Indoor Air Quality

Air Filter vs. Air Purifier - Which One is Right for You?

To help you determine the optimal solution for IAQ in your facility, this article will provide an in-depth comparison between air filters vs. air purifiers.

July 28, 2021
Last Updated On:
July 12, 2022
Last Updated On:
July 12, 2022

Keeping indoor air clean is necessary for all businesses, offices, and school facilities seeking to maintain safe operation. For facilities managers and directors across the nation, the goal of improving indoor air quality is becoming a critical factor in reopening. Indoor air quality (IAQ) improvements can be achieved by implementing air filtration and air purifier controls. For numerous facilities, the go-to method is to upgrade the air filtration on HVAC systems with higher MERV-rated filters.

However, as demonstrated by studies, MERV 13 filters often cause HVAC systems to decrease performance and efficiency, hindering their ability to perform their purpose of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. To truly achieve IAQ improvements, adding HEPA Filter-based air purifier units alongside HVAC upgrades is the best method. To help you determine the optimal solution for IAQ improvements in your facility, this article will provide in-depth insight and comparison between air purifiers vs. air filtration.

What is an Air Purifier?

Also referred to as air cleaners, air purifiers plug into the wall and clean a given volume of space. Depending on the filtration media or electronic air cleaning technologies, air purifiers can provide various levels of air cleaning performance. Typically air purifiers are HEPA Filter-based with additional Pre-Filters or Activated Carbon Filters. These filters are often supported by UV-C Lights/PCO Technology and Negative Ionization to increase the system's effectiveness.

Air purifiers are commonly used in schools, government settings, industrial services, and offices to reduce air pollution, improve air quality, reduce sickness, and eliminate harmful viruses like the COVID-19 virus. They are often affordable and easy to use, which is why so many consumers choose air purifiers over other types of air filtration methods, like upgraded HVAC systems, MERV Filters, or building-wide bi-polar ionization. 

Commercial Air Purifier From Sanalife.

How Air Purifiers Work

Air purifiers work by pulling in air through an air filtration system and then cycling it through multiple stages of air filters. At Sanalife, our devices range in capabilities and have two to five stages of air filtration. The effectiveness of the air filter and the size of the chamber will determine how powerful it is in cleaning the air of certain particulates, how fast it can do so, the volume of air it can treat, and the number of air exchanges it treats per hour.

There are several types of filters that an air purifier uses:

  • True HEPA Filters: True HEPA filters stand for high-efficiency particulate air filters. They are mechanical air filters that collect 99.95% to 99.97% of the airborne particulates sized at 0.3 µm (or microns). HEPAs are most effective at capturing the 0.3-micron particle, known as the most penetrating particle size (MPPS). They typically catch pollen, moisture, bacteria, viruses, like the SARS-CoV-2 virus, dirt, dust mites, and submicron liquid aerosols. 
  • Activated Carbon Filters: An activated carbon filter is a media filter that uses carbon adsorption to attract particles. These are often used as one of the first lines of defense to capture the smaller particles, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), allowing HEPA filters to work more effectively. Activated carbon filters can reduce symptoms associated with allergies, asthma, and sick building syndrome (SBS). They also reduce VOCs and harmful gasses in office settings. 
  • PCO Technology: By harnessing the sun's power, UV-C light technology can kill the DNA and cellular membranes of viruses, bacteria, pathogens, and mold spores. This technology is highly effective at capturing small particulates. Another benefit is that PCO technology is a green technology that accelerates the breakdown of organic matter. 
  • Ionization: Also referred to as negative ionization, ionizers are used as pre-filters in air purifiers to break down harmful particulates through electrostatic attraction or negative ionization. 
  • Hydroxyl Radical Technology: Hydroxyl radical technology is a patented technology that generates and expands hydroxyl radicals (OH) through an oxidation process. This is one aspect of ionization technology, but it has been harnessed to produce OH- molecules more effectively, which binds to pathogenic microorganisms (like viruses and bacteria) and can remove them 99.9% of the time. This technology also reduces airborne VOCs and particulate matter (PM).
Activated Carbon Cartridge And HEPA Filter.

Ways Air Purifiers Differ From Other Products

Air purifier systems are often confused with other air cleaning devices. Here's a simple breakdown of the differences between air purifiers and other devices like air filters, humidifiers, and air scrubbers. 

Air Purifier vs. Air Filter

Air purifiers are often confused with filters. Air filters are attached to HVAC systems or sit inside air purifier systems. Air purifiers can have multiple filters in them to effectively clean the air. If you're wondering whether you should get an air filter vs. air cleaner, it comes down to what you need the product for. If you have an HVAC system and need to upgrade or replace the air filter, you would look for an effective air filter for your space, most likely a MERV 13 Filter. Alternatively, if you can't upgrade your HVAC system (due to older systems or budgetary constraints), then portable air purifiers may be your best alternative. At Sanalife, we offer an entire suite of air purifiers featuring multiple filtration stages and technologies.

Are MERV 13 Filters Your Best Choice?

Air Purifier vs. Humidifier

Humidifiers are products that specifically increase moisture in the air (otherwise known as humidity). These devices are beneficial in dry climates, like desert areas or residences with dry indoor climates caused by winter. If you have asthma or allergies exasperated by dry air, then a humidifier might also help reduce the frequency of symptoms. Air purifiers do not add any humidity to the air. Instead, they filter out air particles to provide a cleaner indoor air environment. 

How To Empty A Dehumidifier Bucket

Air Purifier vs. Dehumidifier

Oppositely dehumidifiers work to take the moisture out of the air. These devices are usually installed wherever indoor humidity needs to be reduced to acceptable levels. High humidity levels can be a sign of malfunctioning air conditioning units, poor seals in windows and doors, or just an indication of the climate. If the humidity levels are bothersome or hazardous to health, then a dehumidifier can undoubtedly help. However, unlike air purifiers, dehumidifiers and humidifiers often do not provide the same level of air filtration.

Air Scrubber vs. Air Purifier

Air scrubbers include multiple types of air pollution control devices. Air scrubbers operate similarly to air purifiers, but they can also remove particles from surrounding surfaces. Air scrubbers are largely used to remove particulates in industrial settings. Mold remediation specialists often use them to clean the air of mold while it is being removed from a surface. In the remediation process, mold can be scattered into the air. The air scrubber prevents further contamination. 

The biggest difference between air purifiers and air scrubbers is that air scrubbers can clean air and surfaces. Air scrubbers are far more industrialized, as they can also neutralize corrosive gases and dust and handle flammable and explosive dust (with some risk). They also provide a compound unit for gas and dust collection, and they can also cool hot gases.

Air Purifier vs. Ionizer

An ionizer is a unit that uses electricity (ions) to break down the particles that move through the ionization chamber. The device affects ions and electrically charges the air molecules to remove contaminants, including volatile compounds (VOCs), viruses, bacteria, harmful gases, and bothersome odors. An ionizer is a unit that uses electricity (ions) to break down the particles that move through the ionization chamber. The device affects ions and electrically charges the air molecules to remove contaminants, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), viruses, bacteria, harmful gases, and bothersome odors.

Portable air purifier systems often feature ionization technologies. Numerous systems on the market combine various forms of negative ionization and needle-point ionization with HEPA Filters to provide optimal air filtration. However, despite the benefits of ionization technologies, some manufacturers with low-quality and untested systems may put out ozone. Within confined spaces, continuous exposure to high levels of ozone may be hazardous to health. Therefore, it is imperative to know if the system you are considering or are using meets the guidelines set by the California Air Resource Board (CARB).

Bipolar Ionization in Air Purifier.

Air Sanitizer vs. Air Purifier

Air sanitizers are devices that can use chemical sprays that treat air, surfaces, and water by acting on microorganisms. Air sanitizers are commonly disinfectant sprays. This is a powerful disinfectant that reduces the growth of microbiological organisms fast and effectively and is typically used to fight infectious microorganisms found in the open air. The aerosol usually works for several hours and is designed to kill spores and bacteria. However, like numerous aerosols sprays, a potentially harmful by-product of air sanitizer sprays is VOCs. Using portable air purifier systems with Activated Carbon Filters can cycle that air to reduce airborne contaminants such as VOCs.

Buying Air Purifiers vs. Air Filtration

Chances are, you should be purchasing an air purifier before a higher-rated MERV filter. Not only are higher-rated MERV filters less effective at filtering out airborne contaminants, but they also can negatively impact HVAC system performance. On the other hand, there are only benefits to implementing air purifiers into any space.

With the wide range of capabilities and coverage sizes, air purifiers are scalable and affordable solutions to fit any square footage. These systems allow facilities to improve indoor air quality (IAQ) without making a considerable dent in budgets or grant funding. Therefore, if you want improved air quality to reduce sick building syndrome, the chances of illnesses like the COVID-19 virus, or you want cleaner air, then get an air purifier.

Multi-Stage Air Purification System.
Multi-Stage Air Purifier (HEPA Filter, Activated Carbon Filter, Pre-Filter)

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