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When you start shopping around for an air purifier, you will quickly find yourself facing enough unfamiliar acronyms and filter names to make your head spin. Major retail websites do not offer much in the way of explanations for the different technologies used in air purifiers, and many manufacturers only describe the filters used in their models without comparing them to the other types of filters available on the market.

In this post, we will take a look at the air purifier options available at major retailers and help decode the technical jargon. Once you understand the difference between the main types of air filters, you can better decide which option is best for you.

Buying an air purifier at Walmart

Two of the top reasons that people start the search for a home air purifier are to remove smoke from their homes and decrease allergy symptoms, and Walmart is one of the top retailers that people look to for the products that they need at a price they can afford.

For smoke: If you are searching for the best air purifier for smoke, you will need one that can address both smoke particles, also called particulate matter (PM), and gases. A HEPA air filter can help remove particulate matter from the air, but not gaseous pollutants. On the other hand, a carbon filter can help remove harmful gases such as VOCs from the air, but cannot help with airborne particulate matter. Hybrid air purifiers that combine HEPA and carbon filters may be an option, though the EPA states that they may cause increased air resistance that can decrease the purifier’s effectiveness.

For allergies: To help remove allergens from the air, you should focus your search on air purifiers that can filter particulate matter such as pet dander, mold and pollen from the air. Air purifiers that use HEPA technology are commonly known to remove allergens and are widely available at major retailers. The PECO technology contained in the Molekule air purifier (which is not sold in major retail stores but can be found on the Molekule website) can destroy allergens. More information about PECO and other technology can be found at the end of this article .

Popular air purifier brands at Walmart

Two of the top-selling air purifier brands available at Walmart’s website are Holmes and Honeywell. Both brands offer a wide range of relatively low-cost air purification products, though the cost of replacement filters may add up. Two of the best-selling models that you can find at Walmart include:

  • Holmes Personal Space Air Purifier: At only $17.63, this air purifier is rated four out of five stars on the Walmart website. The purifier uses a “multi-stage filter” and ionizer to remove particulate matter from the air. Many buyers confirm the machine’s effectiveness, though it may be a bit noisy and replacement filters may be difficult to find. One thing to note is ionizer technology can produce harmful ozone, and though this specific model has been certified to meet acceptable ozone emission standards, this does not mean it is ozone-free. Branded as a “personal space” air purifier, your proximity to the unit and possible exposure should be considered.
  • Holmes HEPA-Type Air Purifier: At only $77.08, this HEPA-type air purifier may be a lower-priced alternative to costly HEPA purifiers, but it only filters particulate matter as small as 2 microns (regular HEPA filters will remove PM as small as 0.3 microns). Made for a room up to 180 square feet, this air purifier has a filter enhanced with baking soda, aimed at removing even more odors from the air.
  • Honeywell HPA300 True HEPA Air Purifier: This air purifier uses HEPA technology combined with a carbon pre-filter to remove VOCs and particulate matter from a room of up to 485 square feet. At $249.99, this model has mostly positive reviews, though it is important to note that it may be too big to add comfortably to smaller rooms. (Honeywell does make smaller versions that may work for smaller rooms, but Walmart may not carry them.) The manufacturer recommends the HEPA filter be replaced yearly and the carbon pre-filter every three months, though this could be more frequent depending if you have pets or plan to use it in places where there will be high particle concentrations. The pre-filter costs $15.99 and the true-HEPA filter costs $49.50 for a pack of two.

Buying a combination air purifier and humidifier

Do the potential benefits of a humidifier have you researching ways to add one to your home? With a combination air purifier and humidifier, such as the PowerPure by Aerus (available at Walmart for $349.00), you can get HEPA and carbon filtration as well as humidity control from one compact unit. When considering this option, however, keep in mind that you will be responsible for changing the filters in both the air purifier and humidifier, which can lead to increased maintenance time for the machine.

Buying an air purifier at Costco

Like Walmart, Costco is a leader in offering a wide selection of affordably-priced products. As of this writing, Dyson and Therapure air purifiers are currently not found at Costco. When searching for an air purifier at Costco, you can find a variety of brands and models such as:

  • Winix C535 Air Cleaner with PlasmaWave Technology: This $129.99 air purifier uses both HEPA and carbon filters, as well as plasma technology that “creates hydroxyls aimed at neutralizing odors, gases, VOCs and bacteria.” Though this unit meets ozone emission standards, it still may produce harmful ozone, as well as other toxic byproducts such as formaldehyde, particles, and carbon monoxide.
  • GermGuardian AC9200FL True HEPA Air Purifier System: With both HEPA and carbon filters, this $379.99 air purifier also has an ionizer option and uses UV-C light to reduce the spread of germs. It cleans the air of rooms up to 378 square feet. Once again, though this unit complies with ozone emission standards, it may produce ozone in some capacity with the ionizer and UV-C features. However, the ionizer feature is optional.
  • Blueair Classic 403 HEPASilent Air Purifier: Roughly the size of a computer tower, the Blueair Classic can clean rooms that are up to 370 square feet. It retails for $439.99 and uses a trademarked term called “HEPASilent” technology to remove particles from the air. The manufacturer states that the true HEPA filtration uses less dense filter media and offers “whisper silent technology.” Reviewers state that the machine is very quiet on lower settings, but may need to be turned to higher settings to remove allergens such as pollen from the air effectively.

Should I get a HEPA air purifier from Costco?

HEPA air purifiers are the most commonly available technology at Costco and other retailers, and the above three brands all contain HEPA technology. Though HEPA filtration is only applicable for particles, all three of the units described above contain additional technologies that attempt to eliminate gaseous pollutants or remove microbes. A HEPA air purifier is an acceptable option, and you may want base your decision on any potential drawbacks of the additional technologies. The HEPA filter itself does not emit any harmful byproducts, but there is a possibility that mold and other microbes can grow on the filter surface if not replaced on time. Costco generally has a generous return policy, which may also be a positive factor in your decision.

Buying an air purifier at Home Depot

Unlike some other major retailers, Home Depot allows customers to rent air purifiers, which can be especially useful during home improvement projects. Their HEPA Air Scrubber uses HEPA and carbon filters to help improve the air quality of up to 1,000 cubic feet of enclosed space. It can be used for any construction job, even renovation of areas damaged by mold, sewage or fire.

If you are looking to purchase an air purifier from Home Depot, their most popular options include Honeywell and Holmes offerings similar to those available at Walmart. They also offer additional brands and models such as:

  • Dyson Pure Hot + Cool Link Air Purifier: This unit uses a HEPA filter to purify the air in a room up to 400 square feet. In addition to improving your indoor air quality, this Dyson model also acts as a portable air conditioner and heater. It is available at Home Depot for $599.99
  • IQAir HealthPro Plus Air Purifier: Rated a “Best Buy” by Consumers Digest, the IQAir Healthpro Plus uses the company’s own “HyperHEPA technology” to trap airborne particles as small as 0.3 microns. This model costs $899.99 and uses three different filters (replacement times for each range from 18 months to four years, according to the manufacturer) that range from $55.00 to $199.00.

Buying an air purifier at Target

Target offers a wide variety of air purifiers on their website alongside sorting options to help you choose the right model for your specific situation. Their best-selling brands are Holmes and Honeywell, though you can also find other brands such as Dyson, GermGuardian and Hamilton Beach on their website. Some of the top-selling models a Target include:

  • Holmes® Egg Air Purifier: This air purifier offers an aesthetically pleasing option for decor-sensitive consumers wishing to improve their indoor air quality. The $69.99 model has a permanent filter that needs to be cleaned periodically, but some users report that it may be difficult to clean the filter completely. At this time, replacement filters are not available for purchase.
  • Honeywell® Compact AirGenius 4 Air Purifier: The Honeywell AirGenius uses a proprietary “ifD” filter that manufacturers claim to remove 99.9% of airborne particles 0.3 microns or larger. It is available for $129.99 and can be used in rooms up to 150 square feet.
  • Hamilton Beach® True Air White Odor Eliminator: When plugged in, this $24.99 model is suspended against the wall, similar to a night light (in fact, it has a night light on the top). It measures about nine inches by six inches, and its carbon filter can be used to improve the air quality in rooms up to 300 square feet.

Choosing the right air purifier for your home

The first step in deciding which air purifier to add to your home is determining which type of filtration system best meets your needs. This will depend on whether you are more interested in filtering out particulate matter, gases or both.

HEPA air purifiers are sold at most major retailers at a variety of prices. While they can be effective in filtering out larger particulate matter, they cannot remove VOCs or viruses from the air. Mold and bacteria can be trapped on HEPA filters, but it does not kill them, meaning that they can accumulate and be released back into the air.

UV-C filters are not very common, but there are a few available on the market, such as Costco’s GermGuardian purifier. This type of filter has the potential to remove some particles from the air, but it is ineffective against VOCs. Additionally, UV-C filters can transform oxygen in the air into ozone, which can create a health risk for you and your family.

Carbon filters can help trap VOCs and odor-causing gases on the surface of the filter. However, they must be replaced regularly to remain effective and are not effective against particulate matter.

Ionizers are not as effective as HEPA air purifiers in trapping airborne particulate matter and, like UV-C filters, they have been found to release ozone into the air. This should be considered when purchasing an air purifier that lists an ionizer as one of its additional features.

Molekule PECO technology is a reinvention of traditional air purification, and you will not find it at Costco, Home Depot, Walmart or any other major retailer. The Molekule air purifier was developed as a solution to address the drawbacks of traditional filter technology. The two main types of air purifier technology, (HEPA for particles and carbon for gases) each have their limitations as described above, and additional technologies often housed within these units such as ionizers or UV-C light may produce harmful ozone and other byproducts. This is what makes Molekule different: Instead of attempting to trap pollutants on filters where they may multiply, Molekule PECO technology destroys them at the molecular level without producing harmful ozone.

The air purifier technology that you choose should depend on your specific needs and symptoms. For example, a carbon filter may not be especially useful in helping relieve allergy symptoms, but it is needed to help counteract the odors associated with tobacco smoke and wood burning. No matter which air purifier you choose, proper maintenance and regular filter replacements are the key to making sure that you get the most for your money.

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