Molekule Review: What’s Wrong With Consumer Reports’ and Wirecutter’s Approach
Recently, Molekule air purifiers have been making waves in the online review space. Both Consumer Reports and Wirecutter recently put Molekule air purifiers to the test against several other popular brands and types.
Healthy competition is always positive, and the fact that their newer technology was involved in these tests is a good thing. Just being included is a testament to how Molekule is shaking up the industry.
But we need to talk about the results.
Both Consumer Reports and Wirecutter ranked Molekule lower than some of its competitors. On the surface, this isn’t good news for Molekule or the new technology underlying their products.
But there’s more to the story here. Namely, the tests that were used for these reviews were flawed.
How can we come to this kind of conclusion? Read on to learn the rest of the story.
Wrong Test, Wrong Conclusion
The crux of the problem with the Molekule Review that Consumer Reports created (as well as the review from Wirecutter) is that both companies used the wrong test. To understand why let’s take a bit of a deep dive into the technologies involved.
Everyone has heard of HEPA: it’s a heavily advertised air filtering protocol. A HEPA air filter removes most airborne particles in the air 0.3 microns or greater, which it processes by capturing them within the filter media. Quality air filters that are HEPA certified are very good at doing that one thing. But HEPA filters are one-trick ponies: they’re not certified to remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs), mold, or biological particles.
Molekule air filters don’t use HEPA technology. They use the company’s custom filtration tech, PECO. PECO does what HEPA cannot: it works to neutralize smaller particles, like VOCs, mold, and fungus. Of course, this custom PECO tech also removes larger particles, just like purifiers certified under the HEPA standard.
Molekule’s air purifiers, using the combined efforts of a Pre-Filter and the PECO-Filter, are rated as a MERV 16. This scale of measurement is used to determine how well air filters remove specific ranges of particles. MERV ratings span from 1-16, with 16 being the ideal MERV value for removing the smallest particles. This is higher than what is defined in the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) guidelines for operating rooms, which is MERV 14.
All this brings us back to the tests that Consumer Reports and Wirecutter used. The testing, called CADR testing, is essentially HEPA testing. Because HEPA is only certified to deal with airborne particles and not those smaller items, HEPA testing focuses exclusively on – you guessed it – larger airborne particles.
The CADR test used by both reviewers is dated: it was last updated almost a decade and a half ago in 2006. The test measures the speed at which a machine can pull those larger particles out of the air. That’s the only thing it measures. It doesn’t look at smaller particles in any way, nor does it evaluate overall air quality or whether pollutants have been destroyed or neutralized.
So, if you put air filtration machines through a test designed to look only at what HEPA filters are good at filtering, the HEPA filters look pretty good.
To put it bluntly: HEPA technology, by design, looks great in a test that’s designed to look only at what HEPA technology can do. If this test were the only thing that mattered, then obviously Molekule would lose. Molekule devices don’t fare entirely as well on this test, because the Molekule team’s stated goal wasn’t to pass a test. It was to create a new, science-backed technology that does more to clean and purify the air than HEPA technology alone can accomplish.
The big problem with all this is that the test that was used, CADR, doesn’t capture the full picture. If consumers only cared about larger particle filtration, then these results would be meaningful. But it’s well known that consumers do care about more. They care about neutralizing, and more importantly; destroying VOCs, viruses, mold, bacteria and so forth.
Unfortunately, the prominent reviewers couldn’t be bothered to test for these things, despite being given a chance to do so (more on that later).
Apples and Oranges
When Consumer Reports and Wirecutter performed their reviews, they considered the Molekule Air to be in the same category as HEPA-grade air purifiers. They found it an apples-to-apples comparison. But this, too, is incorrect.
When reviewers compare a Molekule air purifier with a HEPA-certified competitor, they’re comparing apples and oranges. They are comparing two totally different technologies and looking at overlapping-yet-distinct functions.
Here’s the thing: oranges aren’t great at passing apple tests. Nor are apples great at passing orange tests! They aren’t interchangeable. (Consider that both fruits have their place, but only one helps prevent scurvy.)
In case any of our readers are tempted to think that this isn’t a fair point, consider an alternate universe where the tables were turned. If a reviewer ran all the same machines through a “PECO test” — a test that looks for smaller particles and evidence of their destruction — it’s unlikely the HEPA filters would fare well at all. Because eliminating or destroying those particles isn’t what they were built to do. It’s also quite reasonable to think that their manufacturers would complain that the test was unfair, just as Molekule has been doing here in this universe.
If all you’re concerned about is lowering the amount of large particulate matter in the air around you, then the apple (that’s HEPA) may be plenty sufficient. But if you’re like most people and are concerned about actually destroying small pollutants like VOCs, bacteria, mold, and viruses, consider the orange — that’s Molekule — and don’t be fooled by Molekule’s performance in the wrong test.
Another issue with how these comparison reports were published is that both companies admit, more or less, that they aren’t testing Molekule machines for what they are purported to do. They didn’t have the capability in-house to test these machines and their newer technology properly. So they ran the older tests instead and made their recommendations based on those results.
We find this misleading at best. It’s well known today that small pollutants are commonplace in indoor spaces. The connection of some of these substances to health problems is already established, such as indoor VOCs being carcinogenic and potential triggers for allergies and asthma, or ozone and its link to health problems like chest pain, coughing, and throat irritation.
Other links have been theorized and are being tested, and we expect we’ll learn more over time.
Yet even though we know these particles are present, and we know some of them can be harmful, these two major online reviewers decided to test and publish results that ignore these particles entirely. The conclusion nearly boils down to this: they didn’t test Molekule to see if it does what it says it does. They tested it to see if it does what the other purifiers do. It was the wrong test, and the results are misleading as a result.
Thanks, But No Thanks
You might be tempted to think that the reviewers gave it their best shot. What if no test exists that can accurately measure the effectiveness of the new tech that powers Molekule air purifiers?
That’s a fair question, but here again, Molekule tried hard. The company provided significant, independent third-party research. You can read it yourself if you want. The testing exists, and Molekule stands behind the results. The team at Molekule tried to educate both companies about the new technology, dialoguing with them at length about how it works. Some on the Molekule team even flew out to meet the testing team at one of the reviews.
When Molekule heard that the reviewers weren’t equipped to test PECO technology, they even offered the reviewers with the lab space, tech, and independent experts so they could independently verify the equipment.
The answer thus far has been, more or less, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
The Industry Deserves Better, and So Do Consumers
At the end of the day, what’s the point of a post like this one? Do we just love a good underdog story? Do we have it out for Consumer Reports and Wirecutter? No, not at all. Of course, Molekule would prefer to have universally favorable reviews, especially on sites as influential as Consumer Reports and Wirecutter. But this goes deeper. The point here is something much bigger than any of that.
The reason for this post is that the industry deserves better. Air purifier technology is in increasing demand, and Molekule’s approach is one that’s backed by science. Hampering a new technology with out-of-date testing doesn’t help the industry move forward. It keeps it stuck in the past.
We’re also burdened for all those consumers who never made it past Consumer Reports. Large reviewers like Consumer Reports and Wirecutter wield an outsized amount of influence on consumers. When these reviewers rely on dated and barely applicable testing that favors a legacy technology, they aren’t serving consumers well.
In conclusion, here’s the message that we hope consumers will take away from this post: There’s more to air quality than what Consumer Reports and Wirecutter evaluated. We hope that both of those companies will soon modernize their review methods to assess new technologies in the air purifier space accurately.