Looking for an effective HVAC air cleaner? You have come to the right place!
According to a study by the World Health Organization, exposure to indoor air pollution accounts for the deaths of approximately 3.8 million people every year.
Pollutants, such as dust mites; pet dander, mold, gases from building materials and cleaning materials, and smoke from burning wood, cooking, and tobaccocontribute to an unhygienic and unhealthy home environment that negatively affects human health.
In 2020, these dangerous conditions were further compounded by wildfires and Covid-19. Fortunately, you can protect yourself from these harmful contaminants with an HVAC air cleaner.
These units capture and filter out pollutants, effectively improving the air quality of your entire house, so you only breathe in clean and fresh air no matter which room you’re in. Keep on reading to learn more about these wonderful units!
Why do You Need an HVAC Air Cleaner for the House?
The Environmental Protection Agency states that the air in our homes can be even more polluted than city smog. In fact, the dirt you see around the house is only a small part of what’s contaminating the air.
An invisible mixture of pollen; mold, smoke, dust mites and dander add to indoor air pollution, making it difficult to breathe.
One of the most effective ways of protecting yourself from these airborne contaminants is keeping your house squeaky-clean and well-ventilated. However, this line of defense might not be enough for asthmatic and sensitive people. This is where HVAC air cleaners come in.
Following are some of the reasons why you should invest in an air cleaner:
- Reduces Odors: An effective HVAC air cleaner will make your entire house smell better, given that it’s equipped with the right type of filter. An activated carbon filter helps remove all types of odors.
- Protects Your Health: Some units can get rid of viruses and other disease-causing microorganisms, creating a healthy home environment.
- Eliminates Dust, Pollen, and Other Allergens: An HVAC air cleaner with the right kind of filter can remove pollen; dust, spores, and other pollutants and allergens from the air. This makes the unit perfect for people with hay fever, allergies, or asthma.
- Neutralizes Carbon Monoxide, Smoke, and Other VOCs
Our Top 3 Picks
What's In This Buying Guide
Table of Contents
In this guide, we have selected the best HVAC air cleaners available in the market and have provided a detailed review of each model. We’ve also included a comprehensive buying guide, so you can confidently pick the air cleaner that best suits your needs.
Best HVAC Air Cleaners
Disclaimer: All links below go to Amazon.com
Best Furnace Mounted HVAC Air Cleaner
3750 sq. ft
Traditional and electrostatic air filters
Particle Removal Rate
Best for the Money
Depends on HVAC system
Extended media filter
Particle Removal Rate
Bio Shield UV-C Air Sanitizer
Best UV Air Cleaner
Depends on HVAC system
Particle Removal Rate
Boasting a combination of electrostatic technology and traditional air filters, the Aprilaire 5000 claims to capture and remove 98% of airborne particles measuring 0.1 microns in size.
It’s ideal for controlling allergens and excels at pollen and dust removal.
The unit eliminates 94% of asthma-causing dust and 99% of mold; spores, and pollen, making it one of the best HVAC air cleaners for allergies.
Since it’s a furnace-mounted model, you need to install it near or on your furnace. Featuring 72 sq. ft of microfiber filters, it permanently captures and filters out particles as the air passes through the HVAC system.
Unlike other HVAC systems, you can also configure the Aprilaire 5000 to run independently of your heating or cooling system.
Offering excellent value for money, this unit has the best performance-per-dollar ratio on the list. It features an extended media filter 30 times the size of traditional 1″ furnace filters and removes 98% of all visible airborne contaminants, such as pet dander; dust, and other large pollutants.
It can also eliminate more than 97% of airborne pollen. Since it’s a furnace-mounted model, make sure that it’s compatible with your HVAC system before you purchase it.
It also has incredibly low maintenance requirements. You just need to replace its filters every 12 months. These replacement filters are available at around $40 apiece, and since the unit doesn’t have any moving parts, you won’t have to worry about the production of ozone as well.
The Bio Shield UV-C Air Sanitizer eliminates all airborne contaminants that cause flu, allergies, sinus infections, asthma, colds, and other serious health problems.
The model uses germicidal lamps to purify and clean the air and prevents organic material from building up on the surface of drain pans; interior ducts, and cooling coils.
This results in improved airflow, reduced maintenance, and a constant heat transfer rate.
It also saves you from expensive ductwork cleaning and consumes less energy than a 25W bulb, making it one of the most energy-efficient models available today.
The bulb itself is a 17″ UV-C lamp manufactured by Philips, so you won’t have to worry about the quality being anything less than top-notch. The company further estimates that the UV-C will reduce your HVAC system’s energy use by 10-25%, effectively reducing your utility bills.
HVAC Air Cleaner Buying Guide
What is an HVAC air cleaner and How Does it Work?
If you want to clean the air in only one room of your house, a portable air purifier is more than enough to meet your needs. However, if you’re planning on improving the air quality of your entire house, an HVAC air cleaner can effectively purify the air as it filters through your home’s HVAC system.
Built into an HVAC system, these units can be as compact and uncomplicated as a filter or as complex as an electronic system designed into the ductwork.
In order to purify the air throughout your house, you need to place the filter in front of the supply or return air in your HVAC system’s ductwork. The HVAC system pulls in air and the air cleaner filters it before it’s pushed back out again.
The way the filter removes contaminants and pollutants from the air depends on the kind of filter you’re using.
For instance, an electronic filter uses ionization to electrically charge the particles and pulls them onto an ion collector plate.
In contrast, a media filter creates a physical barrier that captures tiny particles. Some units combine both methods or use other filtration elements to trap different particle types, such as adding an activated carbon filter to eliminate odor.
Types of HVAC Air Cleaners
The best way to filter and purify indoor air is to use the central air-conditioning or forced-air heating system in your home. These air cleaners are installed into the HVAC system’s return-air ductwork and trap contaminants as the air passes through.
These units are passive, which means that they’ll keep filtering and cleaning the air of your house as long as the HVAC system is running. They’re available in three different types:
Media Air Purifiers
Imagine a pile of furnace filters around 8-inches thick, and you’ll have an idea of what media air filters look like. These bulky and boxy units have an accordion-like stack of filtration media, making them more effective and efficient than conventional fiberglass filters.
Since these large filter holders need to be plumbed and fixed into the ductwork, it’s better to opt for professional installation. The total price, including installation, can range from 400-$600, while it’ll cost around 40-$60 to replace the filters every year.
People mainly concerned about germs can go for an ultraviolet filter. Usually, UV air filters are built-in units sold as add-ons to an HVAC system. The ultraviolet light eliminates viruses and bacteria, which is why most hospitals have UV air filters in their tuberculosis wards.
Of course, the particles have to reach the UV filter before it can eliminate them, so if someone sneezes or coughs in your face, the UV light won’t be of any help.
Electronic Air Cleaners (EACs)
Also known as electrostatic precipitators, these high-tech air cleaners are installed into the ductwork as well. As air filters through, the particles are electrically charged with a high-voltage current. At the other end of the filter, oppositely charged collector plates capture these particles like a magnet.
Electronic air cleaners are ideal for getting rid of smoke particles that are too small to be captured by media filters. According to the findings of one independent test, these filters were around 30 times as effective as normal fiberglass filters.
Unlike media filters, you don’t need to replace these units, but you’ll have to clean the aluminum collector plates with soapy water every couple of months. Electronic air cleaners can range anywhere from 600-$1000 and need a 120V electrical outlet to work.
Why Buy an HVAC Air Cleaner?
If you’re wondering why you should purchase an HVAC air cleaner, the answer is pretty simple.
If breathing clean and unpolluted air is a top priority for you, you should definitely invest in an effective model. For patients suffering from chronic respiratory problems; asthma, and allergies, the installation of an HVAC air cleaner should be an even more important consideration.
Following are some of the reasons why you should install this unit in your home or office:
- Trap viruses and bacteria to avoid the spread of illnesses and germs, including COVID-19.
- Block dust and dust mites
- Neutralize smoke from tobacco products or from your fireplace
- Trap pet dander and all other types of allergens
- Eliminate dangerous VOCs (volatile organic compounds) from the air
- Get rid of unpleasant odors originating from places like restrooms, trashcans, and kitchens.
If you’re worried about the spread of COVID in your office and want to offer full protection to your customers and employees, there are certain HVAC air cleaners that can help.
Models with HEPA filters can capture the droplets or particles that the virus travels in, but you’ll need a unit that constantly sucks in air to significantly reduce the risk.
Businesses working with volatile organic compounds are also prime candidates for HVAC air cleaners, such as furniture refinishing businesses; dry cleaners, auto body repair shops, salons, and print shops.
Any business that uses printing or cleaning chemicals will have VOCs in the air and will need an effective air purifier.
Lastly, if you have a smoker in your house, adding an HVAC air cleaner will be a smart decision as well.
What to Look for in an HVAC Air Cleaner
When it comes to the right HVAC air cleaner, different people have different requirements. To ensure you don’t end up regretting your decision, we’ve listed some of the main factors you should consider before finalizing your purchase:
Air Filter Rating
HEPA filters are usually considered the gold standard and are estimated to capture 99.97% of all particles bigger than 0.3 microns. However, they need an extra fan to filter out the air, so they’re not compatible with all HVAC systems.
It’s advisable to look at the MERV rating of the filter too. It’s better to go for a true HEPA filter with a high MERV rating, but make sure that the unit is compatible with your existing HVAC system before you buy it.
Particle Removal Capacity
The Clean Air Delivery Rate or CADR is another important factor you should consider.
Every portable home air purifier is rated with a CADR, which calculates the purification effectiveness and air movement. It is measured in cubic feet per minute and basically tells you how long the air purifier will take to clean the air in any specific room.
As a general rule, you should opt for a unit with a CADR that’s two-thirds or more of the total area of the room you’re planning on putting it in. For instance, if you’re going to clean the air in a 300sq. ft room, you should choose a filter that has a CADR of at least 200.
Similarly, if you’re planning on cleaning the air in your entire house at once, you should make the same calculation, except you’ll have to measure the size of your entire house and run the purifier with all the doors open.
If you’re going to run the purifier in your office or bedroom, a noisy fan will disturb you easily. Most manufacturers mention the noise level of their products in dB, so make sure you go for a unit that has a rating of less than 40dB.
It’s also advisable to look for a fan-less unit or a model that features a “sleep mode” or has a whisper-quiet operation.
If you want to save on energy bills, look for an efficient HVAC air cleaner. High-efficiency models consume less energy to clean the air in your home, which helps reduce your carbon footprint and keep costs low.
Most modern air cleaners are energy-efficient and use very little electricity as compared to other household appliances.
Build Quality and Durability
The build quality of an air cleaner affects its longevity and performance. Nobody wants to spend hundreds of dollars on an air cleaner that stops working only after a few weeks because of poor build quality.
Make sure to check the materials it’s made of and read what other customers are saying about the unit before you purchase it.
A good HVAC air cleaner costs around 500-$1000. Although budget-friendly models that cost around $100 are available, they’re usually not as effective as high-end ones.
Compare the cost of the model with how much use you’re going to get out of it to make sure it’s worth the money. Make sure you factor in the cost of filters, electricity, and installation as well.
Installation of HVAC Air Cleaners
HVAC cleaners need to be installed into the return-air ductwork. The entire installation process is a bit complex, so we recommend hiring an HVAC contractor to do the job for you.
Although it can be very tempting to save some money and install the unit yourself, this can result in being even more costly in the long run. Mistakes are expensive and might cause serious problems with the entire HVAC system, further resulting in pricey repairs down the road.
Contrarily, freestanding or portable air purifiers are extremely easy to set up and any homeowner can quickly install it. With these units, you just need to read and follow the instruction manual to set it up yourself.
With their numerous advantages, you might want to immediately purchase a high-efficiency HVAC air cleaner.
However, make sure that you check whether the model is compatible with your existing HVAC system or not. Buying the wrong air cleaner can reduce airflow and cause serious damage to your system.
If you have restricted airflow, your house’s cooling and heating demand will increase, leading to high utility bills and possible damage to your entire HVAC system. This is why a HEPA filtration system is not suitable for all types of residential structures.
Also, make sure that your HVAC system can adequately handle a unit with a high MERV rating. It’s better to hire a professional to measure the airflow, so you have the proper recommendation about whether your system can accommodate the unit you’ve selected or not.
Another limitation of an HVAC air cleaner is that each unit tends to specialize. For instance, UV light filters excel at eliminating microorganisms, so you must decide which pollutant or contaminant you want to remove the most.
Lastly, HVAC air cleaners can only eliminate allergens if they’re floating around in the air. Heavier and larger pollutants like mold, pollen, and mites fall to the floor so quickly that air cleaners are unable to capture and eliminate them in time.
Cleaning and Maintenance
Before you start cleaning your HVAC air cleaner, make sure the air conditioning or heating system is turned off. Locate the service panel of the HVAC system and open it to take out the filter.
Clean the air cleaner with running water using a garden hose or sink. Make sure you allow the unit to air-dry completely before you reinsert it into your HVAC system.
As a rule of thumb, you should clean the unit every six to twelve months if it features pleated filters and every three months if it uses carbon filters.
It’s also advisable to keep the unit running 24/7. We recommend running it on a high setting when the house is empty and turning the setting down when your house is equipped.
Since HVAC air cleaners can purify a large area, you can run them at a lower speed and still have them function effectively.
Frequently Asked Questions
How to properly measure my room and house size to find the best HVAC air cleaner?
To calculate your room’s square footage, you need to measure the room’s width and length in feet. After multiplying the two numbers, you’ll get the total square footage.
Make sure you check the coverage area of the unit you’re planning on purchasing to see whether it’s suitable for the size of your home.
What is MERV rating? What rating is ideal?
Washable air filters with large openings fall in the 1-4 MERV rating range. They capture large particles, such as dust and pet hair. They are rated to catch less than 20% of particles measuring 3-10 microns in size.
Filters included in the MERV 4-8 range excel at eliminating larger-sized mold spores, pet dander, and dust mites. They are rated to capture up to 70% of particles measuring 3-10 microns in size.
Lastly, units in the MERV 9-12 range can remove particles measuring 1-3 microns in size but cannot eliminate any particles smaller than 1 micron in size.
The efficiency of the unit increases with the MERV rating, so the ideal rating will be the highest one that your HVAC system can handle.
Do HVAC air cleaners make a house smell better?
Although air purifiers are much more expensive than scented oils or candles, you can use them for an extended period of time. They purify the air in your house while covering up any bad odors at the same time.
Final Verdict: What is the Best HVAC Air Cleaner Sold Today?
We found the Aprilaire 5000 to be our favorite because of its compatibility with most HVAC systems, cost-effectiveness, and efficiency with which it cleans the air in your house.
In the end, the best HVAC air cleaner varies according to what you want the unit for. So, make sure you go through the buying guide before making the final purchase.
I’m a degreed ME (mechanical engineer) who is passionate about machines of all kinds. I created MachineWonders.com as a way to connect with others who love machines like me – or need help choosing one for their needs, application, or situation.