Clean air is essential for people with COPD — allergens like pollen and pollutants in the air can aggravate your lungs and cause flare-ups. Many types of filters have various potential benefits.

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Particles of pollutants like smoke, radon, and other chemicals can get into your home through open doors, windows, and the ventilation system. There are also indoor pollutants from cleaning products, the materials used to build your home, allergens like dust mites and mold, and home appliances.

The combination of these sources is why the concentration of indoor pollutants is 2–5 times higher than those of outdoor pollutants.

One way to clear the air in your home is by using an air purifier. This stand-alone device sanitizes the air and removes fine particles like pollutants and allergens.

Purifiers filter the air in one room. They’re different from the air filter that’s built into your HVAC system, which filters your entire house. Air purifiers can cost hundreds of dollars.

An air purifier can help clear your air of allergens and pollutants. However, whether it will help improve COPD symptoms is uncertain. There hasn’t been much research, and the results of existing studies have been inconsistent.

Still, research suggests that reducing particles and allergens in the air may ease lung symptoms.

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, air cleaners that capture large amounts of allergens and dust particles improve lung function in people with asthma.

There are several types of air purifiers, and some work better than others. A few might be harmful to your health.

Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • HEPA filters: These are the gold-standard filter for removing airborne particles. It uses mechanical ventilation — fans that push air through pleated fibers like foam or fiberglass — to trap particles from the air.
  • Activated carbon: This model uses an active carbon filter to trap odors and gases. Although it can catch larger particles, it typically misses smaller ones. Some purifiers combine a HEPA filter with an activated carbon filter to trap odors and pollutants.
  • UV light: UV light can kill viruses, bacteria, and fungi. The light must be intense for a UV air purifier to kill these germs and stay on for at least several minutes or hours. This isn’t the case with all models.
  • Ionizers: Particles in the air have a neutral charge. Ionizers negatively charge these particles, which makes them stick to plates in the machine or other surfaces so you can clean them away.
  • Electrostatic air purifiers and ozone generators: These purifiers use ozone to change the charge of particles in the air so they stick to surfaces. Ozone can aggravate the lungs, making it a bad choice for people with COPD.

A good air purifier filters out particles 10 micrometers or smaller in diameter. For reference, a human hair is about 90 micrometers wide.

Your nose and upper airway are good at filtering particles larger than 10 micrometers, but particles smaller than that can easily get into your lungs and bloodstream.

Air purifiers that contain a HEPA filter are the gold standard. Choose one that contains a true HEPA filter rather than a HEPA-type filter. It’s more expensive, but it will remove more particles from the air.

Avoid any purifier that uses ozone or ions. These products could be harmful to your lungs.

An air purifier can help clean the air in your home so that you breathe in fewer particles that could aggravate your lungs.

Cleaner indoor air might help your heart, too.

Exposure to air particles can contribute to inflammation that damages blood vessels. In studies from 2022, filtering the air led to improved blood vessel function, which could contribute to better heart health.

When choosing an air filter, you have a few options.

HEPA, high-efficiency particulate air, is highly effective at clearing the air. These filters remove at least 99.7% of airborne particles, dust, mold, and bacteria. So for every 10,000 particles of that size that enter the filter, only 3 will pass through.

When choosing a HEPA filter, look at its minimum efficiency reporting values (MERV). This number, which goes from 1 to 16, shows how effective the filter is at trapping particles. The higher the number, the better.

Some air filters are disposable, and you change them every 1 to 3 months and throw out the old one. Others are washable. You check them once a month, and if they’re dirty, you wash them.

Disposable air filters offer more convenience, but you’ll spend more to keep replacing them. Washable air filters save you money, but you’ll need to keep up with the cleaning.

In addition, filters are made from several materials:

  • Pleated: These filters are designed to last longer with less maintenance.
  • Polyester: These trap lint, dust, and dirt.
  • Activated carbon: These filters help control odors in your home.
  • Fiberglass: These are made from spun glass that traps dirt.

You need to keep the filter in your air purifier clean so it can work effectively. Plan to clean your purifier about once a month.

The only filters you should never wash are HEPA or carbon filters. Change these filters every 6 months to 1 year.

To clean your filter:

  1. Turn off and unplug the air purifier.
  2. Clean the outside with a damp cloth. Use a soft brush to clear any dust out of the top air vent.
  3. Remove the front grill and prefilter and wash them with warm, soapy water. Dry them with a towel before putting them back inside the machine.
  4. Use a dry, soft cloth to wipe down the inside of the air purifier.

An air purifier can remove some pollutants and allergens from the air in your home. Though these machines haven’t been proven to help with COPD, they may improve asthma symptoms.

For best results, choose a purifier with a HEPA filter. Make sure to keep your air purifier clean by regularly washing or changing the filter.