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Air: Home Air Cleaners

Cleaning the air is one way you can improve the quality of air in your home. Other ways include getting rid of pollution sources and increasing your home’s ventilation.

What are home air cleaners?

Home air cleaners are either whole-house filtration systems or portable devices designed to remove odors and particles from the air. Before you buy an air cleaner, consider whether you can best clean the air in your home by getting rid of pollutants, increasing ventilation, or both.

Home air cleaners work in a variety of ways, including:

  • Filtration—A filter draws in air and collects dust and particles. An example of this kind of air cleaner is a furnace filter.
  • Electrostatic precipitation—Two charged metal plates generate an electrical field. As the device draws in air, the plates collect charged particles.
  • Ion generation—A device charges particles in the air so they’re attracted to floors, drapes, walls, and other surfaces in a room.

Some home air cleaners use more than one of these methods. Some also contain activated carbon and other absorbent materials that can remove odors.

Home air cleaners work best when the filters and absorbents are replaced as recommended by the manufacturer.

Home air cleaners can help reduce the amount of air pollution in your home and provide relief from odors and particles that can cause an allergic reaction. However, no home air cleaner can remove all the pollution and particles in the air.

Small particles

Home air cleaners can remove some small particles, like tobacco smoke, which can be suspended in the air. How well a cleaner can remove particles like this depends on how powerful the filter is.

Air filters aren’t as good at removing large particles, such as pollen and house dust, because these types of particles aren’t suspended in the air for long periods of time.

Sometimes, using a home air cleaner can do more harm than good—causing settled particles to become re-suspended in the air.

Pollutant gases

Home air cleaners solely designed to remove particles don’t work well on pollutant gases, which cause many home air quality problems.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) doesn’t recommend home air cleaners that produce ozone, a gas that can irritate the lungs. Cleaners that use electrostatic precipitation or ion generation can produce this gas—so can those that aren’t correctly installed or maintained.

Learn more about indoor air quality

When buying a home air cleaner, consider factors such as:

  • How efficient the system is (i.e., how much air pollution it can remove).
  • The amount of air the system can handle.
  • The amount (volume) of air you’re cleaning.
  • The cost to buy and maintain the system.
  • The types of pollutants the system can remove.

Also consider whether the home air cleaner has been certified by one of the following:

  • American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Standard 52-76 (in-duct systems)
  • Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, Standard AC-1-1988 (portable devices)
Last revised April 14, 2023