With the air purifier market becoming increasingly saturated and all these jargon words being thrown around, let's break down one of the most commonly used filter found in air purifiers — HEPA filters. What is a HEPA filter and what is it actually doing?
HEPA filters are often considered the gold standard when it comes to air purification and there are good reasons for this. The EPA describes HEPA(high efficiency particulate air) as a pleated mechanical air filter (which pulls and forces air found in the room through the filter. Depending on the MERV rating, HEPA filters can range in their efficacy in how much particulates are removed with the highest being 99.97% removed for microns ranging from 0.3-10 um. This makes HEPA filters often a popular filtration component in most air purifiers as it offers adequate protection from allergens, dust or pet fur. However, there’s one small problem (or two actually), but we’ll get into that later.
So what exactly are these smaller particulates and how do they affect us? Particulates are defined as liquid droplets or solid particles suspended and found in air. Anything smaller than 10um is considered inhalable (with fine particulates being <2.5um). Particulates are usually formed due to chemical reactions whether it be outside from our atmosphere or from regular activities such as cooking indoors. It’s important to monitor and remove particulates especially in our indoor air as particulate pollution can lead to a number of health risks ranging from eye, nose and throat irritation to heart or respiratory diseases.
Aside from particulates, VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are also commonly found both indoors and outdoors with the concentration of VOCs being higher indoors. VOCs are characterized as chemical compounds that can be colourless, odourless and sourced from building material (ie. paint, wood etc.), cooking fumes, or household cleaning products as they are released as “off-gas”. VOC’s are a bit different from particulates in that they are much smaller (small enough where HEPA filters cannot capture), but similar where they also can cause an increase in many illnesses, health risks and even suspected of being carcinogenic.
Although HEPA filters alone can be beneficial in offering some sort of cleaning of the air to alleviate allergies or dust, it’s not comprehensive enough to achieve a level of purification that can minimize the spread of illnesses and protect our overall health.
One big limitation of HEPA filters is that they can only remove particulates larger than 0.3um, particulates smaller than 0.3um are missed. VOCs, smaller microbial pathogens like viruses and some bacteria, or odours are examples of the many particulates smaller than 0.3um.
Another limitation of HEPA filters is that they require the particulate-containing air to run through the filter for its removal, thus this process can only happen within the device. This can be understood as passive sanitization meaning, if particulates or pathogens never reach the filter, they won’t be removed. Sounds like a pretty big problem right?
So are HEPA filters enough? Yes and no, because it really depends on how highly you prioritize your health, workspace, or employees (which should be very high!). We’d like to think of HEPA filters as the basic version of a product where you use it for a bit and it’s okay, but you then start to encounter problems or cases where you want more from the product and the basic version just isn’t doing enough. We can also think of this as the difference in recycling air. Where HEPA filters only allows for the air in the space to be recycled and cleaned to a certain extent, but you're never bringing any new air inside. That’s where ClearZone products come in. We’re the premium version of the product that offers much better solutions, results by creating new air with our HydroClear Technology™ . It’s one of those instances where once you try the premium version, you’ll realize how you could never go back to your old ways.
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