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Updated December 2021
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Buying guide for best car air purifiers

If you spend a sizeable amount of time in your car, you know that there are any number of sources that can lead to poor air quality. Everything from gases like carbon monoxide or gasoline fumes to pollen, dust, pet dander, cigarette smoke... you can essentially be trapped in your own little cube of pollution for hours every day.

This is where car air purifiers can help. Whether they are ionizing the air or filtering it, car air purifiers are an inexpensive way to create a healthier environment for you while you’re waiting out the latest traffic jam.

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A car air purifier that is powered via USB can also easily be brought in after your morning commute to do double duty cleaning the air in your office.

Car air purifier types

When comparing car air purifiers, your choices will largely utilize one of two different types of purification: ionization and filtration.


These types of purifiers use no filters, instead relying on the creation of negatively-charged molecules – called anions – to clean the air. These anions work by forcing particles to cling to each other, effectively knocking them out of the air. Ionization works best for particles such as dust and pollen. One of the negatives here is that over time you may wind up with a build-up of dust/pollen on the inside surfaces of your car.


As it implies, this purification method uses some form of filter to remove particles and odors from the air. Active carbon is a popular filtration material, as it is effective at removing everything from smoke and formaldehyde to carbon monoxide.

HEPA filters are a special kind of filtering system that is often used in conjunction with carbon filters. HEPA filters are particularly useful for dust, pollen, and pet dander, making them essential for those suffering from asthma or other respiratory ailments.

Top-shelf purifiers will often combine elements of both ionization and filtration to create a highly effective purification system for your vehicle.

Car air purifiers considerations

Power source

While not all purifiers are powered, the solid majority do use some form of power to drive air through its filters or ionize air. The obvious power source of choice here is the 12V adapter located in almost all vehicles. Some plug into and are powered by this adapter, while others contain rechargeable batteries. Rechargeable battery purifiers free you up with their cordless design, but you will need to remember to recharge them regularly. A number of purifiers are taking advantage of the growing number of USB ports in vehicles to offer the option of powering them this way.

Physical size

Be aware of the physical dimensions of a purifier, particularly if you will be using it in a compact car. Some of these are actually fairly large, measuring six to eight inches or more. These can be difficult to mount in an out-of-the-way spot in a car where space is an issue.

Coverage area

Know the square footage of air that the purifier can effectively clean. The range between different models here can be pretty extreme, with some barely rated for compact cars, and others claiming that they can purify a decent-sized room. This is particularly important to note if you have a larger vehicle, like an SUV or a crew-cab truck.

Noise level

This can be a significant question, particularly if you spend a large amount of your life in your car or often have sleeping kids you don’t want woken up by extra noises. So, before you buy you should find out how quiet the purifier is. A purifier with an annoying high-pitched whine will wear out its welcome fast, regardless of how clean it leaves the air inside your car. Browse through a model’s comments section to find any potential noise issues.

Ease of maintenance

Ionizers have a leg up here, as they largely have no parts that will need to be replaced. Those purifiers that rely on filtering are another matter. If your purifier has a filter, you will need to regularly change it. Check that the filters of any car air purifiers you are considering can be easily and quickly replaced with new ones when they wear out, as if it’s not easy, you may not keep up with it, rendering your car air purifier useless once the filter is dirty.

Does it have an air quality sensor?

An air quality sensor can keep tabs on the air in your car for you and both alert you to its current state of “purity” and adjust itself to compensate for spikes in pollutants. Some with sensors use LED lights so you can tell at a glance what the air quality is.

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Did you know?
Air fresheners (think the cardboard pine trees that dangle from rear-view mirrors) don’t actually remove odors but can help to mask them and leaves them less noticeable.

Other features

Several other features are common among car air purifiers, including:

  • Automatic shutoff: This feature will shut down the purifier when you shut off your vehicle. This protects your battery when the car is parked.
  • Fan settings: Fans are necessary on the majority of filtered purifiers to push/pull air through the filters. Some have multiple settings, so you can more quickly fix air problems in your vehicle.
  • USB ports: Some include one or more USB ports, so you can easily charge your phone or other devices while you are running the purifier.
  • Mobile app: Apps that can help you run the purifier and monitor air quality are becoming increasingly popular and are available with some purifiers.

Car air purifier prices

The price for car air purifiers can vary considerably. While you can find simple purifiers for around $10, the majority of decent ionizers and filter purifiers start out around $20 to 30 and go up from there.

More expensive models will tend to offer more in the way of advanced features, in addition to increased air flow to clean a larger area in a shorter span of time. You will also find more effective filtering and a better build at a higher price point. Be sure to also check whether the company offers a warranty for their purifier, and how robust it is, as this could save you in the long run.

"HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air. The technology was an offshoot of the WWII Manhattan Project, which resulted in the first atomic bomb."


  • If you want a purifier that can quickly clean the air inside your vehicle, pay up. More expensive models tend to work more quickly, to the point where you will notice the change in air quality within minutes.
  • If you are worried about forgetting to turn off your purifier, go with a model that includes an automatic shutoff feature.
  • Should your car air purifier use them, keep a carbon filter on hand as a backup so you can easily replace it when the old one gives out.
  • If you are the type of person who thrives on apps, search for a car air purifier that links to  one. These can keep you updated on a variety of factors, such as the current air quality, battery level, and how much longer your filter will last.
  • Planning on purchasing a filtered purifier? Research how much replacement filters cost and how often they will need to be replaced for a true sense of the purifier’s long-range cost.
  • The easiest-to-use car air purifiers are simple ionizers that plug directly into your 12V car adapter, requiring no mounting. Be careful when shopping for these, however, as the market is flooded with poor quality mass-produced options.
  • Simple absorption purifiers can be rejuvenated by placing them in direct sunlight for an hour or so every month.
  • Check that your purifier ships with all mounting hardware, or you will be stuck trying to figure out what you need to buy to mount it yourself.
  • Some purifiers also include HESA filter elements, which can greatly increase the purifier’s ability to eliminate pollutants like cigarette smoke.
  • If your purifier uses filters, check whether it ships with extras. If so, you won’t need to worry about buying more for a while.
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Some ionizers can produce their own odors. If your ultimate goal is to remove all odors from your car, you may be better off choosing a filtering option.


Q. What is an ozone purifier?
Where the majority of ionizers are content to knock particles out of the air, ozone-based purifiers work to destroy them. These are quite effective, and are used a great deal by dealerships and other professionals to purify the air in their fleet of vehicles.

Q. Other than using an air purifier, what else can I do to eliminate odors and other pollutants in my car?
If you can, try to eliminate the source of the odor instead of just dealing with it after the fact. You should also try to roll down your windows to ventilate the car on occasion (but not while you are sitting in traffic and would thus let fumes in). Keep the inside of your vehicle vacuumed and cleaned, and ban smoking inside it. Also consider specialized seat-covers for pets that can be easily cleaned.

Q. What is the difference between HEPA and True HEPA?
Think of True HEPA as HEPA on steroids. While HEPA is capable of filtering out 99% of particles 2 microns or larger, True HEPA can capture up to 99.97% of particles .3 microns or larger.

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