One of the easiest and most important things a homeowner can do to preserve their HVAC system is to maintain its air filter. An air filter keeps your heating and cooling systems dirt and dust-free and rids your home of impurities such as pet dander, pollen, and bacteria.
The most common filter is a disposable filter. Another option is a washable filter.
Unsure of which one is right for you? Here’s a list of advantages and drawbacks to help you decide.
1. Disposable Air Filters
As the name suggests, disposable air filters must be regularly replaced. They can be bought individually or in bulk packages containing a year’s worth of filters. Disposable air filters are typically made of polyester, fiberglass, or other synthetics.
Pros of disposable air filters include:
- They Trap Small Particles – Disposable filters are great at trapping small particles. Some disposable filters can capture up to 95 percent of tiny particles, including bacteria, mold spores, and pet dander.
- They’re Easy to Replace – Simply swap the older filter with a new one. No washing and drying are required.
- They’re Versatile – A filter’s ability to trap particulates is gauged by a MERV rating (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value). MERV ratings go from one to 20, and the typical MERV residential rating is one to eight.
Because of the MERV system, you’re not restricted to one type of filter all year long. For instance, you can use a higher-rated filter during a heightened-pollen season and one with a lower rating another time of year.
Cons of disposable air filters include:
- They Need to Be Replaced Often – Disposable filters need to be replaced every one to three months to keep your home’s air fresh. This also prevents your system from struggling to force air through a dirty filter and possibly breaking down.
- They’re Not Environmentally Friendly – Disposable filters aren’t reusable or recyclable. The materials used in disposable filters include nonbiodegradable fiberglass, wire mesh and plastic, so they’ll merely end up cluttering landfills. Since their lifespan is often only 30 days, you’ll be throwing away up to 12 a year and more if you have multiple registers. Although the frame of a disposable filter is made of recyclable cardboard, its non-recyclable materials may contaminate it.
- They’re Not Cost-Effective – Although disposable filters aren’t expensive, their cost adds up over time because they have to be frequently replaced.
2. Washable Filters
These devices contain fibers that use static electricity to trap particulates. After they become packed with debris, the filter can be removed and washed.
Pros of washable filters include:
- Cost-Effective – At the outset, these filters cost more than disposable filters, but because they’re not replaced as often, you’ll end up saving money. This is true even if you buy a washable filter for each register in your home.
- Long-Lasting – A washable filter can last an average of five to 10 years, so it may even outlive your HVAC system.
- Eco-Friendly – Because of their longevity, one reusable filter equates to 20 to 60 disposable filters which only last several months.
- Good If You Have Limited Storage Space – If you have a small home that makes it inconvenient to store boxes of disposable filters, reusable filters are a helpful alternative.
Cons of washable filters include:
- Lower Efficiency
- Cleaning a Washable Filter Can Be Time-Consuming
- Particles Can Escape
Unlike disposable filters, washable filters are only good at catching large particles. They can’t filter smaller particles such as pet dander, smoke, viruses, mold spores and bacteria. These filters aren’t suitable for people who have asthma, allergies or lung conditions and can’t be exposed to airborne contaminants. Washable filters only have a MERV rating between one and four, while disposable filters can be rated up to MERV 12.
When a disposable filter gets dirty, it simply needs to be removed and replaced. A reusable filter, however, needs a monthly washing. This isn’t as simple as it sounds. You’ll need to disassemble it and clean each layer. Although it can be washed in the shower or bathtub, it’s best to spray it down outside so that all of those particles aren’t expelled into your home’s air. A washable filter must thoroughly dry before it’s reinstalled. Even the slightest bit of moisture can attract mold and mildew, wreaking havoc upon your system and your indoor air. Your HVAC must be turned off until the filter is completely dry, so you may need to buy a second washable filter to avoid lengthy downtime.
Washable filters depend upon static electricity to collect particulates. Substances pass through the filter’s first layer, but many aren’t caught by the other layers. These particles stay positively charged and stick to your HVAC’s parts or your ductwork, leading to mold growth. Cleaning a washable filter can have a similar effect. Its static charge may prevent some particulates from being rinsed out, leaving residue behind.