Why Your Air Purifier Smells Bad

Lawrence Bonk Profile image

Written by:

Updated January 14, 2023

As they work to remove odors from the home, air purifiers can become impacted by foul odors themselves. How to get a bad odor out of your best air purifier? Keep reading and find out.


  • Air purifiers effectively remove airborne odors from your home, but in the process, they can become infected by the very same odors.
  • You can help alleviate purifier-based odors by cleaning or replacing the air filter according to instructions.
  • Your air purifier could also malfunction, typically indicated by the smell of burning plastic.

How Do Air Purifiers Become Smelly?

Before you understand how to clear out a foul odor from your air purifier, it can be important to know just how they become smelly in the first place. Filter-based air purifiers work by pulling in air from its immediate surroundings, running it through a filter of some kind, and then pumping out this filtered air back into the atmosphere. Odors, however, are actually caused by physical particles. In other words, just because an air purifier has removed these particles from the air of your room, does not mean they have been neutralized. The filter could have merely trapped these odor-causing particles, especially if you haven’t cleaned the filter for the air purifier lately. If you happen to live or work in a smoky place, the smoke can cause tar which will then make your air purifier smelly, you can clear tar from your air filter to make it function well and also remove bad odor. Additionally, read about our comparison of an air purifier vs plants to see if that can help with your odor problem.

Insider Tip

Filter-based air purifiers work by pulling in air from its immediate surroundings, running it through a filter of some kind, and then pumping out this filtered air back into the atmosphere.

How to Get Bad Odors Out of Your Air Purifier

The specific process will vary depending on your air purifier’s type, make, and model. Still, we have assembled some universal tips and suggestions to try so you can get your living space smelling right again. Other than bad odor, you can also get rid of mold from your air purifier to ensure that you are breathing fresh air.

That said, keep in mind that if your home has bad air, this will let you know that you need an air purifier. And, depending on the level of contamination, you may need to install a whole-house purifier. Else, you’ll be left to calculate how many times your air purifier should change the air on an hourly basis.

Clean or Replace the Filter

The vast majority of the time you are experiencing an odor from your air purifier. It is due to the filter being clogged with odor-causing particles. You can alleviate this issue by cleaning or replacing the filter according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Generally speaking, HEPA filters should be disposed of and replaced every six months to one year. However, you may need to do this sooner if you have used your HEPA filter to clear out some seriously nasty odors.

As a rule of thumb, how long should you run an air purifier? Long enough to ensure the odor is gone! Run your air purifier until you no longer detect any lingering odors. If possible, invest in an air quality monitor so that you can track how much cleaner the air is becoming with the help of your air purifier.

Above all, use your best judgment, and read our GermGuardian AC4825 review for another strong unit.

Activated carbon filters and electrostatic filters should be cleaned once every month. Use gentle running water and a microfiber cloth to complete the cleaning procedure. We also recommend wearing a mask and gloves as you clean the filters. Finally, be sure to give the filter adequate time to dry before reinserting it into the air purifier. You can read our HEPA vs carbon filter comparison for more information on these types of filters.

Check the Type of Smell

If the smell being emitted from your purifier is reminiscent of mold, pets, food, mildew, or anything else the purifier has likely filtered from your home, then that filter is likely the culprit. If the odor lingers after changing the filter, you may ask yourself, what kind of disinfectant can I put in an air purifier to help?

If you are smelling burnt plastic, it could be an issue with your air purifier’s motor or heating element. Bring it in for maintenance. If the unit is too damaged, you can read about how to dispose of an air purifier to get rid of it properly.

On the other hand, you might want an air purifier that doesn’t require any maintenance at all. For that, you’ll need to check out our Airfree P1000 review.

Insider Tip

HEPA filters should be disposed of and replaced every six months to one year.


What to do when your room smells like body odor?

If your room is smelling of nasty body odor, purchase and install a powerful air purifier and run it at its max setting for at least one day. While that is happening, thoroughly clean the room, wash all laundry, and disinfect all surfaces.

Which air purifiers will get rid of bad odors?

HEPA filters are generally regarded to be the best when it comes to removing bad odors, though most types of air purifiers will work in some regard.

What do I need to look out for to avoid ozone?

A common smelly byproduct of certain air purifiers is ozone. Avoid ozone by avoiding ionic air purifiers and ozone generators.

STAT: In a study of over 1,000 American adults, 34.7% reported health problems when exposed to fragranced products in the workplace. (source)

Lawrence Bonk Profile image