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Do air purifiers really help with wildfire smoke? We asked the experts

Air purifiers have been around for years, but they became a hot-ticket item with the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, they're selling fast again after wildfire season started in the U.S. So far, there have been major fires in Oregon, Washington, California and New Mexico, and it's only expected to get worse.

Unfortunately, that wildfire smoke spreads easily, taking down air quality levels with it. But while there is a lot of hype surrounding air purifiers, we all want to know: Are air purifiers worth it? And what do they do, exactly? Pull up a seat. We'll break it down for you.

air purifiers
We don't know about you, but we're breathing easier just knowing there's such a rich variety of purifying units, with prices and style aesthetics to suit any shopper. (Amazon)

At a basic level, air purifiers (aka portable air cleaners or air sanitizers), are designed to filter the air in a single room or area, per the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). From there, the exact capabilities of an air purifier vary by model.

You typically want to look for an air purifier with a HEPA filter, which is considered the gold standard for air purifiers, Dr. Purvi Parikh, allergist with Allergy & Asthma Network, tells Yahoo Life. (HEPA stands for high efficiency particulate air [filter].) This is a type of pleated mechanical air filter and it's designed to remove at least 99.97% of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria and any airborne particles with a size of 0.3 microns, the EPA explains.

Air purifiers may reduce the health effects from some particles, the EPA says. From there, people tend to use them for a range of issues, from allergies to wildfire smoke. Some will even run their air purifier to get rid of odors after cooking — and many models can handle all of that.

Allergies are a big motivator for people to invest in an air purifier, but these cleaners don't capture all allergens. "HEPA does not work well on dust mites, but does work for house dust which is larger particles," Parikh says. "A HEPA filter is also effective for pet dander and is good for mold."

When it comes to wildfire smoke, it's important to consider that what's outside can seep inside your home, Dr. Fady Youssef, a board-certified pulmonologist, internist and critical care specialist at MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center in Long Beach, Calif, tells Yahoo Life. "Closing your windows and doors will help, but the air quality indoors will be impacted by air quality outside," he says. "Using portable HEPA filters will help mitigate it."

As for where to use an air purifier, Parikh suggests putting one in "rooms where you spend most time and many hours at once," like your bedroom, living room and office.

Interested in adding an air purifier to your home? Consider these models.

This evocatively named unit has a huge range — up to 743 square feet — making it a good option for living rooms or other large spaces. It features a HEPA filter, along with UV-C light to help reduce germs in your air. An activated charcoal filter also targets odors in your air. A pre-filter captures larger particles like dust and pet hair to help extend the life of the HEPA filter. 

$80 at Amazon

This model has a specialized carbon filter to help target odors created by pets, along with a HEPA filter to tackle pet dander and other allergens. This purifier has P350, a non-woven fabric pre-filter that traps large floating particles like pet fur, hair, dust and lint, to reduce the amount of gunk that lands on your carpet and furniture. It's also quiet, running at levels as low as 24 decibels, or less than the sound of a whisper.

$104 at Amazon

Coway's Airmega covers up to 361 square feet, making it a great choice for bedrooms. It's relatively compact, so it won't hog floor space, and uses a four-stage filtration process with a pre-filter, deodorization filter, HEPA filter and Vital Ion filter. It gives you real-time readings on your air quality and can automatically shut itself down if it doesn't detect any issues with your air for 30 minutes. 

$208 at Amazon

The Dyson Purifier Cool may not be cheap, but it's considered one of the best portable units money can buy. This purifier — which can double as an air conditioner — uses a HEPA filter and base that sucks in allergens and pollutants and keep them sealed. A special Air Multiplier technology helps draw in particles and blasts purified air into the room. It also reports air quality on its LED screen and in the corresponding app. Control the machine with a handy remote or your phone. 

$499 at Amazon

This powerhouse purifier cleans rooms up to 1,500 square feet, making it perfect for living rooms and other large spaces. It uses three intensity levels, including Turbo Clean for when you need to see results fast. Enjoy HEPA filtration, as well as your choice of black or white exteriors. 

$178 at Amazon

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