In the time of COVID, previously rarely thought of items such as hand sanitizer and face masks are now essentials that none of us go anywhere without. There are countless products now being lauded as the next best thing in the fight against COVID, but if there’s one that deserves the praise, it’s portable HEPA filtration units.
It may come as no surprise that indoor air can be more contaminated than air outdoors. Much of the indoor air is recirculated within the same space without fresh air coming in. Particularly in winter when opening windows isn’t a practical solution, portable HEPA filtration units can help.
According to CDC, air purifiers “can help reduce airborne contaminants, including viruses, in a home or confined space.”
But air purifiers alone are not enough to protect from COVID-19. It is still advisable to continue to wear a mask and wash your hands to prevent spread of the virus.
As well as going a long way to neutralize viruses, air purifiers can help eliminate odors, allergens and smoke from the air. Some selected models also allow you to add a little drop of fragrance.
What is HEPA?
Before we go into a list of the best portable HEPA filtration systems, let’s identify what HEPA actually means and how it can help.
HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air [filter], defined by the U.S. Dept. of Energy. In theory, true HEPA filters are able to filter out “99.97% of dust, pollen, mold, bacteria, and any airborne particles with a size of 0.3 microns”.
This type of filtration has been around a long time and is a very simple technology, which means it is also quite affordable. There are portable HEPA filtration units for most budgets, some costing around $50 and others going up into the hundreds.
Some air purifiers will claim to have a “HEPA-like” filter which aren’t as effective as “true HEPA” filters. They still work similarly and do filter the air but cannot catch particles as small as 0.3 microns (like allergens, odors and viruses). Typically, HEPA-like filters catch up to 99% of particles that are 2 microns or bigger; usually this is dust or pet dander and other particles that can cause respiratory issues.
Other types of air filtration systems
Whilst recognized as one of the best, HEPA air purifiers aren’t the only option. UV light and ionizer air purifiers can be effective in their own way and are sometimes combined with a HEPA filter for a little extra kick.
As the name suggests, UV light air purifiers use UV to treat the air and neutralize bacteria and viruses. However, in many units the UV light itself is too weak to kill any viruses passing through on the first go. The average wattage of a UV lamp in these purifiers is about 6W, which means in order for the viruses to be killed, the light needs to shine on them for about 12 seconds. Most air that travels through a filtration system is in there for 0.35 to 0.5 seconds.
The most effective way to make this type of purifier work for you is to get a portable HEPA filter with UV light as well.
The other type of portable air filtration unit you may come across are ionizers. They expel negative ions which attach to viruses and anchor them to any nearby surface. This stops the virus from being airborne, which is a good thing, but any surfaces that have had the ionized particles bound to them could then be a transmitter. As a result, ionizers are not the most practical option for an air filtration system for office use where people may be sharing work surfaces. It’s definitely worth noting that an ionizer does not kill or remove viruses from the room.
Some ionizers can generate small amounts of ozone, which is effective for neutralizing odors and removing mold, but the EPA say it can also cause health problems at high concentrations. If using an ionizing air purifier, check to see if it is ozone emitting or not. Ones fitted with activated carbon filters or ozone suppression systems will not produce ozone.
Best portable HEPA filtration units
To help you narrow down your search, here are some of our top picks for the best portable HEPA air filters for use in the workplace.
First up is the Levoit LV-H132 at $89.99. It weighs only 6lbs which makes it a great portable air filtration unit. You can easily move it from room to room or anywhere within your office space, though the area it covers is not that great, about 86 square feet. This makes it more ideal for a small home office or a cubicle. The LV-H132 has a three-filter system which includes the use of a true HEPA filter to catch the majority of airborne particles and has an ultra-silent setting.
The filters need to be changed around every 6 months, but the unit has a light-up display that will remind you when the time comes.
The Winix 5500-2 also uses a true HEPA filter and is a little more expensive at $159.99. It’s also larger and heavier at 15lbs but covers a much larger area of up to 360 sq. ft. Its larger size doesn’t make it more obtrusive, though, as it’s still a slim unit and won’t take up too much space. It too has a silent mode.
The Winix unit uses three filters and a fourth stage of their own “PlasmaWave® Technology” which works similarly to ionization: “Our technology creates a safe & short electrical discharge to create dual polarity ions (positive and negative) and disperses them into the air.”
Bissell’s Air220 comes in at the top end of the price range at $229.99. It’s around the same size at the Winix, but a similarly slime design so as to fit neatly wherever you need to place it. As well as a silent mode, it has five fan speeds and an auto/sleep mode.
With three filters, one of which being a true HEPA, the Air 220 can clean the air of a room of up to 800 sq. ft. once per hour.
When you buy from Bissell, they proudly claim that each purchase helps homeless pets with the Bissell Pet Foundation.
For a unit that covers a larger area, Bissell also have the Air320 which covers rooms of up to 1000 sq. ft. As you’d expect, this drives the price up a little to $329.99. It’s the same size as the 220, but also has a display that monitors the quality of the air in the room it’s in and responds accordingly.
We’re back down to some smaller models now with this purifier from Honati at $69.99. While smaller at only 17 inches tall and 5lbs, it can purify the air in room sup to 215 sq. ft. This makes it one of the best truly portable HEPA filtration units, as you can easily move it from room to room, and just as easily use it on your desk without it interfering too much.
The filters do need replacing every 3-6 months which is on the more frequent side, but that’s to be expected from a smaller air filtration system, as the filters will fill up much quicker.
Similarly, Partu’s HEPA air purifier is small and easily moveable, and a little cheaper at $47.99. It’s only 11 inches high and still uses a three-filter system, including a true HEPA filter and activated carbon filter. A neat added extra is the sponge below the air outlet; you can add a drop of essential oil fragrance to keep the air smelling fresh as well as being clear of impurities. Filters must also be replaced every 3-6 months.
TOPPIN offer a range of air purifiers, some with only a HEPA-type filter, and others like this $59 model with a true HEPA filter. Its slim design saves on space, but this size does mean it’s suitable only in rooms up to about 125 sq. ft. You can set it on a timer, too, and run it for two, four, or eight hours at a time as well as setting it on quiet mode while you work.
Replacing HEPA filters
To ensure that your air filtration system continues to work at its best, the HEPA filters must be changed on a regular basis. For smaller models, this is anywhere from every 3 months to every 6, and in larger ones it’s usually every 6 as well. However, if you’re using an air filtration system for office or workspace, and there are a larger number of people in the vicinity, consider changing more often.
With COVID-19 still posing a risk, there’s no such thing as being too cautious.
To make sure you get the right HEPA filter for your portable air filtration unit, it’s recommended to buy them from the same company if possible.
Things to remember when using portable HEPA filtration units against COVID-19
Firstly, make sure to read guidelines from the EPA and CDC, and remember that even the best portable air purifiers cannot eliminate any viruses when used alone.
Positioning of any air filtration systems is key. As the EPA recommend, direct airflow “so that it does not blow directly from one person to another”. Basically, it is best practice to have the unit facing into an open space and not wedged too close to where people sit, particularly in an office environment.
It’s also important to remember that while they are the most effective filters, true HEPA filters only catch viruses and particles, they do not kill them. Outside of an organic host, viruses cannot breed and will most likely stop being infectious by the time anyone comes close to them on the filter, but care should be taken when swapping out filters. Be sure to wash or thoroughly sanitize your hands after handling the used filters.
In the end, buying the best portable HEPA filtration units for your office really depends on the size of the workplace, as many units are quite similar in terms of what features they offer. Smaller companies in smaller spaces will be able to get by with a smaller model, as will anyone working from home, but larger companies are better off investing a little bit more money for larger units that can treat the air of a bigger space.
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