Do Air Purifiers Help With Cat Hair? Straight Talk For Cat Owners

Do air purifiers help with cat hair featured image

Whether you have your cat inside your house every once in a while or they stay indoors, you likely have a cat hair problem. Maybe you’re wondering, “Do air purifiers help with cat hair?

Vacuum cleaners and lint rollers can help with cat hair on things like furniture and clothing once it’s already settled. But what about hair still floating in the air?

Do air purifiers really help with cat hair or a potential waste of time and money? Read on and I’ll answer that question – and explain why there’s more to know.

Contents

Answering the question: Do air purifiers help with cat hair?

Picture of cat on couch with hair
Let’s get to the short answer first – I’ll cover the other things you need to know as we go.

Air purifier & cat hair facts
  • Air purifiers definitely can help trap cat hair floating in the air and reduce the overall amount of cat hair around you. However, they’re not capable of removing a substantial amount, as most is found on surfaces like furniture and clothing.
  • The main benefit an air purifier provides is that it can remove some cat hair that’s carried by air before it settles on surrounding surfaces.
  • Hair isn’t the only problem for cat owners. Pet dander and odors are also air quality problems which air purifiers are good for.

An air purifier definitely can help with cat hair, but there’s no magic solution to get rid of it or keep it from showing up in your home.

The good news is that they provide good relief for some of the worst causes of allergies, sniffling, and sneezing: Pet dander. They can help a lot with pet odors as well.

It’s important to understand that air purifiers can’t remove cat hair that has already settled and clung to furniture and other surfaces. Just like dust, cat hair will stay in the air a short time before settling.

You’ll definitely still need to use a vacuum cleaner or lint roller.

Cat hair and pet dander basics

Image note about pet allergies

To begin with, is it cat hair or cat dander that you need help with? Do you know the difference between the two?

A lot of people may feel like they’re the same thing but there’s definitely a big difference.

The difference between cat hair and cat dander

There’s a common misconception that cat hair causes allergies. But that’s all it is: a myth. Cat hair is literally just cat hair, although it just like with dogs it may have oils secreted by the cat’s skin on it too.

Contrary to popular belief, cat hair is actually safe for those with cat allergies.

A clean strand of cat fur will not induce any allergic reactions, even if you sniff it or touch it. On the other hand, cat dander is made of dead skin cells and it triggers allergic reactions.

Cat dander gets worse the older a cat gets due to deteriorating health.

Older cats are more susceptible to diseases that cause hormone imbalance. If your cat is getting older and you notice your allergies worsen, perhaps it’s time to invest in an air purifier.

Dander is a big problem – and how it gets around

Image of pet allergens and skin up close

Pet dander under a microscope. Dander is actually the shedding of dead skin cells, just like happens with humans too.

Cat dander is the true culprit behind all those sneezes and sniffles people react with. Along with cat urine and saliva, dander is one of the main triggers of cat allergies.

Much like other contaminants, pet dander isn’t just on surfaces – it’s often airborne.

Typically it causes allergic reactions as it contacts your skin and enters your nose or respiratory passageways where it triggers a reaction in your body.  How bad your allergies will be are different from person to person.

Did you know? It’s not just pet dander that affects your allergies.

Dust mites feed on human and pet skin cells and produce allergy-causing by-products. If you have allergies and you have pets, consider treating the dust mite problem as well.

Dander and dust mites


Dust mites cause allergic reactions and feed (and increase in number) from a supply of pet dander or human skin. There’s a good chance your allergies are due to this too.

I’ve written a helpful post here about dust mites and the allergy problems they cause.

While cat hair itself is harmless, cat dander and saliva can latch onto cat hair (especially since a cat grooms itself by licking). This is a big problem for people with cat allergies as it’s easy for cat hair to attach itself and spread or just float around the air.

As you can now see, there’s a lot to deal with. If you want relief you need a way to capture those microscopic elements and remove them from your living space.

How air purifiers help with cat hair and dander

Diagram showing how an air purifier works for cat hair and dander

Air purifiers capture cat hair and dander by continuously cycling the air in a room and filtering them out of the air as it passes through. There are 2 main filters (with 3 functions, often called a “3-in-1” purifier) that do so: a High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter section and a pre-filter section with activated carbon inside or specialized chemical treatment. A good quality air purifier like the popular GermGuardian AC4825 will move a good amount of air quickly and help with pet problems.

Air purifiers work by using a fan to cycle the air in a room and filter out unwanted particulates, hair, allergens, and more.

You’ll need to buy one that’s capable of moving a sufficient amount of air in the room it’s used in. Ratings like the Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) or air flow rate specifications such as the Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM) help you to know how effective a particular model is when shopping.

For cat odors, hairs, and dander you’ll want to get a purifier with the following filters:

  • A prefilter for capturing hair
  • An odor-absorbing activated carbon prefilter section
  • True HEPA filter

The HEPA filter section & pre-filter section

Illustration of HEPA air purifier for dust sections

A HEPA filter (white) is an EXCELLENT means of trapping and permanently removing sickness and allergy-causing foreign matter. They’re made of very densely packed superfine fibers which permanently trap almost all foreign materials passing through them. A pre-filter section (black) is a more mesh filter section used to catch larger particles like cat hair and dust before it reaches the HEPA section.

High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters are excellent filters and can permanently trap microscopic particles. A HEPA filter can trap particles down to 0.3 microns, or less than 1/1,000,000 of a meter!

Dander and dust mite by-products can be a few microns in size so a HEPA filter in a good quality purifier will be able to remove them from the air and help reduce allergy symptoms as well as keep the air fresh.

The pre-filter section, in most cases made of a thin, mesh material, works to trap cat hair before it can reach the HEPA filter. In some cases, the pre-filter section is removable and can be vacuumed or brushed to extend its life and remove hair buildup.

That leads us to the issue of cat odors.

Odor-absorbing pre-filters for cat odors

GermGuardian FLT11CB4 carbon filter diagramAir purifiers (specifically, filter-based products) use activated carbon (charcoal) coating to absorb and trap odors. Carbon is an industry-standard element used in many types of filters including for water. Once it’s used up the filter must be replaced.

A good air purifier will offer an activated carbon filter (useful against smells and chemical emissions) to trap bad smells from your kitty. Mine has helped a lot and there’s a good reason that carbon filters are used: they just plain work for reducing cat odors.

How does a prefilter help with cat smells?

Activated carbon is the essential element required for removing odors and terrible smells with an air purifier. I bring that up because, in fact, not all purifiers include this type of filter!

Activated carbon (which is a form of charcoal) is a granular, tiny element used as an ingredient in a special section of the air purifier’s 2 or 3 filters. The carbon is a porous and absorbent element that has the ability to trap odors and airborne chemicals present.

For easy maintenance and lower costs, be sure to shop for a purifier with a separately removable pre-filter.

Pets produce a lot of air and it can build up quickly on the pre-filter during use. Models with a separately removable pre-filter you can vacuum (or wash, in some cases) make it easy to keep air cleaning performance high. You’ll also save money as normally the HEPA filter won’t need to be replaced when the pre-filter is.

When the purifier’s internal fan draws air through the carbon filter substances in the air are absorbed and removed from the air. This includes not just pet odors but also chemical vapors and other unpleasant airborne substances.

In most – but not all – purifiers, the activated carbon section is combined with the pre-filter also. In that case, it’s a coating on the mesh screen material.

Honeywell HPA300 pre-filter installation

Example of a typical air purifier pre-filter material with odor absorbing coating. Most air purifiers sold today have this type. It’s made from a soft mesh material that’s coated with an activated carbon solution when made. In many (but not all) these can be replaced separately from the main HEPA filter.

The best type of odor-absorbing prefilter for pet odors

Closeup of Winix 5500-2 activated carbon prefilter

The best odor control for pet smells comes from odor-absorbing filters with real carbon pellets instead of the simple coating most use. They’re much more effective and have a longer life, too.

For the best pet odor control you can buy, look for an air purifier with an odor filter with real carbon pellets instead of the activated carbon coating most use. Pet smells can be tough to deal with, and this type of filter not only lasts longer but has much better odor-absorbing performance, too.

Winix 5500-2 Editor's Choice review summary image

A great example is the top-selling Winix 5500-2 that I own, reviewed, and awarded my Editor’s Choice recommendation.

It’s one of the best for cat & pet odor control you’ll find and it’s great for cat hair. I love how the front pre-filter is easily removed and can be washed.

I’d also suggest a good vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter or other filter (or bag) for cleaning carpets and furniture. As I mentioned earlier, cleaning you’ll need to clean cat hair from nearby furniture and other surfaces so a good vacuum cleaner is ideal.

A quick note about reusable HEPA filter air purifiers

Hamilton Beach TrueAir purifier features image

It’s a bit less common, but there are some air purifiers that allow easy access for vacuuming the HEPA filter in order to extend its life and help keep maintenance costs down. The popular Hamilton Beach TrueAir small room pet air purifier is a great example.

We love our pets (I’m especially fond of cats, what can I say?) but let’s be honest: There is a bit of hassle when it comes to cleaning up after them and dealing with their hair and other side effects.

Because they produce so much hair, in my experience air purifiers can build up a lot of pet hair in a short amount of time. The problem is that if you buy the wrong kind of purifier you’ll end up spending a lot more money on new filters and might not be able to keep the filters working efficiently.

For cat and other pet hair problems, shop for a purifier with some of the following options:

  • Removable pre-filter that can be replaced separately (as opposed to having to replace the HEPA filter even when not needed)
  • Pre-filter can be brushed/vacuumed or washed
  • A HEPA filter can be vacuumed to extend its useful life

Mainly you’ll at least want a pre-filter that you can access to vacuum off the cat hair regularly. That’s because as it builds up the air purifier’s performance will degrade.

Removing the hair periodically will keep it running at maximum performance and will also help extend filter life. (Note that most pre-filters/odor filters need to be replaced after about 6-8 months)

Note: Unless the manufacturer specifically states you can, never wash pre-filters in water as they’re not designed to do so, and you’ll ruin them.

A true HEPA filter can’t be washed. Some pre-filters and activated carbon filters on some products can be, however.

Summary

Here are the main points to remember about air purifiers and cat hair:

  • An air purifier can help with cat hair already in the air, not from surfaces. You’ll still need to remove hair from places it has settled using a vacuum or other method.
  • For the cleanest air and to prevent allergy symptoms, you need to remove not just cat hair but dander as well. Cat hair doesn’t trigger allergic reactions – cat dander does.
  • For cat hair, cat dander, and cat odors, a purifier with a true HEPA filter and an activated carbon filter is best
  • Look for one with a pre-filter section that is separate and removable or a filter that can be cleaned

Product suggestions & additional reading

Need help picking a good air purifier for your pet allergy problems? Check out some of the best air purifiers for pet dander here.

Got more than one cat, or need a wonderful air purifier that’s great for pet hair, dander, and odors in a large room? Check out my detailed review of the wonderful Winix 5500-2 here.

What Are Air Purifiers Used For? What They Do And How They Help

What are air purifiers used for featured image

Maybe you know someone who mentioned their air purifier. Or perhaps you’ve got an air quality problem you need help with. Are you wondering “What are air purifiers used for?” If so, you’ve come to the right place.

As it turns out, there are some great benefits they offer and they can improve your quality of life. I own several and I speak from personal experience.

In addition, it’s important to know a few facts ahead of time to avoid buying low-quality and ineffective products.

Read on and I’ll do my best to share the details you need.

Contents

Infographic – Air purifier uses and benefits

Air purifier uses and benefits infographic

What are air purifiers used for?

Air purifiers have a fundamental purpose: they circulate the air in a room and clean it by removing particulates and airborne chemical substances permanently.

Essentially, they remove bothersome particles, odors, vapors, hair, and more to produce clean, healthy air. They also help sickness and allergy symptoms since they eliminate many causes that trigger both.

While there’s a long list of air quality issues they treat, they’re most often used to treat several common problems found in many homes. They’re used not only in living rooms but bedrooms, work offices, kitchens, or any area where the effects of air quality problems are felt.

Removing odors

Image of garbage cans at home

Odors are the result of substances releasing their molecules into the air which enter your nose. Many are just bothersome and offensive (like garbage) but others like building materials and chemicals are potentially harmful, too.

Have you ever avoided making one of your favorite meals because you didn’t want your home to smell like it for days afterwards?

Sometimes the most delicious foods, like fried fish or burgers, can leave strong smells behind long after we finishing eating them. Spicy foods are especially known to do this.

This is because cooking releases the molecular organic compounds in those foods into the air. Likewise, chemical sources like cleaning products or solvents which release Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) can cause very strong and potentially harmful odors.

Garbage, pets, and musty areas can also release a number of organic substances that we sense as odors. Some materials like the new carpet you’ve had installed or construction materials have “outgassing” properties, which means for a period of time they release elements into the air with a strong odor.

The activated carbon filter in many purifiers is a type of filter section that can absorb and trap these odors and vapors, leaving fresh air behind.

Of course, there’s no substitute for treating the problem at its source, but they’re a great way to freshen the air around you.

Relieving allergies

Image note about pet allergies

One of the most popular reasons for buying an air purifier is allergy symptom relief. Allergens come from a variety of sources: everything from pet dander to pollen. To make matters worse, dust mites feed off of pet dander and human skin waste, creating even more allergens! The ideal solution is to remove them from the air.

Allergens are one of the most common problems faced by people. There are so many sources of allergy symptoms like sneezing, itchiness, asthma, and more, that it can sometimes seem overwhelming

These symptoms are caused by allergens that move in the air around you and on to your skin and air passageways. Additionally, those that settle on surfaces can be disturbed and get into the air over and over to cause relentless problems.

When allergens enter our breathing passageways or contact skin they act as irritants our body reacts to.

Air purifiers help with this particular problem by using the High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter section to catch allergen particles. Most allergens are a few micrometers in size and above (for reference, a micrometer or “micron” is 1/1,000,000 of a meter).

Some of the most common allergy sources they’re proven to relieve are:

  • Dust mite allergens
  • Pet dander
  • Plant pollen
  • Allergy-causing dust
  • Chemical allergens
  • Perfumes and cologne
  • Foods and other organic sources

HEPA filters trap the allergens in their dense fibers where they can’t escape. Fresh air escapes the other side and back into the room. They’re a safe and effective way to get relief. In the cases of odors (like perfumes or chemicals), these get absorbed by the carbon filter section (if provided).

Dealing with smoke

Image of a cigarette smoke particle under microscope

Smoke has an amazing amount of unhealthy elements and gases with chemical compounds. They get everywhere, and cling to surfaces! This image shows an aluminum silicate particle that’s microscopic in size – a by-product of cigarette smoke.

Smoke is a unique problem in that it’s a terrible combination of problems:

  • Bad odors
  • Chemicals released into the air
  • Particles that cling to and dirty surfaces
  • Health hazards when inhaled second-hand
  • Discoloration of surfaces if left untreated

Air purifiers are able to greatly help. Models with both a HEPA filter and activated carbon filter can trap a large portion of these, both when someone is presently smoking or from the remnants of smoke.

It’s important to understand that because smoke has so many incredibly small particles, it’s never a good idea to have smoke directly in your home. But if you can’t avoid it, or are simply dealing with the side effects, it’s great to leave the purifier running and you’ll feel a significant reduction in the problems.

Your health is very important. Did you know that second-hand smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals? It’s terribly bad for your health over the long term!

Be sure to stay healthy and safe – I recommend a good quality purifier with a well-rated reputation for alleviating smoke problems.

Reducing and removing dust

Dirty air purifier filter that has collected dust

Dust is another bothersome problem that I have personally dealt with. In the image above, my GermGuardian AC4825 purifier captured a lot of dust in the pre-filter. I had no idea how bad my dust problem was! It’s great to have an easy solution that keeps it under control.

Dust comes from a variety and sources – fabrics, home materials, the ventilation system, and many more. Tiny particles enter your home or break from many surfaces, materials, or get carried in when your central heating or cooling system operates.

For me personally it has always been a problem.

Dust control results

Purifiers work very well for dust as they’re good for cycling the air in a room and filtering out dust particles (which are generally larger in size than many other air contaminants).

Often the pre-filter, a more coarse section that serves as a “first stage” for debris, traps them. In many cases after a large build-up, you can vacuum off the dust and re-insert the filter for more use.

I’ve seen a good amount of success keeping dust under control and my home doesn’t need nearly as much cleaning as it once did! Additionally, I’ve noticed I don’t sneeze as much as I used to since using my purifier.

Treating pet odors and dander

Woman petting white dog image

Pets are wonderful, but bring a few things we have to deal with when they’re indoors. Pets generate a lot of by-products like hair, dander, and odors. They can also bring in substances from outdoors.

Pets bring with them a number of issues – not just allergens:

  • Dander
  • Odors
  • Hair
  • Outdoor particles
  • Skin oils (often odor causing)

As I mentioned earlier, pet dander can trigger allergy symptoms inside your home and can cause a number of problems. However, additional nuisances like “wet dog smell” are caused by micro bacteria that are activated when dog hair becomes saturated with water.

Pet hair can be difficult to deal with as well. A purifier can’t remove all pet hair from indoors (once settled on surfaces) but airborne hair can be trapped.

Pet odors are often caused by the natural organic compounds the product and release into the air. The same happens also with the natural oils on their skin and body.

Adding an air purifier is definitely a great idea. As many pet owners have discovered, it’s a good way to reduce the stinky smells and mess at home.

Note that it’s recommended you still bathe your pet fairly often as again it’s important to treat the problem at its source.

How does an air purifier work?

How air purifiers reduce dust diagram

An air purifier is generally a pretty simple – but effective – device. They work by cycling air in a room and continuously trapping the elements (like dust, for example) that cause air quality problems. Shown is one of the most popular, the GermGuardian AC4825. I’ve owned and enjoyed mine for some time now.

Air purifiers actually generally aren’t very complicated at all, although the designs vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Some have more advanced features like timers, sensors, and more, but work using the same basic principles.

Purifiers cycle the air in a room and filter out unwanted contaminants using replaceable filter cartridges.

As you can see in the image above, it’s like running a fan in a room – except that as it moves the air more and more contaminants (or odors, and so on) are trapped. They’re removed permanently.

The HEPA filter I mentioned earlier is a type of very dense and efficient filtering standard. It defines this type of filter as being able to eliminate 99.97% of all particulates that enter it down to 0.3 microns in size.

That means for every 10,000 particles that flow through it, only about 3 can escape!

GermGuardian FLT11CB4 carbon filter diagram

Activated carbon is found in many types of filters, including for drinking water. Because of its properties, it’s good at removing chemicals and odors from the air. Good purifiers include carbon or some type of odor-removal treatment in their filter design.

Activated carbon, often built alongside the more coarse “pre-filter” section, is responsible for eliminating odors, volatile chemical compounds, and similar nasty airborne substances we hate and shouldn’t breathe in.

Carbon (also called charcoal) is treated to give it the ability to absorb and trap these unwanted substances passing through the filter.

It’s necessary as the HEPA filter can only trap solid particles – not gaseous ones. When used together they form an effective way to treat your air.

Nearly all filter-based (HEPA) purifiers aren’t harmful and don’t produce any unsafe by-products to worry about. They simply remove particulates and substances from the air.

Good reasons to own an air purifier

While it’s great to buy one to get relief for a particular air quality problem, there are other reasons they’re a great idea:

  • They can help prevent sickness
  • Promote better sleep and overall better health
  • Reduce distractions due to air quality annoyances
  • Are great for children and babies (who are more sensitive to air)
  • They’re helpful for dealing with home upgrade dust and odors

GermGuardian AC4825 side view UV-C feature glowing

Some products also provide a germ-killing feature like the one pictured above. They use an ultraviolet light (UV) bulb design to destroy airborne microbes and bacteria.

Ionizers are also particularly effective at sanitizing air to prevent sickness.

However, they’re not very effective for the other purposes I’ve listed in this post, so I can’t recommend them for most buyers. I’ve been disappointed with the ones I’ve tested.

Summary

Hopefully I’ve helped you better understand what an air purifier can do for you. After trying various kinds (I own and have tested many!) I can honestly say they improved my quality of life.

To recap:

  • Air purifiers are used to help with common air quality problems
  • They work by cycling the air in a room and filtering out contaminants, odors, and more
  • Good products include both a true HEPA filter and an activated carbon filter section
  • Filter-based purifiers are safe and don’t generate harmful by-products

Considering buying one? I’ve got a great list and a buying guide with some of the best purifiers under $100 here.

Personally, I highly recommend the one I own – the GermGuardian AC4825 3-in-1.