Portable Air Purifiers
Three major factors determine air purifier portability
- Carrying handles
Weight and Size
The heaviest air purifiers on the market weigh close to 20 lb.
The lightest – close to 3 lb.
The largest air purifiers can be close to 3 ft. tall or as much as 2 ft. wide.
The smallest – under 1 ft. tall, wide, and deep.
Small and light is good for portability but units that fit this description are not recommended.
The case against small air purifiers
Generally, smaller air purifiers are
- less energy efficient
- less quiet
- less durable
- less versatile
- and a worse value
than larger units.
Note: They can be all of these things or only a few but the point is that generally they are at least several of these things – which isn’t good.
Here’s an example:
The Honeywell HPA100 is a small air purifier. It’s very light at just under 8 lb. On max. settings it has a maximum output of approx. 100 CFM. To achieve this output it needs to be set to its highest fan speed – turbo. On this setting it draws 50 watts of power and produces 68.7 dB of noise.
The Winix 5500-2 is a larger air purifier. It’s about twice as heavy at 16.5 lb. On less than max. settings it has an output of approx. 100 CFM, drawing less than 10 watts of power at under 50 dB of noise output.
Clearly, the Winix is the better option.
The Blue Pure 411 is the lightest air purifier we’ve tested, weighing in at approx. 3 lb. On max. settings it, like the Honeywell HPA100 has a maximum output of around 100 CFM. On this setting it, like the Winix draws less than 10 watts of power. This unit is an exception to the rule when it comes to energy efficiency. It’s a highly energy efficient small air purifier.
However, the Blue Pure 411, like any other small air purifier, has to push that amount of air through a much smaller outlet than the Winix. It’s not surprising then that it’s noise output at approx. 100 CFM was measured at approx. 65 dB – about 15 dB louder than the Winix – a substantial difference.
Running the Winix and the Blue in the same room side by side it’s clear that the Blue is the smaller, lighter unit. However, the Winix is much quieter at the same output. This wouldn’t be much of an issue for the Blue if the difference occurred in, let’s say, the 35 to 50 dB range. 15 dB is substantial but 35 dB is quiet and so is 50 dB.
But 65 dB is not only much louder than 50 dB. 65 dB is also loud. And it’s not realistic for us to expect most consumers to be able to tolerate that level of noise for long period of time.
This is a problem with any small air purifier – it has an inherent disadvantage compared to larger units in that it has to push the same amount of air through a smaller outlet. This naturally results in much higher noise output.
So far we haven’t even touched on value, durability, or versatility but hopefully you understand how even these energy efficiency and noise output issues are enough for us to recommend a larger air purifier over any small unit.
It’s therefore our strong recommendation that you do not buy a small air purifier, even if portability is a priority for you. Instead, we would recommend a larger unit – not quite as large as the largest but not as small as a small unit.
And that’s another important point here:
“Large” air purifiers are not large appliances
It’s important that you understand that even the largest air purifier isn’t that large of an appliance. Comparing a small air purifier to a large air purifier isn’t like comparing a mini fridge to a full-sized fridge.
A mini fridge is very small and a full-sized fridge is quite large.
A small air purifier is small but a large air purifier isn’t much larger.
The bottom line here is that top rated “large” air purifiers like the Winix 5500-2 are not large appliances.
Even though they’re not extremely small or light they’re still far from being large and heavy.
In other words, larger top-rated units like the Winix are still highly portable appliances.
They’re not quite as portable as smaller air purifiers but they’re much better air purifiers overall – they’re going to be quieter, sometimes more energy efficient, more durable, a better value, etc. – and all of this on top of their still very reasonable portability makes them our recommendation (over small air purifiers) if you’re looking for a portable air purifier.
2019 Portable Air Purifier Recommendations
1. The 411 has other noise issues including a humming noise from its fan motor. However, this was beside the point for this example.
2. We take a more detailed look at the other disadvantages of small air purifiers in our general buyer’s guide.
Another feature to look out for if portability is a priority for you is the unit’s handles.
The Honeywell HPA series features some of the best handles of all air purifiers on the market. The HPA100 (the small air purifier used as an example earlier), the HPA200, and HPA300 round out the series. The HPA100 is off the table as it’s a small air purifier with the shortcomings we described above.
The HPA200 and HPA300 each have shortcomings of their own (see our reviews for these units for more). That being said, these units are extremely easy to pick up with a handle on each side of the air purifier.
On the opposite side of the spectrum we have units like the Blue Pure 411 and Blue Pure 211+. These units have no handles. You have to awkwardly tip these units to the side to get a grip underneath them to pick them up. This is especially troublesome with the 211+ as its fairly large and heavy.
The middle ground is one handle. This is the solution employed by most manufacturers for most air purifiers on the market. Here a single handle is molded into the top back of the air purifier centered behind the control panel.
The only thing to look out for here is poor design. For example, the Rabbit Air BioGS 2.0 is designed in such a way that it’s not very intuitive as to where the outlet of the air purifier begins and where the handle begins. We often grabbed into the outlet instead of lower onto the handle while handling this unit during testing.
Most top-rated units (like the Winix 5500-2) feature this middle ground design (of a back top centered handle) but properly implemented - a large intuitive handle that’s properly centered for easy pick up. We found units with a properly implemented single centered handle very comfortable to pick up and move around during testing. And we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any of these units if you’re looking for a portable air purifier.
Again, these units are not that large. They’re not that heavy. And the handle makes the unit quite comfortable to pick up and move around.
Our top pick for the most portable air purifier on the market in 2019 is the Winix 5500-2. Our second pick is the Coway Mighty.
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I understand the science behind your recommendation for a slightly larger unit. However, I am looking for a unit to transport between two small school offices. I can't afford two Winix, and even their "portable" ones aren't really portable to and from an office each day. Can you please recommend something smaller for someone like me? Ideally something that can fit in a large bag to unobtrusively come and go from a school each day. For home, I will absolutely take your recommendation for something larger :)