Air Purifier Vs Ionizer – Which Is The Safer Choice?

Everyone deserves to breathe clean air and enjoy fresh air in their home. However, with air purifiers and air ionizers both promising to remove harmful particles and even airborne viruses from the air, it can be hard to determine which one is actually safer for you and your home.

Whether you suffer from allergies or want to breathe easier, keep reading to find out if an air purifier or an ionizer will provide you with the safest and most effective solution for improving the air quality in your home.

Air Purifiers Vs Ionizers – Key Differences Explained

Operating and Filtering Particles

HEPA air purifiers are common in industrial settings, where they are used to filter out fine particles. These air filters are also found in very high-end air purifiers that are used for homes. Air ionizers are relatively less expensive and are commonly used in residential environments. 

Safety For Homeowners

HEPA air filters remove most harmful particulates, but these air purifiers cannot remove gaseous compounds like volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or odors. Ionizer air purifiers also cannot remove gas or odors. Also, air ionizers can create ozone (O3) by interacting with the atmosphere, and ozone can be toxic in large quantities.

Read about the safety of ionic air purifiers in this article.

Contaminants Targeted

Both HEPA air filters and ionizing air purifiers are good at removing more significant air pollutants such as dust, pet dander, or allergens. HEPA air purifiers, however, can remove smaller airborne contaminants than ionizers. Neither HEPA systems nor ionizers can remove gaseous products from the atmosphere. Also, air ionizers may not trap bacteria and viruses because they are too small.

Appliance Size & Design

HEPA filters come in a wide variety of air purifying units and may be upright, horizontal, or tabletop humidifiers. Similarly, ionizing air purifiers can come in several shapes and styles. No matter the style, you should be able to operate the devices using an input pad to set cycles and intensity.

Coverage Area In The Home

The coverage area depends on the air purifier that you get. In general, a decent mid-grade air purifier will cover anywhere between 500-1,000 sq. feet. The most powerful air filters are industrial grade and will cover up to 3,000 sq. feet or more.

Cleaning & Maintenance

All filters and air purifiers need to be cleaned and maintained. Filters get dirty over time and need to be replaced, and the electric plate ionizers need to have the plate screens cleaned of dirt and debris. A good HEPA filter can last between 2-3 years, depending on how much filtering it’s doing.

Purchase Cost

In general, HEPA systems are almost always more expensive than ionizers. Some air ionizer models are small and only cost about $50.

The absolute cheapest HEPA filter purifiers you are likely to find will be twice the cost of the cheapest ionizing air purifier. These air purifiers are more expensive because a HEPA filter is relatively expensive to manufacture. HEPA systems will also need to have their filters changed regularly.

How Do Common Household Air Purifiers Work?

The acronym HEPA stands for high-efficiency particulate air and is a special kind of air filter that is extremely effective at removing particulates in the air. HEPA systems trap particles and can airborne remove particles as small as 0.3 microns in diameter for a theoretical removal rate of 99.97%. Some HEPA systems also use an activated carbon filter.

  • Diffusion: A HEPA filter will use the diffusion of dust particles into a tightly packed fiber matrix to capture larger particles that could cause respiratory irritation.
  • Interception: A HEPA air purifier will also work by directly intercepting particles as they travel through the air, capturing them in fiber layers.
  • Impaction: Large particles cannot avoid fibers as they curve through the airstream. Impaction filters are most effective with large air volumes.
How HEPA Filter Works

Pros & Cons of HEPA Air Purifiers

The Good
  • Removes 99.97% of airborne particles
  • Highly efficient design
  • Long-lasting
  • Highly effective for particles
  • Maintains humidity
The Bad
  • Relatively expensive
  • Does not remove VOCs
  • Can inculcate mold spores

How Do Ionizers Work To Clean The Air?

Air ionizers work a bit differently than HEPA filters. Ionizers are air purification systems that use electrical charges to remove particulates from the air. They are different from regular air purifiers because Ionizer air purifiers release negative ions into the air.

But how does releasing ions into the air cleanse it? The electrical charge from these negative ions attracts positively charged ions, which carry dust and bacteria. Air ionizers are good for removing larger particles, but might have trouble with very small particles.

  • Particulate pollutants.
    Ionizers use electrical charges to attract other large particles that might get in the air. The negative ions attract positively charged ions to remove things like dust and other indoor air pollutants.
  • Gaseous pollutants.
    Ionizer air purifiers do not work on gaseous pollutants, including VOCs or odors. Ionizers may also produce ozone which can interact with gaseous products. The ozone produced can be harmful in large amounts.
How Ionizer Air Purifier Works

Pros & Cons of Ionizers (Ozone Generators)

The Good
  • Remove larger airborne particles
  • Can remove bacteria
  • Low energy
  • Removes dust and allergens
  • Electric plates are highly effective
The Bad
  • Can create ozone, which is toxic in high concentrations
  • Electric plates can get dirty

Common Questions About Air Cleaners

Do air purifiers or ionizers clean cigarette smoke better?

Both HEPA and air ionizer air purifiers purify smoke very well. However, a HEPA air purifier will probably do it better because it can capture all tar particulates.

Do air purifiers or ionizers clean mold better?

HEPA filters can remove mold spores, but they may not kill them outright. If humidity is high, mold spores can grow in a HEPA air purifier if they aren’t clean. Ionic air purifiers, on the other hand, will not kill mold.

Can you clean and reuse HEPA filters?

Generally no. While you probably could clean a HEPA filter and reuse it in your air purifier, it would be difficult to do, and you would probably break the filter in the process. It’s best to buy a new one when you need it.

How often do you change HEPA filters?

A good HEPA filter should last about 2-3 years, depending on where it is being used. It will last longer in places where there is less general air pollution.


There are multiple ways to maintain clean air, and HEPA air filters and air ionizers are two viable options. Choosing between the two ultimately depends on your specific needs and preferences.

Take the time to examine each option’s benefits and drawbacks to determine which is best for you. Then, start moving towards cleaner air today and enjoy the benefits of a healthier, more comfortable environment.

Last Updated on March 8, 2023

Josh M