How well do air purifiers really work?

How well do air purifiers really work? »Play Video
Americans spend more than $500 million on air cleaners each year. But do they really purify the air like they promise?

The video spot for LightAir air cleaners promises that they can protect you from dangerous pollutants. Consumer Reports tested the $300 LightAir Ion Flow 50-F Surface, along with more than two dozen other portable air cleaners. To evaluate how well they remove dust and smoke, testers place them in a special sealed room.

The chamber is filled with fine, powdered clay dust, as well as cigarette smoke. Testers use a particle analyzer to measure how well the air cleaners remove the contaminants. Testers found the LightAir about as effective at removing dust and smoke as using no air cleaner at all.

An air cleaner from Brookstone, the PureIon Pro, did far better removing dust and smoke. But it produces a small amount of ozone, which can aggravate asthma. The Brookstone meets voluntary standards on ozone levels. But Consumer Reports does not recommend any product that produces ozone.

Consumer Reports says even if you do have asthma or allergies, you probably don't need any air cleaner. To improve air quality, put dust-mite covers on your mattress and pillows. Don't use a fireplace or let pets in your bedroom.

If you've taken those steps and still think you need an air purifier, Consumer Reports found some that are good at dust and smoke removal. The Holmes HAP756-U air cleaner for $150 is a good choice.

Consumer Reports says there's another inexpensive way to improve the air in your home. If you heat and cool with forced air, you can replace the filter with better one- something you need to do every couple of months. Consumer Reports tests found that the $25 the 3M Filtrete Elite Allergen 2200 MPR filter does an excellent job removing dust and pollen.