Why Expensive Air Filters Are Worth It

It's easy to wonder why certain air filters are so expensive. When comparing the $2 air filters and the $30 air filters, you may not know the difference just by looking at the packaging. In that case, $2 sounds like a good deal, right? Unfortunately, like many things, its too good to be true.

FilterBuy deals in more expensive air filters for a reason - they're worth it for the quality and convenience. Read about the differences below.

Differences in Cheap vs Expensive Air Filters

More expensive air filters use more material of a higher quality to better filter your air

The cheapest filters are made of spun fiberglass, which does very little to filter your air compared to materials like paper, cotton or polyester. Materials like paper, cotton and polyester do a much better job of cleaning the air in your home. In the same way that those materials hold onto sweat and dirt when you wear clothing, they also hold onto airborne dust and dirt better than fiberglass. The flipside is that woven materials cost more than spun fiberglass.

image shows person touching filter material close up

Expensive air filters give you more surface area to filter particulate matter

If you've wondered the difference between pleated air filters and their non-pleated counterparts, here’s your answer. Putting more pleats (sometimes called folds) into air filters increase their surface area, and more surface area means more room to trap particulates in the air. Additionally, pleated filters don't have to be changed as often — just one every 3 months compared to the once a month frequency of non-pleated filters. When cost comparing a pleated filter to a non-pleated filter, you have to triple the price per filter of the non-pleated filter to get an accurate comparison.

close up of pleated air filter material

You'll read elsewhere that pleated filters will restrict air flow, leading to a harder working furnace or AC unit that raises your energy costs and burns out the motor. That’s a myth - the extra surface area lets more air through, so that your central HVAC unit doesn’t have to work as hard to push air through it. All dimensions being equal, a filter with a higher MERV rating and more pleats per inch will have the same or better air flow than the same filter with a lower MERV rating and fewer pleats.

When is an expensive air filter not worth it?

Don’t buy washable air filters

You'll pay more for a washable air filter because it should last you years, rather than months. While it’s a nice idea in theory, it has multiple problems, such as lower MERV ratings, frequent maintenance requirements, and the possibility of attracting mold in your air unit.

Don't blindly buy the highest MERV rating

While a higher MERV rating seems better at first, know that it may not be best for your specific furnace and AC unit. Check your manual to see the recommended MERV rating, and don't exceed it. Doing so will likely create air flow issues that raise your utility costs and decrease the life of the blower in your central air unit. This is especially true in homes with older HVAC units, which weren't built to accommodate thicker air filters.

Learn more: Which MERV rating should I choose?

When is an expensive air filter not worth it?

If you're newly converted to spending more on your filters but want to lessen the sticker shock, here's a few tips below:

Buy online

Again, we're a little biased here, but we chose to sell direct-to-consumers for a reason - it costs less for us, so we can help it cost less for you. When buying in large quantities, you could save 4O to 60 dollars a year buying online compared to a big box store.

Speaking of buying in bulk, that cost saving strategy still applies here. Retail stores will lock you into preset packs of goods, which means you may end up with more or less of what you need for your home. When buying air filters online, look for places that let you customize your quantity to get exactly what you need.

Filterbuy MERV 13 pleated air filter

Finally, look for online retailers that offer discounts for setting up recurring shipments of air filters (ours is 5%, for example).

Know your MERV needs

Once you've determined the maximum MERV rating your furnace or AC unit can handle, you can determine how close you need to be to that higher rating. Our MERV rating guide goes into greater detail, but in short, if you are in a home that checks one or more of the boxes below, you likely need a higher MERV rating. If you don't, you can go lower and save some money:

  • A home with one (or multiple) shedding pets
  • A home with one (or multiple) kids
  • A home with frequent guest activity (once every week or two)
  • A home with residents that have allergies, emphysema, or other conditions that make them particularly sensitive to air quality

woman and child holding a cat