Choosing The Best Air Purifier For Odor Elimination – 5 Of The Best

Featured image for best air purifier for odor elimination

Whether it’s odors from pets, bathrooms, cooking, or one of many other common sources, odors are a big nuisance. Personally I can’t focus on work or relax if odors are distracting me.

A high-quality air purifier can help. But how do you choose the best air purifier for odor elimination? In order to help you get the best for your money, I’ve put together 5 great air purifier reviews and recommendations you’ll find below.

There’s also a helpful buyer’s guide that explains air purifiers in detail, too. Read on to learn more!


Infographic – Air purifiers and odors

Infographic guide for the best air purifier for odor elimination

What are odors? Where do bad smells come from?

Boy pinching nose bad smells
Indoor odors originate from source materials, both organic and man-made, that are volatilized (released as a vapor) and disperse molecules into the air. Some occur naturally during evaporation. Other sources like food and dead animals occur during decomposition or chemical changes.

In areas like bathrooms, kitchens, and basement which we all know often have strong or bad smells, air fresheners are sometimes used. These do help, but it’s important to understand that most don’t actually eliminate odor sources.

Most simply mask it and you don’t notice the odor after it has been temporarily cleared for a while.

Dealing with bothersome smells

There’s a huge list of common odor sources:

  • Dogs and cats (natural odors)
  • Kitty litter boxes
  • Garbage
  • Cooking strong foods
  • People with digestive problems
  • Damp & moldy surface or trapped moisture
  • Older homes and construction materials
  • Drafts rising from a smelly basement
  • Downstairs neighbors cooking

Having downstairs neighbors cooking in the past was one of the worst for me! I learned the hard way how odors can rise through the floor and walls. It was very bothersome.

People with pets also have to deal with odors as well. One of the strongest I’ve had to deal with was a cat’s litter box – I was amazed at how strong the odor was! Dog odors are another bothersome problem, too.

In every case, I learned how helpful an air purifier is for eliminating odors.

Choosing the right air purifier for odor relief

GermGuardian AC4825E filter diagramFor good odor elimination, you’ll need to choose a quality air purifier that features an activated carbon (also called charcoal) filter. The best models sold today normally are sold as “3-in-1” purifiers. A HEPA filter eliminates finer microscopic particles. The pre-filter captures dust and larger elements. It’s normally attached to a carbon filter. Carbon is porous and processed to have absorption properties. Shown: GermGuardian AC4825, one of the most popular purifiers today.

You’ll want to avoid ozone generators and ionizers. While they do have some properties that can affect odors in the air, they don’t work the same as filter-based purifiers.

Filter based purifiers normally have 3 filter sections, although 2 are often built together:

  1. Pre-filter section
  2. Activated carbon (charcoal) section
  3. High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter

HEPA and pre-filter sections

HEPA filters are very effective for trapping airborne contaminants and especially the smallest air particles, dust mite matter, pet dander, and so on down to 0.3 microns in size (A micron is 1/1,000,000 of a meter).

They’re fantastic for allergy relief and other air quality issues but don’t really affect odors.

A pre-filter is normally attached to the activated carbon filter section. It’s usually a thin, somewhat course material that traps larger matter like hair, dust, lint, and other larger particles.

The activated carbon filter is the section an air purifier’s filter assembly that eliminates odors and traps them, leaving fresh air behind.

GermGuardian FLT11CB4 carbon filter diagramA carbon filter has carbon (charcoal) pieces that are processed to create porous surface and have properties for trapping odors and chemical vapors. I recommend purchasing a model that allows replacing only the carbon filter and/or pre-filter section like this example as they often need changing at a rate different from the HEPA filter.

After some use a purifier’s filter will become used-up and clogged with foreign matter. The carbon filter, after being in use for some time, will lose effectiveness as well. Most purifiers have about a 6 to 8 month filter lifespan for the HEPA filter.

Some have a filter replacement feature to remind you when to check it. Some filters are replaceable as one complete unit – but at additional cost.

For best effectiveness and to reduce maintenance costs, I recommend models with separate carbon filter sections you can replace independently.

You can save a bit of money that way and extend the life of the main HEPA filter as quite often they don’t need replacing right away.

After all, if you’re eliminating odors you’re not likely to completely saturate the HEPA section during the first use.

For pet owners and allergy sufferers, however, that’s sometimes a different story.

★ 5 of the best air purifiers to eliminate odors ★

Our top picks at a glance

GermGuardian AC4825
  • Best-selling and overall an excellent value! Easy to use and quiet.
  • 155 sq ft coverage, 100+ CADR lab tested rating
  • True HEPA, carbon filter for odors, UV-C germ killer
Check On Amazon →See Customer Reviews →
Levoit LV-H132
  • Electronic controls and super quiet operation!
  • 129 sq ft, true HEPA + carbon filter
  • Touch controls, night light, and memory feature
Check On Amazon →See Customer Reviews →
GermGuardian AC4100
  • Great for dorms and small rooms
  • Same HEPA filter + carbon filter quality as larger models
  • Includes germ-killing feature
Check On Amazon →See Customer Reviews →
Levoit LV-PUR131
  • Excellent for med-large rooms (322 sq ft coverage)
  • Advanced controls and air quality sensing operation
  • Low noise and auto-off timer feature
Check On Amazon →See Customer Reviews →
Honeywell HPA300
  • Excellent large room value (465 sq ft coverage) under $250
  • Touch controls and high-speed Turbo mode
  • HEPA + carbon filter. Timer feature included
Check On Amazon →See Customer Reviews →

Product reviews and details

1. GermGuardian AC4825 3-in-1: A super-popular model that offers great value, too!

The AC4825 doesn’t try something it’s not – it’s simply a good basic air purifier that gets the job done and works well. It’s a winner because of hassle-free ease of use, great performance, and many happy buyers. 

I’m one of the happy owners myself!

With a higher room size coverage rating than models like the Levoit LV-H132 it’s a good value as well.

An ultraviolet (UV) germ killing feature provides safe and ozone-free elimination of germs and microbes where you live. It’s a nice extra feature to have – very few products offer this!

The true HEPA filter design works very well to remove smoke and contaminants from your air. Filter replacement is easy and you can buy the carbon filter/pre-filter separately, allowing you to extend the HEPA filter life and get more odor relief while saving money.

It’s in such demand that I even bought one to see what the fuss was about! I’m very happy with mine. You can read more about it in my detailed review here.

GermGuardian AC4825 top view of controls

The AC4825 features one of the easiest-to-use control setups you’ll find. It’s incredibly easy to use! Set the rotary control to one of the 3 fan speed settings. Use the UV push button to switch the germ killing feature on or off. A power-on indicator LED lights when the purifier is working.

A 3-speed fan control makes using it simple and hassle-free. When the push-button control is used to switch one the UV-C feature, the trim glows blue.

Time to check or replace the filter? Just open the rear door and pull it out. The replacement reminder will turn red when it’s time to check the filter.

GermGuardian AC4825 side view UV-C feature glowing

The lovely blue trim ring lights up when the UV-C feature’s in use. Don’t worry though – it’s perfectly safe, as the ultraviolet light is trapped inside. It’s a great-looking way to see when the feature is on. I like it!

At 22″ height, it’s not smaller and compact like several others. But the tower design helps it to fit well in corners. Replacement filters cost about $30 and last about 6 months.

There is one very minor complaint I have: when the UV-C feature is switched on and you turn the fan power off, upon the next start-up the UV-C light is off again. There’s no memory feature to keep it the way you last left it.

(Note: You can also find 3rd party brand filters which are cheaper)

  • Simple, reliable, and easy controls
  • One of the best values for your dollar
  • Great buyer satisfaction ratings
  • Good overall value for performance & room size vs. the Levoit LV-H132
  • Great filtering performance
  • Low noise operation
  • Germ & microbe-killing UV-C feature not found in many others
  • Filter replacement reminder
  • Soft LED when power is on
  • Vertical size/shape is great for corners
  • Good room size coverage (155 square feet)
  • 3-year limited warranty
  • No electronic controls
  • No auto-off timer
  • No UV button memory feature
  • Can’t wash & reuse filter
  • Design is less stylish and attractive than other competitors in its price range (ex. Levoit LV-H132)
  • Warranty requires paying for return shipment for service

My AC4825 is definitely a good performer and I’ve been happy with it. Judging by how many others agree, you’re going to love it as well.

It’s one of the best buys for your money. Head over now and see the thousands of happy buyer reviews and current sale price Amazon.

NEW GermGuardian AC4825W white modelUPDATE: Wow, there’s now a great-looking white version as well out now.

2. Levoit LV-H132 – A best-selling purifier with night light and other nice features. Super-low noise levels, too!

Levoit LV-H132 purifier white front viewAnother super-popular purifier, the Levoit LV-H132 (smaller sibling to the Levoit LV-PUR131) is a great buy. Got odor problems? It’s a good choice for nearly anyone with small to medium-sized rooms.

Like its competitors, the true HEPA filter works well (along with the pre-filter and carbon filter) to eliminate air quality problems including bad smells.

Although it provides less coverage (129 square feet) than competitors like the GermGuardian AC4825, the Levoit makes up for this by providing features others don’t.

As well as being a great looking choice, it complements today’s interiors well.

It’s one of the best-selling purifiers on the market today.

Levoit LV-H132 features image

The Levoit LV-H132 is sophisticated yet still easy to use. Electronic touch controls are provided and beep when operated. After power is switched off the last settings are saved. Upon the next use, the purifier remembers your last settings and restores them automatically.

The fan offers pleasant and quiet operation on low-speed. A built-in night light with 2 brightness settings is a bonus feature.

Levoit LV-H132 filter replacement image example

Filter replacement is a bit different for the LV-H132, but very simple. Turn the unit upside-down, rotate the cover, and then you can pull out and replace the old 3-in-1 filter assembly. Note: unlike some competitors, in most cases you can’t replace the carbon prefilter separately. It’s something to keep in mind.

Replacement filters cost near $30. The top cover removes easily for replacement and a filter replacement reminder lets you know when it’s time to check it or replace it.

In my hands-on testing, I found it to be one of the lowest-noise air purifiers sold today!

When I say it’s low noise, I really mean it. It’s almost impossible to hear it run on the lowest settings – even high speed is very quiet, too.

  • Shorter height than competing tower purifiers
  • 2-year warranty
  • 3 fan speeds
  • Night light with 2 brightness levels
  • Nice looking, modern design
  • Electronic soft button controls
  • Super quiet operation
  • Filter replacement reminder
  • Great build quality & high reliability
  • Easy filter replacement
  • Now available in black
  • Smaller room coverage than others
  • No auto-off timer feature
  • No air quality sensor
  • Electronic controls may not be suitable for some
  • High speed is not as fast as other products

Buyer reviews are great. Check out the fantastic ratings and see why it's a fantastic seller that received the Amazon's Choice award.

Levoit LV-H132 black model

UPDATE: A new black version No products found.

3.  GermGuardian AC4100 3-in-1: The same quality odor removing ability and germ killing in a smaller size.

GermGuardian AC4100 angle view

A great lower-priced model, the AC4100 is a little brother to the larger AC4900CA but it features the same excellence I’ve come to know from GermGuardian.

Like others in the company’s line of products, it’s a no-nonsense, easy-to-use model for nearly everyone.

Measuring only 7.5 x 6.5 x 11″ in size, the 3-in-1 design (HEPA, pre-filter, carbon filter) works to remove odors, dust, allergens, and much more. Great for a small room like your bedroom, office, or dorm room.

Image of a GermGuardian AC4100 showing HEPA and activated carbon filters

The AC4100 features the same 3-in-1 filtering design as its larger siblings. You’ll get a true HEPA filter, prefilter, and odor-absorbing section but for smaller rooms and on a budget.

A UV light (with on/off control) works with titanium dioxide to neutralize germs. The result is healthier air and sickness-causing microbes are gone.

Replacement filters cost about $18. There’s no automatic filter reminder. However, a filter installation date wheel on the rear to help you know when it’s time to replace it.

GermGuardian AC4100 filter replacement how to image

Filter replacement on the AC4100 is easy! Just open the rear cover, pull out the old filter, and insert the new one. You can also use a vacuum to remove larger particles like dust. As you can see my AC4100 caught more and more dust as I used it!

Carbon filter replacements can be bought separately so if you’re dealing with odors you can restore used-up carbon filters for less money than replacing the entire 3-in-1 filter set.

It’s really easy to use – just switch it on or off using the 3 speed rotary control.

On full speed, the noise level is moderate in my opinion. At low speed, it’s hardly noticeable and works well at bedtime. Unlike similar larger models such as the AC4825 and AC4900CA, the UV germ killing switch is an on/off type and not a push button.

One thing I don’t like is that there’s no indicator light for the UV feature like the larger models. That’s a pretty small gripe, however.

It’s a great small-room choice, although I wouldn’t recommend it for large rooms, as it’s not designed – or recommended – for those. It’s great for closets, dorm rooms, your office, or other similar areas.

It’s one of the best in its price range at around $50 or less, depending on where you shop.

  • Simple 3-speed fan control and on/off UV-C switch
  • UV & titanium dioxide germ killing feature
  • Great filtering ability for its small size
  • High speed setting moves a lot of air for purifying quickly
  • Filter replacement reminder wheel (month installed)
  • Low filter replacement price (about $19)
  • Filter replacement date wheel (marks month installed)
  • Sleek, modern design
  • 1 year warranty is shorter than other models
  • No indicator light for UV feature unlike larger models
  • Fan speed on high could be slightly better
  • No filter replacement light
  • No other colors offered

Speaking from personal experience I can see why GermGuardian is one of the biggest air purifier manufacturers today. I own an AC4100 and find it easy to use and well-made.

For small rooms with odor problems, it’s a great low-cost choice.

Have a look at the many satisfied owners that helped it become one of the highest small purifiers at Amazon.

4. Levoit LV-PUR131 – Great odor removal for medium-large rooms. Advanced features, too! Another best seller.

Levoit LV-PUR131 side front image

Got a medium or slightly larger sized room? The LV-PU131 is a top seller and one of the sleekest, best-designed purifiers you’re going to find under $250.

One of the best-selling points is the number of great features included for the price.

Check out the great reviews – it’s an excellent addition to your home, office, or even workplace and great at removing smoke along with the other problems that come with it.

The Levoit brand is well-known and they produce a number of home products. All are well-made and well-regarded. They’re also known for the great LV-H132 purifier I recommend as well.

The electronic controls are simple to use. The clear LCD display operational status and the timer information to make using it a snap.

The sleep mode feature means it works almost silently at night and doesn’t wake you up. The self-off timer lets you select from 1 to 12 hours of operation.

What makes this Levoit model such a wonderful choice is not just the same 3-speed push button fan control. But the automatic auto-sensing mode which adjusts fan speed as needed as air conditions change. Really cool!

Levoit LV-PUR131 control panel features

The electronic control panel looks a bit complicated at first glance but it’s easy to use. Touch controls easily rotate through their various on/off settings such as the fan speed or mode. A digital display shows the remaining operation time when the auto-off timer in use as well as the current air quality.

Filter replacement is about every 6 months. The replacement will let you know when it’s time to check the filter. (It’s around $35 or so to replace one)

At about 11.2 lbs in weight and 14.5 x 7.2 x 18.5 inches in size, the PUR131 provides more square feet coverage (322 square feet) than others but can fit in a few areas comparable products can’t.

A 2 year warranty is provided.

  • More room coverage for the money (322 sq ft)
  • Auto-sensing mode adjusts fan speed automatically
  • Sleep mode for very quiet operation
  • Electronic, simple controls
  • LCD display
  • Auto-off feature: 1 to 12 hours for “set and forget” operation
  • Great cigarette smoke removal performance
  • Excellent overall reviews and customer satisfaction
  • Lower weight and smaller size than others – can be used more places
  • 2 year warranty
  • Sleek, attractive appearance
  • No remote control
  • Auto-sensing mode doesn’t show air quality levels visually
  • No night light
  • Replacement filters aren’t the cheapest (near $35 or so)
  • Warranty is shorter than some competitors
  • White color only

It’s a great compromise between cost, room size coverage, features, and performance.

Head over now to see why it's one of the best selling and highest rated purifiers at Amazon.

5. Honeywell HPA300 – Powerful odor removal for large rooms. A popular and reliable workhorse with nice features.

Honeywell HPA300 HEPA air purifier product image

Have a large room with bad smells? No need to look any further!

The HPA300 provides some of the greatest room size coverage and odor elimination ability in its price range. It’s one of the best values as well.

The HPA300 is a solid workhorse – a large and heavy unit, weighing about 21 lbs. The filters (carbon/pre-filter section, and separate true HEPA filter sections) are more complex but still simple to replace.

Replacement filters are about $68 but you can replace carbon filters separately to keep costs down. It’s not necessary to replace the HEPA filters when only the prefilter needs maintenance.

Filter life averages about 3-5 months depending upon use. The HEPA filter can be extended if you’re swapping out carbon filters and the HEPA filter isn’t saturated.

Honeywell HPA300 electronic controls top view

The purifier features excellent touch panel electronic controls. Just touch one of the controls to rotate easily through the settings like fan speed, the light dimmer, and to set the auto-off timer feature.

The top-facing electronic controls are and indicators are:

  • Fan speed
  • Dimmer
  • Auto-timer selection (2, 4, 8 hrs)
  • Operational mode
  • Filter replacement

Indicators give separate reminders for both the HEPA filter and the pre-filter/carbon filters.

Turbo mode provides high-speed cleaning ability. On low, however, it’s quiet enough to not disturb your quiet time.

Automatic mode shuts off the unit after either 2, 4, or 8 hour operation. The HPA300 also has 3 operational modes: allergen, general, and germ modes. (General mode is fine for cigarette smoke removal)

Honeywell HPA300 filter replacement image

Filter replacement is very simple! The main cover uses 2 push-releases at the top to secure the cover. After removal the prefilter can be replaced or the 3 standard Honeywell HEPA filters as well. It’s easy to do, in my experience.

What I especially like is that the filter replacement reminders are separate – one for the HEPA filter and one for the pre-filter. That’s a feature unique to the Honeywell design. I don’t care however for the limited auto-off time control being limited to 3 choices.

  • Electronic touch controls
  • Maximum room size ability for the money (below $300 range)
  • Turbo mode for heavy air cleaning operation on demand
  • Automatic operation with 2, 4, and 8 hour settings
  • Quiet low speed operation
  • Largest room/house coverage (465 sq. ft)
  • Separate filter replacement reminder for both HEPA and pre-filter sections
  • 5-year warranty
  • Dimmer control
  • Auto-off timer adjustable only in increments of 2 hours – no 1hr settings
  • Not as sleek-looking as others
  • No auto-sensing mode for self-adjusting ability
  • Black color only

Want to get rid of odors in larger rooms? You can’t go wrong with the HPA300.

Many happy buyers back up my recommendation because it's one of the best large room air purifiers sold today.

Additional recommendations

Moso charcoal carbon air purifying bag

For even more effective odor control I recommend using other products along with your new purifier. A great example is an odor-absorbing product like No products found.

Eliminating odors means not just masking it with an air freshener – but by treating your air. A quality air purifier like those I’ve recommend can remove and trap unpleasant airborne molecules and let you enjoy fresh air again.

For even better odor control I recommend using a well-proven product like odor absorption bags such as No products found.

Learn more

Unsure about how many air purifiers you’ll need? Click here to find out if you need a purifier in every room.

As I’ve been really enjoying my own GermGuardian AC4825, I wrote a thorough review here to help others decide if it’s right for them as well.

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.


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.


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.