Air Purifier vs. Air Scrubber: Which is Best for You?

  • By: Sue Dorrens
  • Date: February 22, 2022
  • Time to read: 8 min.
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Air purifiers and air scrubbers both help to make the indoor air cleaner, but which one of these devices is the right one for you? They may sound like they do the same thing in your home, but in fact they are very different. Comparing an air purifier vs. air scrubber is the best way to get the details on both so that you can choose the best one in the end.

What is an Air Scrubber?

Just as with an air purifier, you can find air scrubbers in both portable and HVAC sizes. Air scrubbers are often found in commercial settings such as construction sites, universities, and hospital settings, to name a few.

The main difference between an air purifier and an air scrubber is that the latter not only gets rid of airborne particles but will eliminate all types of contaminants found both in the air and on the surfaces of furniture, walls, etc.

Air scrubbers feature motors with high RPM numbers, upright-type designs that offer a small “footprint,” and a high-efficiency backward-curved blower.

Air scrubbers usually have several filters just the same as air purifiers do, and in fact, here are the parts of an air scrubber that you should know about:

  • The pre-filter. This filter captures all of the large particles that are sucked into the unit. This, in turn, helps provide efficient airflow and process more cubic feet per minute. It also helps increase the unit’s overall efficiency.
  • The primary filter. Again, choosing a unit with a true HEPA filter as the primary filter is smart for many reasons. Just like air purifiers, air scrubbers can have HEPA filters that capture all pollutants 0.3 microns in size or larger.
  • The carbon (charcoal) filter. The main purpose for a carbon filter is to get rid of gas and vapor molecules, which are commonly known as odors. It uses the adsorption process to attract these molecules to the surface of the carbon. Not all air scrubbers will have a carbon or charcoal filter.
  • The blower. The blower is an important part of any scrubber because it pulls the air through the filters then spews the filtered air out of the unit. Manufacturers are careful to make sure the blower has the right power so that it isn’t too powerful or not powerful enough for the device

How Does an Air Scrubber Work?

Purification filters are used inside of an air scrubber to remove and eliminate all types of contaminants. The scrubber draws in contaminated air several times an hour, and continually pumps out fresh air that is chemical-free.

It constantly cleans the air and provides clean fresh air for people to breathe, getting rid of particles such as asbestos, lead, mold, bacteria, dust, and so many others.

In other words, air scrubbers work very simply because they pull in air, and the air travels through a series of filters in order to eliminate all types of unhealthy contaminants.

When it comes to contaminants and pollutants, almost nothing will get past a true HEPA filter.

And because it can take care of contaminants that are both in the air and on the surfaces of many items in the room, air scrubbers are perfect for places that need to be super-clean, including restoration projects, projects involving getting rid of water or mold damages, construction projects, and medical facilities, among others.

And while air scrubbers can be a bit on the pricey side, they are worth every penny you spend on them because of what they can do for you. Of course, this is also why mostly commercial and industrial facilities use air scrubbers, but individuals can use them as well if they need to.

Comparing Air Purifiers to Air Scrubbers

Air purifiers and air scrubbers both do an amazing job of cleaning the air in your home. And while both purifiers and scrubbers usually use filters to get rid of various pollutants, air scrubbers often use germicidal UV light waves, as well as a catalytic process, that attacks germs and other particles while they are either in the air or on surfaces such as table tops, door knobs, and even the furniture.

As far as odors are concerned, both air purifiers and air scrubbers will get rid of even the most severe odors. How?

Because both are great at attracting and eliminating the harmful particles in the room, which gets rid of the source of the bad smells.

Air scrubbers can even eliminate household odors such as paint fumes, cigarette smoke, pet urine and poop. They have even been known to eliminate one of the worst odors in any household – burnt food! If you hate the odors in your home and would like to get rid of them once and for all, an air scrubber could be the perfect solution.

Now comes the question you may be asking yourself: how effective are these two devices? When it comes to both air purifiers and air scrubbers, the numbers are equally impressive. Keep in mind that nothing is 100% effective, but both purifiers and scrubbers come pretty darned close.

With a true HEPA filter, an air purifier will eliminate 99.97%+ of the contaminants in your home. Air scrubbers usually get rid of up to 90% of airborne pollutants and 99% of surface pollutants. The latter includes staph and black mold, among others. Both are effective at eliminating all sorts of pollutants.

And if you’re concerned about the amount of electricity used up by an air-cleaning device, there is no need to be concerned about either an air purifier or an air scrubber. Both, in fact, use very little wattage and very little electricity.

In fact, most of these units use far less electricity than a standard light bulb, which means that it’s doubtful that you’ll see much of a difference on your monthly utility bill. Possibly, you’ll see no difference at all. Both purifiers and air scrubbers are made to be energy-efficient, giving you one less factor to consider when you’re researching these products.

Finally, while some people are concerned about air purifiers and air scrubbers using ozone, this is usually not a concern. There are different types of both air purifiers and air scrubbers, and the ones that use ozone usually use very small amounts of it that are much lower than what the EPA considers a healthy level.

Nevertheless, if ozone is a concern to you and you’d prefer not to use a device that has any ozone in it whatsoever, all you have to do is find a purifier or a scrubber that doesn’t operate with any ozone technology but uses other technologies instead.

What is an Air Purifier?

Air purifiers can be portable and sit on top of a table or shelf, or they can be attached to your central air conditioning or HVAC unit. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to concentrate on the portable air purifiers, even though both types have a lot of things in common.

Air purifiers not only attract all types of pollutants and draw them in, but they also eliminate them with filters. They usually have a minimum of two filters, the first being the main filter that zaps the particles and gets rid of them, and the second being a type of carbon filter that eliminates gasses and odors.

The best air purifiers are the ones that have a true HEPA filter as the main filter. Even “HEPA-like” filters are not the same as true HEPA filters. By law, a true HEPA filter must eliminate 99.97% or more of the harmful pollutants in the air, and it must eliminate pollutants as small as 0.3 microns in size.

An activated charcoal (carbon) filter will get rid of any volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which includes formaldehyde as well as dangerous gasses and other pollutants.

Air purifiers will accommodate up to a certain square footage area, so you’ll have to know how big the room is before you go out in search of your own purifier. These purifiers are made for all size rooms, from 150 square feet to more than 1500 square feet, which means that some air purifiers will even purify and clean the air in your entire home.

Most of them also come with adjustable fan speeds, automatic shut-off buttons and timers, and even lights that tell you when the filter needs to be replaced. Most importantly, most air purifiers are very reasonably priced and can cost less than $100.

Other Things You Need to Know

Many people consider air scrubbers to be better than air purifiers, simply because they work on both air pollutants and surface pollutants. Think of an air purifier as a passive method of getting rid of contaminants and an air scrubber as an active method. Why? When an air purifier is turned on, it simply forces air through the various filters, with the entire cleaning process occurring within the purifier itself.

And users almost always have to clean and/or replace filters occasionally. Air scrubbers, on the other hand, release negative ions that stick to the pollutants and therefore make them easier to eliminate. They can be eliminated either in the filter or by wiping the surfaces.

While there are advantages and disadvantages of an air purifier as opposed to an air scrubber, it will depend on your circumstances which one will work best for you. If you’re a homeowner who lives alone and has a small home, an air purifier will likely work best.

If you work in an industrial, commercial, or medical setting and need a super-clean working environment, an air scrubber will likely be a better choice. If you have allergies, sinus problems, asthma, or any type of upper-respiratory problems, you need one of these devices if you want to start feeling better fast.

Also keep in mind that both air purifiers and air scrubbers come in a wide selection of sizes, designs, colors, and price ranges so you should be able to find on that suits you.

Final Thoughts

Air purifiers and air scrubbers are not the same thing, but they both have one thing in common: their ability to grab ahold of and eliminate all types of harmful contaminants in the air and, in the case of an air scrubber, the surfaces in the room as well.

If you need something heavy-duty, you’re better off choosing the air scrubber, but a good air purifier gets rid of so many pollutants that this is all many people need. Scrubbers are generally better for commercial use, while purifiers are usually better for individuals.

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