out what is the best low cost air purifier for your house or office.

Low cost air purifier features to consider

When choosing a low cost air purifier, you should consider how you plan to use it. This will help you understand what features are important to look for in a low cost air purifier. For instance, if you want to remove odors from a room, or deal with tobacco smoke, you probably want at least a carbon filter, or a multi-stage purifier that includes a carbon filter. If you are more worried about allergens like pet dander, mold spores or dust mites, then a HEPA filter may be sufficient.

Single-stage filters have just one point where the air is purified, while multi-stage filters may combine different purifier technologies (such as a fiber filter with a carbon filter), or simply pass the air through multiple filters to increase the percentage of material that gets removed from the air. Whether you need a multi-stage purifier or can simply rely on a single-stage filter depends on the complexity of your indoor air pollution problem and the amount of pollutants you expect to find in the space where you will be using the purifier.

An important consideration is the volume of air that the purifier can clean. The primary difference between low cost air purifiers and more expensive models is in the size and amount of air they can clean per hour. Low cost air purifiers typically have smaller fans and smaller filters for the air to pass through, so they are only going to be effective in a smaller space. An air purifier’s CADR number, while not a perfect representation of effectiveness, can be used as a rough guide to how much air can be cleaned by a purifier. You will find that low-cost air purifiers have lower CADR numbers. Many low cost air purifier manufacturers provide a recommended room size on the purifier’s marketing materials, which can also help you determine if a purifier will be sufficient for the size of the room for which you need it.

Another consideration is how often the filter media needs to be replaced, as well as the cost of the replacement filters. Along with the electricity usage, these “hidden costs” can add up and defeat the purpose of purchasing a low cost air purifier. Air purifiers with an Energy Star certification have met EPA standards for effectiveness and energy efficiency, and the EPA’s testing shows that devices that earn the rating reduce energy usage and also offer reasonable value in terms of savings on energy cost versus initial costs for buying a more efficient unit. So an Energy Star rating is a good thing to look for when making your purchase.

Air Purifiers Under $100

Germ Guardian AC 4100 – Priced at $54.99 on Amazon, this unit features a 3-stage filtration system composed of a carbon filter that purportedly “reduces common odors from pets, cooking and smoking”; a true HEPA filter that is said to “capture 99.7% of dust and allergens as small as 0.3 microns;” and UV-C technology that “works with Titanium Dioxide to kill airborne bacteria, viruses, germs and mold spores,” according to the manufacturer’s website. The unit has 3 speeds and a filter change indicator (replacement filters cost $17.99 on Amazon and should be replaced every 6-8 months), but does not come with an air quality indicator or “smart” modes. The Germ Guardian also has a low CADR number and can only cover smaller spaces no larger than 78 sq. ft.

Germ Guardian AC 4825– Standing at 22 inches in height, this “tower”-style unit covers up to 167 sq ft., features an Energy Star rating and sells for $82.57 on Amazon. It comes equipped with the same “3-stage” filtration technology (carbon pre-filter, True HEPA filter and UV-C light) as the smaller model described above, and also has three fan settings with an “ultra-quiet” lowest speed, according to the manufacturer. As with the AC 4100, the 4825 lacks air quality and filter change indicators and the filter ($28.99) must be changed every 6-8 months. You also need to replace the carbon pre-filter, which costs between $13-14 for a 4-pack on Amazon.

AeraMax 100 – Costing anywhere between $94.64 (used on Amazon) to $149.99 (list price), the AeraMax 100 claims to have “4-stage hospital-type filtration” system that is composed of a carbon filter, True HEPA filter (with AeroSafe Antimicrobial Treatment) and an ionizer that uses PlasmaTrue Technology. The unit comes with air quality and filter change indicators—filters should be changed annually and the HEPA and carbon filter replacements cost $19.99 for Amazon generic or $28.33 for a brand name filter. The AeraMax 100 is also asthma and allergy certified and features an “Aera+™ Mode for allergy and cold/flu seasons,” but is recommended by the manufacturer only for smaller rooms sized 100 to 200 square feet.

Levoit LV-H132 Compact HEPA Air Purifier – The Levoit LV-H132 ($72.99-$82.00 Amazon) covers 129 sq. ft. and is equipped with 3-stage filtration (pre-filter, true HEPA and activated carbon). Replacement filters cost $16.99 and should be installed every 6 months. This unit is also purportedly “100% Ozone-free” (in that it does not use ions or UV-light) and it unit comes with three speed settings, with the lowest at just 50dB, which means you can run it while you sleep. The LV-H132’s sleek, cylindrical shape and metallic white or black color scheme gives it a more appealing aesthetic design than most. Overall, this is a good, basic option with true HEPA technology and carbon filtration that can take care of both particles and gases.

Air purifiers between $100 and $300

If your search for a cost-effective air purifier extends into the $100 to $300 range, you will find that many of these models have the same technology as the smaller, low-cost versions—i.e. multi-stage filtration, Energy Star ratings and different types of purification methods (True HEPA, carbon, UV-C). However, the more expensive purifiers are able to purify a larger room. As a general rule, the cheaper the unit, the smaller the size of the room that it can effectively purify. For instance, the Honeywell 50250 ($199.99) is rated to 390 sq. ft., while the Honeywell HPA 300, which has the same technology, is marketed as being effective up to 465 square feet and costs $249.99.

Low-cost filter replacement and maintenance

The cost of filter replacement has a significant impact on the operating cost of an air purifier—you can save money by buying generic replacement filters over brand name ones when possible. Annual costs will depend on how often you change the filter and how frequently you use the air purifier. Generic Amazon replacement filters are generally priced around $22. Light usage requires annual changing—average usage requires changing the filter twice per year, while heavy usage in a highly polluted room will require changing as often as every month.

From there, we can extrapolate the average annual operating costs to a range of between $25 per year (for light use) up to $250 per year (for extremely heavy usage scenarios, such as use in a room with a heavy smoker). Multi-stage units with a carbon filter will also need to have their filters replaced regularly, so you should factor this into the cost as well.

Take for example the replacement filter for the Levoit LV-H132, which costs $16.99. The recommended replacement rate is twice per year, so the average operating cost (not counting energy usage, which we will discuss in a moment) will be $34 per year.

Operating energy cost

The energy efficiency of the unit is another factor in the annual operating cost. This can be tricky to estimate because it could depend on how often you use the device, what setting you use it on and the local cost of electricity in your area. We can use the Levoit LV-H132 again as an example. This unit uses 28 watts—so assuming a constant energy cost of $0.12 cents/kWh and the unit running 24/7 for one year, its energy cost would be $29 per year.

But it is probably not necessary to calculate the exact energy cost of a unit. If you are concerned about energy usage, you can run the unit at a lower speed, or only run it periodically as needed and look for purifiers with the Energy Star rating, since you will know that these units use less energy.

The best low cost air purifier

Today’s best low cost air purifier under $100 should be able to take care of large particles like dust by incorporating a true HEPA filter. As an added bonus, a layer of a carbon, could temporarily help with odors in the air. Ideally, the device should be an ozone-free air purifier, especially since it will be used in a small enclosed area and can be harmful to sensitive groups. So any models that generate ozone or include ionizing or UV-C stages should be avoided (or at least have this as an optional feature that can be turned off).

A multi-stage air purifier, for example one that contains a HEPA/carbon filter, requires that both filters be replaced regularly. If you are very cost-conscious and want to save on filter replacement costs, then a low cost air purifier that includes only HEPA might be less expensive to maintain. This will be ideal if the primary pollutants you are concerned about are large allergen particles like pet dander and mold spores, though you would need to replace filters on time, to help prevent the filter from becoming a source of microbe growth that releases back into the air. However, a single-stage HEPA filter will not remove odors or gaseous pollutants from the air. You will have to weigh the benefit of adding a carbon filter against the added cost.

Are low-cost air purifiers effective?

When using a low-cost air purifier, you need to weigh the total investment of purchasing, operating and maintaining the unit against the benefits it would provide. Their limitations may include a smaller fan and therefore lower capacity to move air through the room, as well as minimal effectiveness for certain pollutant types such as gases if it only contains a fiber filter technology that simply traps particles. Depending on your situation and the pollutants in question (especially if your needs are not severe enough to warrant a more powerful unit), a low-cost air purifier may provide some benefit if it is well maintained.

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