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As massive wildfires ravage the West Coast, thousands of people—from California to as far north as Washington—are experiencing smoke that’s so severe, it’s drastically impacting the air quality index (AQI). Not only are many California counties under smoke advisories but last weekend Los Angeles experienced the worst air quality in over 25 years, according to data from the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
In some areas, the air is so smoke-filled that many residents say it’s become difficult to breathe when outside and it’s affecting their quality of life. “We don’t have air conditioning and over the weekend when we had record high temperatures, we had to choose between cooling off with the windows open but breathing smoky air or being hot and stifled with the windows closed but having cleaner air,” Lauren Kubiak, 32, of Truckee Lake, Calif. says. “Keeping the windows constantly closed keeps almost all of the smoke out but occasionally during periods of cleaner air, we’ve opened a door or window and woken up to a smoky living room when the air quality worsens overnight.”
The wildfire smoke has prompted many to seek ways to make their homes more comfortable. One potential solution that’s been rising in popularity are air purifiers. Google Trends shows that search for air purifiers is at the highest it’s been in the last five years and another report from Million Insights predicts that demand for air purifiers will continue to increase over the next few months.
But how well do air purifiers actually work in removing smoke from the air? Below is everything you need to know according to engineers and medical experts and which air purifiers are best at protecting against wildfire smoke.
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Are air purifiers effective against smoke?
Likely yes, experts say. “Wildfire smoke is made up of a mixture of gases and fine particles from items such as burning vegetation, building materials and other matter. Even the most well-sealed home can still allow for some of this smoke to make its way inside your home,” Jess Le Dinh, Engineering Lead at Dyson, says. “Having a purifier in your home can be an effective way to reduce your exposure to any wildfire smoke that has found a way inside your home.”
However, how effective the air purifier is depends on both the purifier itself and the pollution level of the air. “Most air purifiers can remove at least 99.97% of particles as small as 0.3 microns if they use high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters as the filtration media,” Dr. Wei-Ning Wang, associate professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering at the Virginia Commonwealth University College of Engineering, says.
That’s the kind of filter that’s in the Dyson Pure Hot + Cool, which Kubiak says she’s been running nonstop in her family’s home for the last few weeks. “The air purifier has definitely helped keep the indoor air quality good,” she says, adding that she believes it was a worthy investment in her family’s health and comfort.
How to choose the best air purifier for wildfire smoke
Not all air purifiers are created equal—i.e. there are certain features that make some purifiers better at removing smoke from the air. One of those features is the filter. “High efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters are great at filtering the particulate matter, but with high smoke exposure an active carbon filter is also helpful,” Dr. Kelli Williams, an allergist and immunologist at the Medical University of South Carolina, says.
Another factor in a purifier’s effectiveness against wildfire smoke is how well it circulates air. “Make sure the entire room has purified air by ensuring proper air circulation. Look for a purifier that has a built-in air projection system like Dyson’s Air Multiplier technology,” Le Dinh advises. “This pushes clean air into the room, circulating dirty air back to the machine to be purified. Without proper air circulation you risk only purifying a small area of the room.”
What’s the best air purifier to buy?
Of all the air purifiers we’ve tested in our Reviewed labs, we found the Sharp FPK50UW to be our solid pick for most people. (Unfortunately, our top pick for most people, the Winix 5500-2, is currently sold out.) But the Sharp has HEPA and carbon filters, and it’s also quite effective at both cleaning the air and removing odors like smoke. At around $200, it’s also a good value.
For an upgrade pick, we love the Dyson Pure Hot + Cool—the same purifier that Kubiak swears by in her own home. It has the same carbon and HEPA filters, but it also filters formaldehyde, heats and cools your room, oscillates 350 degrees, and integrates with Alexa and Siri.
If you’re still looking for more options—or having trouble finding one of the above in stock—you can shop all of our experts’ top-tested air purifiers here.
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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.