High Efficiency and Effectiveness
A High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter must meet specific United States Department of Energy standards. A HEPA filter needs to remove at least 99.97% of particulate matter that is 0.3 microns in diameter. In fact, particles that are larger than 0.3 microns and particles that are smaller than 0.3 microns are stopped at a higher rate than 99.97%, so you can be assured that HEPA filters are excellent air filters.
A HEPA air purifier must also filter air efficiently, and with minimal air pressure. A filter that requires enormous air pressure to function isn’t very efficient. Consider how much the filter resists the movement of air; for example, if you were to force air through a small straw, it would require more pressure than if you were to exhale freely through an open mouth. An air filter that requires more force to move the same amount of air is less efficient than one that allows air to pass easily.1 The United States Department of Energy publishes a table that lists the pressure requirements for different sizes of HEPA filters.
The particles that a HEPA air purifier removes include pathogens and allergens. Mold, pollen, pet dander, bacteria, and viruses are all readily removed from the air by a HEPA air purifier.
Means of Action
The HEPA filter standard does not require a given method for removing particles from the air, only that a specific amount of particulate is removed efficiently. In practice, the most cost-effective means to make a HEPA-compliant air purifier is with a filter.
A filter works by trapping particles as they pass through the fibers of the filter. Particles that are too large to fit through the gaps are simply stopped as they move through. Particles smaller than the space between the fibers can be stopped in a variety of other ways. One method is if they just bump into a fiber as they move in the air stream. The particles are so small that merely making contact is enough to arrest their movement. They may also bump into a fiber if they are unable to change direction as quickly as the air they are traveling in is able to. The momentum of the particles causes it to make contact with a fiber.
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Air cleaners and air purifiers often refer to the same thing, although air cleaners may be specifically designed to kill or otherwise disable pathogens. This means making it so bacteria, mold, and viruses are unable to reproduce. There are a variety of means by which this can be achieved, including ultraviolet light and ozone. Critically, air cleaners may not necessarily physically remove the pathogens from the air like an air purifier does. In practice, an air cleaner may use a HEPA filter to achieve the goal of reducing the number of viable pathogens, but other means are also used.
HEPA filter stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air filter, but is sometimes used to mean High Efficiency Particulate Arresting filter. Either way, a HEPA filter must meet a standard published by the United States Department of Energy standard, which requires the filter to stop 99.97% of airborne particulate 0.3 microns in diameter.
How long a HEPA filter lasts depends on a number of factors. Every make and model of HEPA air purifier will have a different maintenance schedule based on how much air is purified by the filter. Check a manufacturer’s guidelines about how often you should replace the HEPA filter. Keep in mind that if you use your HEPA air purifier for more hours per day than the manufacturer’s estimates assume, you may need to get replacement air filters more often.
Yes. HEPA filters are incredibly effective at removing solid particulate matter from the air. Less than one out of every three thousand solid particles makes it through a HEPA filter. Put another way, air that hasn’t been through a HEPA filter is thousands of times dirtier than air that has.
Yes. If a HEPA filter gets wet, the accumulated particulate matter can foster mold growth. This can happen in HVAC systems if the air passing through the HEPA filter has moisture which condenses as it passes through the filter. A free standing HEPA air purifier should not have this problem.
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Master Air Purifier Sources:
Air quality sources: Air purification/filtration process sources: HEPA, UPLA, and MERV filter sources:
Air quality sources:https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.5b01236
Air purification/filtration process sources:https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/air-purifiers/buying-guide/index.htm
HEPA, UPLA, and MERV filter sources:https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16517004/