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Key Differences between Air Filters and Air Purifiers

Every family deserves to have a clean home. That extends beyond easy-to-see things like dust-free surfaces. The quality of the air in modern homes is actually more important than whether every surface is free of dust and debris.

Households with centralized heating and cooling systems already have basic air filters built into their HVAC units. These basic filters aren’t enough to remove all contaminants from the air, though.

HVAC services like Aquarius Home Services offer more advanced filters, air purifiers, or both to help homeowners keep their houses safe from dangerous contaminants. That begs the question: what’s the difference between these two types of products? Homeowners can read on to find out.

What Is an Air Filter?

Air filters are built into HVAC systems to remove certain pollutants from the air before it reaches the living spaces in the home. Most filters are composed of fiber mesh with small air holes. The mesh traps particles to prevent them from being introduced into the home while allowing the air to pass through uninhibited.

What Is an Air Purifier?

Air purifiers can be installed in the home’s ductwork or as standalone systems. They feature germicidal UV lamps in addition to filters, allowing them to kill a large percentage of bacteria, mold, and fungi. Some air purifiers also use ionization to remove pollutants from the air.

What Do Air Filters Do?

Air filters can reduce the number of airborne particulates being recirculated through the home. They help to cut back on things like dust and pet dander. Not all filters are equally effective, though.

More advanced filters like HEPA models are able to capture up to 99.97% of contaminants as small as 0.3 microns, while the basic filters that come with HVAC units are nowhere near as effective. HEPA filters can catch not just larger particles like dust, but also bacteria and some other contaminants.

Carbon air filters are also more efficient than traditional models. They’re designed to capture chemicals and reduce odors from things like cigarette smoke. It’s comparatively rare to see carbon filters in residential homes, but heavy smokers may benefit from having them installed.

What Do Air Purifiers Do?

While even the most advanced air filters can only trap particles that are 0.3 microns or more in size, air purifiers can kill pathogens of any size. They’re able to all but eliminate not just bacteria, but also viruses, and can help to eliminate dust, pollen, dander, mold, mildew, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Which One Is Better?

Since air filters and air purifiers serve different purposes, there’s no clear answer to the question of which of them is better. Deciding what kind of air treatment device to install requires careful consideration of the household’s needs. Before considering what type of air treatment device to install, identify the underlying problem that needs to be treated.

Problem: Seasonal Allergies

Seasonal allergies, often referred to as hay fever, are caused by high pollen levels. Pollen gets introduced into homes through the windows and doors and on the soles of residents’ or guests’ shoes. The most cost-efficient way to stop its spread is to install a HEPA filter.

Problem: Dust Allergies

Dust is composed of dirt, old skin and hair cells, clothing fibers, dust mites, bacteria, pollen, and a diverse array of other materials. Those with dust allergies are actually allergic to the tiny bugs that live in the dust. They can be all but eliminated with a HEPA filter.

Problem: VOCs

VOCs are produced by certain building materials, cleaning agents, and consumer products. In high concentrations, they can be dangerous to consumers’ health, and unfortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has discovered that levels of around a dozen VOCs are two to five times higher inside of modern homes than outdoors. Installing an activated carbon filter can help to reduce concentrations of these organic compounds to acceptable levels.

Problem: Mold Growth

Mold thrives in wet, dark environments, but it doesn’t need access to standing water to proliferate. It’s actually very common in household ductwork. Installing exhaust fans in bathrooms and other moisture-prone areas can help, as can running dehumidifiers in the summer. An air purifier that uses UV sterilization is the best way to stop mold spores from spreading through the home’s ductwork.

Problem: Constant Sore Throat

Most sore throats are caused by colds or allergies and they go away when the person gets better or the allergy triggers are removed. Installing a HEPA filter can help if the sore throats are due to allergies. If the problem only occurs in the winter and doctor can’t find any underlying health problems, a humidifier may be the right solution.

What’s This About Humidity?

Removing contaminants isn’t the only way to improve indoor air quality. Maintaining optimal humidity levels in the home is also an essential step toward improved health and comfort. In the summer, the air tends to be more humid while in the winter, it can get too dry. Humid air can create problems with mold growth, while dry air can leave residents struggling with sore throats, dry skin, and bloody noses. A whole-home humidity control system should resolve all these problems.

Take a Multi-Faceted Approach

Want to take all possible steps to improve indoor air quality? The best solution is to work with an HVAC company that can install both advanced filters and air purifiers. The combined effect of removing larger airborne particulates and killing viruses, bacteria, and other tiny pathogens offers maximum protection for the home’s residents and guests. It can also help to increase the operational lifespan of the HVAC equipment and improve its efficiency, reducing monthly heating and cooling bills.

The Bottom Line

No matter what kinds of problems homeowners and their families are facing with indoor air quality, they can get the help they need from a qualified HVAC technician. When choosing who to call, look for a company that does it all, from air quality testing and remediation to water conditioning, home heating and cooling system repairs, and more. It’s the best way to ensure residents’ health and comfort.

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