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Purification Versus Filtration: What Is the Indoor Air Quality Difference?

woman in gas mask in the kitchen

Today there are two main approaches for addressing indoor air quality concerns: air filtration and air purification.

Each air quality approach has a lot to recommend it. And because each basically just takes a different road to reach the same destination, it is impossible to say that one is inherently better or superior to the other.

However, both of these indoor air quality aids would not exist if each wasn’t needed. And the two terms—filtration and purification—sound sufficiently similar that it can be confusing to sort out which one does what!

In this post, we take a closer look at air filtration versus air purification, discussing the pros and cons of each and answering frequently asked questions about both systems so you can decide which might be the better indoor air quality system for your home or workplace.

Understanding Air Filtration

Air filtration is perhaps the most common and best-known method of improving indoor air quality.

Today’s air conditioners and heating systems typically come already outfitted with air filters, which attempt to capture airborne toxins before they enter your indoor air supply and you breathe them in.

There are many different types of filters, from disposable to reusable, polyester to fiberglass. The best-known rating system is MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value). Air filters with higher MERV ratings are more efficient at filtering out airborne toxins but can have an adverse effect on HVAC operation if you have an older system.

The gold standard of indoor air filtration today is called HEPA, or High Efficiency Particulate Air filtration. HEPA is a system of improving indoor air quality that was first developed during World War II to protect scientists working to develop the atomic bomb.

Today, HEPA-rated air filters are still the filters of choice in hospitals, laboratories and other places where achieving a very high level of air purity is essential. A HEPA-rated filter can filter out airborne particles as small as 1/100th of a single human hair!

There are two main ways to add HEPA air filtration to your home or workplace.

The first is to upgrade your HVAC system to a HEPA-rated or MERV-equivalent system. The second is to retrofit your existing HVAC system to work with an independent HEPA air filtration system.

Understanding Air Purification

Air purification is commonly mixed up with air filtration, but the two processes work quite differently.

Where air filtration works by capturing and trapping toxic airborne particles in an air filter and thus removing them from your indoor air supply, air purification works by actually altering and then destroying those same airborne particles.

Ultraviolet light from the sun is still the most potent and effective purifier on this planet. The sun produces three bands of ultraviolet light: A, B and C. Of these three bands, ultraviolet band C is the strongest. Unlike bands A and B, UV band C is naturally blocked by the ozone layer that surrounds our planet.

But it is possible to reproduce UV band C for use in an indoor air purifier and get the same purifying benefits of this powerful light band without risk to you or your family. Ultraviolet light purifies the air by literally changing the chemical composition of the toxins it comes in contact with. By altering the structure of moulds, viruses, bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms, UV band C light prevents them from doing any harm.

What is most interesting about ultraviolet air purification is that when you choose a UV air purifier, you are not giving up your air filter. Rather, you are simply adding another layer of protection on top of your existing air filter.

The best way to add indoor ultraviolet air purification to your home or workspace is to retrofit your existing HVAC system by adding on an independent UV air purification system. The ultraviolet light will purify incoming fresh air before it is released into your air ducts.

Purification or Filtration: Which System Is Right For You?

The good news is that there is really no one right or wrong way to answer this question. In other words, both HEPA air filtration and ultraviolet air purification can do the heavy lifting to improve the quality of the air in your home or workplace.

But certain systems can work better to address certain air quality concerns.

When to choose HEPA air filtration:

  • To combat allergies due to pollen, dust, dust mites

  • To prevent allergic reactions to animal dander in the home

  • To protect a compromised immune system with hospital-quality air

  • To reduce the air quality impact of tobacco use in the home

When to choose ultraviolet air purification:

  • To combat mould and mildew allergies

  • To remove bacterial, viral or fungal matter from the air

  • To neutralize unpleasant or unwanted odours

  • To neutralize gaseous toxins (extremely small particulates, VOCs, etc.) too small for filters to catch

Filtration Versus Purification Maintenance

There is one more important consideration when choosing between a HEPA air filtration system and an ultraviolet air purification system: maintenance.

HEPA systems are more maintenance-intensive. A full HEPA filter must be removed and replaced. It can be labour-intensive, as well as a bit messy, to remove the fragile filter and replace it.

Ultraviolet systems require only a bit of annual maintenance to replace the UV bulb, which will produce less-active ultraviolet spectrum light over time and must be replaced at least annually.

With proper and regular ongoing maintenance, air filtration and purification systems can last a long time without lessening of results.

Get in Touch

Do you need assistance with improving the quality of your indoor air at home or at work? Contact us online or give us a call at 905-544-2470.

P.S. Right now, you can save 10 percent on any of our three popular professional indoor air duct cleaning packages.

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