We all know we’re inhaling too much pollution, with the world’s first ultra-low emission zone created in London this month in a bid to tackle our toxic air crisis.
But what you may not realise is that the worst exposure can come in your own home. There are two main concerns: gases called ‘volatile organic compounds’ (VOCs) that are released by detergents, sprays and burning candles; and particles known as PM2.5, produced by the likes of wood-burning stoves.
Exposure over a long period to too much of these substances has been linked to health problems including lung damage and eye, nose and throat irritation.
Alice Smellie (pictured) tested a selection of gadgets which promise to purify air quality in polluted rooms around the house
But there is a way to clean the air in your home. Sales of air purifiers are booming so ALICE SMELLIE put a selection through their paces by creating a seriously polluted room — lighting scented candles and incense sticks, burning toast, and wafting around furniture polish and bathroom cleaner.
Then she used air quality monitors to measure how long each air purifier took to return the room to acceptable levels: that’s below a reading of 10 for PM2.5, from a starting point of around 500, with an AirVisual Pro Air Quality Monitor (£229 allergycosmos.co.uk), and 100 parts per billion for VOCs, from a starting point of 350, using an Airthings Wave Plus (£239, airthings.com).
Finally, air quality monitoring specialist Oyvind Birkenes helped rate each machine. So, how did they cope with the fug?
PROTECT YOUR PERSONAL SPACE
Dyson Pure Cool Me (£299.99, dyson.co.uk)
WHAT IS IT? This purifer and air cooler is designed for desktop use and looks like a little flip-top bin. The half-sphere on top swivels so you can direct airflow, and it claims to capture gases and 99.95 per cent of particles. It has a High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter — to remove particles — and a carbon filter for gases.
TEST: Remote-controlled and easy to use. I whack it up to the highest level, which is chilly, but the noise level is unobtrusive enough to hold a conversation. Considering it’s not designed to clear rooms it gets pollution down very swiftly.
Oyvind Birkenes, the air quality expert and CEO of Airthings, says you would need something larger to clean a big room. It’s important to remember that purifiers are designed to run round the clock to maintain pure air. Speed is not everything; these tests simply show efficacy.
PURIFYING TIME: PM2.5 28 minutes, VOCs 55 minutes 8/10
DESIGNED TO HALT HAYFEVER
Philips Series 3000i Air Cleaner (£495, philips.co.uk)
Alice says Philips Series 3000i Air Cleaner (pictured) is easy to use but sounds like an industrial fan when it senses dirty air
WHAT IS IT? A white rectangular unit with a blue light glowing in the main body, it looks like a modern art installation.
It adjusts its level to your air quality, and the display tells you what your PM2.5 levels are. With hayfever season approaching, it has a useful allergen mode which ramps up the removal of dust and pollen. It’s controlled via an app, and has three filters.
TEST: Even for technophobes, this is very easy. The moment it senses the dirty air it powers up and sounds like an industrial fan. Disregarding the noise, it’s very efficient, although Oyvind says the lack of a carbon filter means it’s not as effective against VOCs left behind by the likes of your bathroom cleaners.
PURIFYING TIME: PM2.5 25 minutes, VOCs 1 hour 41 minutes 7/10
SMALL AND NOT SO MIGHTY
ElectriQ Ultra Quiet HEPA and plasma air purifier (£34.98, applicancesdirect.co.uk)
Alice was least impressed with ElectriQ Ultra Quiet HEPA and plasma air purifier (pictured) as it took longer than the alternatives to achieve results
WHAT IS IT? This white cylinder is the size of a bedside light. It has a carbon filter to remove harmful substances, a HEPA filter to remove airborne particles, and a ‘plasma ioniser’ to remove mould spores and allergens.
TEST: Simply plug it in and it runs at a pleasant breeze, with two settings. It yields far slower results than the rest, which is to be expected given its size, and it filters less than one tenth the volume of air that the Philips 3000i or MeacoClean manage.
PURIFYING TIME: PM2.5 3 hours 13 minutes, VOCs 1 hour 30 minutes 5/10
LOOKS LIKE R2D2
HoMedics 5 in 1 TotalClean Air Purifier AP-T40 Large (£249.99 homedics.co.uk)
Alice says HoMedics 5 in 1 TotalClean Air Purifier AP-T40 Large (pictured) delivers fast results but sounds like a rocket about to take off
WHAT IS IT? This looks like R2D2, which doesn’t scream ‘household must-have’. It filters air through a HEPA filter with three speeds and removes 99.97 per cent of airborne bacteria and allergens as well as odours. There’s also a little aroma tray so you can pop in essential oils.
TEST: Super easy to use, although my polluted room sees it glow red and blast air like a rocket about to take off. Even the lowest setting is intrusive, like a rumbling wind.
The results were very fast, although Oyvind says it could do with an additional filter to better tackle VOCs.
PURIFYING TIME: PM2.5 15 minutes, VOCs 1 hour 2 minutes 6.5/10
EFFICIENT AND NOT TOO PRICEY
MeacoClean CA-HEPA 119×5 (£379.99 meaco.com)
Alice highly rated MeacoClean CA-HEPA 119×5 (pictured) for its efficient speed, despite its small size having limitations
WHAT IS IT? A solid, radiator-like purifier. Meaco says too small a purifier may not eliminate enough allergens — this works in spaces up to 198 square metres. It has a HEPA filter for particles and a charcoal filter for smells.
TEST: A red light starts flashing, as does the word ‘dirty’ on the control panel, and the fan roars with efficient speed. Oyvind says the three filters mean it’s very effective and my monitors show that it gets pollution levels down in double-quick time.
PURIFYING TIME: PM2.5 36 minutes, VOCs 1 hour 40 minutes 8.5/10
CLEANEST OF ALL
Blueair Classic 405 Air Purifier (£499, johnlewis.com)
Alice was most impressed with Blueair Classic 405 Air Purifier (pictured), which she says works at lightning speed and is very quiet
WHAT IS IT? This has a Best Buy stamp from Which? 2018, a good sign. It uses ‘HEPASilent’ Technology to remove pollutants in medium-size rooms. Most HEPA filters only trap pollutants down to 0.3 microns in size, but this goes all the way down to 0.01, which means protection from more viruses and bacteria. It cleans the highest volume of air of all the units, says Oyvind.
TEST: Touch-sensitive LED icons mean I can easily check that the filters are working. The lowest setting is so quiet you can barely hear it and even the highest is a light roar. It works at lightning speed and I’m very impressed; it’s Oyvind’s favourite too.
PURIFYING TIME: PM2.5 7 minutes, VOCs 55 minutes 10/10
HOT AND COLD AIR PURIFYING
Dyson Pure Hot+Cool, £549.99, dyson.co.uk
Alice says Dyson Pure Hot+Cool (pictured) is very straightforward to use but she’s not convinced that it’s any better than the cheaper alternatives
WHAT IS IT? An elegant white oval set on a pivoting base, the display screen shows PM2.5 and VOC levels as well as temperature. It can also be used to heat or cool your room.
TEST: Very straightforward. Two carbon filters simply need attaching to the machine and I download the accompanying app so I can monitor it from my phone. It does the job well. But I’m not convinced it’s markedly better than cheaper models.
PURIFYING TIME: PM2.5 33 minutes, VOCs 1 hour 20 minutes 8/10
LARGE ROOM SOLUTION
Vax Pure Air 300 Air Purifier, £279.96, vax.co.uk
Alice revealed Vax Pure Air 300 Air Purifier (pictured) can deal with high levels of pollution and has a remote control for easy use
WHAT IS IT? A tall cylinder with a lit-up circle on the front to indicate air quality. It’s suitable for a larger room, and it’s accredited by Asthma UK and the British Allergy Foundation. It traps up to 99 per cent of allergens and has a 360-degree filter. It also has an extra-quiet night mode.
TEST: This comes with a remote control and is insanely easy to use. It can clearly deal with high levels of pollution — I made the air particularly dirty, hence the long time for PM2.5 to drop — but Oyvind points out that instead of HEPA or carbon filters it has a ‘proprietary’ filter that needs to be replaced every six months.
PURIFYING TIME: PM2.5 2 hours 28 minutes, VOCs 1 hour 15 minutes 8/10