Air Purifier vs. Air Conditioner; Which one is better for purifying the air?

by Mike Rosso on November 09, 2021

There are many myths and confusions surrounding the functions and intermingling usage of Air Purifiers and Air Conditioners. So, this article does the work of debunking some myths and clarifying the use of both in order to make it easy for consumers to make a better choice that fits their needs.


Air purifier vs. Air Conditioner 


Many people have misconceptions about what an air purifier can and cannot do and whether it is any different from the filters installed in the air conditioner.
The purpose of air conditioners is to condition the air in a room or, in simpler terms, to cool or heat a room. AC units can also reduce room humidity; therefore, they have drain pipes to remove the water collected from the air.
Whereas the fundamental purpose of an air purifier is to cleanse the air of pollutants such as pollen, allergens, cooking fumes, dust mites, mold spores, pet dander, tobacco smoke, etc. As a result, they are beneficial for those who suffer from allergies, asthma, or other respiratory problems and those with infants, toddlers, and young children at home, since they are at the highest risk.
Odor Elimination: Air Purifier or Air Conditioner?
Some air purifiers can also eliminate odors and harmful particles, but air conditioners, on the other hand, just circulate dirty air with minimal to no air filtration. Thus, air conditioning has nothing to do with air purification as it is ineffective against dust and pollen. To eliminate odor, the Air Purifier should be installed with Activated Carbon filters as HEPA filters do not kill odors. Therefore, while buying an air purifier, one needs to understand their requirements and then choose from the several options available in the market.
Also, holistic air purification methods have also been introduced, that eliminates pollutants, including PM 2.5, PM 10, VOCs, and toxic gases.
In addition to removing odors, a good air purifier should enhance the quality of the air.

 

Do Air Conditioners purify the air?

Air conditioners (ACs) usually have different types and layers of filters. Air purifiers, on the other hand, are a dedicated option to combat rising indoor air pollution. Some ACs make use of pre-filters, which are installed as the first layer of filtering before the main filter, especially to remove large particles of dust from the air. In general, these filters do a good job of removing pet hair, dust, and larger microbes. Filters are usually made from nylon or foam, and they are generally easily washable.
But most of the ACs commonly do not have these pre-filters but rather the dust filter that needs to be cleaned regularly. The dust accumulated on these filters is indicative of the dust present in the air in the room. These filters can filter dust particles and pollen, but not tiny particles or particulates. These filters are provided in ACs to purify the air and protect the coiling from dust. Therefore, as a final verdict- Air conditioners are not the best option for air purification.
But unlike an air conditioner which only has this dust filter, an air purifier has several air filters for purifying the air. The purpose of these air filters can vary from filtering dust, pollen, and PM 2.5 particles to killing bacteria and removing odor, etc.
The following filters are commonly used in air purifiers:
  • Pre-filters
  • Activated Charcoal Filter or Carbon Filters
  • HEPA Filters

A pre-filter is similar to the dust filter in an air conditioner, and it filters large dust particles, and the second layer can be either a carbon filter or a HEPA filter.
When talking about Carbon filters, they effectively remove odors and VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) from the air.

 

How Effective Is an Air Purifier? Will an AC suffice?

Now, the big question here is- do you really need an air purifier, or can an AC with a good filtration system suffice? Truthfully, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as it depends on a number of parameters. Suppose you live in a remote area or a smaller town, have no susceptible family members, and assume indoor pollution is not alarmingly high like metros. In that case, you indeed go for an AC with a good filtration system. Still, in this case, having a PM2.5 filter is a necessity. But when you live in an area where there is considerable air pollution, you have a pet, a family member who has allergy issues, an infant, or believe your indoor pollution levels are higher because of nearby construction sites. Then you might want to consider investing in a dedicated air purifier. At the same time, you ensure that the air purifier contains a HEPA filter and not any replica of the HEPA or HEPA-like filters, which are unregulated and cheap. It is important to note that usually, air conditioners do not come with HEPA filters, and modifying the filtration system to incorporate HEPA filters is unlikely.
In ACs, HEPA filters are used to filter out extremely minute impurities of the level 0.3 m and, if used, will lead to several complications.
  • Reduction in airflow
  • Maintenance costs are higher
  • Explicit leaks
  • Breakdowns prematurely
  • Excessive heating
 
So, in conclusion, it's best to opt for an air purifier with true HEPA filters than to expect the regular AC filter to clean the indoor air pollution. More so, if the air quality has reached an alarmingly high level or if you have family members who are at a higher risk like asthmatic people, toddlers, newborns.
When used for 8 to 10 hours a day, an air purifier serves the primary purpose of improving the quality of air and reducing the number of leaves from work and school. You are misled if you expect to see a difference right away after you buy an air purifier. Air purifiers are not about instant gratification, but gradual improvement in your overall health, and this can be observed by the ease with which you can sleep and breathe.
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