Air Scrubber vs Air Purifier vs Air Cleaner

Are there any differences between an air scrubber vs air purifier vs air cleaner? 

Or is the difference in name only? 

Let’s find out. 

What is an Air Scrubber? 

Let’s talk about integrated air scrubbers first.

Integrated Air Scrubbers

Unlike a portable air purifier, an air scrubber is an add-on to your HVAC system

It’s a box-like appliance that attaches to your ductwork and aids in the removal of: 

  • Bacteria
  • Dust
  • Fungi
  • Mold
  • Viruses
  • And more

However, it doesn’t just trap or remove them. It also destroys them.

There are two types of air scrubbers, wet and dry. 

Each uses a different method to remove particles. 

The wet type removes particles in the air using moisture, and the dry scrubbers do so by cooling or filtering the air as it enters the scrubber.

Harmful pathogens are trapped and killed as air passes through a series of filters.

The next step is the air scrubber releases ionized oxidizers that move through your ductwork and circulate through your home. 

Since they are negatively charged oxidizers, they attract and hold on to positive ions, which are small molecules, such as:

  • Gases
  • Mold
  • Pet dander
  • Pollen 
  • Pollutants
  • Toxic and other harmful chemicals
  • Various forms of pollution

Once the ionized oxidizers grab hold of the particles mentioned above, they act like soapsuds, scrubbing away the pollutants, which is likely the evolution of the name Air Scrubbers.

Air scrubbers were initially designed for industrial purposes but have made their way into the residential HVAC market over the last decade.

A portable air scrubber from onsite hvac rentals

Portable Air Scrubbers

In addition to integrated air scrubbers, there are portable models as well. 

However, these are nothing like portable air purifiers that you might be familiar with. 

Instead, portable air scrubbers are typically used by contractors during major renovations. 

They’re used to remove the large amounts of contaminants that are pushed into the air during home reno projects.

This portable air scrubber isn’t designed to be used in your living room or bedroom.

Are Air Scrubbers Worth It?

One of the most significant differences in the air scrubber vs air purifier air debate is that an air scrubber works to purify the air throughout the home. 

Remember, it’s directly attached to your HVAC system.

On the other hand, a portable air purifier will only be effective in the room where you’re using it.

So is an Air Scrubber worth it? 

An Air Scrubber might be the better option depending on your needs and your budget.

Air Scrubber Installation Cost

The cost to install an air scrubber can be anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000, depending on where you live, your home’s size, and the HVAC system’s complexity.

What is an Air Purifier? 

Simply put, a portable air purifier is an indoor air filtration device that captures a variety of airborne pollutants and contaminants. 

A study published in the Science of Total Environment several years ago stated that, based on monitoring, indoor air is 2 to 5 times more dangerous than outdoor air pollution. 

If you live in a home where someone smokes inside, that can rise up to 100 times more dangerous.

There are several reasons for this; one is that many of us spend between 80 and 90% of our time indoors. 

And since we are conscious of energy costs and continue to build more efficient homes, many homes are airtight. 

So without proper ventilation, the air inside becomes stale and eventually more polluted.

In fixing energy problems, we created another. So, to balance out the problem, appliances like air purifiers are now commonplace.

Sources of indoor pollution can include the following:

  • Bacteria
  • Cooking
  • Dust and dust mites
  • Fumes from cleaning supplies or offgassing products
  • Fungi
  • Mold, mildew, and spores
  • Paint and other chemicals
  • Pet dander
  • Pollen
  • Vehicle emissions from nearby roadways or garages
  • Viruses

That’s a lot of air pollution. And one way to deal with it is with an air purifier.

Today, we have a few different types of air purification and technologies that focus on various issues.

HEPA Air Purifiers

This is one of the most popular types of air purifiers available today, thanks to the high efficiency of a HEPA filter. 

They can remove at least 99.97% of air particles that are 0.3 microns or larger.

This calculation is based on the MERV rating system. 

The MERV rating starts at 1 and goes up to 17, equivalent to a HEPA filter. 

At the lower end, a filter with a MERV rating of 1 to 4 will remove particles 3.0 to 10.0 microns in size 20% of the time. 

1,000 microns is the equivalent of 1 mm to put things in perspective.  

If 1,000 microns equals 1 mm, and the lowest MERV-rated filter removes particles up to only 10 microns in size, that doesn’t sound too bad. 

Until you compare that with the 0.3 microns that a HEPA filter will remove—nearly 100% of the time, not just 20% of the time.

HEPA air purifiers are available in two designs.

  • Tower HEPA Air Purifiers
  • Box Style HEPA Air Purifiers

Tower HEPA Air Purifiers. Contrary to what you might think, these are the smaller of the two styles. 

Tower purifiers have a smaller footprint—meaning they use less floor space—but stand tall. 

Because of their design, they have smaller filters and typically less airflow.

Box Style HEPA Air Purifiers. Given the large square shape of this style of air purifier, they have a significantly larger filter. 

They can move more air and ultimately clean a larger room.

Ionic Air Purifiers

This type of air purifier is also called an ionizer, ozone generator, or ion generator. 

They work by omitting electrically charged molecules or negative ions into the air.

As these ions flow through the air, they attach themselves to positive ions. Positive ions include:

  • Allergens
  • Dust
  • Odors
  • Pet dander
  • Pollen
  • Smoke
  • …and more

Think of a TV screen or monitor with a static charge with dust stuck to it. This is how negative ions attract positive ions.

Some Ionic air purifiers use Sharp Plasmacluster technology. 

This works by emitting positive and negative ions into the air, ultimately disinfecting it.

UV Air Purifiers

This air purifier uses a UV-C (ultraviolet C) germicidal lamp to help purify the air.

The most effective style of UV air purifier is the type that is integrated into your HVAC system. 

The bulbs for this style purifier can be anywhere from 30 to 300 watts, installed inside your ductwork. 

Smaller, portable UV air purifiers use bulbs ranging from 5 to 9 watts. 

What is an Air Cleaner? 

Depending on who you talk to, an air cleaner is simply another name for an air purifier.

To some extent, air cleaners and air purifiers are the same, but there are some significant differences. 

An air purifier is typically much more than an air cleaner.

While both remove impurities from the air, an air cleaner filters the air. In contrast, an air purifier sanitizes the air.

However, when it comes to the area they clean, air purifiers will clean a single room. In contrast, an air cleaner is a whole-home solution that can be installed directly into your HVAC system.

Lastly, an air cleaner will remove the following:

  • Gases
  • Smoke
  • VOCs (volatile organic compounds)

But an air purifier will also remove and potentially kill:

  • Bacteria
  • Viruses


There are differences when talking about an air scrubber vs air purifier vs air cleaner.

If you’re looking for a whole-home option that not only traps but also kills pollutants and pathogens in the air, your best choice is likely an Air Scrubber. 

However, an air scrubber may be beyond your budget at an installation cost between $1,000 and $2,000.

It depends on where you live, your home’s size, and your HVAC system’s complexity.

The runner-up is an air purifier, where you have the option of HEPA, ionic, and UV purifiers. 

The drawback of portable air purifiers is their limited coverage—they can only be used in single rooms at a time.

Ultimately, the choice is yours, but at least now you’re armed with all the necessary information to make an informed decision.