Carbon Air Filters vs. Traditional Air Filters: Which is Better?
If you’ve ever tried to research the best type of air filter for your home, you may have realized that there is a seemingly endless amount of home air filter options.
While traditional air filters have been the most common type of air filter on the market for a long time, carbon air filters are becoming a popular option for people who have additional concerns about air quality and purification.
As homeowners and consumers have become aware of the pollutants in their homes - including some pollutants that can be dangerous for a person’s health - they are discovering the benefits of carbon filtration and its ability to pull certain contaminants out of the air.
Of course, there are a number of things that have to be considered to confidently select the best air filter. The wrong air filter could do little to improve air quality and it could even result in damage your HVAC system.
Below, we’ve broken down carbon air filters and traditional air filters in a thorough Q&A, so you know the key differences between the two and which type of air filter is best for your home.
Carbon Air Filters
A carbon air filter is a specialty home air filter that is designed to remove odors, gases and chemicals from the air. As air particles pass through the filter, the particles that come in contact with the filter’s porous carbon are trapped.
Below are some of the most common facts about carbon air filters.
What is the Type of Media Used for Carbon Air Filters?
The air filter media is what makes carbon air filters unique. The filter is made of a layer of carbon that has been treated so that the tiny carbon particles are ground up and very porous.
What is it About the Carbon That Makes It Good at Killing Odors?
Carbon is especially good at killing odors because of how it reacts with particles. The carbon uses a process called adsorption that causes gas molecules to adhere to the carbon. Once adhered, the gas molecules remain trapped in the filter and can’t circulate back into the air.
What is an Activated Carbon Air Filter?
An activated carbon air filter is the same exact thing as a normal carbon air filter, and the names are often used interchangeably. However, some manufacturers do distinguish between the two simply in how the carbon is used within the filter.
Activated carbon air filters are made by grinding up the charcoal into extremely small particles. Some filters that are simply labeled “carbon” are made with powder blocks of carbon that are compressed and heated to create the filter.
Is a Carbon Filter Different from a Charcoal Air Filter?
No, charcoal air filter is just another name for a carbon air filter.
What Are the Primary Uses for a Carbon Air Filter?
Homeowners typically select a carbon air filter to remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs), odors, smoke and/or gases from the air.
Can Carbon Air Filters be Used as a Whole House Air Filter?
Yes, there are whole house air filters that are made with carbon media. Just be mindful of the MERV rating if you need allergens, dust and dander cleaned out of the air along with odors, VOCs and gases. Our odor eliminator pleated air filter has a MERV 8 rating and can last up to three months.
Is There a Carbon Air Filter Purifier?
Carbon air filters are commonly used in air purifiers. However, it must be used in conjunction with another air filter, such as a HEPA air filter, in order for the purifier to remove microorganisms and related contaminants. It’s not uncommon for air-purifiers to have what’s called a 3-stage purification system with a traditional air filter, carbon air filter and HEPA filter.
How Long Do Carbon Air Filters Last?
One of the drawbacks is that carbon air filters get fully saturated fairly quickly. Ideally, a carbon air filter needs to be replaced or cleaned at least once a month.
How Much Do Carbon Air Filters Cost?
Carbon air filters tend to cost a bit more than traditional air filters. The cost is usually somewhere between $30-40 per carbon air filter.
Are Carbon Air Filters Readily Available?
Because these are specialty air filters, you probably won’t find a huge selection at the home goods store. You’ll probably be able to find carbon air filters, but the sizes will likely be limited.
The good news is carbon air filters are readily available online through manufacturers like Filterbuy.
Carbon Air Filter Pros and Cons Recap
The lists below provide a brief overview of the benefits and drawbacks of carbon air filters.
Pros of Carbon Air Filters:
- Eliminates odors
- Ability to neutralize harmful gases and VOCs
- Clears smoke and chemicals out of the air
- No harsh contaminants are released
Cons of Carbon Air Filters:
- Not the best filter for removing allergens from the air
- Doesn’t trap microorganisms
- Only last around a month before needing to be replaced
- More expensive than traditional air filters
Traditional Air Filters
Traditional air filters shouldn’t be a mystery to most of our readers. Like carbon air filters, a traditional air filter works by trapping particles as air flows through the media, however in this case, traditional air filters use a fiberglass-based filter to clean the air. The particles get stuck within that web of fibers as air moves on to the rest of the house.
Below are some of the most common facts about traditional air filters.
What is the Type of Media Used for Traditional Air Filters?
Traditional air filter media is usually either spun fiberglass media or pleated film in a cardboard frame.
How Good Are Traditional Air Filters at Cleaning Your Air?
A traditional air filter can be very effective at cleaning the air inside so long as it has a MERV rating of 8 or more. The higher the MERV rating is the better the filter is at cleaning the air. They are able to clear the air of allergens, pollutants, dirt, debris and microorganisms.
What Are the Primary Uses for a Traditional Air Filter?
Traditional air filters are designed to keep contaminants out of the HVAC system first and foremost. However, they also remove contaminants from the air that’s circulating around the home too.
Homeowners use traditional air filters for a variety of reasons. The primary uses are reducing allergens, improving air quality, removing contaminants, and keeping debris out of the air.
Can Traditional Air Filters be Used as a Whole House Air Filter?
Yes, traditional air filters are meant to be used as a whole house air filter. You just have to make sure the air filter is properly suited and sized for your HVAC system.
Is There a Traditional Air Filter Purifier?
Many of the air purifiers sold today use a type of air filter known as HEPA (high efficiency particulate air). HEPA air filters are extremely effective at drawing contaminants and pollutants out of the air, and portable purifiers aren’t tied to the HVAC system so there’s no concern about damage to your home air circulation system when using them.
How Long Do Traditional Air Filters Last?
Most traditional air filters are designed to last 90 days or 3 months. If you have pets, a lot of tenants, or other circumstances that make your filter work harder, you may need to replace them before the 90-day limit.
How Much Do Traditional Air Filters Cost?
There’s a broad price range for traditional air filters. Size, MERV rating and the air filter media all affect the price that you pay. You can get traditional air filters for as low as $5 and ordering in bulk can make the filters even more affordable. For custom sized air filters, it depends on your sizing and quantity.
Are Traditional Air Filters Readily Available?
Traditional air filters are readily available in-store and online. That said, air filters that are an odd size may be difficult to find at a brick-and-mortar location. You’re better off using a direct manufacturer, like Filterbuy, that allows clients to order custom-size air filters online.
Traditional Air Filter Pros and Cons Recap
Below is a quick recap of what to consider when you’re comparing traditional air filters.
Traditional Air Filter Pros:
- Can trap and remove microorganisms, including bacteria and viruses
- Very effective at removing allergens, pollen, dust and dander
- No harsh contaminants are released
- Can last up to three months before replacement
Traditional Air Filter Cons:
- Not ideal for odor removal
- Not able to remove some chemicals and gases from the air
Shop the Most Popular Sized Air Filters
Below, you can select from our most popular sizes of home air filters.