I recently published tests showing that carbon actually removes VOCs. But adding that carbon layer raises a question: adding carbon means the fan has to power through yet another layer of resistance. Does that make purifier less effective at removing particulates?
I measured how much particulate it removed with a Dylos particle counter and compared the particle counts (1) before I turned on the purifier at night and (2) the average of the last four hours before I woke up in the morning.
Carbon vs. HEPA Results
With the additional charcoal layer, the Cannon particulate effectiveness dropped 1-2%. Thus, charcoal has a very minor negative effect on the Cannon.
However, the Original DIY had a harder time powering through the extra layer. Its 0.5 micron effectiveness dropped 19%, and 2.5 micron effectiveness dropped 15%.
Conclusion: Carbon Tips
For people who need carbon (and that may not be everyone), I would recommend adding the carbon to the Cannon, but I would think twice about adding carbon to the Original. One workaround is to have one Original fan running with a HEPA and another running with a carbon filter.
As always, I’m posting the raw data and more details on the test for fellow nerds below.
Over the 10 testing days, outdoor air pollution went down significantly on 6 days–poor luck! To test whether that affected the overall estimate, I isolated the three testing days with changes in outdoor PM 2.5 concentration of less than 10 micrograms.
For those three days, the 0.5 micron results were still 95%. The 2.5 micron results were 93%, which is 2% lower than in the overall tests. Thus, the overall estimate seems to be little affected by outdoor fluctuations when averaged over all of the tests.
Data: Original DIY
Below is the data for 10 tests with the Original DIY.
One day (12/21) was an outlier because the outdoor AQI almost tripled during the test. Thus, I calculated the average with and without that outlier removed. With the outlier included, .5 microns effectiveness was 5% lower and 2.5 micron effectiveness was 2% lower.
Thomas is an Associate Professor of Behavior Science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and the founder of, a social enterprise to help people in China breathe clean air without shelling out thousands of dollars for expensive purifiers.