I thought about why air purifiers cost a lot because I was living in Beijing when the (first) “airpocalypse” struck. Here’s what it looked like:
The High Price of Air Purifiers
I went out to buy an air purifier, and found that the one I wanted cost $2,000! I worked out I’d need two for my apartment and would also need replacement filters. In total, I was looking at paying $5,000 for air purifiers just to breathe clean air. I got thinking. Are air purifiers really that expensive? Does clean air really need to cost that much?
The Real Cost of Air Purifiers
To me, $2,000 was too expensive for me to buy an air purifier. So I started researching what’s actually inside an air purifier. As it turns out, air purifiers are just fans and filters. There’s nothing complicated or expensive about them. They’re so simple, I made my own. For just $30.
I tested how much particulate they removed from my Beijing apartment against the big brands and found the stronger DIY removed as much particulate as that $1,000 machine I wanted. Here’s the data:
Why Are Most Air Purifiers So Expensive?
The data showed that a simple, cheap DIY air purifier worked just as well as the expensive air purifiers. That made me question: why are most air purifiers so expensive. And it really motivated me to think about how companies were able to sell these air purifiers with an expensive $2,000 price tag. I think there are three big factors behind expensive air purifiers:
1. The Value of an Air Purifier is Hard to Assess
In consumer psychology, products can be split into three categories based on when we assess their value:
Type 1: Products that we can assess the value of before we buy
A good example is a hard drive. Before we buy them, we can see how much space they have and how fast they are, and we have a pretty good idea of how much value they have. We know that spending more will get us a bigger hard drive. It’s simple.
Type 2: We can assess the value just after we buy them.
A good example is yogurt. I’m not sure which kinds I like, but as soon as I buy one and eat it, I have a good idea of how much it’s worth to me. Maybe I buy an expensive yogurt, but don’t like the taste. I won’t buy this expensive yogurt again.
Type 3: We cannot assess the value even after we buy them.
Wine is a classic example. I don’t know much about wine, and it’s hard for me to say how good a wine is, even after I drink it. I’d guess that an expensive wine is likely better, but I can’t tell.
Air purifiers fall into this third category. Unless we have an air quality monitor to test our air, we don’t really have a good sense of whether they’re working or not.
When people can’t assess the value of a product like an air purifier, we tend to use price as a measure for value. It’s natural to think “I better buy the most expensive, as that will be the best!”. Air purifier companies can take advantage of this thinking.
2. The Fear Factor
When people are buying wine, they’re usually pretty relaxed. But when the world outside people’s window looks like mine did in Beijing, a little bit of fear gets added to the equation.
That fear makes us even more likely to use price as an indicator of quality. If I’m scared about my health, I’m not going to skimp on a few extra dollars. Think about it: who wants to go to the cheap surgeon for a heart surgery?
3. Because Air Purifier Companies Can
In 2013, when I set out to buy an air purifier, most people knew very little about air purifiers. That meant that companies could charge what they liked for an air purifier, and nobody would question it.
Today, many people still don’t know the true cost of clean air. That means companies continue to profit for high-priced air purifiers.
Here’s How I Solved the Problem of Expensive Air Purifiers
After finding out that air purifiers are surprisingly simple, and low cost. I set up a Smart Air.
Smart Air is a certified B Corp committed to combating the myths big companies use to inflate the price of clean air. Smart Air provides empirically backed, no-nonsense purifiers and masks, that remove the same particles as the big companies for a fraction of the cost. Only corporations benefit when clean air is a luxury.