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Clearing Up Air Cleaner Claims

I need a room air cleaner for my son’s allergies. How can I tell what types are most effective and use less electricity?—Janice F.

Unlike most home products, you cannot use the price of a room air cleaner as an indication of its effectiveness. Also, some of the TV ads for air cleaners are long on claims, but the products are short on actual performance.

I called the phone number shown in a television ad for one of the expensive, no-fan models that consume little electricity. After pressing them for the CADR rating (clean air delivery rating) for that specific model, I determined that the rating was effective for a room not much larger than a closet. Models with fans use more electricity, but selecting one with multiple speeds allows you to run it on the efficient low speed.

One of the best methods to compare air cleaners is by their CADR. This indicates the effectiveness of a room air cleaner as determined by testing to the AHAM (Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers) standards. The CADR is recognized as the standard by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the American Lung Association.

The CADR rating should be listed on the packaging or in the user manual. You will see three CADR numbers referring to household dust, tobacco smoke, and pollen. Even though there are other pollutants in a home, such as mold or pet dander, the range of the former three covers most particles in room air.

The CADR numbers range from less than 50 for small air cleaners to more than 300 for large, effective ones. Also, some air cleaners are better at removing smoke, which contains some of the smallest particles in room air. Other air cleaners are better at removing pollen, which consists of large particles. For this reason, talk to an allergist to determine which allergens should be removed from your son’s room air.

In order to effectively circulate enough air through the cleaner, the unit should have a fan. An air cleaner rated to clean a larger room will have a larger fan and will use more electricity. You may want to run it on high speed for approximately 30 minutes before bedtime, then switch it to a more efficient low-speed setting overnight.

For effective room air cleaning, the AHAM recommends that the CADR of a room air cleaner be 2/3 of the square footage of the room. For example, if your son’s bedroom is 10 x 12 feet and he is allergic to pollen, select an air cleaner with a pollen CADR of 80 as a minimum.

In my home, I use a HEPA room air cleaner with a carbon element that reduces odors and some volatile chemicals. The HEPA and carbon filters need to be replaced periodically, but they are very effective and reasonably quiet. Be sure to get a true HEPA model. To be a true HEPA, it must state it removes 99.97 percent of all particles 0.3 microns or larger.

Another effective design uses electrostatic precipitator technology with a circulation fan. These give the room air a charge and have a collection plate on the opposite charge so particles stick to it. These often include a wire mesh prefilter to capture large particles. Both the prefilter and the collection plates are periodically removed and washed. These are particularly effective for tiny particles such as smoke.

The following companies offer room air cleaners: Blueair, (888) 258-3247,; Cloud 9, (630) 595-5000,; Essick Air Products, (800) 826-2665,; Kaz, (800) 447-0457,; and LakeAir, (800) 558-9436,

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