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Ionic Air Purifier vs HEPA: Which Should You Use?

Both the ionic and HEPA air purifiers are designed to filter out particulates in the air. However, they do so in extremely different ways. Therefore, it’s important to understand the differences between these technologies to ensure that you’re getting the right filtration for your home. To help you, we discuss here an ionic air purifier vs HEPA face-off to clear any confusion.

Read on before you spend on any air purifiers in the market. You’ll be surprised by the differences between these two types.

How an ionic air purifier works

ionic air purifier vs HEPA
Photo Credits – Oransi

An ionic air purifier uses electrically charged plates that attract particulates. Unlike a HEPA air purifier, the ionic type doesn’t use any physical or true filters. Unfortunately, this feature makes it a big disadvantage since ionic air purifiers can’t filter out smaller and more dangerous irritants.

Moreover, ionic air purifiers also come by the names like ‘electrostatic precipitator’ and ‘negative ion generator’. Manufacturers often come up with different names for this device to avoid the negative reviews associated with ionic air purifiers.

In general, ionic air purifiers work similarly to all air purifiers. It sucks in the air using a fan, and then the air will pass through the negatively charged plates.

Through this process, the particulates will cling to the plates, so it won’t go back to the room once the air is expelled.

Remember that ionic air purifiers are different from another product called air ionizer. The former releases negatively charged ions into the air. The said ions will attach to the airborne particles, and as the particles clump and become heavier, they will settle on surfaces. Ionizers are similar to the ozone generator.

Overall, ionic air purifiers work in purifying the air. However, this filterless air purifier comes with critical downsides, which I discussed below.

Pros and cons of ionic air purifiers

Advantages of ionic air purifiers

  • Washable filter plates. The plates inside ionic purifiers can be washed and reused. It’s a convenient choice if you don’t want the hassle of replacing filters.
  • Cheaper to run. Since the ionic plates are washable and reusable, ionic purifiers are cheaper to run than other filter types. Such a benefit makes this purifier a cost-effective choice at first glance.
  • Quieter operation. Compared to HEPA filters, most ionic purifiers have a quieter operation. This is because the motor doesn’t have to use excessive power to force the air into physical filters.
  • Energy-efficient. Many ionic purifiers use less electricity than full-fledged HEPA purifiers. This is additional savings, especially if you’re running the unit for extended hours.

Disadvantages of ionic air purifiers

  • It produces ozone. One of the biggest downsides of ionic purifiers is it produces unsafe levels of ozone. This is a by-product of the negatively charged plates. Regular exposure to ozone is extremely harmful to one’s health, especially those with asthma, emphysema, and other lung problems.
  • Unreliable performance. The problem with ionic filters is it only works well when clean. Once the charged plates are covered with particulates, filtration will start to decline. While this statement is also true to HEPA filters, HEPA purifiers can hold more particles before any noticeable decline in filtration.
  • It doesn’t work on many particulates. As a result, ionic purifiers aren’t the most reliable choice for pet dander and large quantities of dust. Also, this purifier doesn’t remove VOCs, strong odors, and other gaseous pollutants quite well. Overall, its benefit is limited and may not be worth the money for households with serious indoor air problems.
  • Limited to small areas. Ionic purifiers only work best in small areas. So if you have a large room, you may need to purchase multiple units for the best results. Despite that, you still have to deal with the other downsides.

How a HEPA air purifier works

photo of an air purifier beside a nightstand
Photo Credits – Oransi

Unlike ionic filters, HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) purifiers use an actual filtration system. This type of mechanical filter is made of ultra-fine mesh where the air is propelled to sift air particulates. It works well for a myriad of allergens, including dust, pollens, dander, mites, and more. It’s also useful in filtering out tobacco smoke, especially if infused with activated charcoal.

Nowadays, HEPA filters are highly accessible. You can find affordable portable HEPA air purifiers in the market, which you can use in your room. Unlike ionic purifiers, HEPA doesn’t produce harmful ozone.

Moreover, a HEPA purifier uses a fan to send air into the appliance. The difference with ionic types is that the air will be forced into a physical filter, not just a set of plates.

Most HEPA purifiers in the market are rated to filter particles as small as 0.3 microns. This number has very high significance when it comes to filtration. For example, a bacteria can be as small as 0.3 microns, while car emissions are 1 to 150 microns. All of these can be filtered out by HEPA purifiers.

However, it’s important to know that HEPA filters aren’t the same. It varies in composition, filtration level, and application. Many purifier manufacturers pair HEPA filters with ionic technology for a higher filtration level.

Aside from that, you’ll find HEPA purifiers with add-ons like an activated carbon filter and UV technology. Whatever it is, HEPA filters are undeniably way better than ionic purifiers alone.

Pros and cons of HEPA purifiers

Advantages of HEPA purifiers

  • Excellent purification levels. HEPA purifiers are designed to meet stringent filtration levels. This is why such a filter is used even in hospitals where a lot of pathogens are present. It can filter small particles that ionic purifiers can’t get out of the air.
  • It circulates air. Since all HEPA purifiers use a fan motor, it will help circulate air in the room. This will give a cooling effect so that the indoor air won’t remain stagnant.
  • It can remove odors. HEPA filters paired with a carbon pre-filter are effective in neutralizing malodors inside your home. The activated carbon on the pre-filter will trap vapors and odors like smoke, cooking smells, perfume, and so on.
  • It works well for dander. Pet owners will benefit a lot from the filtration level of HEPA purifiers. Unlike the ionic type, HEPA filters are excellent in trapping animal dander and fur. This will help reduce allergy attacks in your home.
  • Some have anti-microbial coatings. Modern HEPA purifiers also come with anti-microbial properties to neutralize mold spores, bacteria, and viruses. This will prevent the pathogens from contaminating your home.
  • Suitable for newborns. HEPA purifiers are safe for infants. It will remove irritants and circulate the air, which can reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • Widely available. Nowadays, you can easily purchase portable HEPA purifiers. You can choose from a tabletop option or a larger model for whole-house filtration.

Disadvantages of HEPA purifiers

  • More expensive to operate. Unlike the ionic type, HEPA purifiers use disposable filters that you need to replace every 6 to 8 months. This will be costly in the long run, especially for large units that require expensive filter replacements.
  • It won’t remove all air particles. While HEPA filters have a more intensive filtration system, they still won’t remove all airborne particles. You have to pair it with regular house cleaning for the best results.
  • Difficult to clean. HEPA air purifiers often have a more complicated design than ionic purifiers. This makes them difficult to deep-clean.

Which should you use?

Both ionic and HEPA purifiers work in removing irritants in the air. But if you want safer and better results, HEPA filters are the best options. It doesn’t emit any dangerous by-products, and it’s proven by experts to reduce allergies in the air.

Nevertheless, as market restrictions regulate ozone-producing appliances, many ionic purifiers now have safe ozone levels. Therefore, if used well, an ionic purifier will be less likely to cause respiratory issues.

If you’re on a budget, ionic purifiers are the best choice. It’s cheaper than HEPA both upfront and in the long run. Also, ionic air purifiers require minimum maintenance, so it’s easier to run than a HEPA type.

When it comes to filtration, you’ll never go wrong with a true HEPA filter. However, you’ll have to shell out a few more bucks to get a decent unit.

Are you still torn on which one to get? The good news is that you no longer have to pick just one option. Many manufacturers are now producing HEPA purifiers equipped with ionic technology.

This hybrid type releases negatively charged ions that will cling to the air particles. Next, the purifier fan will send these particles into the HEPA filter. Overall, it doubles the cleaning power, especially when it comes to gaseous irritants and harmful vapors

5 reasons why you should get a hybrid air purifier

A hybrid purifier, a combination of a HEPA filter and ionic technology, can be a powerful device against indoor air pollution, allergies, and various illnesses. Here are some of the reasons why you should get one:

  • Your family is always getting sick. If your family members always have coughs, colds, and allergies for no reason, it might be time to get an air purifier. Your home’s indoor air quality may be highly compromised. Take note that pollution can occur even if there’s no bad smell.
  • You have pets. Pets, whether dogs, cats, or birds, will release dander and fur. These two irritants will accumulate inside your home without proper cleaning. Aside from vacuuming, a home air purifier made for pets will be a big help.
  • Someone’s smoking indoors. Indoor smoking is a bad habit, which can put your family’s health under a long-term health threat. In this case, you can use a HEPA filter with ionic technology to reduce the amount of secondhand smoke in your household.
  • Your area is notorious for pollution. Living along a busy street or highway means your home is subjected to a higher level of pollution. Even if you don’t open the windows, air pollution will still find its way into your household. An air cleaner can help reduce these irritants before it gets into your lungs.
  • There’s ongoing construction. Whether it’s in your home or a neighbor, ongoing construction will increase the amount of dust in the area. A HEPA air purifier can help reduce the impact of this air pollution.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is it safe to stay in a room while using an ionizer?

A: It’s not recommended to stay in an enclosed room where an ionizer is running. The ozone levels can cause irritations, especially for those with lung problems. However, if you’re keen to stay inside with an ionizer, you should at least open a window or door for ventilation.

Q: Do air ionizers work against COVID?

A: No, air ionizers won’t be a big help in combatting the COVID virus. It’s best to use a medical-grade HEPA filter if you want to reduce pathogens in the air. Just remember that air purifiers alone aren’t enough to avoid infection. Observing health protocols is still the best solution.

Q: Can an ionizer make you sick?

A: Ionizers can cause sick-like symptoms, specifically to those with compromised respiratory systems. Take note that these devices emit ozone, which is harmful to everyone, especially at high levels.

Q: Are HEPA filters ozone-free?

A: HEPA purifiers and filters don’t produce ozone, making them a better choice than ionic purifiers or ionizers. Medical facilities use HEPA filters to remove particulates as small as 0.3 microns. Medical-grade HEPA filters can filter irritants as small as 0.1 microns.

Q: Can HEPA filters make you sick?

A: HEPA filters will not make you sick if used correctly. It’s important to replace the filters regularly to prevent the irritants from recirculating inside your home. Most of all, you should only use authentic HEPA filters for guaranteed quality.

Final words

Both HEPA and ionic air purifiers are useful in combatting indoor air pollution. However, these devices work differently and deliver varying results. It’s important to assess the results you want to achieve as well as your budget and preferred filtration. When in doubt, a hybrid purifier might be the best choice for you.

We hope that this ionic air purifier vs HEPA face-off helped you choose the right type. Let us know your thoughts below!