Air Purifier Permanent vs. Replaceable Filters — Which Is Better?

In this article, we will talk about air purifier permanent vs. replaceable filters.

You know you need one, but you’re not crazy about the cost of filters. 

Assuming you’ve narrowed your choice of air purifiers to a mechanical type, the next consideration is what filter it uses. 

Once you’ve chosen the type of filter — activated carbon filter, HEPA filter, etc. — you then have an option of an air purifier with permanent vs. replaceable filters.

What’s the difference?

Permanent filters can be removed, washed, and reinserted into your air purifier. 

However, replaceable filters obviously need to be replaced. And they need to be replaced on a regular schedule, typically at least twice a year.

But the better your air purifier cleans your air, the better the filter. And the better the filter, the higher the price.

This leads many people to wonder if the washable filter is the better option. 

It’s definitely the cheaper option, but is it the better option for your health?

Air Purifier Permanent vs. Replaceable Filters – What’s The Difference?

Whether you go for an air purifier with a permanent or replaceable filter, both require maintenance to some extent.

Permanent filters need to be washed on a regular schedule. 

Replaceable filters need to be replaced on a regular schedule. 

There’s more involved in washing a filter than simply removing a filter, putting it in the garbage, and inserting a new one.

So what’s involved in washing them?

washing permanent filter with water hose

How To Wash a Permanent Air Filter.

First of all, determine that the filter you have really is washable. 

That’s pretty simple since anything made out of cardboard or paper products clearly can’t be washed and reused.

Unfortunately, it’s not so obvious when it comes to washable filters. 

So be sure to refer to your user manual.

Once you’re sure you can wash it, these are the steps.

  1. Remove the air purifier from its unit.
  2. Rinse with plain, warm water. Distilled water is often recommended, but tap water will do just fine.
  3. Use gentle soap, such as hand or dish soap, and thoroughly cover the filter with it.
  4. Using a soft brush, scrub the filter down. This step will remove any caked-on dirt that plain water could not dislodge.
  5. Completely rinse the filter of any soap residue.
  6. Shake or gently towel off any excess water.
  7. Leave the filter sitting out until it is completely air-dried. Never put a wet or damp filter back into the unit.

Do you see what I mean about that being much more work than simply removing a filter, throwing it away, and putting in a new one?

I’m guessing you don’t need a numbered, step-by-step process for disposing of your replacement filters, so we’re moving on.

Air Purifier Permanent vs. Replaceable Filters — Which Is Better?

Choosing which is better — an air purifier with a permanent vs. replaceable filter — will depend on you.

What matters to you most? Cleaner air or something that’s budget-friendly? 

Unfortunately, you can’t always have both. And there’s one more consideration. How much time do you want to spend on maintenance?

Let’s assume that what matters most to you is purifying your air. 

In that case, consider the following when choosing whether air purifiers with permanent vs. replaceable filters are a better option.

An Important Difference Between Air Purifier Permanent vs. Replaceable Filters

You may have seen online that permanent filters are just as good as replacement filters. 

Chances are, it’s permanent filter manufacturers that are telling you this. Because it really isn’t true.

Genuine HEPA filters undergo rigorous testing to be certified as high efficiency. 

They’re made up of millions of densely packed microscopic fibers, which ensures optimal surface area to snare particles of varying shapes and sizes.

They can remove pollutants and air particles down to 0.3 microns and are guaranteed to do so.

On the other hand, permanent filters are a different story.

First, in direct comparison to HEPA filters, which go through testing and are certified — guaranteed — to remove 99.97% of all air pollutants bigger than 0.3 microns, there is no industry standard for permanent filters.

And HEPA isn’t the only industry standard. MERV is another value system with a numeric rating from 1 to 20, with 20 being the most efficient. 

At MERV 17, it’s said to have the same efficiency — 99.97% — as a HEPA filter.

Even if you bought a MERV 1 filter, you’d know it could be up to 20% efficient. 

That’s not great, but it’s potentially better than what you’ll get from a random permanent filter that doesn’t have to meet industry standards.

Does this mean that you should assume that every permanent filter is inefficient? Not necessarily. 

Some manufacturers do make efficiency claims. 

For example, Honeywell has an IFD filter that removes up to 99% of airborne allergens that are 2 microns or larger.

It’s in the wording that things get tricky. 

A HEPA filter is guaranteed to have an efficiency of at least 99.97%. 

Honeywell’s IFD claim is that it will remove up to 99.9%. Meaning it could only remove 20% or 50%.

That’s not even considering the difference in particle size efficiency between a HEPA and Honeywell filter.

And there’s one more thing to think about.

Gradual Loss of Efficiency

Whether your air purifier uses a permanent or replaceable filter, efficiency degrades over time. 

Both of them have a finite amount of space available to capture particles. Although HEPA filters do have a lot more space.

And that additional space due to their construction gives these replacement filters an edge in the comparison. 

Although permanent filters have a honeycomb design that does increase surface area, they’re not constructed of the same type of microscopic fibers.

So HEPA filters continue to remain efficient even after they’ve collected a large number of particles. 

In contrast, a permanent filter quickly becomes saturated with particulates, impacting their efficiency much sooner.

Finally, cleaning your permanent filter can also impact its quality. 

Vacuuming it, washing it, however you clean it, will never return it to the state it was in brand-new. 

Because of its honeycomb design, no matter how well you clean it, there will always be some residue left behind.

With a replacement filter, you’re always starting at 100% of what the filter claims to do.

air purifier permanent vs. replaceable filters - woman holding filters

FAQs on Air Purifier Permanent vs. Replaceable Filters

How long does a permanent filter last?

Assuming they’re being cleaned per the manufacturer’s directions, they can last about five years.

How long do HEPA filters last in an air purifier?

Ultimately, this depends on the model you have, so check your manual. However, a general guideline is that they should be replaced every 6 to 12 months.

Is there any filter better than HEPA?

Yes. ULPA (Ultra Low Particulate Air) filters are 99.999% effective at removing submicron particulates.

Air Purifiers Permanent vs. Replaceable Filters – Have You Made Your Choice?

Ultimately, whether an air purifier with a permanent vs. a replaceable filter is the best option will be up to you.

Having said that, if your major concern for buying an air purifier is purifying your air, you are better off going with replaceable filters. 

Assuming you purchase genuine MERV or HEPA filters, they must meet industry standards to be certified.

There are no industry standards to be met for permanent filters. 

Even though manufacturers make claims about their filters, those claims are only that the filter will remove up to a certain amount — which, for what it’s worth, means nothing, in my opinion.

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