Residential Air Cleaner Or Air Purifier – What’s The Difference?

Allergy Air Purifiers vs HEPA filter?
Compare Air Purifiers vs Air Cleaners

More than 50 million people in the United States are affected by hay fever, asthma, and allergies. If you’re one of those unlucky people who suffer from one of these conditions, you may be tempted to spend money on an air purifier in the search for relief.

Before you decide to buy an air purifier or an air cleaner, you need to know which one is right for you. Essentially, there isn’t much difference, except that air cleaners and air purifiers can contain one or more air filters, but an air filter can also be used on its own.

First, let’s talk about the different technologies:

Air Filters

An air filter is a mesh of some sort that can be used to screen out particles. The simplest 1″ filters for your furnace prevent hair and larger dust particles from getting into your furnace and reducing its efficiency. There’s nothing wrong with these if you don’t suffer from any allergic symptoms.

HEPA Air Filters

HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air, and is a specific filter standard that should trap 99.97% of particles 0.03 microns or larger. This type of filter is much finer, and will trap smaller particles like pollen spores and some bacteria, but will not trap gasses.

But many products advertised as “HEPA Air Filter” often contain other types of cartridges as well to remove different things from the air you breathe. Here’s where we get into the other types of technologies that upgrade a simple filter to a multi-stage system that’s often called an air cleaner or air purifier.

Activated Carbon

Most filters will trap solid particles of a certain size, but what if the problem is a gas? You need an adsorption (not absorption) product for that. It causes the gas molecule to be trapped on the surface of a material like charcoal. The gas molecules are chemically and/or electrostatically drawn to the surface of the charcoal, where it becomes “stuck.”

Ultra Violet (UV) Sterilization

A UV sterilizer uses the same UVA and UVB rays emitted by our sun to kill microorganisms like moulds, bacteria and even some viruses.

Ionic or Electrostatic

These technologies use a charge to cause airborne particles to be drawn to metal plates. The advantage of these is that they can allow better overall airflow. These are best combined with a regular air filter to ensure everything gets trapped – many units use both these technologies.

Ozone Generation

Ozone is made of three oxygen molecules bonded together, and it’s a powerful deodorizer. Unfortunately it’s also a toxic gas in large doses. We don’t recommend you buy ozone generators for your home. Most ionic systems generate a tiny bit of ozone, so don’t buy anything that creates more than 50-60 parts per billion (about the levels of ozone found outdoors).

So, Which Technologies Actually Work To Clean My Air?

The answer will depend on the problem you’re facing, as not all products work on all issues. If you’re facing more than one problem, buy a unit that contains all the technologies you need.

  • POLLEN ALLERGIES / HAY FEVER: Get a HEPA filter.
  • DUST ALLERGIES: A HEPA filter is best.
  • TOBACCO SMOKE: Or or VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Activated carbon filter.
  • CONSTANT COLDS AND SORE THROATS: If your doctor says they can’t find a serious health issue, a HEPA filter (or better) should help you find relief. You should also ensure your home has a humidifier to combat dry winter air.
  • MOLD IN YOUR HOME: You should get a UV sterilizer inside your ductwork and you may need a dehumidifier as well. In summer, your air conditioner should provide enough dehumidification. If you don’t run your air conditioner often enough, a dehumidifier may be the answer. Don’t forget, you may also need a good shower fan if the problem is mostly in the bathroom. For serious mold infestations, you may need to consult a professional mold remediation contractor.
  • DUST MITE ALLERGY: While a HEPA filter will help with airborne dust mite feces, you should also get a dust-mite proof cover for your bed and pillow. Dust mites live in any kind of cloth or upholstered surface, so consider replacing carpeting with wood or tile floors, and replace drapes with blinds.
  • POOR INDOOR AIR QUALITY: Unfortunately, there is no technology that will allow you to get away without regular vacuuming of your home. If you have allergies, try a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter.

Treat Your Whole Home

Whatever solution you need, it’s important to treat your whole home at the same time for best results. While it’s tempting to sleep with a cheap portable unit by your bedside, what happens when you walk down the stairs?

Remember, your home’s air and the particles inside circulate throughout your home.

For example, a pollen spore that comes in with you through your front door will tend to drift towards the ground or nearby furniture. As you walk around, you stir up the dust layer, which can trigger an attack.

Be wise, use your home’s air circulation system that’s already moving air around to treat your air. You’ll get cleaner air, better sleep, and fewer allergy or asthma attacks.


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