The COVID pandemic—and in much of the country, smoke-filled air caused by rampant wildfires—has renewed interest in a formerly sleepy sector of the gadget universe: the air purifier. For those of us in California, air purifiers have been essential companions in the fall months, helping to rid the unyielding stench of wood smoke from the air while (we hope) protecting our health from the potential damages of inhaling toxic gasses and particles.
But do air purifiers do any good? A well-publicized Consumer Reports story from 2003 found that they were not only basically useless, but that many models produced unhealthy levels of ozone instead of removing it. The upshot was that some purifiers could make health conditions like asthma worse, not better. The Sharper Image, whose Ionic Breeze product was the poster child for air purifiers at the time, sued the magazine for libel—and lost—going out of business soon after. The air purifier had suddenly become a pariah.