Most people refer to air filtration devices as either air filters or air purifiers. In truth, these two methods are worlds apart in the way they collect or remove airborne contaminants. The term non-mechanical refers to any media type filter;  i.e. fiberglass, polyester, cotton, woven and non-woven, HEPA, etc. Mechanical or Electronic filters would include electronic air cleaners, ion generators, ozone generators, and any filtering device that uses electricity or some type of moving part incorporated into the device.

Before I get any further I do want to state that the term ” air purifier” is a misnomer. Nothing purifies the air. You can purify water or chemical solutions but not the air. However, this term has become a standard part of the filtration market so I will use it.

From a performance point of view, the purpose of any air filter air purifier should be to “remove” the offending airborne particles from the room, house, or area where you live or work. The operative word here is “remove.” The non-mechanical type of filter incorporates a media that has openings in the media itself that make it either more or less dense. The less dense medias like fiberglass filters allow a lot of air to pass through but collect only the larger dust particles and debris. The more dense medias like polyester and some non-wovens like the Filtrete filter from 3M, collect a much higher percentage of the smaller and finer particles.  The less dense media has a lower pressure drop across its surface and has little resistance to air flow. The more dense media is much more restrictive.

Air purifiers, for the most part, use a combination of a positive/negative process to capture airborne particulate. This usually takes the form of a surface or plate that is charged to collect particles that have the opposite electrical charge. It is like running a comb through your hair to build up a static charge and then placing the comb next to small pieces of paper and watch them stick to the comb. Same principle. Unlike media filters that use the collected particulate on their surface ( sometimes referred to as dust cake ) thus collecting more and smaller particles, the electronic air cleaners or purifiers have no depth collection process and once the plates or collection surface gets too dirty or the collected particles loose their charge, the particulate detach and are put back into the air stream.

There are trade-offs in using the two methods. The non-mechanical filters eventually have to be replaced. As they collect more particles the ability to pass air through them is reduced and the pressure drop becomes too high for the fan/motor assembly normally used to pull the air through the filters. The plates or collection surfaces of the electronic devices can be cleaned manually and then put back into service. They also have very little resistance to air flow. The non-mechanical filters, however, are much more effective at removing small, respirable sized particulate.

The type and design of filtration device you choose depends upon the purpose and type of particulate you need to remove. For what it is worth, non-mechanical filters are predominantly used in the following types of applications and markets. Hospital surgery rooms, medical clinics, pharmaceutical manufacturing, clean rooms, isolation rooms, micro chip manufacturing, optics manufacturing, the CDC, medical laboratories and any process or operation that requires the removal of harmful airborne allergens or pathogens.

For more information on the design and operation air filtering devices please go to our website a: www.

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About the Author: Don Musilli

My name is Don Musilli. I started Pure Air Systems in 1985 and then sold it in 2006. I continue to consult for PAS and write their blog and control their Twitter account. I also, on occasion, make changes to the website. The company is now almost 26 years old and has been a major player in offering commercial grade, high performance HEPA and Carbon based filtration systems for the commercial, institutional, industrial and residential markets.

I currently reside in Englewood, Florida where I write blogs and do social media marketing for a number of clients.

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