IQAir Atem Review – Is this portable air purifier effective?

The IQAir Atem is a personal, portable air purifier that’s new on the scene. Recently, we were asked by Vincent to review the IQAir Atem – which IQAir calls “the most effective personal air purifier.” Here was Vincent’s question:

Vincent's question regarding the IQAir Atem

Being the data nerds that we are, we decided to get some data on the question, and write a full blown review of the IQAir Atem.

1. Can the IQAir Atem clean a small room?

Looking at the official numbers from the IQAir Atem tech specs, the Atem has a CADR of 13 cbm/hr.  That makes it good for a space up to 1.4 sqm according to the AHAM 2/3rds rule.

In short: the IQAir Atem can’t clean rooms. With a CADR that low, unless you’re living in a closet, it won’t clean the air in the entire room.

But wait: I’m kind of missing the point. The IQ Air Atem wasn’t designed to clean a whole room (IQ Air customer confirmed this in a chat).

IQAir customer Support on IQAir Atem

So let’s get to the more important question. The IQAir Atem is a portable purifier. It’s only supposed to shoot clean air into a small area around the purifier, giving clean air to whoever’s sitting next to it. If this is the case, there shouldn’t be a need to clean the air in the whole room. This method could be more effective and efficient than cleaning the whole room, but is it?

2. How effective is directing clean air at your personal space?

IQ Air isn’t the only company to think of this idea. Several kickstarter projects have sold the idea of portable purifiers, such as the Wynd portable air purifier.

wynd portable air purifier

But how effective are they? We don’t have an IQAir Atem in our testing lab (if you have one and are willing to lend it to us, send us a message, and we’ll test it!). So we modified the Smart Air Blast Mini to mimic the Atem. To do that, we created a nozzle similar to the “PureJet diffuser” on the Atem.

IQAir Atem nozzle replication

That’s right–it’s a cup!

Then we tested the air flow. The air coming out was strong. Windspeed was 3.52 m/s out of the nozzle. For reference, that’s what the air flow would feel like if you were standing about a step away from this box fan.

Lasko box fan

That means the machine is putting out 25 cubic meters of air an hour, based on the size of the nozzle (ahem, cup!). That’s pretty close to what the Atem gives on its high setting (30 cbm/hr). In other words, this machine is a decent replication of the Atem.

airflow of IQAir Atem -like nozzle on Blast Mini

Next we used a laser particle counter to measure the particulate at different distances away from the Atem-style nozzle.

Air quality out of IQAir Atem - style nozzle

And then plotted this data on a graph, showing amount of clean air delivered for increasing distances away from the fan. Here’s what we found.

IQAir Atem air quality vs distance measurements

So how far do I need to be from the purifier?

At a distance of 30 cm from the purifier, the air was about 50% cleaner than the air in the rest of the room. That’s all right, but it’s far below the results of purifiers cleaning air in the whole room.

Image result for ruler

But remember, 30 centimeters is the length of an average ruler. That means this thing is blowing right on your face. You’d be so close you could swing your neck and bite the air purifier!

Results at a comfortable distance from the fan: At a more reasonable distance of 60 centimeters (about the distance of an outstretched arm), the reduction in particulate was 25%. Once you get out of arm’s reach (70 centimeters away), the effectiveness drops below 20%. Below 20%, I think a lot of people would say the reduction is so small it’s not worth the hassle.

Bottom line: it seems like portable air purifiers that direct air at you do work, but you need to be within 30 centimeters of the purifier to breathe significantly cleaner air. At an arm’s length away (60 centimeters), particulate is 25% lower.

3. Noise

The IQAir Atem does well at noise. On high, it’s 44 decibels. That’s a comfortable level for most people, which is good considering it’d be sitting right next to you.

4. Size and Weight

The Atem is designed to be a personal space, portable air purifier. If you’re always on the move or have to commute to and from work, the Atem would need to be portable. So is it?

The Atem is bigger than an average laptop. Most laptops are 9 x 13 x 0.8 inches. The Atem is 12.4 x 11.8 x 5.5 inches (31.5 x 30 x 14 cm; IQAir tech specs). It’d be tough fit that in a backpack, but it could fit into a suitcase, which IQ Air portrays on their website:

The Atem weighs a whopping 6.3 pounds (2.8 kg, including the stand and power supply). That’s like carrying three 2015 MacBook laptops in your bag (specs). So it’s not impossible to carry around, but it would be heavy.

Are there other good portable purifiers?

Don’t want to lug that around? Other solutions would to wear a mask whenever you’re away from home (not very practical!) or carry a purifier around with you that can clean the whole space you’re in.

Here’s another solution. In the past, travelers on business trips have stopped by our Beijing office to buy a couple of DIYs for their travels around China. The DIY1.1s aren’t tiny, but some people have packed them in their suitcase!

In a head-to-head comparison, the DIY 1.1 is 3 decibels louder, but smaller and about half the weight.

The results are clear, the DIY 1.1 is about the same size as the Atem but considerably lighter (almost half the weight).  At the low setting, the DIY 1.1 is just slightly noisier than the Atem (by about 3 dB).

How does the DIY1.1 compare as a portable air purifier to the IQAir Atem? For starters, its CADR is much higher:

And of course it’s about 8% the price of the IQ Air:

That means you’re getting 100 times the value for money, in terms of clean air for every dollar you spend:

Bottom line: The IQAir Atem portable purifier provides a modest amount of clean air within an arm’s length of the purifier. Beyond that, it’s close to useless. A portable purifier of similar size but much lower cost, that can actually clean an entire room, is the DIY 1.1! Either way, make sure to breathe safe wherever you go!

Paddy profile pic

Paddy graduated in aeronautical engineering from Bristol University, and now runs Smart Air’s operations from Beijing. He’s an advocate for open data, free information and transparent business.

5 thoughts on “IQAir Atem Review – Is this portable air purifier effective?

  1. you are not taking into consideration that the filtration goes down to .003 micron and not the .3 microns of standard HEPA filters. In my eyes, the ultrapure hyper HEPA filter blows extra clean air just around your immediate location. It is basically blowing ultra pure air and displacing the less purified air that around your face with super clean air. their so-called bubble effect that IQAir claims. I am very impressed with the air I breathe from the Atem. The air blown at me is really wonderful and does help with allergies is my case. I really love this unit and would recommend it to anyone who might have some breathing problems caused by mold, pets or allergies such as dust. Unless you do have this unit and test it to see how it helps with this ultra filtering, you can’t possibly judge things for other people. Sorry to disagree with your comparison above.

    1. Hi Michael. Paddy here, I ran the tests on the IQAir Atem. It’s great to have your response and hear your feedback, and I’m glad you feel the IQAir is getting you clean air!

      Your point about ‘Utrapure Hyper HEPA filter’ is a great one, and it’s a good example of how many companies use marketing jargon to convince us into thinking their ‘technology’ is better than the rest. It’s a very common misconception that HEPA filters can’t capture particles smaller than 0.3microns, but that’s actually not true! HEPA filters are great at capturing particles bigger and smaller than 0.3microns, with 0.3microns being the most difficult size to capture. In fact, HEPAs can capture almost 100% of 0.01 micron particles. Check out this fact sheet for graphs showing how HEPA filter effectiveness actually improves for even smaller particles:

      I’m not sure if you’re in China, but if you are and are willing to let us borrow your Atem, then we would love to test it. You’re right, the only way we can make a real assessment is to test a unit ourselves!

      1. Hi and thanks for allowing my thoughts of the Atem. Unfortunately, I live in New York so sending you my unit would not be practical. Just two last thoughts.
        When the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus was very prevalent in and around 2002 and 2003, a hundred and fifty Hospitals in China requested and used the Hyper Herpa filters that IQAir uses. it was the only filter that could on a routine basis filter these airborne viruses over extended periods of time. Secondly, there is very little leakage of air around IQAir purifiers filters including the Atem. 99% of the air goes through the filter versus 30% or less on most air purifiers thereby filtering ultra pure air very efficiently. As you can see I am an avid IQAir fan because of my personal use and help with the Healthpro plus and the Atem Again thanks for allowing my response

        virus was widespread in China in 2002 and 2003, over 150 hospitals requested and used the IQAir Hyper Hepa filter because they all felt that on a constant basis the .003 micron filters were necessary. Secondly, with all the IQAir purifiers including the Atem, there is very little leakage of air around the filters, therefore, filtering 99% of the air and not the 30% as in most other air purifiers

        1. That’s a really interesting report on the the 150 hospitals Michael! Do you have any evidence pointing to the fact that only the HyperHepa filters used in IQAir purifiers were able to filter out the viruses, and not the other types of filters? I’d love to see the data on that! Other than press releases on the announcement, I can’t find any hard data.

          Having said that, you got me curious. I wanted to really get into the nitty gritty details of what the smallest particle size HEPA filters can capture. First of all I looked to one of Tom’s previous Quora posts where he cites tests done by Sweethome, testing down to 0.01 microns. The results were pretty clear – all the purifiers tested (BlueAir, IQAir, Coway, Sharp etc.) were all able to filter the 0.01 microns.

          But that’s still not as small as the 0.003 micron particles IQ Air claims to filter. To look at even smaller particles, I turned to one of our blog posts on mask effectiveness (masks use essentially the same material as HEPA filters). A study was done on masks, testing down to 0.007 microns. What they found was that N99 rated masks were able to filter 99% of even the smallest particles (0.007 microns).

          Then again, that is still larger than the 0.003 microns claimed by the IQAir. I did some Googling and came across this piece which claims that HEPAs can capture down to 0.001 microns. Now there’s no data or testing evidence in that post so we can’t be sure. In fact, various reports state we still can’t know what the smallest particle size HEPA filters can capture (it comes down to the natural forces at play and Brownian motion, and when things start transitioning from being particles to being gases).

          You’re motivated me to see if we can get our hands on a particle counter that can measure down to 0.001 microns, to really test out these different claims. I hope we can have a definitive answer soon!

  2. In 2003 Fighting the spread of SARS a viral disease known as Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) spreads quickly in Asia.
    IQAir® is sought out for its expertise in air cleaning technology. After weeks of testing and installation of trial systems, the Hong Kong Hospital Authority chooses IQAir systems to help stop the spread of SARS. IQAir provides systems to 150 hospitals and health care facilities in Hong Kong to help contain the virus.
    Below is a longer discussion on the use of hyper HEPA filters in 2003 in Hong Kong
    I don’t know too much about China but presently in this country many hospitals and medical facilities also use IQAir’s filters. Even some dental offices use IQAirs cleanroom filters for surgery. IQAir has some special FDA rating for their filters and machines
    There is so much information on the IQAir products that you would be able to get with google searches You would easily see why I love the Air purifiers. Personally, I got interested in their product 2 years ago. I was in and out of a hospital three times in 2 months with respiratory distress from allergies with breathing problems. No one knew the exact cause but I decided to buy the Healthpro plus unit from IQAir after studying the pros and cons of all the popular air purifiers.. Non stood out more the IQAir so I purchased one even though it was one of the most expensive units.. All I can say is that after using this unit I never had to go back to the hospital for any problems. I feel it really worked. The ultrafine particles that filtered to .003 microns made a difference to me personally. Anyway, hope to continue your good work and let me know what your final thoughts will be.

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