What is the best air filter to keep your new baby breathing clean air? As a new Mom, this is an issue I have drilled down on with extra emphasis. The good news is there is a body of scientific research we can turn to when selecting an air purification system for our kids.
Table of Contents
Let’s look at some studies.
In a test of six commercially available brands, Hacker and Sparrow looked at three electrostatic precipitators and three HEPA filters. Of these, one offered no benefit at all, with this result also seen in another study. The unit that was found not to work was the heavily marketed Ionic Breeze Quadra – clearly an air filter to avoid. Of the six units tested, the HEPA filters worked best, while the electrostatic devices were less efficient.
Quick Tip: HEPA filters are best for a baby’s nursery.
The best performer of the six units tested was a stationary model designed for use at the headboard end of a bed to provide filtration to the “sleep breathing zone” (SBZ). This unit nearly completely removed all particles.
The other two HEPA filters also performed well. Unfortunately, the authors did not provide the names of the models they used in this study, opting instead for a general comparison between HEPA and non-HEPA models.
In general, some of the most well-regarded brands for air purifiers include:
Why you need an air filter in your nursery
An air filter may well be essential in ensuring clean and safe air in your baby’s nursery. Not all air filters are made the same, though, and the type of filter you need depends on the kind of air pollution you’re dealing with.
There are plenty of excellent reasons to consider getting a home air purifier, especially for the nursery. An air filter can vastly improve indoor air quality to reduce allergy symptoms and support improved respiratory and immune health overall. For little lungs just developing, clean air free from allergens and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) is super important.
Test Don’t Guess
Before you buy an air filter, consider getting the IQAir AirVisual Pro (View Price on IQAir). This monitor measures indoor and outdoor air quality, detecting harmful PM2.5 particles, carbon dioxide (C02), temperature and humidity. The LED screen displays air quality data, which can also be viewed on a smartphone over WiFi using the IQAir app.
The IQAir AirVisual Pro is compact, light, and portable, so you can measure air quality wherever you are, and it has a rechargeable battery, which makes it pretty eco-friendly, especially if you recharge using renewable energy like a solar panel!
Stand-alone air filters
In homes without central air, a stand-alone filter is still a good option for purifying the air in a single room.
In one study that took place over three to four seasons, researchers set up free-standing air filters and window air conditioners in the bedrooms of over a hundred kids with asthma and then monitored indoor air quality. They found that air filters reduced particulate matter levels by 50%. Similar results were seen in another study, where air filters reduced particulate matter by an average of 69-80%.
Air filters also filter out airborne infectious pathogens such as some viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Indeed, airborne droplets are responsible for diseases like tuberculosis, influenza, some types of herpes zoster, and childhood infections such as chickenpox and measles (though air filters should not be used in lieu of vaccinations against preventable diseases).
A HEPA filter can also capture airborne viral particles in your home. And, by using a HEPA filter year-round, you’re doing your lungs and general health a favor, meaning you’re in better shape to tackle any bugs that come your way. I’ll explain in a moment what a HEPA filter is and why it matters.
What to look for when choosing an air filter for the nursery
For optimal air filtration in the nursery or any room in your home, you’ll want to consider four key things:
- Good airflow and ventilation in your baby’s room (and a suitably sized filter)
- An ability to filter out a range of particles, small to large, in different ways
- Easy maintenance and upkeep (and low-cost filter replacements)
- An ozone-free filter, as certified by the International Association of Air Cleaner Manufacturers (IAACM)
It’s also good to look for an air purifier with an AHAM Verifide seal and a CADR. This seal certifies that the model has been tested by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers and that you can trust the CADR or clean air delivery rate. The CADR is a measure of the volume of clean air an air purifier produces when it is operating at its top level.
A note on wildfire smoke
So, a CADR of 150 for tobacco (or wildfire smoke) filters air in such a way as to be the equivalent of adding 150 cubic feet of clean air every minute. (Hopefully, there’s no tobacco smoke near the nursery though!)
Unfortunately, smoke from wildfires travels for hundreds and thousands of miles, so air filtration in nurseries is likely to become a bigger issue as climate change increases the frequency of wildfires across the western United States.
As you’d expect, a higher CADR means greater efficiency and speed at filtering air. Be careful to check the CADR for different types of air pollutant, though. If you are buying formaldehyde-free furniture and furnishings, and your main concern in the nursery is pollen, a model with a high CADR for formaldehyde doesn’t necessarily mean a high CADR for pollen, and vice versa.
In general, a CADR of 240 or more is excellent, while a filter with a CADR below 60 isn’t going to be all that helpful.
For more on the best air purifiers for wildfire smoke, see Lydia’s piece The 7 Best Air Purifiers to Neutralize Smoke.
Factors that impact air quality in the nursery
Many things can have a dramatic effect on indoor air quality, including:
- Wildfire/climate fires
- Living near a freeway or busy intersection
- Living near a coal power plant or manufacturing facility
- Living near farmland sprayed with pesticides and herbicides
- Bringing new furniture and furnishings into the home that off-gas chemicals
- Cooking with Teflon-coated cookware and some other non-stick cookware
In addition to choosing household products like rugs, mattresses, and paint that don’t off-gas pollutants, air filters can significantly improve indoor air quality. A good air filter can also significantly reduce airborne allergens as well as pollutants.
Many filters don’t, however, remove toxic exhaust gases such as benzene and 1,3-butadiene, or other harmful ingredients in traffic pollution or common indoor air pollutants such as formaldehyde. For that, you’ll need a high-efficiency filter and you’ll need to replace filters regularly, usually every few months.
If you have central heating
If you have central air or central heating, you can install a high-efficiency air filter system. Choose one rated 13 or higher on the 16-point industry MERV scale (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value). This scale measures how effectively a filter blocks tiny pollution particles. Happily, the California Energy Commission is set to require MERV 13 air filtration in all newly built residential buildings starting in 2020. So, if you have the option, choose a newer building with good air filtration rather than an older one that is less likely to be air-tight and more likely to harbor mold and other respiratory hazards.
Our top picks for a nursery air-purifier
With all the necessary research bases covered so you can be an educated consumer, here are our top picks for nursery air purifiers. Curious about how we rate products? Click here to view our methodology, which at its core, is about voting with our dollars to fight climate change.
Highlights: Lightweight, high-quality HEPA air filter that’s great for traveling and that can be placed in closer proximity to the crib in the sleep breathing zone (SBZ) where studies show the most benefit is gained.
Designed to clean the air in a smaller space, this air filter is super lightweight, weighing just 6 lbs. It’s a great choice for taking with you when traveling and contains 32 sq. ft. of HyperHEPA™ filtration media, providing particle removal down to 0.003 microns (99%). The PureJet diffuser allows for optimal positionings, such as near your baby’s crib.
Highlights: Ideal choice if you’re concerned about VOCs off-gassing from paint, furniture, or other items, or if you live in a region where wildfire smoke is becoming a problem.
For large spaces of rooms up to 285 square feet with significant air pollution, allergens, or mold. Removes 99% of larger airborne particles including pollen, dust, pet dander, mold spores, and other pollutants, and captures particles as small as 0.003 microns. Can eliminate a variety of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), odors, and other gaseous chemicals, making it ideal for the nursery if you’re concerned about VOCs off-gassing from paint, furniture, or other items. IQ Air markets this purifier as the “number one air purifier to combat smoke” because of the ability to capture particles as small as 0.003 microns.
Highlights: Great choice for smoky or pollen-rich areas with a carry handle that makes it easier to transport.
Energy Star certified and a great choice for smoky areas, this air purifier is also somewhat portable as it weighs just 16.8 lbs and has a carry handle. A true HEPA filter, it is efficient at removing dust, smoke, and pollen even at its lowest speed. It’s great for large rooms up to 465 sq. ft. and captures up to 99.97% of airborne particles as small as 0.3 microns.
Highlights: Quickly and efficiently clears the air in rooms up to 540 sq. ft.
Another attractive and affordable choice for a nursery air purifier, this one quickly and efficiently clears the air in rooms up to 540 sq. ft., removing dust, smoke, and pollen, as well as VOCs, odors, and other gases. It’s an Energy Star model and has a machine-washable pre-filter and a filter indicator to let you know when the main filter needs changing.