Why Is My Air Purifier Not Purifying The Air?

As a curious studio apartment dweller, I recently noticed that my air purifier wasn’t doing a good job of removing the animal smells.

This unit, my air purifier doesn’t remove musty air, and to think that I paid $100 for it.  

I was puzzled. I wondered whether an air purifier helps with odors at all. I decided to read up more information about air purifiers, and their effectiveness in tackling various odors.

I am so glad I did, because I was almost thinking that my unit was headed to the trash bin. Here, I will share the main reasons why an air purifier might fail to combat odors.

Mostly, the air purifier will fail to purify the air when the filters become clogged with dirt and contaminants. If you live in a place with very polluted air, the filters could clog up fast, and this will prevent the unit from working correctly.

Does an air purifier help with smells? Yes!

Does an air purifier help with smells

Odors in your indoor air are the main reason for buying an air purifier. In another article on the best air purifier for cigarette smoke removal, we looked at how an air purification unit works.

Just to give you a recap, air purifying units are designed to clean the air by trapping and eliminating pollutants like dust, pollen, allergens, and even odors.

However, many people, including myself, have wondered if they truly live up to their promises, especially when it comes to smells.

It turns out that while air purifiers are excellent at removing particles that cause odors, they might not always be enough to tackle stronger smells like animal scents.

To answer the question, air purifiers with carbon filter can remove smoke smell, animal smells, or other odors in the house.

Do not just buy an air purifier on the pretext that it has a carbon filter. Make sure you find out how much carbon it contains.

Can it remove old house smell?

Old house smell can be quite unpleasant and often requires more than just a regular air purifier to eliminate.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows that certain air purifier models equipped with activated carbon filters can indeed help to reduce odors from stagnant air. This also includes stale air found in old houses or rooms that lack proper ventilation.

The activated carbon filters in these air purifiers are designed to absorb the odor molecules, thus neutralizing the smell.

However, it’s essential to note that severe cases of old house smell might require additional measures like proper cleaning with vinegar and baking soda, and ventilation.

What type of air purifier filter removes smell?

The secret to combating indoor musty smells effectively is in the filter your air purifier uses.

Among the different filter options available, the activated carbon filter is the most important player when it comes to odor removal.

As mentioned earlier, this filter works by adsorbing odorous molecules, effectively neutralizing the smell.

The Journal of Hazardous Materials published a study that highlights the high efficiency of activated carbon filters in capturing various volatile organic compounds (VOCs) responsible for unpleasant odors.

While HEPA filters are fantastic for trapping tiny particles, they are not very effective in tackling smells.

However, some advanced air purifiers combine both HEPA and activated carbon filters to offer a comprehensive solution for both allergens and odors.

So, if your main concern is dealing with smells, make sure to choose an air purifier with an activated carbon filter.

Do air purifiers help with animal smells?

If you love pets, you know cats, dogs, birds and so on, your house can easily become full of animal smells.

Having pets can bring immense joy, but it also comes with the challenge of dealing with their occasional odor.

When it comes to pet smells, air purifiers might not always be a complete solution, especially if the smells are persistent and intense.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), some air purifiers can help reduce pet odors, but their effectiveness depends on several factors. These include things such as:

  • The number of pets
  • The size of the space
  • The strength of the smells

It is also wise not to depend on the air purifying unit alone for removing odors from your indoor air.

Things such as cleaning your pets regularly, cleaning your living spaces also play a crucial role in preventing unwanted smells.

Usually, a good purifier for cat litter smells can also take care of other animal smells.

Again, HEPA filters do not take out the smell effectively. You will need to order a unit that has an activated carbon filter. The filter will absorb, and break the odor molecules.

How to know when your air purifier is not removing odors

There are various ways to know when your air purifier is not getting rid of indoor smells, of different types. Here are sure fire ways to know that your unit cannot help with odors:

1. Check what type of air purifier it is

There are different types of air purifiers in the market, and only a few of them can help to break the odor molecules. Check the instruction manual of your unit, and specifically see the filter type it comes with:

  • HEPA filter – removes particles but not odors
  • Ionizer air purifier – Does not remove odors
  • Ozone generator – Can remove odors
  • Activated Carbon filter – Yes! Best for odors
  • PCO/PECO filters – Yes
  • UV light purifiers – Does not remove odors

2. If there is no change in your indoor air smell

If the purifier is removing dust, pollen, mold spores, pet dander and other physical contaminants, but the air still smells bad, the unit is not designed to remove odors.

Or perhaps, it is, but the carbon filter is expired. The activated carbon loses its odor absorbing ability with time. If this happens, the unit will not remove the odor from your indoor air.

3. The filters’ replacement is overdue

Depending on how much you use the air purifier in your home, you might need to clean the filters weekly. You might also have to replace the filters once every six months, or even sooner.

If the replacement of the filters is long overdue, the unit will not work properly. It will not remove the formaldehyde from your indoor air. It will not also remove the odors, or particle contaminants such as dust, pollen, and pet dander.

4. The unit is too small for your space

Just like the humidifiers and dehumidifiers, air purifiers also have a space rating. If you use a very small one, it is not going to cleanse your air perfectly. Rather, it will work so slowly and may never get around to cleaning the air.

 Air purifiers also have an air change per hour rating, and if it is too low, say, one or two times per hour, well, it means it is working so slowly. Therefore, you will take longer to notice any change in your indoor air.

A good air change per hour rate for an air purifier is 3 to 5.

5. The source of the odor is still in the house

What was causing the nasty smell in the house in the first place? The Levoit air purifier is not going to remove the source of the bad smell. It will just break the odor molecules, and perhaps give temporary respite.

However, as soon as you stop using it, you will start to experience the odor. You need to find the source of the odor, and remove it. After that, run the air purifier and the air will start smelling fresh.

6. You switch the purifier off too soon

If you get a unit that has an ACH rating of 5 times, you might think you are done using it after one hour, in a small room.

This is not always the case because the times it is pulling in the air to remove the contaminants, it is pulling in clean and dirty air.

Therefore, it is best to run the unit as long as necessary, say, for at least 4 hours. Don’t worry too much, because the air purifier does not consume a lot of electricity. Modern units are energy-efficient, and they will not rack up your energy bills.


Air purifiers are valuable in maintaining cleaner and healthier indoor air by filtering out particles, and absorbing odors that cause contamination.  

However, their effectiveness of these units in handling specific smells, like those from pets or old houses, will vary. Odors are especially too stubborn to remove. Please ensure you look for air purifiers that come with activated carbon filters. They are specifically designed to neutralize odors.

Indoor plants can clean the air, and cleaning the house and the pets regularly can help to combat odors.