Air purifier vs air filter: Is an air purifier the same as an air filter?

Do you live in a huge city where pollution is an everyday occurrence? Do you have allergies to pollen or dust? Every year, more than 50 million Americans are impacted by various sorts of allergies, at a cost of more than $18 billion. As a result, it may be time to think about investing in a device that helps filter the air you breathe inside your house.

When looking for the best solution for purifying indoor air, you may become puzzled by the industry jargon of “air purifier vs. air filter”: is an air purifier the same as an air filter? What’s the difference between an air purifier and an air filter? While they share a similar goal, there are distinctions between filtering techniques and purification technologies. Read on as we explain the difference between an air purifier and an air filter below.

Note: If you need answers to common questions about air purifiers, please read our air purifier FAQs.

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Air purifier vs air filter: Is an air purifier the same as an air filter?

An air purifier is not the same as an air filter, although these two terms can be used interchangeably. While they share a similar goal—cleaning indoor air by removing harmful pollutants—the key difference between air purifiers and air filters lies in their method of purification.

An air filter is a filtering device that is incorporated into your home’s central HVAC system. The air filter’s primary function is to capture large, airborne particles before they reach your AC or furnace, keeping your equipment free of dirt and dust accumulation and allowing your HVAC system to perform more efficiently. Aside from keeping your HVAC system clean, an air filter may help cleanse the air in your house by eliminating large particles such as: dust and dust mites, mold spores, pollen, fibers, lint, etc.

An air purifier, also called an air cleaner, often refers to a stand-alone appliance that sanitizes the air and removes or neutralizes harmful particles such as viruses and bacteria that cause allergies and disease that a normal air filter cannot.

Air filters use filtration to remove airborne pollutants, such as a HEPA or an activated carbon filter. Air purifiers, on the other hand, remove indoor air contaminants with varying degrees of effectiveness using ionization, UV radiation, or ozone formation.

We created the table below to help you differentiate between an air purifier and an air filter.

Air purifier vs air filter comparison

Air purifierAir filter
Improves overall indoor air quality.Improves overall indoor air quality and keep your HVAC system clean.
Sanitizes the air and kills airborne microorganisms that cause allergies and illness.Filters the air and catches dust, particularly bigger particles (mainly dead skin and pet dander).
Most operate quietly, producing clean, ambient sound that resembles white noise.May produce a lot of noise pollution.
Less expensive to operate than air filter.Replacement filters and maintenance are expensive to do regularly.
Available in various smaller size to use for a single room, requires good room air circulation to purify large areas or whole house.Installed directly to your home’s central HVAC system, thus, cleans air in your entire house at the same time.
Ozone air purifiers generate ozone, which can be harmful if inhaled in large quantities.Doesn’t emit ozone.

Which is better air purifier or air filter?

Whether an air purifier or air filter is better for you depends on your needs. There are three main factors to consider when choosing between an air purifier and an air filter, which include the type of contaminants you’re dealing with, the space you intend to use the device in, and the noise level.

Type of targeted contaminants

In a nutshell, air filters filter the air in your house, whereas air purifiers sterilize it. While air filters can capture large particles, they are not specially designed to combat viruses, mold, mildew, germs, chemicals, or cigarette smoke.

On the other hand, an air purifier helps to cleanse and sterilize the air by removing airborne pollutants such as mold and cigarette smoke. In addition, air purifiers can filter dangerous fumes, viruses, and bacteria that cause allergies and illness, so they are helpful for those who are suffering from allergies. However, if your objective is to eliminate allergy triggers, a True HEPA air purifier may be the best option.

List of the best air purifiers

Space that needs cleaning air

Air purifiers are available in different sizes that target different spaces to purify the air. Portable, small air purifiers are effective if you only need to clean the air in one to two roomsrtable, small air purifiers are effective if you only need to clean the air in one to two rooms. It is also cost-saving if your house is small. Choosing the right size of air purifier for your house is important to ensure fresh air for you and your family.

An air filter, on the other hand, is a solution for the whole house that a professional can install right into your HVAC system. It catches large particles.

Noise level

An air filter uses a fan to filter the air. When used on a higher setting, this may generate a lot of noise pollution, so it is best to pick one with a low reported noise rating.

In terms of noise level, most portable air purifiers produce a clean, ambient sound that resembles white noise. Some people find this type of white noise helps them concentrate better when studying or working and fall asleep faster, similar to what sound machines do. Many manufacturers indicate the decibel level of their air purifier. The volume of sound that an air purifier can make is often specified by the manufacturer, which is measured in decibels (dB), so you can predict how much noise it can make. If a quiet air purifier is what you are looking for, check out the top 10 small and quiet air purifiers for bedrooms.

Do I need both air filter and air purifier?

Unfortunately, modern air quality is not excellent, especially if you live in a big city, so you may need both an air purifier and an air filter to effectively improve the air quality in your home.Using both an air purifier and an air filter is necessary if you or your family member have allergies, are often ill, are air pollution sensitive, and/or are concerned about wildfire smoke.

Most air filters in HVAC systems can only catch larger dust and dirt particles in the air. They are intended to keep the system functioning smoothly and to decrease wear and tear on the HVAC system, not to provide absolutely clean indoor air. Still, HVAC filters have an impact on interior air quality, and selecting the correct filter is critical. We highly recommend you invest in an air filter with a mid-to-high MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) rating.

While the correct air filters may enhance the operation of your HVAC system and increase air quality, experts recommend using an air purifier together with an air filter to take indoor air quality to the next level. A stand-alone air purifier is also required when allergies are a problem or when you just want to significantly improve the overall quality of your home’s air.

In short, air purifiers and air filters work perfectly together to offer the cleanest air possible in your house.