Portable air purifers

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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.

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