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Let's face it: Most of modern life is spent indoors. Agrarian fantasies of suddenly taking up farming aside, most of us spend our work days in air-conditioned offices before glowing screens. At home, it's not much different. The average American spends more than 10 hours each day consuming digital media, most of that indoors in front of a phone, laptop or TV.
So when the Environmental Protection Agency warns that indoor air can be seriously more polluted than outdoor air, the dictates of self-interest say we should pay attention. And millions of Americans are doing just that, especially as wildfires, floods and climate change dominate the headlines and draw awareness to pollution and air quality.
One of the most intriguing names in the field is Molekule, a San Francisco-based company that says its product is designed to destroy pollutants at the molecular level. Because of its powerful pollutant-eliminating features, this product is considered as the must-have, high-end purifier by buyers. As a result, the Molekule comes in and out of stock on the company's website due to high demand.
There's no doubt the company makes a beautiful product. From the moment the purifier arrived in the mail a couple weeks ago, I was struck by the care put into its design. They designers clearly are devotees of the Apple school of product packaging, with clean, modern typography and exquisitely fitted components tucked perfectly into little boxes.
Stripping these away reveals a sleek machined-metal cylinder about 2 feet high, topped with a handsome leather handle for easy lifting.
Set up was, for the most part, a breeze, apart from a little snag with the mobile app. The app is likewise beautifully designed, but it took about half an hour of fiddling for the Molekule to connect with my phone. It's a problem the company has noted and promises to address in the coming months.
(The app isn't necessary to operate the purifier, but it is a nice perk — I've found the filter status indicator is a particularly useful feature.)
Mobile app aside, the circular touchscreen on the top of the purifier is smooth and intuitive to use. You cycle through room size, mode, power, filter status and ... that's it. It's refreshingly simple, actually.
So far, so pretty. But how well does it purify air?
To answer that, we first need a little lesson in filtration. Most air purifiers use what's called a HEPA filter, which stands for High Efficiency Particulate Arrestance. It's pretty much what you think when you think of filtration: A fan sucks air through sheets of felt-like material, capturing particles in the folds and allowing clean air to pass through to the other side.
In Molekule's proprietary Photo Electrochemical Oxidation system, or PECO, light shining onto a filter membrane coated with proprietary catalyst creates a catalytic reaction on the filter surface. That's a mouthful, but the upshot is that PECO destroys pollutants by breaking down their molecular structure. A big selling point is that this purportedly includes Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs, which are too small or too gaseous for conventional HEPA filters to stop.
A number of independent studies have shown that Molekule's underlying PECO system successfully destroys mold, bacteria, viruses and VOCs, even below the 0.3 micron size that is the gold standard for HEPA-certified filters. And it does so without producing ozone, a byproduct of other air filters, bizarrely, since even low levels of ozone have been shown to be harmful to your health. What comes out of Molekule's system are trace amounts of water, carbon dioxide and nitrogen — or, you know, the stuff we're supposed to be breathing.
Customers seem happy, too, judging by the average review score of 4.6/5 stars on the company's website.
As for me, the most noticeable change in air quality came when I ran the Molekule in our basement. Like many basements, ours has a typical musty smell, made worse by the presence of our pet rabbit's litter box and cage. And yet after only a few hours, the Molekule had made a noticeable difference. The air was fresher and purer. I could no longer smell the usual funk from our bunny's corner. Color me impressed.
Some reviewers describe a modest plastic odor the first time they used their Molekule. This was also true in my case, but it vanished within an hour. Now, a couple weeks after I first plugged it in, the purifier has a slight chlorine-like smell when I sniff directly over it. Otherwise it's been a crisp olfactory experience.
On Auto Mode, the Molekule makes a pleasant background whisper, like a gentle white noise machine. The noise barely rises to the level of perception, to be honest — after a minute I forget it's even on. In Boost mode, the whir becomes a distinct whoosh, something akin to the rush of an overtaxed graphics card.
When in operation, the top of the Molekule emits a calming bluish glow. It's a pretty little ring, a kind of phosphorescent mushroom cap. I find it soothing, personally. The light is subtle enough it doesn't bother my wife or me as we sleep. Still, if you're easily disturbed, there's always the Dark Mode option. In this mode, the low energy UV-A light is extinguished, allowing sensitive sleepers to get their 40 winks. Be warned: the PECO technology relies on the chemical reaction activated by the light, so only when Dark Mode is off will captured pollutants be completely eliminated.
The cylinder itself feels solid and secure — my 1-year-old hasn't been able to tip it over or even rock it, despite her best attempts. (She's a fan of the blue lights, too.)
Molekule's ($799 or $67/mo; molekule.com) proprietary technology and modernist-sculpture design doesn't come cheap. But included in the price is a free year of filters, which helps sweeten the deal. After that, two PECO-filters and four pre-filters can be delivered to your doorstep via a subscription service ($129/year; molekule.com). Before you balk, HEPA filters aren't necessarily cheap, either, especially depending on the model in question.
If you appreciate creative design, smooth functionality and clean air, the Molekule is hard to beat. And hey, it'll add a little modernist flair to your bedroom or living room. But more importantly there's some serious science backing up its claims to a cleaner, pollutant-free living space. And in this age of laptop warriors and screen junkies, we all could use a little more fresh air. Don't you think?