Is an air scrubber a HEPA filter or are they different things?

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We recently got a question from a site visitor asking “is an air scrubber a HEPA filter?” The answer: No. HEPA filters are but one type of filter used by air scrubbers. Other filter types include pre-filters and charcoal media filters.

To be clear, let’s dive in a little bit into both air scrubbers and HEPA filters.

Terminology is often used differently form country to country, state to state and even between neighboring cities. For the purpose of the question that prompted this post, it’s worth note that this site is based in the U.S.

Air scrubbers in the United States

Here, an air scrubber is a piece of commercial equipment that is used by professionals most commonly for mold remediation, flood damage repair and renovation. An air wash is often also called an air scrubber. The main difference between the two is that an air wash uses a liquid to remove particulates, dust and VOC’s from the air.

Air Scrubber
An Air Scrubber with a HEPA filter inside as well as a UV-C lamp.

But, if you go beyond our borders, an air scrubber can be something quite different. In some countries an air scrubber is a consumer-grade appliance that we call an air purifier. This does get a bit confusing because the two share quite a bit in common.

The general rule of thumb here is that if it’s loud, made to work with ducting and marketed toward renovation, restoration and remediation professionals, it’s an air scrubber. If it’s something you could find at a big box store and is quiet enough to put in any room in a residential home, it’s an air purifier.

HEPA and HEPA filters

HEPA is an acronym which stands for “high efficiency particulate air [filter].” Based on that alone, we’ve got our answer: Clearly an air scrubber isn’t a HEPA filter. But, the two are definitely related.

Before we get to air scrubbers though, you may think HEPA filters sound very familiar. That’s because HEPA filters are used in a wide range of items including air purifiers and of course air scrubbers, but also in everyday vacuums and HVAC systems. That’s because HEPA filters can trap very, very small particles including irritants, pollutants, dust and mites that are around us all the time. Okay, back to air scrubbers.

Air scrubbers have more than one filter. On the more extreme end you’ll see 4, possibly 5 filters in use. Filters are taken out or added depending on the type of work that is being done. An example is a type of filter called a charcoal filter. Charcoal filters are good at removing odors and VOCs. But, they aren’t always necessary depending upon the nature of the work being done.

HEPA filters are used in air scrubbers in all but rare situations.

Air scrubbers use HEPA filters

Back to that quick answer: No, air scrubbers are not HEPA filters. Air scrubbers are used by renovation, restoration and remediation professionals to clean the air, almost always employing HEPA filters.

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