The irony of buying an air purifier in China
I remember when I visited China in 1999. I stepped off the airplane in the airport in Beijing and it was like getting punched in the face with a thick layer of smog that enveloped the whole city. I only stayed in the city for a few days, but the smog was everywhere. Sure, there’s been some improvement in the last 20 years, but China is still in the list of top 20 countries in the world with the worst air pollution, according to the World Bank.
And yet nearly every major air purifier company manufactures their products in China, including Alen, Blueair, Coway, Levolt, Germ Guardian, Crane, Lasko, Pure Enrichment, and so many others.
In many ways, this symbolizes the extent to which corporate America has exploited the people of China for their cheap labor. When corporate America blindly insisting on the lowest bids from manufacturing subcontractors, this is what happens. Instead of sourcing products from responsible factories in their own country that follow environmental rules, they’re intentionally outsourcing to China, which is happily literally burning coals and fossil fuels to power its factories at the encouragement of their corrupt government, creating pollution in order to make things for Americans to remove theirs.
And yet unlike other product categories, I was pleasantly surprised to find a decent number of models not made in China. The pattern we’ve seen is typical–in some cases there are American manufacturers who choose to keep their high-end products manufactured in the US–they realize the folly of turning over their IP to a China manufacturer who is going to turn around and copy it. And in other cases, you see countries that see China as a clear and present threat–like South Korea–insourcing many products that American companies blindly outsource.
As sad as it is to say, these companies deserve our money more than the American companies that exist only to pad the paychecks of their executives, a few marketing people, and their shareholders–and are either too evil or too foolish to realize that in 5 years all of the technology they’ve turned over to China will be copied, to the last screw.
Without further adieu, here are your best air purifiers not made in China.
1. Winix 5500-2
It always gives me a little hope when I can find a not-made-in-China product on top review sites. It means that there’s a bona-fide leader of the industry that has resisted the urge to move manufacturing to China after they reach a certain level of success in order to maximize profits.
Winix is such a company. The Winix 5500-2 has been named by Wirecutter as well as by many others like ZDNet, Gear Lab, and USA Today. Every site raves about its power and its exceptional ability to clean–in some tests eliminating 99.99% of airborne particles–and also its quiet operation and ease of use. One reviewer called it “a must for allergy sufferers”. It’s made in South Korea.
Filters cost about $50-60 and last for a full year. They’re also made in South Korea. You can get them from Amazon, but make sure you’re buying directly from them and not a third party seller. Better yet, you can get them directly from Winix’s site.
Named one of the best by Consumer Reports, this Samsung Cube Stack is also made in South Korea. It’s a 3-layer True HEPA filtration system that’s virtually silent. It also has an air quality sensor built in, as well as voice controls through Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. It’s not cheap, coming in between $750-$800. But if you can afford it, it’s one of the best units out there, and beautiful to look at as well.
It’s named what it is because you can purchase an additional one to stack on top, increasing the purity of your air even more, and decreasing the time to change filters. You can find it at Lowes or Amazon.
Samsung also has a newer model called the BESPOKE Cube which comes at a slightly more affordable price (you should be able to find it around $500). You can find these at Amazon or directly from Samsung.
As with all of these units, filters aren’t cheap. They cost about $80 each; you can avoid counterfeiters by buying directly from Samsung. In the other hand, they last for up to a year without changing, even when the unit is running 24/7.
If you’re looking for an option that’s made in the USA, you’ll want to go with Austin Air. This was named as one of the best overall by Tom’s Guide, and is a medical grade purifier, using technology recommended by the CDC, EPA, and WHO for medical settings. They outperformed more than 100 other purifiers in government tests, removing airborne contaminants as small as 0.1 microns. They’re on the pricey side, coming in at over $700.
Austin Air is more known as a solution for hospitals, offices, businesses, and sports teams, but if you can afford it there are few better options. Filters cost a whopping $300 each, but when you consider they last for 5 years, they’re actually cheaper and more convenient than all the other options.
You may not have heard of Rabbit Air, but it’s one of the top air filter brands in Asia. The company is based in South Korea, where its manufacturing is done. The BioGS 2.0 is their smaller unit, coming in at a relatively affordable $370, but it can filter all the air in a 550 square foot room two times in one hour.
It has a washable pre-filter, and the HEPA and charcoal-based activated carbon filters will last up to three years. Replacement filters are available at an affordable $99 (as always, beware of China-made counterfeits that are priced at a tempting $39 but were manufactured under who-knows-what conditions).
They also have their top-of-the-line model, the Rabbit Air A3, that is meant to compete more with the higher end models (such as the ones above from Samsung and Austin Air) that cover larger rooms of up to 1070 square feet. It’s priced around the same as those.
Both models have won prestigious industry design awards, and are backed by a generous 5-year warranty. Rabbit Air is one of those brands I referred to above that isn’t widely covered by American-based review sites, but it’s a well-established and highly respected brand in South Korea and extremely highly rated by shoppers here who have heard of it. Let’s make them big here and show those other brands what they can do with their made in China models.
Looking for the Rolls Royce of home air purifiers? Here it is. The IQAir HealthPro Plus Air Purifier is suitable for rooms up tp 1125 square feet, and with “HyperHEPA” it traps fine and ultrafine particles, trapping particles as small as 0.003 microns. Nothing escapes this filter–cigarette smoke, soot, pet dander, or viruses–including THE virus). It’s made in Switzerland with the quality you’d expect from Swiss manufacturing. It has a 10 year warranty and comes at a premium price–$900 for the entry level home version.
It’s not a small piece of equipment–one reviewer described it as the size of a medium sized end table. And filters, as you might imagine, are pretty pricey, although again, because the HyperHEPA filters can last 3-4 years, the $200 price tag for filters isn’t really as steep as it sounds. And the price is a small one to pay, especially if there are people in your house suffering from serious allergy or asthma problems. The commercial version of this product is the air cleaner of choice for many schools, hospitals, medical facilities, labs, and museums.
IQAir also makes a personal desk air purifier that costs “only” $400, but is good for cleaning rooms and offices up to 150 square feet to that same 0.003 micron level. This one is made in Germany.
This isn’t an air purifier, but it’s one of the best ways to check how clean the air you’re breathing is. It was developed by Korean company BitFinder, and I loved it so much I bought three units.
It’s basically a little box that sits in your room and measures temperature, humidity, CO2 levels, VOCs (volatile organic compounds), and dust in your room. You can basically use it in conjunction with any cheap air cleaner and get all the benefits of an expensive “smart” air purifier.
Following the playbook of so many of the China brands it has enabled, Amazon basically ripped off this idea, launched it as “Amazon Smart Air Quality Monitor”, had it mass produced in China, and is selling it for $70. Their goal is to hijack people who are looking for Awair (surely enough, when I search for “Awair” on Amazon.com, I see the top result being their product, a second result being a China ripoff, and the third option finally being the Awair product. Shame on them.
This is one of those cases where you have to ask yourself: are you willing to let the innovator company in Korea have their innovations co-opted and stolen by cheap China companies? If not–and if you can afford it–bite the bullet and reward Awair for their innovation AND for not selling out to China as Amazon did. We can’t fight the system, but we can choose to do the right thing ourselves, one purchase at a time.
Do you know of other air filter brands worthy of mention here? Let us know in the comments!
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