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A Comprehensive Guide to Mobile Air Purifiers

Written by Irina Webb
Health-related claims have been reviewed by Myrto Ashe, MD, MPH, IFMCP

Growing up, I spent lots of time at my desk studying, and my mom would often nudge me to go outside to “breathe air.”  She also insisted that I open my window before bed and first thing in the morning to ventilate my room.  It was a given that the outdoor air was cleaner and fresher than the indoor air.  Now, with seasonal wildfires, this is not so true anymore.  So, to avoid wildfire smoke and feel safe about the air we breathe, we stay indoors.  Ironically, the indoor air may not be much cleaner either, especially without any air circulation.  Under the circumstances, an air filtering system may be of great help, but it has to be chosen wisely.  In this guide to mobile air purifiers, you will learn how to find the right one.  You will also discover why I consider Austin air cleaners some of the best.

Right Mobile Air Purifiers. A picture of Austin air cleaners and an Air Doctor model.

My research is the fruit of hard work and devotion.

I was not a typical child because I really liked to do my homework.  While other kids’ parents would have to make them do their homework, mine had to make me take a break.  I guess I have brought my fondness for studying into my adulthood, because this is what I do now daily.  Particularly, I do research on products and ingredients by reading scientific literature and studying chemical databases.  Oftentimes, I spend years researching an industry and a product to be able to pass fair judgement on them. 

Before becoming a full-time product researcher, I had worked at a wholesale bank in San Francisco as a financial analyst.  In 2012, in preparation for the arrival of my baby, I started looking for safe baby products.  Pretty soon I discovered that not all “natural” and “organic” baby products were truly natural and organic.  As I kept investigating, I learned very useful information for parents that I wanted to share with them.  That was how my blog I Read Labels for You was born.

Today, my blog offers tons of free posts on the safety of consumer goods as well as paid services such as healthy living consultations and e-books.  Each e-book is the product of hard work.  They are updated annually with the help of the I Read Labels for You team.  Additionally, my blog offers membership in the exclusive Savvy Consumer Circle if you want to go deeper with healthy living. 

I conducted a long-term study on mobile air purifiers. (Sign up to get the comprehensive table!)

To begin, what I share here about air filtering systems is the outcome of a two-year survey of the industry.  As a result of this thorough research, I purchased one of the Austin air cleaners and even became their dealer.  Read on to find out what, in my opinion, makes Austin air purifiers special and which other brand I favor. 

After everything I had done to recuperate from two autoimmune diseases, improving my indoor air quality seemed like the natural next step.  (Regarding my journey to health, please see Can Breast Implants Cause Autoimmune Diseases and My Health Update after Explant Surgery.)  So, I looked into numerous air purifiers and did a comprehensive comparative analysis of six brands well known in the home air quality improvement area:

  1. IQ Air
  2. Air Doctor
  3. Austin Air
  4. Intellipure
  5. EnviroKlenz
  6. Molekule

Specifically, I contacted the companies, read the EPA guidelines to air cleaners, reviewed Consumer Reports, and used many other sources.  The purpose was to understand how portable air cleaners work and what media they must have to be effective.  And the goal was to form an informed opinion regarding purchasing and recommending the best air cleaning machine for individual needs.

The results of my comparative analysis are presented in a table whose highlights we will discuss today.  (Sign up to receive an email with the complete table.) The table compares several models of each of the six brands, including four models of Austin air cleaners.

Indoor environments can be a mixture of various air pollutants.

So, why is there so much talk about mobile air purifiers?  Is indoor air pollution really that serious? 

For starters, there are contaminants that originate inside the building from indoor sources:

Combustion sourcesEmissionsActivities
tobacco, candles, firewoodbuilding materials, furnishings, electronic equipment, central heating and cooling systems, petscleaning, smoking, cooking, painting, hair coloring

Further, carbon monoxide, ozone, and radon affect indoor air quality.  Moreover, there are biological particles including bacteria, fungi, and pollen. (source)

In addition to the indoor sources of air contamination, there are outdoor sources such as

  • traffic
  • industrial activities
  • wildfire smoke. 

The pollutants from these sources can seep into homes.  There is a body of research that sees a correlation between air quality in residential areas and health.  Reportedly, poor indoor air quality can be especially harmful to youngsters, the elderly, or people with chronic respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.  And smoke in the air can cause an increased risk of cancer due to its carcinogenic components, e.g., benzene and PAHs

The latest research focuses on the potential harms of fine (2.5 microns) and ultrafine (0.1 microns) particulate matter found in outdoor air pollution, including wildfire smoke. Specifically, studies show that maternal exposure to fine and ultrafine particulate matter adversely impacts birth outcomes and children’s respiratory and immune systems, brain development, and cardiometabolic health. Scientific evidence suggests that due to their small size, ultrafine particles exert higher toxicity than larger particles, including pulmonary/systemic inflammation, heart rate variability, and blood pressure. Furthermore, recent studies found strong evidence between short-term exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) during wildfires and increased COVID-19 cases and deaths. 

Please, read my post to learn how to protect your health from smoke in the air.  Personally, I purchased one of the Austin air cleaners capable of handling gases found in smoke.

Mobile air purifiers can improve your indoor air quality.

Per the US Environmental Protection Agency, the two most effective ways to decrease home air pollution are:

  1. Reduction of the sources of pollutants
  2. Ventilation with clean outdoor air  

As for air purifiers, they can be an effective way to make the air safer in your home.  Especially, when the air outside is more polluted than inside due to wildfires, for example.  

It is important to note that air purifiers cannot remove all pollutants from the air.  (By the way, technically, air purifiers should be called “air cleaners.”  Since even the industry itself refers to them as “air purifiers,” this post uses both terms interchangeably.)  Thus, be sure not to adopt an “all or nothing” approach.  In other words, any air cleaner (given it does not add more pollutants to your house) is better than nothing.

Also, note that whole-house air filtering systems (that attach to HVAC) deal with particulates only, not with gases and odors.  For gases and odors, you would need a mobile air purifier/cleaner with a significant amount of activated carbon (e.g., Austin air cleaners).

After I had done my research, I came to the same conclusions as the EPA regarding the best air cleaners:

  • They should have a True HEPA filter for particulate matter.
  • There should be a medium for gases, and the best is activated carbon.
  • They should not emit ozone.

Choose mobile air purifiers with both HEPA filters to capture particles and activated carbon for gases.

To start with, High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters trap particles moving through them by means of a fine mesh of dense fibers.  

According to the US Department of Energy (DOE) standard, a HEPA filter must trap 99.97% of all particles 0.3 microns in diameter.  Under the European standard, the filter rating, e.g., H13 or U16, indicates its efficiency – the higher the number, the better the filter (source).  

When you shop for mobile air purifiers, look for True HEPAas opposed to “HEPA type” or “HEPA like” filters.  Let’s see which of the surveyed brands use HEPA filters.

True HEPAAustin air cleaners, EnviroKlenz99.97% at 0.3 microns
Hyper HEPAIQ Air99.97% at 0.3 microns
Ultra HEPAAir Doctor100% at 0.003 microns
No HEPAIntellipure, MolekuleN/A

While IQ Air calls their filters “Hyper HEPA,” their efficiency seems to be no different from “regular” HEPA used in Austin air cleaners and EnviroKlenz – 99.97% at 0.3 microns. 

The Ultra HEPA filter in Air Doctor (at 0.003 microns) should be effective for catching ultrafine particles such as mycotoxins and viruses.

As for Intellipure and Molekule, they use their own technologies, and one of their downsides is that they produce ozone.  Read on to see why ozone is a no-no in an air filtering system.

Know that HEPA filters do not capture gases or eliminate mold.

While HEPA filters can remove some mold spores suspended in the air, they do not deal with the mold source.  In addition, especially in humid climates, the captured mold particles can thrive on moisture and dust in the tightly spaced fibers of HEPA filters.  Potentially, they can grow in the filter and re-disperse themselves in the air.  Therefore, it is critical to use professional help to get rid of mold before using an air cleaner.

Also, HEPA filters cannot stop VOCs, carbon monoxide, ozone, or other gases that are too small for them.  That is why the right air purifier should have a carbon filter, too.

Opt for an air cleaner with a significant amount of activated carbon.

According to the EPA, activated carbon is the best medium in mobile air purifiers to filter gases.  However, “[a]ctivated carbon filters can be effective, provided there is a large amount of material used in the filter” (source).  Thus, the consumer education website states that a carbon filter should contain at least five pounds of activated carbon.

How much carbon do the surveyed brands use?

Austin Air cleanersIQ AirAir DoctorIntellipureEnviroKlenz, Molekule
15 lbs5 lbs, 12 lbs0.6 – 3 lbsaround 1 lbN/A

As you can see, Austin Air purifiers have the biggest amount of activated carbon – 15 pounds.  The closest to this number is 12 lbs in one of the IQ Air models, and 5 lbs in another. 

So, what exactly does activated carbon do as a filter medium?

Specifically, activated carbon adsorbs molecules from harmful chemicals and gases to its surface.  

Some carbon filters also feature zeolite and potassium permanganate.  By absorbing smoke, gases, chemicals, and odors, they increase efficiency to the filtering system (source).  

Additionally, for a carbon filter to remove formaldehyde, it should be impregnated with potassium iodide or blended with active alumina.  To clarify, these elements, added to the tiny spaces within the carbon, neutralize formaldehyde.  In other words, it is not the carbon itself that removes it.  Therefore, to reduce formaldehyde, you would need to get one of Austin air cleaners – Healthmate Plus – that has potassium iodide.

Beware of ozone-generating mobile air purifiers!

Since 2010, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has been testing portable air purifiers sold in California following the adoption of California’s Air Cleaner Regulation (AB 2276).  The goal is to ensure that air filtering systems meet certain ozone emission and electrical safety standards.  Thus, electronic air cleaners must comply with an ozone limit of 0.05 parts per million (50 ppb). 

To explain, CARB refers to air cleaners as “electronic” when they use ionizers, PCOs, UV light etc.  Such air purifiers may be capable of generating small amounts of ozone or ions, but not more than 0.05 ppm.

Alternatively, “mechanical” air cleaners use only physical filtration, such as pleated or HEPA filters. 

ElectronicIntellipure, EnviroKlenz, Molekule, Air Doctor 1000 & 3000Ozone emissions
MechanicalAustin air cleaners, IQ Air, Air Doctor 5000No ozone emissions

What is wrong with ozone?

According to the EPA, ozone can damage the lungs, and even low amounts can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath and throat irritation.  Moreover, ozone may deteriorate chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma, and compromise the body’s ability to battle respiratory infections.

On top of that, per, ozone is not effective at cleaning the air except at extremely high, unsafe levels.

Why I like Austin air cleaners the most (and discount!).

For my family I chose Austin Air purifiers, and here is why.

  1. Three models of Austin Air mobile air purifiers feature a 4-stage filtration system, and one model (Bedroom machine) has an additional fifth stage.  They all have two pre-filters and a True HEPA filter that removes 99.97% of all particles at 0.3 microns and larger and 95% of all particles at 0.1 microns and larger. 
  2. All Austin Air models have a carbon medium.  Specifically, three models have 15 lbs of activated carbon.  And one model (Allergy machine) has a HEGA (high‐efficiency gas arrestance) carbon cloth.  (Actually, the bedroom machine has both 15 lbs of carbon and HEGA.)
  3. The California Air Resources Board tested Austin air purifiers for ozone emissions and found that they had none. 
  4. You need to replace filters inAustin air cleaners only every 5 years, and the filters are interchangeable.  This means any Austin Air filter model will fit your unit.

Here is a review from a satisfied customer:

Email me if you are interested in purchasing Austin air purifiers or filters at a significant discount and with free shipping.

Why Air Doctor is helpful for mycotoxins and viruses (and discount!).

I was also impressed with the UltraHEPA filter in Air Doctor air purifiers.  It removes 100% of airborne particles at 0.003 microns and should be effective at filtering ultrafine particles such as mycotoxins and viruses (COVID-19). 

The virus that causes COVID-19 is approximately 0.125 micron (125 nanometers) in diameter (source). Austin Air removes 99.97% of all particles larger than 0.3 microns and 95% of all particles larger than 0.1 microns. That means it provides good protection from the virus.  But AirDoctor UltraHEPA™ is certified to filter the particles down to 0.003 microns.  It means that if you are buying an air purifier solely for coronavirus, you might want the Air Doctor UltraHEPA™.  (You can get it from me with a discount.)

As it follows from the table in the previous section, Air Doctor 1000 and 3000 may be capable of emitting ozone. Therefore, I do not recommend using the ionizing setting in these models to avoid ozone emissions.

Summary of the mobile air purifiers post

In sum, I consider the following factors crucial when selecting an effective air purifier:

  • An effective air cleaner should have a True HEPA filter capturing at least 99.97% of particles at 0.3 microns.
  • It should have at least 5 lbs of activated carbon for gas removal.
  • The air purifier should be tested by CARB and found not to emit ozone.

I believe Austin air cleaners combine these factors well.  That was why I chose to be a dealer with them.  (You can verify my dealer ID – IREAD – at the Austin Air website customer service.)

Personally, I own an Austin Air Healthmate Plus model because it is designed specifically to handle wildfire smoke.  In addition to 15 lbs of activated carbon, it features potassium iodide and zeolite to remove VOCs, formaldehyde, benzenes, gases, and odors.  Austin Air has three more models to suit individual needs.  Email me if you want to know more about them and get one at a discount and with free shipping

You can also receive a discount on Air Doctor machines that use UltraHEPA to capture 100% of particles at 0.003 microns.  It helps to filter out ultrafine particles such as mycotoxins and certain viruses.

As for proprietary technologies used by Intellipure, EnviroKlenz, and Molekule, I choose to avoid those.  First, CARB tested them and found them emitting ozone.  Second, a lot remains unclear when it comes to new technologies.

Visit my shop, check out my e-books, book a consultation with me and/or join my Savvy Consumer Circle

20 thoughts on “A Comprehensive Guide to Mobile Air Purifiers”

  1. Appreciate all this detailed info. Is there a “most economical” favorite you can recommend, something under $150? Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Jaz FL! Unfortunately, none of the air purifier models we surveyed and that are effective costs as low as $150. The good news is that you have this free information on air purifiers that you can use as your road map for your own discoveries.

  2. Hi there! We own the 1000 and 3000 Air Doctor. Is ozone omitted with those even if the ionizing option is off? I have never used those settings. We are looking at the Austin air now but it’s so expensive to have in every bedroom:/

    1. Hi, Paige: I believe they should not emit ozone without using ozone settings. However, I don’t know for sure. ~Irina

  3. Are any of these humidifiers as well? I am in desperate need of a humidifier for my very dry (at night) room and was wondering if you can review some or if any of these purifiers act as humidifiers too?

    1. Hi, Leslie! Thank you for the info! We wonder if the actual test reports have been published or whether you have seen the actual test reports.

  4. IQAIR HyperHEPA is able to filter 99.5% of harmful ultrafine pollution particles down to 0.003 microns in size. This is 100 times smaller than 0.3 microns. Curious to know why you chose autin air over IQair? I have also read Austin air is extremely loud.

    1. Hi, Nadia! Thank you for reaching out to I Read Labels for You! One of the Austin Air features we truly appreciate is the amount of activated carbon (15 lbs), which is effective with removing gases, especially during the wildfires season. Another thing is that their filter life expectancy is 5 years, which is the longest we have seen in the air purifier models we have researched. We hope this helps!

    1. Hi, Dave! Thank you for reaching out to I Read Labels for You! Air Doctor says the following about energy star rating of their purifiers: “AirDoctor 3000 and AirDoctor 5000 models are Energy Star Certified. AirDoctor still costs about $30-40 in electricity per year, depending on the cost of electricity in your area, running on Auto mode, and assuming 24/7 run time.” We hope this helps!

      1. Hello! Thanks for your response. Unfortunately, I was not able to verify the EnergyStar certification on the manufacturer website nor the government EnergyStar site. Can you post a link of where you got this information? Thanks!

        1. Hi, Dave! I got this info from the “support” chat on the Air Doctor website. It would be great if you did your own research by contacting them: the more of us show our interest, the sooner we’ll see the change for the safer and transparent market. Let us know what you will find out! Thank you for your concern and participation!

    1. Hi, Janetta! Thank you for reaching out to I Read Labels for You! Ozone emission may happen when the ionizing function is on, so we would not use the ionizer. Other than that, Air Doctor is fine.

  5. Good Evening Irina,
    I was curious if you’d heard of the Airpura UV614 with SuperHepa? This Filter advertises it has 18lbs of activated carbon and claims to filter 99.99% of particulates with its Super HEPA system. It seems to have more activated carbon and filters about the same as the Austin bedroom machine. What are your thoughts on the two being compared?

    1. Hi, Kellen! Thank you for reaching out to I Read Labels for You! We haven’t heard or done research into Airpura. What you said about it, though, sounds good.

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