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In this post, we’ll answer two questions:

  • What is a HEPA air purifier?
  • What does a HEPA filter do?

By the end, you’ll learn everything you need to know about HEPA air purifiers and HEPA filters and find out if these are right for you.

After you’re done reading, if you’re looking for a good choice for an air purifier, then take a look at our free guide covering the top 10 air purifiers that will ensure you get this HEPA feature.

Or, if you’re interested in paying the least amount of money for an air cleaner, then you can look at the best budget air purifiers here.

What Does a HEPA Filter Do?

If you’ve done any sort of shopping for a home cleaning device like a vacuum or air purifier, you’ve undoubtedly come across a four-letter term “HEPA.”

A lot of companies use this acronym as a marketing tactic in hopes that you choose their product over another competitor who doesn’t actively promote it.

But, what does a HEPA filter do exactly?

And what does HEPA mean?

HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air.

In layman’s terms, this means that a product with the HEPA label is highly efficient at capturing microscopic particles.

This covers most dust, dander, pollen, mold, and other common allergens that collect in the home, making it the best air filter for allergies.

>> See all of Amazon's Best Selling Air Purifiers <<

What is a HEPA Air Purifier?

A HEPA air purifier is a device that’s outfitted with a HEPA filter.

This HEPA filter is what traps airborne particles and prevents them from floating around your home.

Is There Only One Type of HEPA Filter?

Unfortunately, many companies are placing the HEPA term on their products, but this can be misleading to consumers.

There are actually several different terms associated with the acronym HEPA.

What you’ll find when shopping are terms such as “True HEPA,” “HEPA-like” and “HEPA-type” labeled on air purifiers.

At first, this may not seem like a big deal, but there is actually a very big difference between the different terms.

The term “True HEPA” is the one you want to look for when shopping for an air purifier or vacuum.

In order to carry this label, a product must meet strict standards set by the U.S. Department of Energy.

These standards affirm that the HEPA filter must be able to capture 99.97% of particles as small as 0.3 microns.

In order to visualize this size, a human hair measures 5 microns, which is more than 7x the width of the smallest allergen.

When a product includes the terms “HEPA-type” or “HEPA-like”, this means that it cannot remove particles as small as a “True HEPA” device.

The words “type” and “like” alert you to the fact that they are inferior to a “True HEPA” product.

In fact, there is no standard set in place for HEPA-like and HEPA-type products.

One device may capture particles as small as 2 microns in size or 5 microns in size. You’ll never know unless you read the fine print.

These terms are mostly being used as marketing tactics to get consumers to buy a product, thinking that it’s a high quality, HEPA system.

When in fact, it may not do much help at all for the air space inside your home.

A good indicator is the low cost of these devices.

A True HEPA Filter is the Best Type

A True HEPA product costs a lot more because the filter is the gold standard in the industry.

Cheaper devices almost always have an inferior filter inside the product.

So, always look for the “True HEPA” label when buying an air purifier for your home.

This is especially important when getting a nursery air purifier for a baby’s health. It’s the highest quality investment you can make.

It’s also important to point out that True HEPA filters come in two types:

  • A highly dense paper filter that’s degradable (and must be replaced)
  • and a mesh HEPA filter that’s washable (and permanent)

Higher end air purifiers that cover larger spaces always use degradable True HEPA filters and will need to be replaced every few months as they wear out.

Some cheaper air purifiers that are good for small rooms only may come with a permanent HEPA filter that can be cleaned and used for the lifetime of the product.

Now, let’s get into the pros and cons of a HEPA air purifying device.

Pros of a True HEPA Air Purifier:

Because a True HEPA air purifier is excellent at trapping almost all airborne contaminants, it’s the best choice for someone who has asthma or suffers from allergies.

This dense filter is amazing at trapping allergens such as dust, pollen, mold, and pet dander, which is why it’s always found in the best air purifier for asthmatics

And because these particles are trapped inside the filter, there is no way for them to re-enter the air space. This keeps your home fresh and clean.

In fact, this type of air purifier is considered to be the best home air purifier for almost all applications.

Cons of a True HEPA Air Purifier:

One of the major cons to a True HEPA filter is the fact that it can’t remove odors or viruses and bacteria.

You see, a HEPA filter does not have any odor-neutralizing power.

Yes, a HEPA air purifier can trap harmful particles, but the odors given off by these contaminants still persist.

To get rid of odors you really need a product that includes an Activated Carbon filter.

This filter is designed to neutralize and eliminate odors and smells of all kinds.

HEPA filters are also not very good at eliminating viruses and bacteria.

Since those particles are made up of DNA, the best way to get rid of them is to choose a product that includes an Ultraviolet light.

This light sends out radiation into the air that zaps and kills these harmful contaminants by breaking apart their DNA structure.

If you’d like the most sterile environment possible inside your home, make sure you look for an air purifier that includes this feature. The recommendations on our best air purifier for mold spores list includes this must-have feature.

Finally, HEPA air purifiers are the most expensive type of product to get because the HEPA filter is such an advanced technology that works extremely well for almost all contaminants.

When you buy an air purifier that uses a degradable HEPA filter, the lifetime cost of using the product will be a lot more than choosing an air cleaner with permanent filter.

That’s because the best air purifier with permanent filter can be washed and reused.

However, as we mentioned earlier in this post, only smaller air purifiers contain washable and reusable filters.

Air purifiers that are needed for large spaces always use a degradable HEPA filter that needs to be replaced once it gets too dirty to filter properly.

Although the price is a concern no matter what type of device you buy, the advantages far outweigh the cost when you consider how much cleaner and fresher the air space will be around your home.

Now you know the answer to the questions, “What is a HEPA air purifier?” and “What is a HEPA filter?” and what these can and can’t do for you.

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About David Morrison

David is an Air Quality & Comfort Technician. He has expert knowledge on the technology and design of air purification, air conditioning, and heating systems. His main role is to write content that helps people get the most value out of their air purifiers, air conditioners, and heating units. (See Full Bio)