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Buying a HEPA Air Purifier? Here’s Why You Should Look For One with Activated Carbon

Activated carbon has been popping up in consumer goods for a few years now, and can be found in everything from the practical (toothpaste) to the preposterous (ice cream). One place you’ll see activated carbon is in air purifiers; it’s added as an extra step in addition to other filtration methods such as high-efficiency particulate air filters, better known as HEPA. If you’re looking to fight pollutants, irritants and allergens in your home, looking for a purifier that includes an activated carbon layer is a great way to trap more irritants.

It may seem like some kind of buzzy health trend, but activated carbon has been used for its purification purposes for a very long time. In many industrial water systems, activated carbon is used as one of the steps in water filtration. It’s also used in plenty of other industrial applications for its purification properties, such as in alcohol distillation and the removal of mercury from the air. Activated carbon’s effectiveness is owed to its porous structure, which creates a greater surface area. The large surface area allows activated carbon to capture a higher amount of particles.

Even though activated carbon is nothing new, there’s still plenty of confusion as to what it is. Is activated carbon the same as activated charcoal? And what exactly makes it “activated”? While “activated charcoal” seems to pop up more on beauty and hygiene products, the terms activated carbon and activated charcoal are actually interchangeable. Activated carbon is “activated” because it is treated in such a way to increase its porousness and surface area, thus improving its effectiveness in adsorbing (no, not absorbing) pollutants.

Having activated carbon can be a great addition to an air purifier system; it can help remove gasses and odors from the air. Activated carbon can remove Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), such as those found in tobacco smoke, and it can help remove lingering odors in the air. That means that not only will your air be cleaner, it’ll feel cleaner.

There are limits to the uses of activated carbon, which is why you’re likely to see activated carbon as a supplement to other purifying systems such as HEPA. For example, activated carbon does not remove mold or dust mites. But it does trap some VOCs that HEPA can’t catch. That’s why it makes such a great partner to HEPA filters — activated carbon targets some of the pollutants HEPA misses, and HEPA does the same for activated carbon. We’ve rounded up some of the best activated carbon air purifiers that you can find on Amazon.

1. Coway Airmega AP-1512HH(W

In our review, we found that we appreciated the simplicity and connectivity options available on the Coway Airmega. For example, you can control it using a smart speaker or your app, but the intuitive controls on top of the unit allow for precise controls and easy air quality monitoring. Features include a timer setting, allowing you to turn off the filter when you’re not home. Plus, the active monitoring turns off the unit to save energy when there aren’t pollutants detected. The multiple filter system includes activated carbon, plus a pre-filter and a true HEPA filter.

2. TruSens Smart Large Air Purifier

This is one of the more high-tech options, and it looks the part, too. In our review, we liked that it had five fan speeds and a sensor that detects air quality changes. To effectively trap more pollutants, this option includes a washable pre-filter, a carbon filter and a true HEPA filter. The intuitive red, yellow and green lights allow you to see your home’s air quality at a glance. The unit has a washable prefilter, Carbon Filter, True HEPA Filter and a UV-C light.

3. LEVOIT Air Purifier for Home

Sleek design, smart features and a price you can stomach make this a great overall pick for a home air purifier. It can purify air in rooms that are up to 219 square feet, and Energy Star certification and CARB-compliance ensures it’ll do so efficiently. This unit also features three-stage filtration — there’s a pre-filter, a true HEPA filter and an activated carbon filter. LEVOIT also offers custom filters that can be used with this unit, such as options specifically designed for areas with high VOCs or for pet-owners. It comes in black or white, and the cylindrical shape means it won’t take up too much space in any room.

Pros: Multi-stage filtration uses HEPA and activated carbon. Energy-star certified and CARB compliant. Sleek design. The compact size will fit any living space.

Cons: For larger spaces, you may want a larger unit.

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4. Blueair Blue Pure 411+ Air Purifier for Home

We’re partial to cylindrical designs, because of their space-saving benefits and versatility over some of the bulkier units on the market. This option from Blueair pulls in air from all directions thanks to its cylindrical shape, allowing it to be placed anywhere in the room. It’s designed to work in smaller rooms up to 185 square feet. It features a combination HEPA and activated carbon filter to capture odor, VOCs, dust and airborne viruses. A washable pre-filter is included, and the pre-filter is available in a variety of colors.

Pros: Stylish design. Good for smaller rooms. Easy-to-use design with a single on/off button that controls the airflow speed.

Cons: LED indicators can be overly bright.

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