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Do Air Purifiers Remove Odors?

Derek Hales

Written By: Derek Hales

Updated on:

Air purifiers are commonly used in homes to help disinfect and purify particles in the air. These particles may include dust, pet allergens, or air-borne illnesses—but what about odors?

Do air purifiers remove odors?

Itvanila Air Purifier

Offensive odors in your home may send you on a Google search for the best air purifiers, but do so with caution. While some air purifiers are designed to tackle pesky odors, not all purifiers are created equal.

This guide will walk you through the things you need to know to find an air purifier that can help sink the stink in your home.

Does an air purifier really remove smells?

The short answer is yes… and also no.

Let’s explain.

The main purpose of an air purifier is to remove contaminants from the air. This can include allergens, pet dander, and airborne illnesses.

Some air purifiers can help remove odors, but not all.

So what should you look for?

The answer can come in many forms, but it starts with carbon.

activated carbon or activated charcoal
close-up shot of activated carbon (aka: activated charcoal) in its raw state

Air purifiers which contain some element of activated carbon may be more effective at eliminating odors. And there’s a couple ways this can be done. An air purifier may contain:  

Both of these methods, although taking different approaches use the same main particles and would arguably be equally as effective, when designed correctly.

What makes carbon so good at removing odors?

Carbon, whether it’s used in a fine mesh filter or as a cartridge with granules is comprised of the same basic particles—activated carbon.

Activated carbon, also known as activated charcoal, can be used to remove VOCs in your home. A VOC stands for “volatile organic compound”. These organic chemicals are often released as gas vapor from common household products, which may include offensive odors.

Carbon (or charcoal) works by a chemical process called “adsorption”. Adsorption is similar to absorption, but there are a few key differences.

sponge absorption
sponges soak up liquid, using a process called absorption

Absorption vs. Adsorption

Absorption is what happens when a sponge sucks up water. It can collect water and carry it around, but it’s not bonded to the water at a molecular level.

Adsorption is similar in that when a carbon filter adsorbs foul odors or other VOCs, it can carry it around, but it’s also not bonded at a molecular level.

The difference is where the molecules sit.

In absorption, the particles are absorbed into the molecular empty space of the host (like our sponge example).

In adsorption, the particles are adsorbed to the surface of the activated carbon.

absorption vs adsorption

In the medical field, activated charcoal is commonly used to treat victims of drug overdose. In the case of the human body, the charcoal is able to bind with the drug particles and prevent them from further being absorbed into the body.

Activated Carbon Filters

So back to activated carbon filters.

They’re designed to allow particles to adhere to the maximum allowable surface area and whisk these VOCs and foul odors out of the air. But the surface area is limited.

time to replace the filter - adsorption of a carbon filter

When all the surface area is used up, the activated filter becomes less effective and can no longer collect harmful particles. When this happens, it’s time to change the filter so that it can start collecting particles again.

Can an air purifier remove odors without a carbon filter?

I can’t definitively say no to this, because there are constantly new and evolving technologies in the world, but activated carbon is certainly the most popular technique.

If an air purifier claims to remove odors, yet lacks the carbon filter, do your research into what other technique it might be using.

Any air purifier that effectively removes particulates floating in the air will help to reduce offensive odors, as many odors are spread by and through these air-born particulates.

How to help an air purifier remove odors

Of course, even the best air purifier may have a hard time completely removing odors without a little help.

Here are some quick tips of things you can try to help remove odors from your home.

#1. Vacuum and mop regularly

While poor air quality can certainly cause foul odors, more often than not, the floors can harbor a lot more contaminants and odors than we release.

Regular vacuuming and mopping helps to keep the stink away, especially if you have a large family or pets in the home.

The Otis maneuvers well on carpets, as well has hard floor surfaces
The Tenergy Otis robot vacuum helps to clean up messes on all floor types

RELATED: Check out our guide for the best vacuum cleaner here.

For an extra boost, consider sprinkling some baking soda into your carpet before you vacuum. You can even add in a few drops of essential oil to the baking soda before you sprinkle, which helps to capture odors and freshen the carpet.

#2. Promote good ventilation

When possible, try to promote good ventilation.

This could mean opening up a window after you cook a meal or simply turning on the fan. Ventilation enhances air flow and keeps particles moving. This will make your air purifier more effective as well as distributing any foul odors so they don’t come across so strongly.

open a window - proper ventilation can help reduce odors
open a window – proper ventilation can help reduce odors

RELATED: A good fan can help to promote ventilation. Check out our top recommendations for the best smart ceiling fans or check out our Dyson fan reviews here.

#3. Maintain clean kitchens and bathrooms

Kitchens and bathrooms are two other areas that can quickly get funky. Keeping these areas clean can help to give you a head start to a cleaner smelling home.

RELATED: Wondering where else might be hiding stick? Check out our quick read for 21 dirty spots in your home that need vacuuming.

#4. Monitor the filter of your air purifier

Whether it’s an activated carbon filter or a HEPA filter, monitoring these filters and replacing as necessary will help your air purifier to run smoothly.

Carbon filter as part of the three-stage filtration system
Carbon filter as part of the three-stage filtration system

The Last Word

So overall do air purifiers remove odors?

The answer, yes, some do, but it’s still not a perfect system.

In order to completely remove odors from your home it takes a level of cooperation from you and your household. Keep a clean home, promote good ventilation, and monitor the filter health of your air purifier and you’ll be well on your way to an odor-free home.

About Derek Hales

Derek HalesDerek Hales is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of He has been featured in Fast Company, Reader's Digest, Business Insider,, She Knows, and other major publications. Derek has a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration from Kansas State University. Hales has been testing and reviewing products for the home since 2014.

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6 Comments on “Do Air Purifiers Remove Odors?”

  1. Hi there my tenants recently moved out of my apartment however they have left a curry smell that seems to have permitted the paint even. It doesn’t leave.

    Would a charcoal air purifier help in this situation?

    • Help, yes. But it probably won’t solve the issue.

      You likely need a commercial grade smell cleaning. The same type of thing they do for smokers.

  2. Derek –
    Q – I manage a small hotel in a resort area that takes month to month tenants in the off season. We have a couple as tenant that are handicapped and physically challenged. Both walks with canes and one has a colstomy bag. There is a strong odor not only in their suite but permeating the walls of adjoining suites. I have to ask them to move out and sanitize, remove the odors and probably repaint before our summer season. I have researched air purifiers and am confused. Do you recommend an Ozone purifying machine to exract what may be absorbed in the walls?

    • In general, I’m not a huge fan of ozone to purify air. However, in extreme cases and if you understand the dangers / precautions that need to be taken, then you can go for it.

      I’m not sure it’s going to be enough to solve the smell issue in the walls, but it should help. In any case, I think it’s a good first step before spending money on a more expensive solution. We tested this one in 2019 and found it to be pretty good for the money –

      I’m afraid you may need to bring in the type of company that deals with homes that have had smokers in them for years. Those companies have the full range of tools to deal with odors at this level.

  3. What about body odor from medications ? We live in a two story house and it is taking over half the home with a fowl chemical odor from my elderly father.