Which Is Better An Air Purifier Or An Air Scrubber?

Improving indoor air quality is consistently among the top concerns of home and building owners alike. Dust, smoke, pollen, and other pollutants combine to make this an ever-challenging issue, forcing people to consider what appliances and equipment can help them filter their indoor air. Among them, air purifiers and air scrubbers top the list. But which one is the more effective solution?

Generally, air scrubbers are a better and effective solution for most needs. Air purifiers work passively by forcing air through a series of filters within the appliance itself. The entire cleaning process occurs within the air purifier, and users will have to replace filters occasionally. But, air scrubbers work actively, generating negative ions that stick to both airborne and surface-based pollutants. Those ions then make it easier to remove trapped pollutants, either in the filter or by wiping the surfaces.

We’ll take a deep dive into how air purifiers and air scrubbers work in the following sections. You’ll learn the pros and cons that each option offers and learn what we think is the better solution between them.

How Does An Air Purifier Work?

To understand the difference between how an air purifier and an air scrubber works, it’s helpful to think of an air purifier as working passively.

Typically, air purifiers have a fan that forces air through the unit at a high rate. As that happens, the air will travel through one or more filters that remove dust, dirt, pollen, and other airborne pollutants.

Air purifiers typically have one or more of these filters, each with a specific role:

  • Pre-filters: Pre-filters will help to remove larger airborne particles like dust. In doing so, pre-filters reduce the burden on the other subsequent filters, which leads to fewer filter replacements overall.
  • Regular Washable Filters: Some air purifiers also include washable filters that remove larger particulates not caught by pre-filters. These are useful in removing coarse bits of dust from the air. They’re also easy to maintain, as you can wash the dust off occasionally.
  • High-Efficiency Particulate Arrestance (HEPA) Filters: High-end air purifier models also include HEPA or High-Efficiency Particulate Arrestance filters. These remove much tinier pollutants from the air, down to a size of 0.3 microns. 

They are said to be 99.97% at removing these particulates, which may include water droplets carrying bacteria and viruses. HEPA filters are often found in clinics, as they offer an affordable solution that’s not as expensive as hospital-grade air purifiers.

  • Activated Carbon Filter: Some air purifier models also include an additional activated carbon filter. These filters are generally used to remove unpleasant smells from the air.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of An Air Purifier?

Air purifiers are very effective at increasing indoor air quality, but they come with their fair share of pros and cons. Here are some of them.

Pro: Affordability

Firstly, air purifiers are very affordable these days.

There is a very high demand for air purifiers worldwide, which is why there are many different brands and models available for consumers. That also makes pricing much more competitive, allowing consumers to purchase whichever model fits their budgets and their household needs.

Pro: Happens Within The Device Itself

With an air purifier, the entire cleaning process happens within the device itself. That’s because the purifier has a fan that forces air through the filters, trapping all pollutants inside the unit.

Therefore, the only thing that a consumer needs to do is clean or change the filters at the air purifier once in a while.

Con: Only Clean Airborne Particles

Given the cleaning mechanism used by air purifiers, only pollutants and airborne particles have a chance of getting caught in their filters. That means any pollutants attached to household surfaces like floors and walls will not find their way into the air purifier or its many filters.

Con: Filters Need Changing

As dust, dirt, pollen, and other pollutants get trapped in the air purifier’s filters. As a result, the filters will become saturated and less efficient at purifying the air. As a result, users will have to replace those filters with new ones, which involves an added financial cost.

Regular filters are usually cheap, but HEPA filters cost more than regular filters. That will add to the overall cost of operating the air purifier.

Besides that, some air filter replacements are difficult or even impossible to find. That’s especially true with brands and models that are eventually discontinued, forcing users to search for third-party replacements or buy brand new air purifiers entirely.

How Does An Air Scrubber Work?

There are several similarities in how air scrubbers and air purifiers work. Generally, however, an air scrubber works more actively to clean the air, rather than passively cleaning whatever airborne particles its filters can catch.

Most air scrubbers generate negative ions, which it then sends out into the household. Those negative ions attach to particulates and pollutants in the air and surfaces like doors, walls, mirrors, and so on. Doing so makes it much easier for those smaller particles to be caught when they fly through the air scrubber’s filters.

Some of the more advanced air scrubbers might also use wet scrubbing, a method where the air is forced through a pool of water to trap any particulates that pass through. Effectively, the water ‘scrubs’ the air clean and keeps it free of any pollutants. This type of air scrubber, however, is typically found in industrial appliances and are less common in household solutions.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of An Air Scrubber?

Air scrubbers also have their fair share of pros and cons. Here are some of the top benefits and drawbacks they offer:

Pro: No Components That Need Regular Replacing Like Filters

Some air scrubbers don’t have filters as part of their design. Instead, they release negative ions to make it easier for pollutants to get caught by the home or building’s other filters in the ventilation systems.

For these kinds of air scrubbers, there are no replaceable parts like filters that need to be replaced regularly. That eliminates the need for maintenance and the cost of buying replacement filters.

Pro: Cleans More Than Airborne Particles

Unlike air purifiers, air scrubbers can catch more than just airborne particles. The negative ions attach to pollutants on surfaces as well, making them much easier to catch. Those pollutants will eventually get caught in air filters, or they’ll be cleaned away when those surfaces are wiped or mopped.

Cons: More Expensive Than Air Purifiers

Air scrubbers tend to cost more than regular air purifiers, thanks to the additional components and mechanisms they rely on. Sure, that cost is justified given that it’s much more effective at improving indoor air quality.

Still, that more significant price tag can be much more than what the buyer might be able to afford. In those instances, a more affordable air purifier might be a better solution.

Cons: Sticks To Surfaces So Need To Vacuum And Wipe To Completely Remove The Pollutants

The negative ions released by the air scrubber will do a fantastic job of sticking to pollutants in the air and on surfaces. Some of those pollutants will then be heavy enough to get carried into the filters by air, but others will remain stuck to surfaces.

Those pollutants will stay there until they’re vacuumed, mopped, or wiped away manually.

Final Verdict: Air Purifier vs Air Scrubber

Between an air purifier and an air scrubber, there’s no question that an air scrubber (especially one with air filters) is the best solution you can buy to maximize your indoor air quality. That is because air scrubbers take a more active approach towards cleaning the air by releasing negative ions that go out and trap pollutants, making them much easier to catch in air filters.

However, being a more effective solution doesn’t mean that they’re the best solution for everyone. Homeowners also need to take several other factors into account, namely:

  • Cost – Does the cost of an air scrubber fit into your household budget, or would an air purifier be more affordable?
  • Pollution Types: What types of pollutants are you trying to clean? Air purifiers could be sufficient to clean dust, dirt, and pollen. However, if you’re expecting to deal with smoke, smog, or other harmful pollutants, then an air scrubber might be better.
  • Pollution Levels: How intense is your indoor pollution? For example, a small apartment might only require an air purifier, but a doctor’s office with many sick patients and germs might be better off with an air scrubber.
  • Other Household Equipment: Does your household have centralised air? If so, an air scrubber could benefit the entire home much more than an air purifier.

As you can see, an air scrubber is undoubtedly more effective at increasing indoor air quality. Still, it might provide more air cleaning power than is needed. After considering factors such as cost, pollution types and levels, as well as other indoor air-related equipment, you might find that an air purifier is the better option for you.