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A couple in a new home wondering: do air purifiers remove smells?

Do Air Purifiers Get Rid Of Smells?

As the winter months set in and cold comes sneaking inside from the outdoors, things can quickly become overly damp and musty, which in turn can lead to mold growth and the introduction of unwanted smells into your space. And if you’re lucky enough to avoid the chilly moisture of the winter months because you live in a warmer region, lingering cooking smells and the stench left behind from a humid, leaky trash bag are season-agnostic.

In fact, experts have found that higher heat and humidity create an environment that favors bacteria growth and allows smells to travel far and wide. And let’s face it, no one wants to be the co-worker responsible for stinking up the shared kitchen during lunch. 

There’s a lot you can do to combat smells in your home without expending too much effort. But do air purifiers remove smells? In fact, they are actually one of the most effective, and easy ways, to protect your airways from irritation and malevolent odors. Once you know what type of odors you want to get rid of and what filter to buy, you can sit back and relax while your purifier does all the work for you.

What Are Odors Made Of? 

In short, most types of odors that you might encounter around your home on a daily basis are composed of tiny airborne chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are chemicals that become a gas at room temperature, which allows them to sneak in and out of confined spaces with ease. Not only do VOCs cause odors, they can also damage our respiratory systems according to the CDC. Thankfully a Coway air purifier can help alleviate both of these issues. 

Why a Particular Filter is Required to Remove Odors From the Air 

Most high-quality air purifiers rely on HEPA filters, which are designed to trap and stop airborne particulates as they pass through the purifier. VOCs, on the other hand, are gasses and therefore are able to flow right through most HEPA filters. While it’s true that a standard HEPA filter alone can help to reduce the concentration of an odor by circulating the air. Activated carbon filters, on the other hand, are able to trap VOCs in their tracks. To maximize air filtration and odor removal, Coway has included both HEPA and activated carbon filters on a number of air purifiers, including the Coway Airmega 250S.

How Do Air Purifiers Remove Smells?

Keep your eyes peeled for these key features when researching the top air purifier for your cleaning and odor-removing needs. 

1. Activated carbon filter  

Activated carbon filters are essential to trapping VOCs, and therefore removing odors from the air. Activated carbon has been treated in a way that creates a network of microscopic passageways through the carbon, which significantly increases its surface area. As air passes through the carbon via these tiny, tightly knit passageways, harmful gasses get trapped on the walls and in the nooks and crannies. In essence, activated carbon actively absorbs VOCs from the air. 

2. HEPA filter

While activated carbon filters are great at removing VOCs from the air, they aren’t so good at trapping the same types of particulates that HEPA filters stop. Our best affordable air purifier, the Coway Airmega 100, will include:

  • Pre-Filter: Pre-filters prolong the life of filters and capture contaminants first
  • Green True HEPA™ Filter: This filter captures 99.97% of ultra fine particles like viruses, bacteria, fungi and pollen, and includes an antimicrobial treatment to deactivate the spread of contaminants.
  • Deodorization Filter: This filter captures odors from food, pets, and cigarettes.

Some Coway models like the Airmega 400 have a complex three-stage filtration process that includes a pre-filter to trap larger particles, like pet hair and dust, followed by a second filter that combines both a HEPA layer and an activated carbon layer in one neatly sealed and easily replaceable package. 

3. Easy filter replacement 

The one downside to activated carbon filters is that they can become saturated faster than their HEPA counterparts, which means you might have to replace the filter more often. For ease of use and continued maintenance, consider an air purifier with a thoughtfully designed replacement process

Common sources of odors and smells 

Getting a home air purifier to help deal with odors is the first step in eliminating nuisance smells from your space. The second step is understanding the root cause of the odor in the first place. Doing so not only allows you to strategically place your new purifier, it also gives you increased ability to take extra measures to get rid of the smell if needed. 

1. Cooking 

Cooking should be an enjoyable, healthful experience. However, heating up ingredients, especially those with fat and oil, releases particles and gasses into the air that can settle on surfaces and sneak into your respiratory tract through your airways. Unfortunately, a delicious-smelling dinner doesn’t indicate healthy air quality. If you frequently cook with oil, fat, or especially fragrant ingredients, consider placing your air purifier closer to the kitchen. Also, keep in mind that the particles released during cooking are more likely to rest on the surface they land on, so you may need to replace the filter slightly more frequently. 

2. Mold and mildew 

Damp places, such as basements, bathrooms, and laundry rooms are mold and mildew hotspots. Not only do mold and mildew cause a stink, they also carry a host of health problems. If either of these pests are the cause of the smell in your home, make sure to take steps to remove the mildew and invest in a HEPA air purifier. While something like the Coway Airmega Icon can help get rid of the VOCs that mildew and mold give off when they grow, an air purifier can’t eliminate either on its own. 

3. Smoke 

Smoke is a nasty combination of large and small particulates as well as a host of gasses. Smoke, whether it’s from cooking, a poorly vented indoor fireplace, or something else, leaves a lingering odor that weighs in the air as well as sticks to clothes. Because smoke has so many adverse effects in terms of health and smell, it’s critical to invest in an air purifier that spares no effort, especially if smoke is a common smell in your environment. Coway’s advanced four-stage filtration system is able to trap and deactivate 99.999% of particles as small as 0.01 microns, which is substantially smaller than most VOCs, including bacteria and viruses for that matter.  

4. Pets 

Between litter boxes and microscopic dander, pets can play a large role in determining the relative pleasantness, or disturbingness, of your home’s smell. Dander, or miniscule flakes of dead skin, can accumulate on the floor and release odors as it decomposes over time. The best air purifiers for pets are capable of handling the larger particles, from dander to hair and fur, as well as the smaller VOCs that these particles release if left unattended. Regular vacuuming of your space also goes a long way in terms of enhancing the odor-reducing impact of an air purifier with an activated carbon filter. 

Will Briskin (he/him) is a tool and high-end product reviewer with a focus on all things related to woodworking, design, and furniture. He began woodworking at a young age, and he’s been testing new tools and design ideas ever since. His passion for improving his craft has equipped him with the ability to recognize quality products in a variety of fields. When investigating products for BestReviews, Will draws on his experience as an academic research assistant and many hours spent honing his attention to detail in a professional furniture design and manufacturing studio. This allows him to write with authority on multiple subjects.


NCB News - Ooooh, that smell! Odors rise with the temperature

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency - Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

Center for Disease Control - What are environmental odors: frequently asked questions 


1Coway air purifiers have been proven to trap dust, pollen, dander, viruses and bacteria in the air based on KCL (Korea Conformity Laboratories) testing.They have been tested in a 30㎥ size chamber according to the Korea Air Cleaning Association standard (SPS-KACA 002-132:2022 Modified) to measure the 0.01㎛ size of particle removal rate. It was tested on maximum airflow speed in normal room temperature and humidity conditions. The performance may vary in the actual living environment of customers.
→ Tested with Airmega Aim, 100, 150, 160, AP-1216L, AP-1512HH, AP-1512HHS, 200M, Icon, IconS, 230, 240, 250, 250 Art, 250S, 300, 300S, 400, 400S, ProX

299.97% of viruses, bacteria, fungi and pollen were verified to be removed from the air for Coway air purifiers which have Green True HEPA™ filter applied based on the Japan Food Research Laboratories(JFRL) testing according to JEM 1467 standard.
→ Tested with Coway Airmega AP-1512HH, AP-1512HHS, 250, 250 Art, 250S, 300, 300S, 400, 400S
→ All tested by JFRL and received above result within below time.

All tested by JFRL and received above result within below time.

- Virus: Tested with Escherichia coli phage ΦX174 NBRC 103405, 60 minutes
- Bacteria: Tested with Staphylococcus epidermidis NBRC 12993, 60 minutes
- Fungi/Mold: Tested with Penicillium citrinum NBRC 6352, 60 minutes
- Pollen: Tested with Cedar Pollen extract, 60 minutes

3Aerosol test conducted in a Biosafety level 3 laboratory with two Coway air purifier models, Coway Airmega 250 and 400 for removal of SARS-CoV-2 Aerosol by US based MRI Global, a not-for-profit laboratory and partner of US Department of Defense. The test was conducted in a 13.1ft3 chamber. Virus was aerosolized for 15 minutes and the product was turned on high for 2 minutes. Result showed each product effectively removed over 99.98% of the SARS-CoV-2 in 2 minutes. This is a result from a laboratory experiment condition and result may vary in different conditions. This result does not imply it kills SARS-CoV-2 or prevents the transmission of Covid-19. Coway Airmega 250S and 400S are identical to the tested models and has equal performance with an additional mobile connectivity function.

4The concentration of ammonia, acetaldehyde and acetic acid were proven to be removed within 30 minutes by FCG Research Institute, Inc. Human Life Science Lab. It is not a demonstration result in the actual use space. Not all odors and gases may be supported. → Tested with Coway Airmega 150, 160, AP-1512HH, AP-1512HHS, 400, 400S

5The coverage area of the air purifier is based on an area where the air cleaner can make two air changes per hour (ACPH). An air change per hour translates to how many times an air purifier can clean an area, assuming the height of a ceiling to be 8 ft, in one hour. Therefore ** means two air changes per hour means that the cleaner can clean the area once every 30 minutes and * means air changes per hour means that the air purifier can clean the area once every 60 minutes.

10Terms and conditions apply. Discounts, including promotions, coupons, bundle discount and subscription discount, cannot be stacked on top of other coupons. During promotional periods, discount codes will not be able to be applied to orders. Promo codes may apply to products only—filters, accessories, and new products within 3 months of the release date are not included.