Get Rid Of Odors

Do Air Purifiers Get Rid Of Odors?

Smelly Socks

When I think about odors at home, among the worst odors I will never forget is the sink smell in an apartment I once stayed in. It was so horrible.

Another traumatizing experience for me was when I lived next to a chain smoker whose cigarette smoke smell exited through the vent into my room every time he smoked. 

These experiences prompted me to urgently find a solution to eliminate my indoor odor problems, then one day I came across air purifiers and my immediate thought was could this be the solution to my indoor smell nightmares?

Before going into the detail, in summary, do air purifiers get rid of smells? Air purifiers do get rid of odors but not all air purifiers are designed to do so. For an air purifier to get rid of odors it needs to be able to either trap or destroy gas molecules. The main types of air purifiers that eliminate odors are Activated Carbon and Photocatalytic Oxidation air purifiers.

Activated carbon air purifiers eliminate odors by adsorbing odor-causing gases while Photocatalytic oxidation air purifiers outright destroy them. Of the two types of air purifiers activated carbon HEPA air purifiers are the most common air purifiers, you will find being marketed to eliminate odors.

If you want to get into the details of how the different types of air purifiers remove odors and what odors they remove, keep reading, I explain all this in the rest of this post. I also give you extra tips on what you can do to eliminate odors in addition to running an air purifier.

My hope is that once you get through this post, beyond knowing exactly how air purifiers can help you eliminate odors, you are also able to make the best decision on what air purifier to get for your unique situation. So lets start with the types of air purifiers that eliminate odors.

Types of Air Purifiers That Eliminate Smells

Adsorbent Air Purifiers

As you might have guessed activated carbon air purifiers are adsorbent air purifiers. Adsorbing is different from absorbing but the words are used interchangeably in the context of air purifiers. In absorption, a fluid spreads through a solid material while in adsorption a gas or a liquid adheres to or gets sucked in by a surface.

Particularly for activated carbon, humidity, and odor-causing gases are adsorbed into tiny pores within and on surfaces of the carbon substance. Activated carbon is also not the only adsorbent. You also have among others materials like baking soda, volcanic minerals, and even coffee granules can adsorb.

All these materials can be used to make your own homemade air purifiers. In fact, you will find adsorbents being marketed on shelves as air purifiers in the form of air purifier bags or canister air purifiers.

For example, if you have seen bamboo charcoal air purifier bags, these are just activated carbon granules placed in a  bag. A good example of a canister type air purifier is the Bad Air Sponge (click to see it at Amazon).

You can also get adsorbent filters for your HVAC system or furnace to minimize lingering odors across your entire home. These come as baking soda or activated carbon filters and one of the best places to get them is at Nordic Pure.

Now in actual electrical appliance air purifiers that circulate air around your home, you only get activated carbon being used as an adsorbent. The activated carbon is placed at the core of the device where air passes in the form of an activated carbon block or its contained within a filter.

As your air purifier sucks and expels air your activated carbon adsorbs more and more odor-causing gases until your air smells fresh again. The process can take anywhere upwards of 30 minutes to eliminate odor in your room, depending on the size of your room and your devices air change rate per hour (ACR).

Over time your activated carbon filter or block will get saturated and you have to replace it. In a good air purifier, your activated carbon media should last you anywhere between 3 months to a year before you need to replace it.

Activated carbon air purifiers normally come combined with other types of filters as they fail to get rid of other types of air pollutants on their own (see the combo air purifiers section). Besides adsorbents, no other types of filter-based air purifiers can trap odors. Your next best bet is a photocatalytic oxidation (PCO) air purifier.

PCO Air Purifiers

Unlike activated carbon which filter out odors from your air, PCO air purifiers eliminate odor by actually destroying odor-causing gas molecules and turning them into water vapor and carbon dioxide. They also suck and a expel air into a core but rather than filters their core contains a reaction chamber where all contaminants including odor molecules are literally incinerated through an oxidation process.

The process is as follows, firstly air enters the reaction chamber and then odor-causing molecules contained in the air are absorbed by a thin film of metal which acts as an oxidation catalyst. A wide spectrum of UV light ray then shines on the metal which activates a rapid oxidation process that burns the odor molecules.

Once the reaction happens fresh air is released back into your home. Just as we saw for activated carbon-based air purifiers your air gets cleaner and the smell in your room improves as the air passes through the reaction chamber over and over.

The beauty of PCO air purifiers is that you do not need to maintain them often. It can take you up to three years before you need to replace your reaction chamber for a typical PCO air purifier. PCO air purifiers are very effective, especially for large estate type homes. Besides PCO air purifiers, the next type of air purifier that can help you eliminate indoor odors is an ozone generator.

Ozone Generators

Ozone generators eliminate odors by releasing ozone molecules into the air which chemically react with odor-causing gases on surfaces and in the air and oxidize them, also turning them into water vapor and carbon dioxide but unlike PCO air purifiers ozone generators produce other by-products.

Even though the reaction process of ozone generators freshens up your air and gets rid of the odor in your home, the other by-products their reactions produce can be harmful. Also, ozone itself is harmful to your health and causes eye and respiratory irritations. So you do not want to mess around with this kind of air purifier.

Accordingly, I avoid ozone generators altogether. The best time to use ozone generators is when you have odors deeply entrenched in fabrics or on surfaces around your home. Ozone works well because it's a powerful cleaning agent.

If you have to use an ozone generator, don’t use it when people are at home and turn it off at least an hour or more before anyone gets back home. The best way to go about eliminating odors with ozone generators, be it in your car or home, is to hire a professional cleaning service that does ozone cleaning

Combo Air Purifiers

Combo air purifiers are just purifiers that have two or more different technologies contained in their core cleaning the air.  As I alluded to earlier, activated carbon air purifiers are usually combined with another type of air purifier, and the most common activated carbon combo you will find is an activated carbon filter with a true HEPA air filter.

Individually activated carbon filters or blocks cannot get rid of particulate matter like dust and allergens while HEPA air filters cannot trap gasses but do extremely well with particulate matter. So to get the best of both worlds, manufacturers combine the two in one device.

You will find activated carbon combined with other purification technologies like fiberglass or pleated filters in air purifiers but the best combination I have seen is an activated carbon true HEPA air purifier because of the wide range of contaminants these types of devices can remove from your indoor air in addition to odors.

Another powerful combination is a PCO reaction chamber with an activated carbon filter. I personally believe from my extensive research that this is as good as it gets with air purifiers when it comes to eliminating odors. One side you have odors getting destroyed and on the other, they are getting adsorbed.

Beyond this, you will find air purifiers with up to five different technologies within their core. I would rather stay away from such devices because they become cumbersome to maintain as you end up having to deal with the process of maintaining and replacing 5 different parts of the device every year. With so many parts to replace your running costs can really add up compared to devices with about only two purification technologies.

So these are all the types of air purifiers that will help you get rid of odors. If you go for an activated carbon air purifier, go for one that comes with at least one other filter for particulate matter. I strongly vouch for the activated carbon and true HEPA air purifier combo (click here to see what  exact devices to go for).

Between PCO and activated carbon purifiers, PCO air purifiers are on the expensive end, usually upwards of $500 while good HEPA activated carbon purifiers cost upwards of $100. I would go with a PCO air purifier for bigger rooms and homes and for smaller spaces of less than 1000 sq ft, use an activated carbon air purifier.

If money is not the big deal but you are rather after the best odor-free air quality, then a PCO and activated carbon air purifier combo is really your ultimate choice here. As for ozone generators, only use them when worst comes to worst with odors and rather hire a pro to help you.

This is all there is to the different types of air purifiers that will help you get rid of smells in your house.  Now let's look at the different types of air purifiers that are suitable for different type of odor .

Types Of Odors & What Air Purifier To Use For Each

1. Toilet Odors

Toilet odors are among the worst in a home. They can be quite embarrassing when you have guests over. You can use an air freshener but this just masks the smell and some fresheners actually contain harmful chemicals.

This is where air purifiers come in handy. They give you an odorless and chemical free way to eliminate toilet smells coming straight out of your ball pit.

For your toilet odors, you have several options when it comes to air purifiers. Because bathrooms are small rooms, an activated carbon air purifier will do the trick for you. You can get a small portable air purifier that you can just keep running in your bathroom 24/7 but even better there are air purifiers specifically designed for toilets.

Three great options of toilet specific air purifiers available at Amazon include nomo, The Odorless and the Cogswell toilet air purifier. They are all activated-carbon based and come with sensors which activate them as soon as you enter the toilet and turn them off at least 30 minutes after the deed is done.

2. Pet Odors

Pet odors come from, your pet’s body odor, feces, and urine. A common complaint I see with pet owners is from cat lovers who have to deal with cat litter box smells. You can also get horrible smells out of bird and rodent cages too. What you feed your pets also affects the kind of odor their fur or feathers produce and normally smells from fur stick to furniture and linger in the area of your home where pets spend the most time.

For pet odors, I would recommend using an activated carbon true HEPA air purifier and this will also help you with particulate matter pets live behind such as dander and hair. A lot of activated carbon air purifiers are also made with pets in mind. PCO air purifiers are also very handy for pet odors and other air pollutants pets leave in your home, especially if you have large rooms in your home. If you need multiple air purifiers, PCO air purifiers can also reduce the number of air purifiers you need.

3. Cooking Odors

Sometimes cooking odors can smell fantastic but the last thing you want is a nice curry smell eventually lingering in your home. For cooking odors, you want an air purifier as close to the source as possible. Your first line of defense is your cooker's extractor hood. Make sure to get one that comes with activated carbon air filters.

An activated carbon hood should get rid of most of the odorous gases from cooking before they spread then your air purifier will come in thereafter and deal with anything your hood missed out. An activated carbon HEPA air purifier placed near your cooking area should suffice here but be careful not to place it too close.

4. Fragrances

Air Purifiers For Fragrance Odors

Fragrances such as perfume and cologne smells can be especially disrupting and harmful for people with multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS). They cause you to have nausea, fatigue, dizziness, and headaches among other ailments. Both PCO and Activated carbon air purifiers are really good at dealing with fragrances in the home or office environment but again, go for PCO air purifiers for larger spaces over 1000 sq ft.

5. Sink Smell

Sink smells come about for various reasons. You might be staying in an apartment as I did with poor drainage or your piping is just designed poorly or your drain is just clogged. Sometimes the area under your sink might just not be getting well ventilated. Whatever the reason, the more suitable option for you when it comes to sink smells is an activated carbon air purifier. 

Activated carbon is great when you have under sink humidity as it will absorb some of that humidity together with the smell. You can also get a small portable, battery-powered activated carbon air purifier to place under your sink and run it 24/7.

That said, air purifiers are only a temporary solution here and you need to get into your drainage or improve ventilation to address the sink smell completely. Another solution to consider for sink smell is a dehumidifier to get rid of any excess moisture that may be contributing to the smell.

As I mentioned earlier I had the worst experience with sink smells and the good news is I found a solution and got to the bottom of my problem. Check out my recommended tools section to see what I used to completely get rid of my sink smell by addressing the route cause of the problem.

6. Fart Odor

Ever woken up and all your room smells like in the morning is fart? Or do you have a dog in your home with serious smelly farts? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you could use an air purifier. Both PCO and activated carbon-based air purifiers will work well for fart smells across your home. I have an extensive post on getting rid of fart smells here.

7. Bedroom Odor

Besides fart smells, bedrooms can smell terrible because of body odor, stagnant air, food spills, sleeping with pets, dust, growing mold or dirty laundry. In addition to cleaning your room, and getting some ventilation in there, both activated carbon and PCO air purifiers will help you freshen up the smell in a bedroom.

9. Carpet Odor

The first thing you have to do with carpet odor is getting your carpet cleaned. However, if you are dealing with a new carpet smell, an activated carbon or PCO air purifier can help you significantly with this smell.

10. Basement Odor

The odor in your basement usually comes about because of mold or mildew growth and it ends up smelling musty and moldy. You might have also stored off-gassing items like old paint cans or building materials in your basement and these end up creating a distinct smell in your basement.

To deal with basement smells, either an activated carbon HEPA air purifier or PCO air purifier will help. These air purifiers will not only get rid of the odor-causing gases but also get rid of dust and mold which contribute towards your basement’s stench.

Moreover, the smell in your basement might be coming from damp or some dead animal and you will have to take extra measures beyond air purifiers to deal with the resulting smell.

11. Mold Odor

Mold leaves behind a pungent, and unpleasant stale earth-like smell in your house. It's common in humid areas and smells the worst in basements, crawl-spaces, and attics. To prevent and eliminate mold smells you can use, PCO or HEPA activated-carbon air purifiers.

This is one of the few places where ozone generators can be useful to help deal with mold on surfaces. However be careful and use ozone generators with care especially if you have babies and old folks or pets and people with preexisting respiratory problems in your home.

12. Wildfire Odors

Wild fire smells are something people living in a wildfire-stricken area have to live with during and for some time after wildfires hit your area. The smells stick to everything around your home but with an air purifier, you can greatly limit their penetration in your home. Use a PCO or true HEPA activated carbon air purifier to provide your home with fresh air.

13. Cannabis, Cigar or Cigarette Odor

Cigarette Odors

Weed and tobacco smells can come from your neighbor or from within your home. Whichever way both activated carbon and PCO air purifiers will help you get rid of the smell. However, if you can, take the smoking outside your home.

Air purifiers should be last resort if you or someone in your home is the smoker. Rather opt to smoke away from the house to completely get rid of the tobacco smoke smell. If the smell is coming from your neighbor's place then an air purifiers will be worth the investment.

14. Vaping Odor

Vaping odor becomes a problem when you have a vape room in your home. Eventually, the vapor from vaping sticks to walls and can give off a sweet scent coming from the flavored e-juice. To eliminate vaping smell before it becomes a problem it's a good idea to use an air purifier.

PCO air purifiers and activated carbon will work best for vaping smells. However activated carbon air purifiers with HEPA air filters won't do well as the vapor gets them wet and makes them useless. The best alternative here are air purifiers specifically made for vaping like the Cloud Crusher by Get The Smoke Out or the Smoke Master C12 Electronic Smoke Eater.

15. Sofa and Fabric Upholstery Odor

The smells on your upholstery come from pets and humans leaving their body odor on them. Upholstery can also smell due to tobacco smoke or dust collection and mold build up. Air purifiers will only go as far as dealing with airborne odor molecules being emitted by your dirty upholstery.

That means once you turn off your air purifier, then it's back to square one. You still have the smell lingering in your air. Like I mentioned for carpets, to completely eliminate smells on upholstery they need a deep cleanse.

The easiest and fastest option is to get a professional cleaning service to clean your upholstery for you. If you opt to do the cleaning yourself here are some cleaning tools I highly recommend for getting rid of odors and improving your home's air quality.

16. Fridge Odors

For fridge odors, your typical air purification appliance won’t work. What you will need is either an air purifier bag or canister like the Bad Air Sponge. Make sure to clean your fridge though before you put in any adsorbent bag or canister solution.

17. Car Odors

Lastly, you get odors in your car. Odors in your car will range from food, to puke to the wet damp smell after your car seats and floor get accidentally soaked. Whatever the smell in your car, the quickest and once off way to get rid of it is by using an ozone generator together with some deep cleaning. To maintain a fresh odor in your car thereafter, you can use a portable activated carbon air purifier. You can also place bamboo charcoal air purifier bags under your car seats to absorb smells.

Other Steps You Can Take To Get Rid Of Odors

As you have seen, for some odors, air purifiers alone are not a complete solution but extra measures a necessary. Here are some quick tips on things you can do in addition to air purifiers to eliminate foul odors in your home.

Clean With Odor Removing Chemicals

There are many cleaning chemicals out there to help you eliminate odor but many of these contain toxic chemicals that leave behind their on strong chemical odor which can flare up allergic reactions especially if you have MCS.

So look for Eco-friendly odor eliminating cleaning chemicals. You can use these to get rid of headache-causing smells on new carpets or furniture. They can also get rid of smells left behind by pets, and be used to clean smelly fridges among other uses. A good example of a safe odor-eliminating cleaning chemical is the EnvironKlenz Odor Eliminator.

Use A Blacklight Torch to Trace Pet & Pest Odor Causing Pee and Excrement

One of the coolest tricks I saw once on TV was a blacklight torch. Sometimes you clean your whole house and there is still a stench. This can happen because you missed a spot that was invisible to the naked eye. This is where the blacklight torch comes in.

Turn on the torch and shine the UV light across all the corners of your home and you will see unbelievable things. It will show exactly where your pet or pest pee stains are and even bed bug fecal matter on your bedding's and mattressSee my favorite blacklight flashlights here.

Steam Clean

Steam cleaning is a great way of getting rid of odors in some areas around your home. Use a steam cleaner to get rid of odors on non-fabric surfaces like tiles, granite, metal, and ceramic.

The reason for this is if you use steam on odors on your mattress, floors, upholstery, and other fabric you could permanently bond protein containing odor-causing particles into the fibers of these items because of the high temperatures in steam and cause the smell to get stuck in your upholstery for a very long time.

Take The Trash Out

Taking the trash out is one of the most obvious things you can do to minimize bad smells in your house but you will be shocked how many people stay with trash in their house for 2 weeks before taking it out.

A system that works for me is to put food and decomposable waste in a separate plastic bag that I take out and put in my outdoor trash can every morning.

My rule is to empty out decomposable waste from my house every morning and it works. Some people also resort to putting baking soda in their trash can. This works to some extent but if you have an option, just take your perishable trash outside every day.

Hire A Professional Odor Removal Service

I have touched on this already but I will repeat it in more detail. You can hire a professional cleaning service to come in and do general cleaning which entails removing upholstery and other odors at their source around your home.

However, for more intense jobs like drainage odors, or mold on your walls, hire a mold or odor removal service. They will get into your drainage, find any source dampness and even waterproof your house to eliminate odors and their causes thereof at the source.

Let The Sunshine In

A very simple but effective way to get rid of some odors is to let the sunshine into your home. UV light from the sun can kill bacteria and mold and also dry up your room reducing humidity and dampness and opportunities for odor-causing microorganisms to grow and reproduce in your home.

Clean Your Walls

One thing a lot of people ignore when cleaning for odors, especially tobacco and fart smells is their walls. Smells can adhere to walls. Use an odor eliminating chemical like the Environklenz odor eliminator to clean and get rid of odors on walls.

Use Drain Cleaners

If you can’t afford to have an odor cleaning service or plumber come in to check out your drainage causing smells under your sink you could use a chemical readily available at Amazon like the Green Gobbler to dissolve and wash out the odor-causing gunk in your drain.

Use a Dehumidifier

If part of your problem is high humidity levels, you can get a dehumidifier to reduce your humidity level around your house or in the problem rooms. Keep humidity levels between 30% - 50% to minimize dampness and mold growth, and any resulting odors. A good humidity level will prevent musty odors to a great extent.

Use An Air Sanitizer Spray

A quick way to get rid of random odors, especially if you just cooked and some guests are coming over, is to use a sanitizer spray you can pick up at Amazon like Ozium. Unlike air fresheners, sanitizer sprays actually react chemically with bad odor molecules and neutralize them. They are quite effective and many weed smokers swear by them for a reason. That said this is a short term emergency situation solution.

Ventilate Your Home

Lastly, you need to ventilate your home as much as possible. Even if the bad odor is coming from outside your home,  you can use a heat recovery ventilation (HRV) system. This system will take dirty air out of your house and bring back clean filtered and purified air from outside into your home without any energy losses in the process.

For information on other things air purifiers can get rid of from your indoor air check out this guide.

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.

Leave a Comment