Last edit: 09/28/15

Blueair 603 Air Purifier Review

While the Federal Reserve tells us there is no price inflation, everybody in the air cleaner business is scrambling to lower costs to hold price.

Those old enough to remember the stagflation of the 1970's will recall the shrinking candy bar.

Chocolate and sugar, along with commodities in general, had price spikes during that period.

So confectioners made the candy bar a tiny bit smaller every few months, while keeping the price increases subtle as well.

In 2009 Blueair replaced their top of the line Blueair 601 with the Blueair 603.

603 is a premium air purifier, able to stand with the best, and buyer reviews are very favorable.

The Blueair company is well established, with a broad dealer network for product support.

Despite having introduced a revolutionary design back in the late 1990's, Blueair pursues a conservative philosophy on new models.

Incremental change means buyers are not left holding the bag with an obsolete model.

Although the filters are pricey, they fit across generations of products and are always readily available.

The high manufacturing quality, simplicity of design, and stainless steel construction keep Blueairs running longer than many lower priced brands.

Air purifier engineering is always about balancing factors like noise, airflow restriction, and cost.

Premium HEPA-filtered air cleaners have high pressures which impose design constraints, while free-flowing electrostatic air cleaners need frequent cleaning and are ozone-emissions-prone.

The Blueair 603 is a hybrid of mechanical filtered and electrostatic technologies, producing HEPA-like particle capture without the noise of HEPA and without the constant cleaning of electrostatic models.

Six-zero-three excels at particle capture, but is not as good for odor and chemical removal.

603 is Not Automated

Blueair 650e is the fully automated version, Blueair 603 has only manual switches, with four speed control possibilities.

The 600-series Blueairs draw air from below, up through the fan to three exhaust outlets with separate filters.

Three filters, one on top and two on the ends of the box, are held as loosely as many less expensive HEPAs.

No Prefilter on Blueair 603

Blueair 603 is designed to perform well on CADR tests, adding a prefilter would extend filter life by keeping large dust particles out of the pricey filters, but would also degrade performance on marketing-critical CADR tests.

I don't fault Blueair for adhering to CADR-based-marketing, but the design lets dust accumulate inside the air purifier, a trait shared only with lower-priced air cleaners.

Filter costs and interior cleaning chores remain as the two main weaknesses of the Blueair 603. blueair 603 air purifier

603 is Still a Strong Performer

AHAM's Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) tests suggest 603 may be a bit weaker than its predecessor, Blueair 601.

The AHAM page, always in a state of flux, shows 603's rates the same as the old 601, but

Blueair sites show new CADR rates for the 603;

Dust, greater than 400,
Pollen 415,
Smoke 415.

These are very strong rates, just a bit softer than the old model.

Airflow rates for the 603 are cited as 90-455 cubic feet per minute, down from 601's 490 cfm.

Blueair advertises the 603 for rooms to 640 sq. ft.

In my opinion, Clean Air Delivery Rates provide only a rough estimate of room size effectiveness, and always overstate proper installation volume.

CADRs are evaluated using continuous high speed operation, and room size ratings are a simple multiple of Smoke CADR.

I recommend the Blueair 603 for areas to 450 square feet, because nobody runs a Blueair 603 on high speed 24/7.

I suggest intermittent dust-ups, running the 603 on high when you'll be out of the room for a few minutes, then dropping back to speed 2 or 3 as personal tastes dictate.

Blueair HEPASilent Filters

Lots of shoppers think "HEPA" is a filter construction type - folded paper with embedded fibers.

Wrong.

HEPA is a government performance and efficiency standard, not a specific technology.

This allows many manufacturers to fool buyers by incorporating the acronym HEPA into trademarks attached to sub-hepa products.

I would prefer Blueair not to do this, but in their case "HEPAsilent" is a legitimate claim - at least as far as the HEPA part goes.

Blueair 603 does achieve true-HEPA efficiency, capturing 99.97% of .3 micron particles that pass through the filter.

However, when the filters fill with particles, there will be some bypassing, especially of the loosely bound top filter.

The fine print on the AHAM CADR seal mentions that CADRs predict performance expected "within the first 72 hours."

So there may be a reason, beyond the desire to sell more filters, for Blueair's insistence on six-month filter changes. A three-filter replacement set is about $100.

The HEPAsilent filter has three layers of electrostatic polypropylene fibers.

Spacing is narrower from front to rear, and the fibers get smaller, down to .5 microns in diameter.

Fine wire brushes minimize ozone output (less than 2 parts per billion) while negatively ionizing incoming particles, which are captured by size in the filter maze.

I like Blueair's choice of negative ionization, we have too many pos-ions everywhere.

With the 603 upgrade, a small amount of activated carbon was added to the back of the standard HEPASilent filters.

Blueair 601 filters had no activated carbon,

The new carbon helps with light odor situations, but won't do the job in multi-pet or tobacco smoke situations.

Replacing filters on the 603 is extremely easy, but users should also lay the Blueair on its side and thoroughly vacuum the intake grills and interior at each filter change.

Cost Control Strategy?

The cost of replacement filters for the 603 is high enough to justify the purchase of cheaper air cleaners as adjuncts in the same room.

To me, the logic is inescapable.

A filter is expended when it fills with particles, not when a given time period elapses.

.3 micron particles are tiny, it takes trillions to fill a HEPA filter. But 30 micron (visible) dust will clog one in just a couple months.

Let's assume we could extend the life of the HEPASilents to 1 year. Over a three year period the savings, $300, would cover the price of a 300 CADR Sharp Plasmacluster FP-A80U to run in the same room.

Or maybe the $225 Sharp FP-A60U, with 230 CADR, and a couple cheap 2-micron Honeywells to fill with visible dust.

Though I own no Blueairs, I do this with my IQAirs, buying far fewer filters than the builder recommends.

I vacuum on schedule - too many users think the air purifier is a vacuum cleaner - and use cheap air cleaners as dust collectors, as detailed on this site.

Frequent vacuuming keeps large visible dust out of the premium air cleaner, letting it collect sub-micron particles indefinitely without new filters.

I think the Blueair 603, with its one-piece progressive filter design, lends itself especially well to this concept.

If you examine a Blueair with 6-month old filters, you'll see heavy dust clogging the first layer.

I have NOT dissected a used HEPAsilent to prove, with electron microscope studies, that the fine passages in the back are still open.

Nobody with the resources has any incentive to do studies like that.

But my expectation is that the majority of discarded Blueair filters are clogged mainly at the first layer.

User reviews report success with vacuuming the filters (without touching), and adding foam prefilter material to the intake grids.

These experiments are likely to void warranty, but it is gone after the first 6 months without a filter buy anyhow.

I have not tried this on a Blueair - users proceed at your own risk.

Blueair 603 with SmokeStop Option

CADR ratings do not measure odor or chemical clearance.

Pet odors and cigarette/cigar smoke scenarios may require Blueair's optional SmokeStop filters.

This option raises filter costs to around $360 per year.

Three SmokeStop filters have a total of 5.3 lbs. of activated coconut shell carbon, augmented with Potassium Iodide, Phosphoric acid, and Potassium Hydroxide.

This is a premium gas phase filter, capable of oxidizing airborne acetaldehyde, a notoriously difficult and allergy-provoking gas toxin.

Due to the incremental design strategy and pricey filters, older or non-genuine Blueair filters may be offered as "bargains."

In my opinion, buyers with strong gas-phase pollutants would be better off with another brand.

Blueair 603 Noise

Blueairs make low noise relative to power, but they have a frequency pattern which irritates some users.

Sound emissions for the Blueair 603 are 35 to 71 decibels (dB).

That 71 dB(A) is LOUD!

User reviews say the first 2 speeds are inaudible, and speed three may be quiet enough for TV.

Top speed, blowing 455 cfm will be very loud, but in most rooms high speed operation should be needed for a short time only.

Blueair 603 has no ozone or out-gassing.

A few reviews have mentioned a break-in odor with some Blueairs.

Many will put plastic tape over the always-too-bright blue light.

There must be some kind of engineering ego trip that compels designers to put bright lights on air purifiers. Customers hate these, but so many builders keep putting them on.

Using 35 Watts on low and 120 W on high, Blueair 603 is Energy StarĀ® rated.

Measuring 26 by 20 by 13 inches, Blueair 603 weighs 35 pounds, and really needs the four casters to get around.

Blueair Warranty

The Swedish company has been in business since 1996.

US distribution is handled from Chicago.

Blueair Inc.
17 N. State, Suite 1830
Chicago, IL 60602

Every air purifier manufacturer has slimmed down warranty claim costs due to deteriorating market conditions.

Blueair 603 is warranted for 1 year, requiring proof-of-purchase for replacement filters, on time for the whole period.

Owners can register to extend warranty by enrolling in the filter subscription program.

Blueair has added a magnetic timer which adheres to the purifier, signaling time to buy filters every 188 days.

The entire process of timing and buying filters to remain in warranty is independent of actual run time or filter loading.

Blueair customer service is thin, relying on the dealer net for servicing and customer hand-holding.

This behavior seems to me to add to the incentive for mechanically inclined buyers to wing it, forgetting the warranty, and focusing on controlling filter costs.

The company discourages this by selling replacement parts only to dealers.

Buyers wishing to assure warranty coverage can consider Blueair's Filter Subscription Program, which ships new filters and provides documentation on schedule.

For the affluent, these issues may be moot - just subscribe to the filter program, do a small amount of maintenance semi-annually, and tend to other business.

Conclusions

Despite the filter costs, Blueair 603 remains a premium class leader for particle removal situations.

Blueair 603 is not recommended here for MCS or other chemical sensitivity.

It will clear a room of fine particles faster than other premium makes.

While I highly recommend the Blueair 603, personally I would implement a long-term cost control strategy, discussed above, in the home where it is installed.

Look for the Blueair 603 at Amazon.com.

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