Air Purifiers are a great tool for the removal of particulate pollutants and smoke. As an air purifier enthusiast, I frequently get asked whether air purifiers can remove unplesant smells and odors from the air.

The quick answer here is that yes, Air Purifiers will help in removing odors present in your home. However (and there is always a however), only air purifiers that have an activated carbon filter are effective in removing smells and odors. If you have an air purifier with just a HEPA filter or just an air ionizer, it will not be able to remove smells at all. If you have a DIY air purifier with just a furnace filter, then that too will not be able to remove smells. You need to get an air purifier that has an activated carbon filter in order to be successful at removing smells.

In addition, Activated Carbon filters are good at dealing with temporary bursts of smells and gases. In case you have persistent source of bad odors in your home, then an Activated Carbon filter might get overwhelmed pretty quickly. You would be better off consulting a specialist to find out a solution for the permanent removal of the source of the bad smell.

I also want to point out that air fresheners are not effective in removing the source of a unpleasant odors or smells. Air fresheners merely add a different and more pleasant smell into the air. This does not remove the original bad odor and can make the overall situation worse.

Please do check out all our information guides on air purifiers for more information about air purifiers.

Why is Activated Carbon the best way to remove odors?

Activated Carbon works by trapping the gases that cause smell. These gases are trapped on the surface of the activated carbon as they pass through the air purifier. Thus an air purifier with an activated carbon filter will actually remove the source of the smells in your home. This is different from other methods like burning candles, incense or essential oil diffusers. These methods focus on masking the source of the smell with a different smell. As a result, the underlying odor is not removed by these methods.

Therefore an air purifier is in fact the best way to deal with any unpleasant smells in your home. Apart from smells and odors, air purifiers which have an activated carbon filter are also great at dealing with other gases and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can be present in the air. So not are do you get deodorization of your home, you will also get a comprehensive removal of gases and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as well.

Lets look at what actually causes smells and odors in your home and how an air purifier can effectively deal with them.

What causes bad odors/smells in your home?

Odors can be caused due to multiple reasons in your home. Some of the most common sources of bad smells in your home are

Pet Animals

Pet Animals and home odors
Pet Animals and home odors

If you have pets, then you definitely that they can be a big source of smells at home. Most animals have a distinctive smell to them and this is due to the generation of specific body oils. Pets like dogs, rats and ferrets fall into this category. Other pets like birds tend to release a lot of fine dust from their feathers which can have its own distinct smell as well.

Read more about Air Purifiers and Pets

Apart from their natural oil smell, pets accumulate dust and dirt on their bodies, just like us. What complicates matters is that many animals should not be bathed, atleast not very often since it is not advisable for health reasons. Therefore, there is not much you can do with many different pet animals apart from cleaning them with a sponge or cloth and hoping for the best.

Another cause of smells from pets is from the poop/pee. Most pet animals in cities today have a toilet arrangement within the home. No matter how often you clean their toilet areas, there is bound to be some sort of smell emanating from them.

Cigarette Smoking

Cigarette Smoking is a major cause of bad odors in American homes. Cigarette smoke causes problems in two ways. First it creates an immediate source of smell. Secondly, cigarette smoke and tar have a way of settling into your furnishing and wallpaper that can slowly create a sort of permanent smell that is very hard to dislodge.

Once the smell from smoking cigarettes has settled into your home, it is very hard to dislodge. If you have moved into a new home and if the walls and furniture have a strong cigarette smell, an air purifier will not help. You will need more specialized help like getting an Ozone generator which will need to be done professionally.

Household Organic Trash

Organic trash at home is a big contributor of smells coming from the kitchen. Cooked food, vegetables, fruits and cheeses are some of the most smelly foods that can cause odors. These foods might be in your trash, on the counters, in the fridge or even in your garbage disposal.

The best course of action against organic trash is to of course get rid of it. Often, you will find that even getting rid of the trash does not completely remove the smell. This is due to the fact that the smelly gases are still present in the room. Providing good ventilation will get rid of these lingering smells quickly. An alternative is to run an air purifier in the kitchen to quickly scrub the air of any left-over smells.

How does Activated Carbon Work in the removal of odors and smells?

Activated Carbon works on a principle known as adsorption. Yes, you read that right, thats adsorption and not absorption. Essentially what happens is that when odors and gases pass over Activated Carbon, they are trapped in the millions of holes and pores present on the surface of the Activated Carbon where the gases used to be earlier.

Adsorption is different from absorption. The difference is that adsorption is not a chemical reaction, just a physical one. This means that the chemical composition of the Activated Carbon does not change. Instead, what happens is that the odor and smell causing gases are trapped on the surface of the activated carbon.

Activated Carbon has a very large surface area which enables it to trap a large volume of odors and smells for a very small unit weight. It is estimated that 1 gram of Activated Carbon can have a surface area as high as half a football field.

What are the different types of odor reducing Activated Carbon filters?

The three main types of activated carbon filters seen in air purifiers are

  • Granular activated carbon filter
  • Powdered activated carbon filter
  • Woven activated carbon filters (HEGA filters)

Granular and powdered activated carbon filters are broadly the same. Where they differ is in the size of the activated carbon used in the filters. Powdered activated carbon is smaller than granular activated carbon and therefore has a higher surface area. The higher surface area implies that powdered activated carbon is able to adsorb a higher quantity of gases. Since this form of activated carbon is more expensive, most air purifiers tend to use Granular Activated Carbon only.

Another form of activated carbon which is starting to be used in air purifiers is woven activated carbon filters. These filters consist of a cloth which has particles of activated carbon woven into it. This is a sophisticated technology and was originally developed for military applications. Therefore, this is still an expensive technology and very few air purifiers are currently using it.

Activated Carbon Cloth
Activated Carbon Cloth

The only air purifier manufacturer that we have come across who are using woven activated carbon filters is Austin Air. Two of their models are currently using woven activated carbon filters. They have termed these filters as HEGA filters (High Efficiency Gas Adsorption).

HEGA filters have the advantage of being very compact since a small amount of activated carbon can be used to achieve the same effect as granular activated carbon. This helps in saving space within the air purifier. HEGA filters are sometimes confused with HEPA filters which are used for the removal of particulate pollutants. HEGA and HEPA filters however are very different from each other.

Are there other ways in which Air Purifiers remove smells?

Apart from Activated Carbon, there are a couple of other materials that have been used for the removal of odors and gases in air purification filters. Some of the materials used are

  • Cold Catalyst Filters
  • Photo Catalyst Filters
  • Zeolites
  • Potassium Iodide

Both cold catalyst and photo catalyst filter use chemical reactions to break down gases present in the air passing through your air purifier. A photo catalyst filter needs a source of light for the reaction to take place. This is usually provided via a bulb inside the air purifier itself.

Cold catalyst filters on the other hand do not need any light source for the chemical reaction to take place. These chemical reactions are not complex and do not release any harmful by-products. In most cases, these catalyst filters release only carbon di-oxide and water.

Zeolites are naturally ocurring minerals that work in a manner similar to activated carbon. Like activated carbon, zeolites remove odors, gases and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) present in the air. Zeolites are helpful in the removal of gases like formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and ammonia.

Potassium iodide in another material that is starting to be used in home air purifier for the removal of odors and gases. Potassium iodide is used for the removal of chemicals gases present in the air and helps in removing chemicals that are not easily trapped by Activated Carbon and Zeolites.

Currently, Austin Air is the only major air purifier manufacturer that makes air purifiers which have zeolites and potassium iodide in them.

Conclusion – Will Air Purifiers remove bad smells from my home?

As long as your air purifier has an activated carbon filter on it, yes it will remove bad odors, smells and gases from your home. Activated Carbon is a very widely used material for odor removal and you can even get bags of Activated Carbon to place around your home.

Activated Carbon filters on air purifiers are either in the powder or the granular form. A newer form of Activated Carbon that is starting to be used in air purifier is the activated carbon cloth which is also called HEGA (High Efficiency Gas Absorption)

Along with Activated Carbon, air purifiers can come with other filters/materials that help in the removal of smells. Photocatalyst and cold catalyst filters are a type of filter that break down odors and gases into harmless substances. Zeolite and Potassium iodide are materials that trap gases in the same way as activated carbon does.

So, do air purifiers remove smell, the answer is that yes they will, as long as the air purifier has an activated carbon filter inside.