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Air ionizers vs. air purifiers: Which is best?

Rooms with ceilings higher than 8 feet may require an air purifier with a larger coverage rating than the allotted square footage, since they’ll need to compensate for the extra air in the high-ceilinged room.
Rooms with ceilings higher than 8 feet may require an air purifier with a larger coverage rating than the allotted square footage, since they’ll need to compensate for the extra air in the high-ceilinged room. (BestReviews)

What’s the difference between air ionizers and air purifiers?

Ensuring your home is clean doesn’t just stop at keeping floors and other surfaces spotless — you want the air you breathe to be clean, too. While air ionizers and air purifiers both help remove dust particles from the air, the process by which they do so is very different.

Both technically work to purify your air, so what’s the real difference between air ionizers and air purifiers? Keep reading to find out which one is the best choice for your space.

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What do air ionizers do?

Air ionizers, sometimes called ionizing air purifiers, remove air pollutants like dust, pollen and pet dander by releasing negatively charged ions into the air, which in turn charge airborne particles to cause them to stick together. When these particles are bound by each other, they simply become too heavy to remain in the air, and they fall to the floor. Certain air ionizer models also include positively charged plates to attract the negatively charged dust particles and pull them through the ionizer.

While the most affordable home air ionizer models can be found as low as $30, ionizers rated for larger square footage areas usually cost $100-$200.

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Air ionizer pros

An air ionizer can help to remove dust from the air, and it can also help reduce static electricity in your home. Many air ionizers and ionizing air purifiers offer larger coverage areas than typical HEPA filters, making them ideal for large indoor spaces. In addition, ionizing air purifiers often work better for removing smells than HEPA filters. They also have lower maintenance costs, since they don’t require replacing a HEPA filter periodically.

Air ionizer cons

While an air ionizer may appear to be a helpful cleaning tool for the home, it doesn't always remove the dust to the extent you want it to. Because it works by ionizing the dust particles in the air, causing them to become heavier and drop to the ground, an ionizer will remove dust particles from the air for you, but you'll still need to sweep or vacuum to fully remove these particles from your home.

Many air ionizers also generate ozone, a harmful atmospheric pollutant. In its report on ozone generators that work as air cleaners, the EPA cautions that it is difficult to properly regulate how much ozone is being released by an ozone-generating machine, and too much ozone can be harmful to the lungs. It also reported that ozone released at lower concentrations that are safe for humans actually does little to clean the air.

Best air ionizer

Ivation 5-in-1 HEPA Ionizing Air Purifier and Ozone Generator: available at Amazon

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Our take: This is an excellent, high-powered ionizer, purifier and ozone generator and is rated for use in up to 3,700 square foot spaces to remove odors and other unwanted airborne particles.

What we like: Rated for indoor use up to 3,700 square feet with no humans present. Includes multilayer HEPA filtration as well as activated carbon filter, photocatalytic filter and a useful UV lamp.

What we dislike: Should only be used for ozone generation while people are not in the space, as it's unsafe otherwise. Doesn't have timed settings.

What do air purifiers do? 

While the term air purifier technically refers to anything that removes air pollutants from the air, most use the term to refer to filtered air purification systems. These HEPA filters are designed to be able to remove 99.97% of air particulates, including things like bacteria, pollen, dust, mold or other airborne particles, which is why they've become the modern standard for air purification.

Residential air purifiers can range as low as $35 for a budget model or as much as several hundred dollars, depending on what you’re looking for. While you can usually find a worthwhile air purifier for around $100, those working in extra-dusty indoor environments may consider purchasing a more powerful model.

Air purifier pros

Considered the modern standard for residential air purification, HEPA air purifiers are rated to remove almost 100% of air particles for a reason. HEPA air purifiers use actual filtration systems to clean particulates out of the air by trapping airborne particles, rather than allowing them to stay in your home or settle into your carpet. They also don’t emit ozone, unlike ionizing air purifiers.

Air purifier cons

The main drawback to purchasing a HEPA air purifier is the need to replace filters periodically, though this cost is typically outweighed by the superior job these purifiers do cleaning the air. Another common drawback is that HEPA purifiers are often rated for smaller coverage areas than their ionizing counterparts.

Best air purifier

Blueair Blue Pure 411+ Air Purifier: available at Amazon

Our take: This 3-stage air purifier is designed for home use, includes a replaceable filter and is rated for rooms up to 185 square feet.

What we like: Excellent for small rooms. Helps remove bad odors while killing airborne viruses and bacteria. Includes three separate speed settings for customized air control. Fairly affordable given how powerful it is.

What we dislike: Requires filter replacement every 6 months.

Should you get an air ionizer or an air purifier?

At the end of the day, a HEPA air purifier is a much better tool for cleaning your home's air than an ionizing air purifier or an air ionizer. While both are helpful for removing dust particles from the air, ionizers require the user to vacuum or sweep the newly ionized particles away — added work time that could be saved by simply using an air purifier with a HEPA filter. Air ionizers that generate ozone also pose potential health risks.

While ionizing air purifiers can be particularly useful in large, semi-outdoor spaces where ozone generation is not a concern, air purifiers are the best option for residential homes, especially if you just need something to keep your air fresh.

Zachary Visconti is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.

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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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