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Review – a couple Honeywell Air Purifiers

I recently took a look at some Air Purifiers for use in a room that’s moderately smoked in.

I’ll be clear. I’m not allergic to anything I know of except mosquito bites. If you’re reading this because you have allergies, it’s not going to help you. If you’re breathing smokey air, it might.

A couple problems with air purifiers, and how I was looking to avoid them in the purchase:

  • Noise levels. Most air purifiers have low/medium/high settings. Manufacturers explain these very poorly, so I’ll explain them better for you.Low usually means that the sound level might be bearable. Some people might be able to sleep through it, but many won’t. Medium is for people who have already lost a portion of their hearing. High is the speed necessary to meet the CADR levels on the box, but is loud enough that it’ll bother you even if you’re in another room. There are exceptions, but they’re few and far between.To alleviate this problem, I planned to use the Low setting on whatever purifier I chose. This meant that although the room in question would probably suit a CADR of 40 or so, I looked for models that were rated considerably higher.
  • Replacement filter costs. I wanted to eliminate them completely. This meant either going with a washable filter, or a lifetime filter. This avoids the problem where you spend more on the filters long-term than the unit itself actually cost, as well as the pain of finding filters for a model once it becomes a few years old.

The first purchase was a “Honeywell Tower Air Purifier”. If I find the manual I lost, I’ll update this with a model number.

However, it looks like the picture you see on the right.

Since I stole the image from Canadian Tire’s website, it’s only fair to provide a link:

Honeywell Tower Air Purifier
Product Number: 43-5008-2

It currently costs $149.99. When on sale recently, it was about $100.

It has a washable filter, but it’s not a TRUE HEPA filter. It looks to be an ionizer-style. The filters are pretty easy to clean. If you look at the little indented “handle” at the top of the picture, it’s basically a matter of pushing a button and pulling that handle up. The entire assembly slides out, containing the pre-filter and 2 main filters.

The pre-filter is just a screen. It’ll stop larger objects from getting inside – tiny bugs, cat hair, and anything else large-ish that might otherwise manage to get sucked in. A quick rinse with water is all this thing needs if it starts getting plugged up.

The 2 main filters push out of the assembly (a top and bottom filter). Again, these appear to be ionizer plates made primarily of a solid material. It’s done in a grid formation – tiny hollow squares that collect particles which have been electrically charged as they pass through.

I can certainly vouch for the ionizer filter working well. After 12 days, I gave the filters a cleaning in the sink, and the sink was full of brown dirty water – the brown stuff being all the smoke and other junk in the air that the plates had collected.

Air was noticably freshened while the unit was running. It removed smoke from the air (and much of the smell) really well. It made a huge difference.

It was noisier than I liked at the low setting – being placed a couple feet away, I still had to turn up the volume on the computer speakers. It wasn’t by any means unbearable, but not silent by any stretch of the imagination. Medium speed was surprisingly bearable, although the computer speakers had to be cranked significantly to hear anything on the computer. With an active cigarette, medium speed was sufficient to keep the air clear while the cigarette was burning. If you were a chain-smoker, medium would probably be the minimum setting you’d get away with, although you could use low while you slept. High speed was terribly loud. You wouldn’t want to be in the same room.

After 12 days, the unit began to have a serious problem. One of the 2 fans started dying. The sound of “marbles” bouncing around was the first indication, followed quickly by a racket indicating that the fan wasn’t aligned perfectly. Yes, the bearings were dying. After only 12 days. This is actually what prompted the cleaning mentioned above (which obviously had no effect but was worth a shot).

Needless to say, the unit went back to Canadian Tire. It’s unfortunate, because it was very impressive otherwise.

A few other things to note about the unit:
-it’s got a timer you can set if you want the unit to shut off in a few hours
-the CADR is rated at 80
-looking inside, the fans *look* like solid units – you can see the motor assemblies if you look inside, and they’re not dinky little things.
-the humidifier’s Energy Star rated. Again, I lost the manual, but I seem to recall it being rated at around 35W.

In short, a unit with a lot of strengths, overshadowed by a fan that started dying in under 2 weeks. What a shame.

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The second purchase (actually an exchange) was a “Honeywell Permanent True HEPA Round Air Purifier”. Model is the #50100 .

Again, picture is on the right.

Again, I lifted the picture from Canadian Tire’s site, so here’s the link:

Honeywell Permanent True HEPA Round Air Purifier
Product Number: 43-5050-8

It currently costs $99.99. Sale price wasn’t as significant as the 1st model – about $85 this time.

The pre-filter’s an activated charcoal filter. You’re supposed to replace it a few times a year.

The main filter is a HEPA filter. It’s considered permanent/life-time. To clean it, you have to vacuum it.

Here are the issues with the pre-filter… The pre-filter is supposed to be replaced every few months. That part makes sense. Activated charcoal is basically used to freshen the air. Once it’s “used up”, it’s done freshening. Activated charcoal on it’s own doesn’t actually have any filtration characteristics that I’m aware of – it just makes the air smell nicer. Because it’s turned into a mesh in most cases, it does catch large particles (like bugs, etc), but you could do the same thing with a piece of breathable foam, or a screen, etc. In any case, if you want to maintain the “freshness” part, you’ll have to shell out money a few times a year. If you don’t care about the freshness part, you could probably try washing/drying it, or cut up a screen on your own. The other big issue with the pre-filter is that the “mesh” is made up of a lot of loose material. As soon as you install this thing and turn the humidifier on, the main filter sucks up a lot of these chunks of loose material. You’re essentially plugging up the main filter within seconds of turning the thing on.

Issues with the main filter are… it has to be vacuumed. You can’t wash it. The ability for your vacuum to actually suck out all the small particles plugging the filter in the first place is up for debate. Now assume for the moment that your vacuum cleaner manages to suck every last particle out of the filter, making it “like-new”. If your vacuum cleaner doesn’t use a HEPA filter, all those particles are just going back into the air where they’ll end up either in your lungs, or back in the purifier again! If your vacuum cleaner DOES use a HEPA filter, you’ve just instantly plugged up THAT filter.

Talk about a lose-lose situation. Alternately, you could buy another filter once it plugs up. But then what’s the point of calling it a “permanent life-time” filter?

Moving on, the sound levels are somewhat similar to the 1st purifier, although slightly louder. It moves more air though (100 CADR vs 80 CADR). Using the previous example of a chain-smoker, you can leave this thing on “low” and it seems to do almost as well as the 1st one on “medium” in terms of keeping the room from filling up with a smokey haze.

Air freshness isn’t quite as good for smoke. The room smells more smokey than the first model, even though it isn’t. Technically, this thing should catch smaller particles though (since it’s a True HEPA filter). There are trade-offs here.

In terms of filter replacement/cleaning, it’s a little more involved. First, there aren’t any built-in indicators. You have to turn little knobs to adjust the “calendar” and use that as a reminder as to when you need to do it. It seems to me like we’re seeing ground-breaking technology of the 1960’s in action. As far as actual replacement goes, you flip the unit upside-down, unscrew a knob, and then pull the inside section out. The pre-filter wraps around the main one and is secured in place by velcro. It’s not as elegant as the 1st one, but it’s pretty simple nonetheless. Once you’ve replaced/vacuumed/etc, it just slides back in, you tighten the knob, and flip the unit back over again.

Overall, I’m a little disappointed with the sound levels of each. I’d really like a purifier that’s truly quiet on the lower settings. It’s honestly not that hard to design. It’s called “using one massive fan that utilizes the maximum possible space”, and “designing an enclosure to minimize restrictions in airflow”. If you want to get really fancy, you can get into actual fan-blade design, well thought-out-bearings, and all that other fun stuff, but I’ll keep my expectations for the future low for now.

In terms of smokey-air, the 1st purifier really did a good job alleviating it. The 2nd got rid of the smoke, but not as much of the smell.

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As a final note, smokers should keep in mind that an air purifier will pull smoke out of the air, and maybe even some of the chemicals that smell. However, there are toxins created by smoking that it won’t remove. A simple example is carbon monoxide (CO – the same gas in car exhaust that helps in making it so deadly). Thus, you still want to make sure that you still introduce fresh air, even with a purifier running. The air might not smell like it’s poisonous, but it might be getting poisonous without your knowledge.

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UPDATE: I picked up the Honeywell HFD-122C from Canadian Tire (2 actually). Image on the right. It’s very similar to the black purifier listed at the beginning, although this one is rated at 110 CADR (more than either of the 2 above). The low setting is quite a bit quieter than the others, and medium’s pretty reasonable too. High isn’t brutal, although it still drowns out other nearby sounds.

Compared to the round HEPA, the removal of smoke smell was instantly noticable. Since I bought two, I placed the first in a smokey room, and the second near a littlerbox in the basement where it started getting rid of the litterbox-smell right away.

It has the additional benefit of being able to automatically oscillate (rotate) roughly 90 degrees. It’s also Energy Star rated – I’d have to run down and double check the box but I seem to recall 42 watts at max speed being the rating.

Regular price was about $170, but on sale it went for about $100 – the same sale price as the 1st purifier mentioned.

Given that it’s quieter, has a higher CADR rating, oscillates, and can be found for the same sale price as the black one, I’d easily recommend this one over the others for smoke. Even at regular price, it’s worth the extra $20 over the black model.

I’ve only had them running for a couple hours, but I’ll update if I find anything amiss.

  • Angie

    So glad I found your blog on the air purifiers. Here’s my question that I can’t seem to find an answer for. If a smoker is smoking next to or near the purifier will the machine actually suck the smoke into it? We’ve recently moved in with my Father in Law who is a chain smoker. Due to his dementia he cannot remember to go outside to smoke. I’m looking for something that we can sit next to his chair that will suck the smoke up immediately. Will an air purifier do the trick? Thank you!

    • Angie:

      I’ve found that the cigarette smoke tends to be attracted to the clean output flow of air (rather than the input which is sucked in). However, the purifier makes a significant difference overall.

      Note that the ionizer purifers (the tower ones I mentioned in this case) work a lot better in terms of making the air seem fresher. The HEPA one might technically filter the smoke, but the air still feels and smells very smokey to the point of being unbearable (at least, I’ve found that seems to be the case in my own experience).

      Obviously, smoking outside (or at least having a window open) is the best solution. If that can’t be relied upon, the ionizer types make a substantial difference.

  • Tri Ng

    Your website is very informative, thank you! regarding air purifiers, I have been using a Kenmore air cleaner for a couple years and it has been great. After reading your review of the Honeywell HFD-122C, I intend to buy either this model or the Honeywell HHT157C true Hepa for my living room, if possible could you give us an update on the air cleaner and if any issue with it?
    Thanks!

    • Tri Ng:

      Both the 122C’s are still going strong. Lately I’ve been using them more as fans (it’s a warm summer – filtration’s just been a bonus). They’re much quieter than the round HEPA model. Only downside is that they’ve discolored quite a bit over time, particularly in the seams where air seems to get sucked in. Not surprising since they’ve sucked in a lot of smoke, but depending on the environment, it may be worth looking at a black-colored model.

      Note that they’re not true HEPAs though. So if you’re dealing with somebody will allergies or something, you might want to get the HEPA one you’re considering.