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Do Air Purifiers Really Eliminate Odors?

Do Air Purifiers Really Eliminate Odors?

Every house has its very own distinctive scent. Sometimes, the scent is pleasant, such as freshly baked cookies or potpourri; however, others, the odor can be rather displeasing, quite overwhelming, and even embarrassing. Examples of unpleasant smells that can include pungent cooking odors, animal scents, related to dander and accidents, musty and moldy, or even garbage. If the smell that you experience when you walk into your front door falls into the latter category – an unpleasant smell that makes you pinch your nose and too embarrassed to invite people over – there’s no doubt that you’re wondering if there’s a way that you can eliminate that smell. In fact, you’ve probably tried some strategies yourself, such as deodorizers and scented candles, with little to no effect.

There’s another strategy that you might be thinking about: an air purifier. Air purifiers, as the name suggests, are appliances that are designed to purify the air. They do this by removing pollutants and airborne particles from the air, including pollutants and particles that may cause odors. But do they actually work? To learn more about air purifiers, their effect on odor removal, and whether or not you should invest in one, keep on reading.

What causes odors?

Humans have a unique propensity for habituation, which is basically a fancy way of saying that with regular exposure, overtime, our ability to detect smells diminishes over time. In other words, our brands have a tendency to overlook smells that we’re exposed to on a regular basis, and instead, we focus on odors that are new and that are different than the scents that we’re accustomed to. It is for this reason that you may not be able to notice the smell that your furry family members produce, but you can immediately detect the smell of a gym bag filled with sweat workout clothes that a human family member leaves by the front door.

Some of the most common odors that we’re exposed to on a regular basis are, believe it or not, derived of airborne chemicals, and a lot of those are volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are largely responsible for those off-putting odors that you might detect. Some VOCs are natural and harmless, while others are man-made and are considered pollutants, and some of them – like formaldehyde – have distinctive scents, and can pose serious health risks. Other types of VOCs, however, do not produce any scent; they’re completely odorless. In other words, man of the odors that make you turn up your nose may be a lot less dangerous than you might expect.

What exactly are bad smells?

You might think that animals, like dogs and cats, have powerful noses; however, your own nose is a lot more powerful than you may realize. The human being’s nose has the ability to detect and distinguish between thousands of different types of scents, even if the amounts of odor-causing airborne chemicals are extremely minimal. But what are those odor-causing airborne chemicals?

Take flowers, for example. When you put your nose to a single rose, a sprig of lavender, or a bouquet of lilies, and you take in a whiff through your nose, what you’re smelling is the natural chemical mixtures of volatile organic compounds that these plants produce; hence why you can tell the distinctive odor that each type of plant produces. However, if you were to put a blindfold on and smell each of these types of flowers, you might have a hard time telling the difference between them. That’s because all are comprised of a large amount of geranyl acetate, which is a naturally occurring organic compound, which is used in the production of different types of products, such as soaps, perfumes, candles, essential oils, and even room deodorizers.

If you remove the peel from a banana, your nose is immediately overwhelmed by isoamyl acetate, an organic compound that bananas naturally contain that gives the fruit its distinctive scent and taste. Known as “aroma compounds”, all of the different types of odors and flavors originate from chemical compounds that make contact with the olfactory receptors; hence why you can smell them.

What causes displeasing odors?

The habits regarding hygiene and housekeeping vary from person to person and family to family. For example, if you tend to cook with a lot of garlic or you don’t clean out your garbage cans on a regular basis, it won’t be surprising when you’re hit with a punch in your nostrils when you walk through your front door. While making changes to your habits and lifestyle can certainly help to eliminate these scents, in some cases, no matter what you do, it just seems like you can’t get rid of those stinky smells, and often, these foul odors aren’t a coincidence. These smells are the result of airborne chemical compounds, and the volatility of these compounds can be quite distinctive to the olfactory glands in your nose. These pungent, off-putting smells aren’t just a pain in the neck; they also indicate that there is air pollution in your home that could potentially be causing a variety of adverse health effects.

In some cases, an air purifier may able to resolve those unpleasant odors, as these appliances remove airborne particles, some of which may be causing the odors that you’re experiencing in your home. With that said, however, it’s important to note that not all air purifiers are created equal. Some are much more powerful and effective than others at eliminating lingering odors.

Most of the smells that we experience, pleasant or unpleasant, are detected because of the receptors within the nose that can detect chemicals in the air; something that the human nose does exceptionally well – if it’s a chemical that’s linked to an off-putting odor that we wish we couldn’t smell. When discussing air purifiers, it’s important to note that a lot of the airborne contaminants that are linked to those displeasing smells are extremely small, and as such, the vast majority of air purifiers may not be able to eradicate them. With that said, however, let’s take a look at some of the different types of smells and the air purifiers that may be able to eliminate them.

Pet-related odors

Pets brings tons of joy to your family, but no matter how cute, cuddly, and lovable they may be, there’s a downside to pet ownership: the smells that they can produce. Warm-blooded animals, like dogs, cats, hamsters, rabbits, and even birds, produce dander. Dander is a fancy word used to describe the shedding of dead animal skin cells, proteins, oils, and other substances, and those cells and substances can produce displeasing scents. According to a 2017 national pet owner’s survey, it was found that about 85 million American homes have pets, or about 65 percent of US households have pets.

Mammals, birds, and other warm-blooded animals secrete oils, proteins, and other types of substances. Their fur or feathers shed, and those substances are shed along with an animal’s fur and feathers. As a result, you might notice unpleasant odors associated with your furry or feathered family members. Plus, pet accidents can cause powerful, overwhelming odors, too.

Mold and mildew

Mold and mildew are also common sources of indoor odors. These living organisms produce airborne spores, and those spores can create smells; must commonly a must-like scent, which comes from volatile organic compounds that are emitted at different stages of growth. As the spores spread, in addition to producing displeasing odors, they can also cause adverse health effects; particularly in those who suffer from allergies or who have existing health conditions, such as asthma and COPD.

Due to the fact that mold and mildew produce spores, and the fact that these spores produce must-like odors, it’s no wonder why these fungus’ can cause pungent odors when they grow indoors.


Smoke, particularly tobacco smoke, is comprised of particulate matter and gaseous pollutants. Smoke is both odorous and dangerous to inhale. Since smoke can’t be filtered out of the air completely, it’s necessary to take the steps that are needed in order to protect yourself, your family, and your home from the damaging effects that smoke causes. Furthermore, it’s important to keep in mind that while some types of air purification technology can effectively remove smoke from the air; however, these appliances should not be the only measure that is taken to remove smoke from a house.


Food is more than just a necessity; it’s also a blessing and it can be a delightful experience. Unfortunately, however, a lot of the yummy foods that you love to cook or heat up may wind up sticking around and circulating through your home. Foods release aromatic compounds and chemicals, which human noses are famously sensitive to.

For instance, bacon is known to produce odors and hydrocabons and pyroligneous acides, which are considered volatile organic compounds.  Air purifiers that are fitted with HPA fitlrations may be able to eliminate cooking odors.

General household odors

A displeasing mixture of smells in your home could lead you to think about using scented candles, air fresheners, and other fragranced products that claim to freshen the air. While they may be able to help to some degree, the fact is that they only mask the problem; and in some cases, they may not do anything at all. In fact, these products can actually worsen the problem, as many fragranced so-called odor eliminators contain harsh chemicals that can lead to a host of other issues, such as allergic reactions and worsening allergies.

It goes without saying that you don’t want your house smelling funny. Not only are stinky smells unpleasant, but according to scientific research, being exposed to funky odors over a prolonged period of time can do more than make you turn up your nose; they can actually have a negative effect on your mental and physical health. In a study that was conducted on more than 1,000 American adults, almost 35 percent said that they experienced health problems that were associated with using products that contained fragrances, and 50 percent said that they preferred staying in hotels and using health care facilities and other public facilities and spaces that were free of fragrance.

Why are odors so hard to eliminate with air purifiers?

Odors are hard to eliminate with air purifiers because traditional models, like those that feature HEPA filtration, just aren’t made to remove gases from the air, such as odor-causing VOCs from the air. Rather, the majority of air purifiers are made to filter out larger particles that float through the air, such as dust, animal dander, and pollen. Standard air filters, known as “mechanical filtration”, are designed to gather these airborne particles on the surface of a filter; they don’t remove gaseous materials, like VOCs. There is a type of air purifier that can remove odors, however – activated carbon air purifiers. However, while air purifiers feature activated carbon filtration, they do have some drawbacks.

Types of Air Purifiers and Their Effect on Controlling Odors

Below is a summation of the different types of air purifiers and their impact on eliminating odors.

HEPA air purifiers

Short for high-efficiency particulate air, HEPA filters are made to handle remove large particles from the air, such as dust and dander; they are not made to remove gaseous materials that cause odors, such as VOCs and chemicals. As such, HEPA air purifiers are largely ineffective at removing odors. When pollutants, like bacteria and mold, become trapped with the fibers of a HEPA filter, they can multiply, and if the filter is not replaced, they can actually become very smell. As such, instead of eliminating odors, HEPA air purifiers can’t eliminate bad odors, but they can actually contribute to unpleasant smells.

HEPA air purifiers with UV-C light

While a pure HEPA filter may actually worsen foul odors in your home and spread allergens throughout a space, such as mold, mildew, and bacterial, HEPA filters that are outfitted with UV-C germicidal lamps may be a better choice. UV-C means “ultraviolet-C” a kind of light that kills microorganisms, which of course, stops them from reproducing. With that said, however, the degree of effectiveness of UV-C light air purifiers on smells isn’t clearly understood, as a larger amount of light and contact time would be needed to eliminate mold and bacteria. While this type of air purifier may claim that it’s better at reducing musty odors, the effectiveness is ambiguous at best, and in fact, has been found to generate ozone, a pollutant that can be harmful to human health. As such, HEPA filters, whether with or without UV-C light, are not considered effective tools for eliminating odors.

Carbon air filters

Air purifiers that feature activated carbon filters may yield better results in regard to odor elimination; particularly odors that are related to volatile organic compounds; but, the effectiveness of these air purifiers depends on a couple of different factors, which really need to be considered when utilizing this type of air purification.

First, the amount of carbon that is used in the air filter can dramatically alter the effectiveness of an activated carbon air filter’s ability to eliminate odors, as well as the thickness in carbon structures that are within the air filter itself, has a big impact on the overall odor eliminating effectiveness. Frequently, many of the filters that are on the market aren’t effective at removing odors, as well as chemicals and pollutants, from the air. As such, if you plan on using this type of air purifier, you should consider the amount of activated carbon that the air purifier contains. Secondly, carbon air filters do have a few potential drawbacks, largely due to a process that is known as “off-gassing”. This term is used to describe a process that occurs when carbon within the filter is saturated or disturbed by a quick change in humidity or temperature levels, for instance, which could potentially cause the filter to release VOCs back out into the air. To avoid this problem, consider using a heavier carbon and replace the filters when they become saturated ;however, off-gassing can happen, no matter the weight or filter saturation.

Air purifiers may offer some relief, but does require additional help

So, do air purifiers help to eliminate unpleasant odors? It depends on several factors, such as the type of odors that you’re trying to eliminate and what type of air purifier you’re using. An activated carbon air purifier will offer the best results for combating foul odors; however, do remember that off-gassing could be an issue.

To increase the effects of an air purifier, properly cleaning your home is highly recommended, as doing so will help to eliminate the source of unwanted odors. Another way to fight back against unpleasant odors is arranging to have regular mold inspections. Mold often grows completely unbeknownst to homeowners, but just because it can’t be seen, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t cause odors or impact indoor air quality. By arranging to have professional mold assessments performed by a licensed professional, you’ll be able to detect if mold growth is present, and if so, will be able to correct the problem, and thus, eliminate the must-like scent and the potentially negative health effects that mold exposure can cause.

For the fasts, most affordable, and most reliable mold testing, contact Mold Inspection and Testing (MI&T). As one of the largest mold testing companies in the country and with years of experience, our team of licensed professionals have the knowledge you can count on to detect the presence of indoor mold growth so that you can not only improve the smell inside your home, but improve your home’s scent, too.