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HEPA Air Purifier vs. Ionic Air Purifier

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T he market for air purifiers is quite competitive, there’s no denying it, different systems utilizing different technologies and filtration means to tackle the issue of indoor air pollution reduction. Two of the most common presences are HEPA and ionic air purifiers, and without a thorough understanding of their functioning and the technologies that make them up, you won’t be able to make a concise decision. Here, we will pin the two different types of air filtering systems against one another so that you have an easier time deciding which suits your needs best and why, looking into the way they work, what differentiates them, and what to expect once you start using them.

HEPA Air Purifiers 101

How They Work

Fun fact: In WWII, the U.S. military developed HEPA filters to create effective gas masks, the technology used in the past not differing much from that used in modern days as the design was basically optimal from the get-go.

HEPA is widely recognized as being the highest standard for air purification. For a filter to be graded as HEPA, it must be able to capture a minimum of 99.97% of particulates down to 0.3 micrometers according to the U.S. DOE standard. As 1 micron is actually equivalent to one-millionth of a meter, expect a HEPA air purification system to trap particles that are invisible to the naked eye without much in the way of effort.

To provide this operational efficiency, the filter is made up of a web of woven fibers that are packed tightly, the system drawing in polluting particles and trapping them in the mesh. For added efficiency, when you seek a HEPA air purifier, look into the presence of an activated carbon filter or antimicrobial filter as well, expanding the system’s capabilities. Generally, HEPA filters and accompanying media are found in air purifiers that cater to allergy sufferers as triggering particles are usually microscopically-sized, thus media effectively relieving the air of symptom-inducing pollutants.

Benefits

  • Highest efficiency toward air contamination reduction – effectiveness of over 99.97% in its operation.
  • Can remove pollutants as small as 0.3 micrometers that it encounters in the air indoors.
  • High efficiency when it comes to allergy-triggering particles removal, which makes them perfect for asthma and allergy sufferers.
  • Does not produce or emit ozone or byproducts during its operation.
  • Long filter life of up to 2-3 years, which is considerably more when compared to carbon filters or other similar media.

Drawbacks

  • Can potentially harbor mold and bacteria. If you have issues with mold and bacteria growth indoors, it’s recommended to opt for a system that combines HEPA filtration with UV light sterilizing so that these pollutants won’t gather in the filter and get released back into the air.
  • Particles smaller than 0.3 micrometers will escape the filter media’s attempt to trap them. However, there are cases where the filters are able to trap smaller-size particles. Nonetheless, this isn’t a major downfall seeing how extremely ultra-fine particles are almost impossible to capture by any type of filter.

F.A.Q.

Question #1: Is HEPA Type just as good?

Answer: HEPA Type is not equal to True HEPA in the sense that their efficiency is not as good. This is a misleading rating used by manufacturers to have uninformed customers believe the system they are spending their money on provides HEPA-rated filtration when it actually doesn’t. The success rate of HEPA Type is of up to 99%, which is lower, and it can only remove particulates 2 microns or larger in size.

Question #2: What is it made of?

Answer: As opposed to other types of filter media, HEPA is made of thin glass fibers, and it contains some activated carbon-based material.

Question #3: Does it provide germicidal action?

Answer: Without acquiring a HEPA air purifier that is paired with a UV light sterilizer, you should not count on it to provide as thorough bacteria, virus, and germ purification. Thus, germicidal performance is not the system’s strong point when used standalone.

Ionic Air Purifiers 101

How They Work

Instead of relying on a web of fibers to trap the polluting particles in the air passing through them as HEPA systems do, ionic air purifiers utilize electrostatic charge. What this implies is that they release negatively charged ions into the air, attracting positively charged ions and binding with them, making the particles heavier than before so that they drop to the ground where you vacuum them up during your weekly cleaning session, not being in danger of inhaling the contaminants anymore.

Beware that there are online sources and manufacturers that misleadingly categorize ozone generators as ionizers. Some do include ionizers, but their raw performance differs from that of actual ionizers. Air purification systems in their own right as well, these products use ozone molecule production in their functioning.

Benefits

  • No costly filters to replace down the road, so upkeep is inexpensive and it doesn’t take up much of your time either.
  • The system itself is quite inexpensive to run, so you can let it operate 24/7 without worrying that the electric bill will be too much to handle.
  • Kills bacteria and viruses in its operation, leaving behind sanitized air that is truly safe for you to breathe.
  • Surprisingly enough, air ionizers can actually have a positive effect on your mood, some studies highlighting that in areas where negative ions are in abundance people naturally tend to feel happier and more relaxed.

Drawbacks

  • Woefully, it produces ozone when it runs, which is a known irritant that poses a health threat to sensitive individuals and might cause throat irritations in healthy people.
  • The cleaning it provides is rather temporary as opposed to that delivered by filter-based systems, so you need to run it more often and longer to benefit from constant clean air indoors.
  • Surfaces in its proximity might become dustier as the particles it charges drop on them.

F.A.Q.

Question #1: Do air ionizers create ozone?

Answer: Because of the electric charge utilized in their operation, these systems do indeed produce ozone as they function. Beware to check the amount of ozone the system produces before you acquire it as this irritant can be quite detrimental to your health when found in high amounts.

Question #2: Are ionizers bad for asthma?

Answer: Aside from the fact that ionizers are not efficient in the removal of asthma triggering particles, these systems have the potential to emit zone, which is a known irritant that can even cause shortness of breath, something an asthma sufferer must avoid at all costs.

Question #3: How long does it take to clean a room?

Answer: Depending on the room size and the system’s rated efficiency when it comes to performing in an area that vast, it can take from 30 minutes to 2 hours for an air ionizer to finish cleaning the air.

HEPA vs. Ionic – Differences and Efficiency Debate

  1. How they work: As you already understood from the previous sections, the two systems differ completely when it comes to their functioning, HEPA systems relying on classic filtration and trapping of particles, whereas ionic systems use electrostatic charge in the process.
  2. Efficiency: With ionic systems, if you don’t make sure to vacuum the floors and clean surfaces where the charged particles have dropped regularly, there is the risk of them ending up in the air at one point or another. The same isn’t valid with HEPA air purifiers as they remove the pollutants from the air and ensure they won’t end up on any surface from the get-go, getting the particles stuck in the tightly-woven fibers instead. Efficiency-wise, HEPA is the way to go.
  3. Performance safety issues: Ionic systems can pose a threat to asthma sufferers as the charged particles have the potential to trigger symptoms in individuals who suffer from this health problem. You acquire an air purifier to relieve you of health afflictions, not worsen them, so you can see why HEPA is more commonly sought-after among folks who suffer from allergies and asthma.
  4. Area coverage: Ionizers do generally tend to cover wider areas, but this isn’t a given with all systems. As a matter of fact, air purifiers for basements, which are rated to have the largest area coverage, do rely on HEPA and other physical filter means in their operation, so when it comes to this differential element, it mostly stands in searching to find a model the coverage you seek rather than automatically opting for one system type or another.
  5. Upfront costs: Generally, HEPA-type systems are costlier upfront, their superior air pollutant reduction performance being what determines manufacturers to ask more money for the technology. Thus, chances are that if you seek a budget-friendly air filtering means, you are likelier to encounter an ionizer within your price range.
  6. Maintenance: HEPA systems are costlier when it comes to upkeep as well seeing how you are required to periodically change at least one filter media. The same isn’t generally valid with ionizers as most systems don’t use any type of filters in their operation.

In some cases, you can find HEPA air purifiers that feature negative ionizers. If you seek a complex system suited for any air pollution issue, we recommend that you look into a product that uses both technologies.

Air Purification Performance Compared

Action HEPA technology Ionic technology
Germicidal capabilities Low (higher only in systems that use UV light in their operation) Yes
Allergen removal Yes Yes
Dust removal Low Yes
Odor removal Low High (in models that also feature activated carbon filters)
Tobacco smoke removal Yes Yes
Pet hair removal Low Yes
Pet dander removal Low Yes

Conclusion

Whether you opt for ionic or HEPA is all up to you as both types come with their benefits and downsides. If you seek less maintenance work and reduced upkeep costs, ionic is the way to go. On the other hand, HEPA is more efficient at removing particles and odors and provides better thought-out performance as trapping is ensured on the spot so that air quality suffers positive changes as soon as you turn it on. Whichever way you go, air quality improvement in a given, so balance all pros and cons carefully to opt for the solution that best caters to your lifestyle and expectations.

Tobey Hunter
Tobey Hunter
Tobey is the editor-in-chief at Optima Institute, his prior experience as a niche product reviewer in air quality improvement systems helping shape his path to conduct thorough research toward selecting and analyzing products so that customers are satisfied with the provided recommendations. During his carrier, Tobey also gathered technical input that makes him well versed in understanding advancements in modern systems, helping readers in turn to better understand how modern devices help improve life quality.