For clean, breathable air quality at home, we consulted a home appliance expert.

The air filters in your home's heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems should not be ignored. An air filter does its job of screening your air by collecting a buildup of dirt, germs, and debris, which is why keeping your filters clean and in good condition by changing them at regular intervals makes a major difference in the quality of air you breathe at home.

air filter at home
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If this is your first purchase, you'll want to choose the right air filter for your system as well as your space. It starts by knowing the correct size for your filter, explains Pat Joyce, a Lowe's merchant. "Simply check the existing filter to get the dimensions," says Joyce. "There's nothing worse than thinking you know it, and then getting to the store and drawing a blank." Most home HVAC filters are one-inch thick, but some residential systems may require filters that are four inches thick in order to effectively filter the volume of air in your home.

Understanding Filter Ratings

Filters may have one or two ratings associated with them. "Microparticle Performance Rating (MPR) is one example of a vendor-specific rating system," Joyce says. "MPR is a measurement of the efficient capture of particulates, such as bacteria or smoke. A higher number indicates higher efficiency and more micro-particles—like pollen, pet dander, smoke, and bacteria—your filter will capture from the air."

Another rating system that most filters are measured by is the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV). This system "measures a filter's ability to trap particles ranging in size from 3.0 microns to 10.0 microns," explains Joyce. Home air filters will commonly have ratings between one and 12. A higher number means the filtering is more efficient so you can use this number to compare filters between companies. According to Joyce, the size and density of the material of filter has an effect on its performance as does the size and volume of particles. Some types of filters are more effective at screening out smaller particles than others.

Fiberglass Filters

This tends to be the most budget-friendly option. Joyce says that filters like these have a layer of fiberglass and are sometimes covered by a honeycomb-shaped grille. Fiberglass filters and other inexpensive filters with layers of fibers generally have the lowest straining ability, which means they might not be as good for those who have allergies or asthma or other respiratory issues.

Pleated Filters

"Pleated filters are more efficient because the pleats provide a greater surface area to trap unwanted particles and lower airflow resistance," explains Joyce. "Many pleated filters are electro-statically charged to help them attract and hold microscopic particles." If you want to improve your air quality and reduce or even eliminate the allergens in your home, then pleated filters are a good option.

Reusable Filters

Instead of completely replacing your filter every season, you can choose one that can be reused for a year or so. "Reusable filters are made of material that can be rinsed clean with water," Joyce says. Make sure that the filter is allowed to dry completely before reuse so that mold doesn't grow on it. You also want to inspect it for rips or tears in the material. If you find any tears in it, then it's time to get a new filter.


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