Air purifiers

Our tests reveal which ones deliver

Viruses, airborne toxins, dust mites, pet dander in the air—it’s enough to make you want to hold your breath or, if manufacturers have their way, buy an air purifier. Some of the 30 models we tested were quiet and effective; two did so little that we judged them Don’t Buy: Performance Problem.

Some air purifiers can remove or reduce smoke, dust, and pollen from your home. The Whirlpool AP51030K, $300, and Hunter 30547, $260, worked very well even at lower, quieter fan speeds. That’s important because most people put portable purifiers in bedrooms or living rooms. Other models, such as the Airgle 750, $800, and FilterStream AirTamer A710, $280, cleaned very well only at the highest, noisiest speed. But no air purifier alone will relieve asthma and allergy symptoms, and if you don’t have respiratory problems, you probably don’t need one.

We focused on portable and whole-house models that use filters because they don’t produce ozone, a respiratory irritant that can aggravate asthma and cause permanent lung damage. We also tested two widely available purifiers that rely on electrostatic precipitation. (For more information on the various technologies used in purifiers, see Guide to purifier types and technologies.) And we even tested one that claims to transform plants—yes, plants—into effective air cleaners.

Here’s what else we found:

Nonfilter products were lacking

With no fan to aid airflow, the LightAir IonFlow 50F, $400, was about as effective at removing dust and smoke in our tests as having no purifier at all, though it didn’t emit ozone. We judged the Light-Air a Don’t Buy: Performance Problem. The Oreck AIR12GU, $400, “electronically charges dust, allergens, and germs and pulls them out of the air like a magnet,” its maker claims. But the Oreck was only slightly better than the LightAir at removing dust and smoke on its lowest speed and only fair on its highest speed—and it produced low levels of ozone.

Whole-house systems vary

The most effective ones are usually professionally installed and cost hundreds. One do-it-yourself filter, the Web Plus Adjustable Electrostatic 20x25x1, $17, is claimed to trap dust and pollen but was ineffective in our tests. Unlike the more effective do-it-yourself filters we tested, it was only marginally better than a standard furnace filter, which is meant only to protect equipment, not purify air. The Web Plus is also a Don’t Buy: Performance Problem.

Dubious claims continue

Some claims by manufacturers have prompted government responses. The Federal Trade Commission last year ordered several companies to stop marketing purifiers as being effective against the H1N1 virus. The Environmental Protection Agency cautions that air cleaners outfitted with ultraviolet light are unlikely to kill bacteria and mold because they won’t be in contact with UV light long enough to have any effect. And Florida’s attorney general warned residents that using an ozone generator would make wiring problems associated with defective Chinese drywall worse, not better.

Clutter-cutting blenders

With an immersion blender you take the appliance to the food. You dunk it directly into smoothies, soups, and other fare. It also fits in a drawer, saving counter space.

Our tests whipped up three top picks, including a CR Best Buy that ran circles around a pricey “professional” model for a fraction of the cost.

We puréed chicken bouillon and vegetables for soup and blended frozen fruit and yogurt for smoothies, typical tasks for these machines. Our testers grated cheese, and chopped garlic and other foods with models that have a chopping option.

Even the best immersion blenders aren’t nearly as fast or as powerful as a countertop model, but they’re a useful complement. Here’s what else our tough tests revealed:

Don’t buy by price

2 Miallegro, a CR Best Buy at $50, blended and puréed nearly as well as 1 Breville. In its chopping mode it grated cheese more finely for half the money. It also left the $180 6 Bamix far behind.

Weigh the features

All three of our picks have an auxiliary mixing beaker, chopper assembly, and a whisk for beating. Metal parts that come off for cleaning are another handy item on all but the Bamix. But having three blade tips instead of the usual two made no difference on 3 DeLonghi.

Don’t assume that faster is better

As the Ratings show, the models with the highest speeds aren’t necessarily the best performers. And although 3 DeLonghi is one of two machines with a high-speed turbo mode, it was barely faster than the nonturbo Breville.

Take “pro” with a lump of salt

The Bamix and 5 Waring are two of the three “professional” models that were included in our tests. But neither the Waring nor the Bamix, with its heavy-duty parts, delivered when it came to performance.

Where to buy appliances

Abt, Amazon, and QVC beat the big chains

It’s not just about the big retail stores anymore.

Online stores, independent local retailers, and even a TV shopping channel have been among the most satisfying places to buy, according to more than 16,000 subscribers who told us about their recent appliance purchases.

Abt Electronics, which is based in the Chicago area and ships nationwide, reaped praise from shoppers who bought one or more appliances in the past year. Amazon and the QVC shopping channel topped the list for small appliances.

The latest survey from the Consumer Reports National Research Center added questions on satisfaction with shipping and installation. It also asked about haul-away of old appliances and about returns.

We didn’t have enough responses to report on every appliance retailer, but Sears and Best Buy in particular received low grades for returns.

Respondents had some criticism about shopping for small appliances such as vacuum cleaners, gas grills, and coffeemakers. Product selection, service at the time of purchase, and the checkout experience were particular sore points, especially at Walmart and its warehouse-club sibling, Sam’s Club.

Here are some tips for shopping:

Plan ahead to get good prices

Overall, people were generally happy with their experiences shopping for appliances, especially compared with other consumer services we measure. But some strategies they tried made shopping more successful.

Almost 30 percent of those shopping for major appliances looked up buying advice on retailers’ websites before making their purchase. Of those shoppers, 75 percent found it helpful. Close to 80 percent who phoned the retailer and more than half who e-mailed for information considered it worth their while.

Timing purchases can help, too. Sales before and after the winter holidays are common. In September or October, retailers also tend to cut prices on cooking appliances to make room for next year’s models. Refrigerators might go on sale around May for the same reason.

You can sometimes combine special offers from a product’s manufacturer and from a store, or save by buying multiple appliances. But first you have to find the offers. If you sign up on a retailer’s website weeks before a purchase, you can get e-mail offering coupons and other promotional deals such as rebates, free shipping, and so-called VIP sales.

Haggling often helps as well, according to the 35 percent of major-appliance shoppers who tried to negotiate prices: Seventy-two percent of them said they were successful. The payoff was a median savings of $97. Only 8 percent of small-appliance shoppers tried to bargain, but 62 percent haggled their way to victory and a median savings of $59.

Choose a store for its selection

Survey respondents who bought major appliances praised Abt Electronics and the Best Buy-owned Pacific Sales for having an ample selection. Home Depot got low marks for its selection of small and major appliances.

Abt is an unusually large store, with 350,000 square feet of space, a 7,500-gallon aquarium in the center, and a big selection. It has a staff of 1,100 and up to 1,500 customers a day.

Amazon received high marks overall from shoppers for small appliances and was a standout for selection.

“From our very founding we said we were going to be customer obsessed,” said Jeff Bezos, chairman and chief executive of Amazon, on a recent visit to our Yonkers, N.Y., headquarters.

Respondents were less pleased with the range of choices at Costco and Sam’s Club, the two warehouse clubs in our survey, than with other retailers selling small appliances.