Air Purifier vs. Air Filter: How Do They Differ?

Air purifiers and air filters both share the same goal: to remove harmful contaminants from the air. In fact, many people use the term “air purifier” as an umbrella concept for all devices that remove airborne contaminants. However, tech enthusiasts and air quality professionals often use the term “air purifier” when referring to devices that deal with extremely small particles (i.e., PM2.5) — this is different from air filters, which don’t remove ultrafine particles. We’ve listed the key differences between these two devices to help people who have been thinking about renting or purchasing a home device to improve indoor air quality pick the right option.

How Do Air Filters Work?

An air filter essentially refers to the filtration device that is often built into the central HVAC system. Air filters are used to catch large airborne particles before they reach either the furnace or AC. This helps keep the equipment free of dirt buildup and debris, which keeps the HVAC system running efficiently. Besides keeping the HVAC clean, air filters can also help remove dust mites, pollen, carpet fibers, mold spores, and lint from the air. It’s important to replace (or at least clean) the air filter regularly, so it works efficiently throughout the year.

How Does an Air Purifier Work?

Virtually every home has an air filter. The main goal of any home air filter is to improve indoor air quality by trapping airborne pollutants and allergens. In many cases, this device is all one needs to remove a lot of common irritants from the air. However, if one has specific health concerns or severe allergies, an air purifier may be the best bet for removing or neutralizing contaminants that a standard air filter cannot — including mold spores, germs, bacteria, and viruses.

An air purifier essentially emits ions that are negatively charged into the surrounding air. These bond to positively charged airborne particles that float around in the air. Once the particles bond, they basically fall onto a plate because they’re pretty heavy at this point. People who are sensitive to allergens and fall sick often may benefit by purchasing an air purifier.