The coronavirus has reordered modern life at a global scale, sensitizing us more than ever to the air we breathe. New and old forms of consumer technology offer solutions to our newfound problems: face masks, hand sanitizer and -- in homes and workplaces -- air purifiers can all help limit the spread of COVID-19. While conventional air purifiers don't solve the problem of infection, they can reduce it by removing aerosol particles that normally take hours to naturally settle out of the air. And now, at CES 2021, device-makers are showing off new air purifiers, boasting more mobile designs, more energy-efficient performance, more effective filtration and more creative approaches to the basic logic of air cleaning.
I've written about the best consumer air purifiers on the market and interviewed air quality researchers, and in general the most effective air filtration technology is HEPA -- a method for cleaning air that's been around for decades. Most air purifiers on the market use HEPA filters, which essentially move air through a plastic or fiberglass screen designed to capture at least 99.7% of particles 0.3 micrometers in size (a particularly difficult size to capture).
The air purifiers at CES 2021 are venturing in new directions, though. Here are some of the trends I've noticed.
Sustainability: The first trend at CES is an increased focus on minimizing waste. OneLife's, Luftqi's and CleanAirZone's purifiers, for instance, all ditch filter replacements altogether, opting for washable filters. OneLife also boasts a low energy profile and environmentally friendly hardware, using sustainably sourced materials like bamboo.
Innovation in methods of filtration: Manufacturers have been testing other methods of filtration for years, but HEPA-based air purifiers have remained the industry standard because they're so reliable. Larger companies, such as Filtrete, Brondell and LG are sticking with this method, even if they're adding other technology to their devices. That said, with the explosion of research on the topic, we will doubtless see more devices attempting to use newer approaches to air cleaning. While these devices certainly need to be tested before we sing their praises, this sort of innovation is welcome, if only for how it develops our understanding of air quality and purification in the long run.
COVID-19: The coronavirus isn't just the elephant in the room at CES this year, it's the room itself. The pandemic has totally reshaped CES, and it's a huge motivator for device makers. Addressing dust and pollen will be much lower on the list of priorities for developers selling their purifiers than talking about eliminating airborne virus particles. That means UV light and other forms of disinfecting technology might be disproportionately represented in this year's air purifiers -- as we can already see with almost every air cleaner developer focusing much of their messaging on how their devices eliminate virus particles.
While I'm not able to test these gadgets yet, these new air purifiers do represent some genuinely exciting ideas. Here are the most inventive air cleaners at CES 2021 so far.
FrescheAir Portable HEPA Air Purifier/Deodorizer ($100)
A portable HEPA purifier
Scosche's new FrescheAir purifier is the size of a travel mug -- intentionally so, as it's meant to fit into your car's cupholder. The FrescheAir plugs into your car outlet and keeps the vehicle dust- and allergen-free. In addition, the top of the device features a display that shows air quality, humidity and temperature inside your car.
OneLife X (price TBD)
Energy efficient and sustainably sourced devices
OneLife's X air purifier features a dishwasher safe filter and a plasma cleaning method -- which essentially works by generating ionized particles that alter the state of harmful particles already floating around in your air. Plasma purifiers definitely remove pollutants from the air, though they often alter particles in such a way that attracts them to surfaces around the house, rather than capturing them in the purifier itself. (But note that OneLife's performance still must be tested.)
OneLife X has a few unique and compelling features: Its shell is partially constructed from sustainably sourced bamboo, its energy requirement is low and OneLife says the machine runs silently. The latter two claims need to be tested, too. But if they bear out, they'd be impressive accomplishments -- especially since air purifiers are so often plugged in and forgotten about for long periods of time.
Luftqi Luft Duo ($200)
An air purifier you can carry with you
Luftqi's Luft Duo is a battery-powered air purifier that you can take anywhere you go. If you want to put it on your desk at work, then bring it in the car or even set it up on your table at the coffee shop, the Luft Duo will apparently clean the air around you throughout the day.
The Luft Duo also has a removable, washable filter, instead of using disposable HEPA filters. In addition, it uses ultraviolet LEDs and photocatalytic (basically light-activated) tech to break down irritants and pathogens. This sort of approach might sound familiar if you've followed air purifying devices like Molekule, which used another form of photocatalytic tech to break down small particles. Molekule has run into performance issues, but that doesn't mean the underlying technology doesn't have a lot of potential.
The 2020 crowdfunding campaign for the Luft Duo was incredibly successful, raising over $300,000 in the past few months, so excitement for this air purifier is running high. We're excited to test it out ourselves.
Airthings Wave sensors ($80-$230)
Air quality sensors that measure risk of viral transmission and mold
Airthings' new devices aren't purifiers, but they're innovative gadgets that could work well with air purifiers -- and could be intelligently combined with them in the future. The Wave Plus sensor ($230) tracks risk factors associated with viral transmission in work places, namely CO2 levels, humidity and temperature. It then feeds that information to office managers, who in theory can make adjustments to make the room more inhospitable to errant virus particles.
The Wave Mini ($80) is meant for in-home use, and it focuses on risk factors for mold, rather than virus transmission.
Both of these devices are really creative ways to help people understand different sorts of air quality in different spaces. While they aren't air purifiers, I think the ideas behind them could be influential for the design of future purifiers -- especially as many air cleaners already use some form of air quality monitoring.
CleanAirZone purifier (price TBD)
Cleaning with natural biotics, rather than filters
CleanAirZone, or CAZ, is showing off a new air purifier at CES that cleans the air using "natural biotics and enzymes derived from nature," rather than using traditional filters. The company says that its proprietary cocktail of water, microbiotics and natural enzymes will eliminate pollutants in the air, including coronavirus particles.
CAZ's goal is to remove the waste of other air purifiers -- their disposable filters, most notably -- and create a more sustainable, "green" environment in the home. As with other air cleaners on this list, the technology is promising, but we're withholding judgment until we can test the product ourselves.
The rest of the purifiers
The OneLife X, Luft Duo and CAZ purifiers are the three most interesting devices announced so far at CES. But a few other big companies are getting in on the demand for air purifying devices during the pandemic.
Most notably, Brondell is soon releasing its Pro Sanitizing Air Purifier, which is a tank of a device: Rather than focusing on innovative new filtration strategies, Brondell's air cleaner uses the shotgun approach. That means HEPA filtration, a disinfecting UV lamp, a nanocrystalline filter and a plasma generator. Each of these technologies has strengths and weaknesses, but altogether, they cover most of the airborne irritants and contagions you'll find in any house.
The Brondell Pro can effectively clean the air in a 538-square-foot space and will sell at major retailers for $650.
Filtrete is also launching two conventional air purifiers that capture 99.97% of airborne particles using HEPA filters. The Filtrete air purifiers track filter life, offer voice control with Alexa and Google Assistant and cover 150 or 310 square feet, at price points of $274 and $329, respectively.
LG has announced three new air purifiers -- the PuriCare Mini, PuriCare and PuriCare 360 -- each of which covers small-to-moderate areas in the house with conventional HEPA or HEPA-like filtration. While pricing hasn't yet been released, they're comparable to purifiers costing under $500. The only released PuriCare air cleaner to date costs well over $1,000 for about 500 square feet of coverage, so they may end up landing in more premium price categories than devices of their size typically land.
CES has barely even begun, so we'll update this article as the show progresses, adding more devices as we find them.