The number of air filters available at your local big-box hardware store are staggering. We know how easy it is to be overwhelmed by the vast selection. Just know, there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to finding the best HVAC air filter for your home.
The type of filter your need will depend on your lifestyle, location, and even health needs. Learn about the pros and cons of the most common air filters on the market.
How Many Different Types of Air Filters Are There?
Where there are far more than four filters on the market, these are the most used in residential settings:
- Fiberglass Filters
- Pleated Filters
- HEPA Filters
- UV Filters
There are a few important questions to ask yourself before choosing an air filter. First, how much do I want the filter to block? Do you have any long-haired pets in your home? Do you live close to a construction site or live with smokers? Each of these factors can play a role in choosing the best air filter for your home.
- Filters with a MERV rating between 1 and 4 can catch things like pollen, dust mites, household debris, and carpet fibers. These filters are normally found in window cooling units.
- Filters with a rating between 5 and 8 will catch everything listed above, as well as mold spores, pet hair and indoor air contaminates from things like fabric protector and hair spray. For home HVAC systems, we recommend your filter has a MERV rating of at least 5.
- Any filters with a MERV rating between 9 and 12 can catch everything listed between ratings 1 through 8. They can also trap lead dust, humidifier dust, and pollution from auto emissions. Filters with this rating are used in hospital laboratories.
- And finally, filters with a rating of 13 to 16 will filter bacteria, tobacco smoke, and sneeze particles in addition to everything else listed above. Filters in the range of 13 to 16 are used in hospitals and surgery rooms.
Fiberglass filters can be found almost anywhere. We understand why people are drawn to them. You can find them at your local drugstore and these filters are incredibly affordable, some are even under $2.
However, in this instance, you get what you pay for.
The most basic fiberglass air filters fall between 2 and 4 on the MERV scale. Meaning they can easily catch things like lint and dust. If you live with asthma or allergies, we recommend staying away from a fiberglass filter.
Also, the fiberglass filters are cheap, but they can cost more in the long run. Fiberglass filters need to be changed almost every 30 days. This means that you’re buying a cheaper filter at a higher frequency. A more expensive filter does not need to be replaced as often.
The next filter on our list, the pleated filter, is truly the MVP of the filter world. These filters are rated between 5 and 12. They also have a wide price range. A simple or basic pleated filter can be sold for $5 to $10, while a high-end pleated filter can be $150.
We mentioned that fiberglass filters may need to be changed every month. We can’t say the same for pleated filters. These filters can last up to 6 months.
We recommend changing your air filter at least twice per year. Once in the spring before it’s time to turn on the AC and once in the fall before you start up the furnace.
HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filters don’t actually have a MERV rating. The reason being that they are so strong they don’t even register on the MERV scale.
They are made of fiberglass strands that are wound incredibly tight and then pleated. This means HEPA filters can trap up to 99.9% of indoor air contaminates, including viral and bacterial particles.
Though HEPA filters are the strongest on the market, it’s important to know that not every home needs a filter this strong. A vast majority of Los Angeles homes would do just fine with a pleated filter. We recommend a HEPA filter in homes where someone has extreme allergies or asthma.
Since HEPA filters are so strong, they can be larger and more expensive than your average filter. This is another reason we don’t recommend them for the average homeowner. Another caveat is that HEPA filters are so big they can’t fit into most normal air filter compartments. If you believe you need a HEPA filter, speak with an HVAC expert.
We see the term “UV filters” used a lot, but it’s inaccurate. The best way to describe this air filtration method is a UV light paired with an HVAC filter.
When the two come together and join forces, your home can have the cleanest air possible. If your HVAC system is too small for a HEPA filter, or HEPA filters are too expensive, we recommend UV lights.
When used for HVAC, UV lights target and essentially “zap” unwanted particles out of the air. This means they essentially band together, become too heavy, and fall out of the treated air being aimed towards your home.
However, you need both a filter and a UV light if you’re doing down this path. The air filter pulls out any large particles while the UV light does the rest of the air “scrubbing.”