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What Works Better: Ionic Air Purifiers or HEPA Air Purifiers?




While both are designed to improve indoor air quality, ionic and HEPA air purifiers are very different in how they approach the problem. Below we break down the differences between the two types of air purifiers and explain why HEPA-based models are ideal for consumers in almost every instance.


Ionic Air Purifiers


There are actually two types of ionic air purifiers – electrostatic precipitators and air ionizers. In both cases these are “filter-less” air cleaners and can be quite appealing since there is no filter replace.


Electrostatic precipitators use positive and negatively charged plates to collect particulates as they pass through. Rather than having to replace the filter, the user must wash or clean the plates. While it is beneficial from a cost standpoint, you give up a lot in performance compared to a HEPA filter.


An electrostatic precipitators' performance is best when the plates are clean. However, even at that point, it performs much worse when compared to a HEPA filter. To make matters worse, when the plates become dirty, the performance degrades further.


It is common for ozone to be produced as a by-product of the charged plates. For someone with a sensitive system such as COPD, emphysema or asthma, ozone can be a huge problem. Recently, room air cleaners have to be tested to meet the minimum ozone requirements in California and as a result there are way less of this type of ionic air purifier on the market. In our opinion, the last thing you want an air purifier to do is introduce a pollutant into your home.


The other type of ionic air cleaner is an air ionizer. These units don’t actually have a filter but rather send out a charge that attaches to the airborne particulates that then attach to something else and therefore are removed from the air. A problem with this that it attaches to something - could be the carpeting, walls, your clothes and worst case - your lungs.


While inexpensive, an air ionizer is not generally recommended for relief from allergies, asthma, or any other respiratory condition.


HEPA Air Purifiers


HEPA filters were developed by the US military during World War II as a way to create an effective gas mask. The technology has not changed significantly since then. In terms of air cleaning performance, HEPA air filters are the best technology available. In addition, HEPA filters become more efficient over time, removing a higher percentage of particulates as they become dirty.


While HEPA air filters require replacement at some point, it is for the sake of ensuring you are getting a high level of air cleaning. As the filters collect particulates, the airflow resistance will increase and that will result in less airflow through the filter and lower air cleaning performance.


A way to think about this is the paradox with replacing home air filters. It is common for people to put off replacing the air filters in their HVAC system. If you understand the big picture, you can see this is a mistake.


Your HVAC system is typically the largest energy user in your home and by “saving” some money in not replacing your air filter, you are causing your HVAC system to work much harder and operate longer. This reduces the life of your heating and cooling system and at the same time increases your energy bill more than if you just replaced the filters. So, you are unknowingly spending dollars to save pennies.


Finally, on the topic of Ionic vs HEPA air purifiers, it is interesting to look at the product trends. If we go back 10-15 years, more than half the air purifiers sold were ionic based and that was largely due to a strong marketing message. “Clean air without filters.” Since then, it has become more widely known that HEPA is the best for truly clean air and there has been a huge shift to HEPA air purifiers in recent years.

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