Are Car Air Purifiers Worth it

Are Car Air Purifiers Worth It? Read This Before Investing In One

car air purifiers are they worth it

There was a time I used to drive a car with no air conditioning and I often found myself driving with tiny particles floating around or in some unpleasant odor. Then one day it occurred to me that, actually, “ I can get an air purifier for my car.” So I went online to see what's available and I was instantly overwhelmed by the plethora of devices being sold.

With so many devices out there I failed to decide on what to get. Various questions were popping up in my mind but one of my most pressing concerns was whether a car air purifier could even solve my car air quality problem. So as I usually do, I did some intense online research and here is a quick answer to the question based on my research.

Are car air purifiers worth it? Car air purifiers work and are worth it but only under certain conditions. Some cars come with a built-in cabin air purifiers making an air purifier worthless while some devices marketed as car air purifiers simply fail to make any significant improvement to a car's air quality.

There is an extensively wide range of devices being marketed as car air purifiers and many of these outright do not work and you have to be very cautious before you choose one. That said, the main factors determining whether a car air purifier will be worth it for you or not include the type of car you are driving and the type of air purifier technology.

I will begin by elaborating on the type and condition of the car you are driving and then delve into the general features you need and important things you need to do to get the most out of a car air purifier. Then once you have understood the general principles I will start looking at the different types of car air purifiers why each one is worth it or not.

Finally, I will touch on other factors you need to consider, including whether car air purifiers are safe and additional things you can do to improve the air quality in your car. The information I am sharing here helped me make a solid decision about getting a car air purifier and I am confident that once you get through all the information here, you will know whether you need a car air purifier or not and exactly what type of device to get.

Determining Whether You Need A Car Air Purifier by Type & Condition of Car You Are Driving

The first deciding factor on whether you need an air purifier for your car or not is the type of car you have. What I mean when I say the type of car, is actually the built-in purification features that your car has.

Most cars now come with a cabin air filter that circulates the air in your vehicle. Other cars like the latest edition of the Land Rover even come with the option of a built-in ionic air purifier. (Check out the video below). However, you may find yourself in a situation whereby your car has no cabin air filter or your air filter no longer works and your air conditioner is busted.

If you check out your car and find you have working air filters, your built-in cabin air filter might be strong enough to keep the air in your car fresh. If so, you may not need a car air purifier at all. If you find your car’s air quality is appalling even when it has an air filter, your first point of call should be to check your filter and perhaps get it replaced before getting an air purifier.

This brings us to the scenario where your car’s air filter outright does not work even when you replace it or your car plainly does not have an air filter. If your car is in this condition or you have this type of car, this is where an air purifier becomes useful. In this instance, an air purifier will provide necessary air circulation and get rid of pollutant particles as you use your car.

Another scenario you may find yourself in where you will need an air purifier is if your car’s air filter is not designed to keep out pollutants with ultrafine particles. Most car cabin air filtration systems will not be able to filter out particles smaller than dust such as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) or various gases and odors. 

What you would need to do in this case before trying to get an air purifier is to try to find an activated carbon HEPA air filter for your car. If you fail to find this for your car then you can resort to a car air purifier.

Lastly, if you have a car like the latest series of range rovers, check if your car came with a built-in air purifier before going out and getting a separate device. If your car does not have an air purifier in this case, then you can either get an original device fitted by your car dealership or simply get a car air purifier.

Now you will notice that a car like the land rover will have a powerful air filter but they still give you an option to have a car air purifier. From my research on this, I found that having a good air filter in your car is enough for you to get an acceptable air quality level as you travel. The car air purifier comes in handy here when you have serious outdoor pollution levels or if you travel with your pets or have serious reactions to air allergens.

Another point I should have mentioned earlier is that car air filters work best at keeping air pollutants out of your car rather than taking them out. So if your source of pollution is from within your car (e.g. pet dander, dust or funky odors) besides addressing this at the source by simply cleaning your car, a car air purifier will do the trick in getting rid of these pollutants.

Car air purifiers also become very useful if your problem is with air contaminants that predominantly enter your vehicle through open windows. When you close your car windows, working together with your air filter, your air purifier helps get rid of pollutants in your car much faster and gives you much cleaner air much sooner.

You will also notice my focus here has been on passenger cars but the principles here apply to other types of vehicles. There are obviously a couple of differences. For instance, if you are driving an RV or you have a camper/caravan or a heavy haul truck an air purifier is absolutely necessary and a great investment. These are all types of vehicles you dwell in for extended time periods and your air quality in there needs to be at its best or else you put yourself at risk of getting sick.

I have now shown you all the nuances when it comes to the condition and type of car you have. I have covered a lot of info here and in case you feel a little overwhelmed, here is a quick 8 step summary. 

  1. When determining if a car air purifier will be useful for you the first step you need to take is to check if your car has a working cabin air filtration system and a built-in air purifier.
  2. Next, you need to determine if you are easily prone to allergens in the air and if the source of air pollution in your car is mostly from within your car (e.g. pet hair and dander, dust, cigarette smoke smell, and ash).
  3. You also need to check if air pollution in your car mostly comes through your windows and determine if your city has dangerous pollution levels.
  4. If you find your car does not have a working cabin air filter or an air purifier and that your source of air pollution is from within your car then you can start thinking about investing in a car air purifier.
  5. If your cabin air filter works fine and your car does not have a built-in air purifier, you can also consider a car air purifier if you live in a highly polluted city.
  6. A car air purifier will be worth it for you if your source of pollution is from within your car or through your car windows.
  7. Ultimately, if you or anyone in your family is extra sensitive to air pollution or airborne allergens then an air purifier is worth your while.
  8. Lastly, invest in a car air purifier if you own a heavy-duty vehicle like an RV, a camper, or a truck. Your air quality can quickly deteriorate if you live in your vehicle making you highly vulnerable to all kinds of airborne illnesses.

General Features and Modes of Operation That Determine If A Car Air Purifier Is Worth It

Another important factor at play when it comes to car air purifiers is how they work and the features they have. Not all car purifiers remove the same kind of pollutants in the air. Some will deal with more pollutants than others and with better functionality.

Ideally, when you get a car air purifier you want one that not only gets rid of visible air particles and odors but also deals with invisible and harmful ultrafine air contaminants. Furthermore, you will find some air purifiers that need to be plugged into your cars power supply to function and some that just work independently using a rechargeable battery. Between these two types of purifiers you would rather go for ones with a rechargeable battery.

When using an air purifier to improve air quality indoors or in your vehicle you want to stick to devices that can run for 24 hours a day and while you are not there. This ensures that whenever you go back to your car or home you always walk into fresh air. So with this in mind, your first choice for your car should be a device which can power itself as it will be able to clean the air in your car 24/7 while your car is parked.

To add on, you also want a device with smart features. You can now find automated devices that adjust their air cleaning intensity based on the level of pollution of your air. Some car air purifiers also have timers you can set to switch your purifier off while you are gone and on at a set time before you return to your vehicle.

With smart devices, you can not only prolong the life of your car purifier but also optimize the amount of fresh air you breathe as you commute. Smart car air purifiers also make your life seamless and easier as they have warning indicators of exactly when they need to be maintained and you spend less time adjusting their settings to better clean the air in your car.

Lastly, no matter what kind of car air purifier you go for, to get the best performance out of them you need to ensure you close your car windows while using them. It is kind of like your car’s air conditioner. It's useless turning it on while your windows are open.

If you are one to have your car windows open all the time then don’t waste your time and money on a car air purifier. It simply won’t clean the air in your car adequately. Your air purifier will be fighting a losing battle as new polluted air constantly enters your vehicle.

Determining Whether An Air Purifier Will Be Worth It by Type of Purification Technology

With the features of car air purifiers out of the way, we can now focus on the different types of car air purifiers.

Electrostatic and Ionic Car Air Purifiers

Electrostatic and ionic/ionizer car air purifiers come in different shapes and sizes and work using the same principle. They work by using charged electrical surfaces or needles to generate electrically charged air or gas ions. These ions then attach to airborne particles which are then electrostatically attracted to a charged collector plate or simply fall and settle on surfaces around your car.

This kind of air purifier often comes as a device you can plug into the cigarette lighter unit of your car. Ionizers are also available as rechargeable portable devices that can be operated 24/7 in your car. Ionizers can get rid of particles such as dust, pollen, and mold spores.

The challenges you will face with ionizers is that they fail to effectively clean the air of gas, smoke, and odors.

When it comes to car ionizers I would only get one if smoke and odors were not a big concern but as I explain later in the safety section I generally avoid ionizers because they make a mess and they can be unsafe.

Car Ozone Generator Air Purifiers

Car ozone generators work by producing ozone, a strong cleaning agent that kills off odors and many different air contaminants including particulate matter and gases. The trouble with ozone air purifiers is that it's dangerous to inhale (see more detail in the safety section below).

So you cannot safely use ozone generators to purify the air in your car’s cabin while you are on the go. The only time an ozone generator is useful for your car is when no one is inside and all you worried about is removing odors or mold build up. Other than that, you would rather stay away from ozone generators and live them in the hands of professional cleaning services.

HEPA Car Air Purifiers

Compared to ozone generators and ionizers HEPA air purifiers remove airborne particulates much more safely with virtually no byproducts. The challenge with HEPA air purifiers for cars is that they can be too small and will need frequent filter replacement.

Don’t waste your time with HEPA air purifiers for gases and odors. On their own, they won’t help you with car fumes or cigarette smoke and odor. If it wasn’t for this, I would have probably settled for a HEPA car air purifier. So like ionizers I say only go for HEPA car air purifiers if you are no worried about gases and odors.

Photocatalytic Oxidation (PCO) Car Air Purifiers

PCO car air purifiers work by reflecting an intense ultraviolet light on a metal surface which in turn oxidizes air pollutants. PCO air purifiers convert harmful particulates and toxic gases into safer compounds such as carbon dioxide and water.

PCO air purifiers are effective against a host of gases and particulate matter and can deal with pretty much all the common air contaminants you will face in your car. Whats more with this kind of car purifier there are no filters to replace. You only have a catalytic chamber which can last you up to 3 years before it needs replacing.

PCO air purifiers also produce no harmful byproducts. After extensive research, I am yet to see any other air purifier technology that matches the purification capabilities of PCO purifiers. Accordingly, my first choice when it comes to car air purifiers is to go with a PCO purifier.

Unfortunately, this kind of car air purifier is not widely produced but among the few devices I found and I really liked is the Air Oasis Angel Surface Sanifier. You can run this device in pretty much any vehicle as it can cover 250 sq ft but you would probably need 2 of these for an RV.

Combo Car Air Purifiers

Not to completely rule out HEPA air purifiers, an adequate option is to go for a combo car air purifier. Depending on your car you can either go for a device like the Aerus QuitePure Auto or the Allerair MobileAir Vocarb car air purifier. These devices come with an activated carbon filter combined with a HEPA filter.

Activated carbon is well known for absorbing gases and odors and combining it with a true HEPA filter gives you a car purifier that can sufficiently protect you against poor air quality in your car.

I have now covered the main types of car air purifiers you will come across online. In summary, you should stick to PCO and true HEPA air purifiers combined with activated carbon as these will get rid of most of the air pollutants you will face in your car. Lets now move on and look at other factors for you to consider.

Other Considerations When Deciding About A Car Air Purifier

Are Car Air Purifiers Safe?

Another important question that may cross your mind when deciding if car air purifiers are worth it is whether they are safe. Car air purifiers are generally safe devices provided you operate them as instructed in your user manual. I personally avoid car air purifiers that come without a user manual especially if its a device that I have to plug into my cars power supply.

I also avoid ionic air purifiers whether for car use or any other use for two main reasons. The first is that as much as they clean your car’s air, they do this by neutralizing contaminants in the air in such a way that they end up collecting a thin film of dust on surfaces around your car and overtime this gets messy.

Secondly, they produce a dangerous irritant called ozone as a byproduct of their purification process. Ozone is when inhaled can cause you throat irritations, shortness of breath and damage your lungs. I also avoid car ozone generators for the same reason.

That said, ozone is actually quite a good cleaning agent and cleans air contaminants and odors quite well and so car ozone air purifiers actually have their place. If you want to deal with tough odors and mold in your car, an ozone generator can be really helpful. The trick is to use ozone purifiers only when you are not in your vehicle to avoid inhaling ozone. Turn on your purifier when you park your car and off at least an hour before using car.

Besides ionic air purifiers and ozone generators, be cautious with rechargeable devices when recharging them in your car. I am personally wary of this because I have one too many encounters with car USB chargers damaging a rechargeable device.

There are just too many fake products out there when it comes to car air purifiers and so take extra care on the type of device you are buying and when you decide to plug it into your cars power supply. To be on the safe side get a product that has a warranty and you can easily return to the store or manufacturer should any faults occur.

In addition to taking general safety precautions as you do for all kinds of electronics, this is pretty much all there is to stress about with safety issues when it comes to car air purifiers. In view of all this, my conclusion on car air purifiers from a safety perspective is that they are worth it.

Additional Ways to Improve Your Car's Air Quality

Depending on the kind of air quality challenge you have in your car there are other solutions you can implement in addition to your car air purifier. If your main challenge is maintaining good odor in your car check out my detailed guide on how air purifiers can help you deal with odors in general.  

In the guide you will find I mention activated carbon. In particular I strongly suggest you look into bamboo charcoal air purifier bags for your car. These bags contain activated carbon made out of bamboo which is very good at absorbing various pollutants and gasses, especially odors in the air.

Bamboo charcoal absorbs cigarette smells, smoke smells, ammonia, carbonic oxide, benzopyrene, and other components of smog. It also helps remove air contaminants in your car that trigger allergies and asthma. Besides this, they also deal with mold, mildew, and moisture among other air pollutants.

You could actually find that all you need for your car is an air purifying bag and they are a much cheaper alternative to your conventional electronic air purifier. There are so many varieties out there and most of them will do the job but I have fallen in love with slickness and style of the Purggo Car Air Purifier Bag. Get a Purggo bag along with a typical air purifier bag like the Moso Natural which you can just chuck under your car seat and you are good to go.

The other thing you obviously have to do is keep the inside of your car clean. Take it to the car wash and just have the inside done every week or get a HEPA car vacuum cleaner if you have time to clean up on your own.

There a couple of other measures you can put in place like getting a professional car cleaning service if you have serious mold growth in your car but in a normal situation, the measures I have suggested here are more sufficient if implemented in conjunction with a good car air purifier.

About the Author


Jean is a research economist by profession and he runs Fresh Air Genie. He is enthusiastic about maintaining good air quality at home and on the go and he shares his knowledge about this here at Fresh Air Genie.

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