Why Air Purifier Pre-Filters May Be More Harm than Good

Most purifiers on the market come with a pre-filter. That would make one think that pre-filters must be a good thing, right?

Do air purifiers need pre-filter

 

However, most purifier companies also love to selling people 6-stage filtration, or no – 7-stage filtration! But the science behind purifiers is surprisingly simple. Two types of filters will protect you against virtually every type of air pollutant out there. But what about a pre-filter?

 

 

When we were designing the world’s most cost-effective purifier, we decided to put this question to the test. We ran over 1,000 hours of tests on air purifiers with and without pre-filters to test whether pre-filters would actually make air-breathers better off. Here’s what we found.

 

What Are Air Purifier Pre-Filters Supposed to Do?

A pre-filter’s purpose is to capture larger particles like dust and hair, preventing them from clogging the HEPA filter.

pre filter capture air purifier dust hairs

 

Of course, HEPA filters have no problem capturing these large particles, so the pre-filter will NOT increase the effectiveness of the purifier. Instead, the idea is that it should increase the lifespan. The great thing about pre-filters is they can be washed and cleaned periodically, unlike HEPA filters.

The Problem with Pre-Filters

Pre-filters have costs. Because they add an extra layer of resistance to your air purifier, they can reduce airflow and increase noise.

So we’ve got a potential benefit (lifespan) and a cost (air resistance). We can make theoretical arguments all day in favor of one or the other. The real way to answer this question is to put it to the test.

Air Purifier Pre-Filter Tests: With vs. Without

In our Smart Air lab in Beijing, clean air engineer Vitalii ran a series of effectiveness (CADR) tests on the Sqair with and without a pre-filter. In the test, we burn cigarettes in a closed room to produce PM2.5 pollution and track how long it takes the purifier to clean the air.

air purifier pre-filter test

Averaging across multiple , here is how the pre-filter affected performance:

Air purifier with Pre-filter less effective than without pre-filter

The results are pretty conclusive. Adding a pre-filter to The Sqair reduces effectiveness by 40%.

How Pre-Filters Affect HEPA Filter Lifespan

Hang on. The purpose of a pre-filter is to increase the lifespan of the HEPA filter, not to increase effectiveness. So what about lifespan?

To answer this question, we set up a new experiment. In this test, we ran 3 Sqair purifiers 24/7 over 2 months to test if a pre-filter really increases the lifespan of the HEPA.

Air purifier pre-filter tests lifespan of HEPA filter

 

We ran three machines:

  1. Nothing: Sqair without a pre-filter
  2. Ideal condition pre-filter: Sqair with a pre-filter that we replaced every week (like washing it every week, but better!)
  3. Realistic pre-filter: Sqair with a pre-filter we didn’t wash or replace (how we see most people use their air purifier)

 

We ran effectiveness (CADR) tests of all 3 Sqairs every 65 hours. Here’s what happened to their effectiveness over the 2 months.

Pre-Filter effect on performance over time

 

The two Sqairs with a pre-filter had lower effectiveness at the start, but that’s to be expected from the earlier test. The real question is: does changing the pre-filter ever push performance above the “unprotected” Sqair?

Here’s the shocking result. Even after 1,000 hours, when effectiveness dropped 50% (which is when the HEPA should be replaced), the purifier without a pre-filter still outperformed the purifier with the frequently changed pre-filter.

 

Bottom line on The Effectiveness of Pre-Filters

The data showed that adding a pre-filter to the Sqair decreases its effectiveness, without increasing the lifespan of the HEPA filter.

Even if we compare the pre-filter that was changed constantly and the pre-filter that wasn’t changed, the difference in effectiveness was small. At the end of the test, the difference in effectiveness was less than 10%. This suggests that the benefit of cleaning the pre-filter is small.

Smart Air

 

Possible Exceptions For Using Pre-Filters?

There might be exceptions. Since dogs and cats shed lots of fur, pet-owners might still benefit from using a pre-filter. We plan to run tests in a pet-owner’s home to see whether the results are any different.

Smart Air Blast Mini air purifier and pet dog in office

 

Also, large centrifugal fans like the fan in the Blast are stronger, meaning the pre-filter won’t affect air flow as much.

Blast purifier in situ in cafe


Get Your Free Guide to Breathing Safe

Join the thousand keeping up on the latest research & knowledge on how to breathe safe. Sign up now and receive a free guide to breathing safe!

Subscribe
Notify of
10 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Smart Air is a social enterprise that creates simple, no-nonsense air purifier and provides free education to protect people’s health from the effects of air pollution. We are proud to be the only certified B-Corp dedicated to fighting air pollution.