Don't Be Fooled by HEPA Filter Types: Standard and Approved Filters
by HEPACART on May 16, 2023
Maintaining air quality is essential to keeping your facility clean and healthy. One of the best ways to do so is by using certified air filters. However, they are not created equally. A central issue many facility managers run into is "HEPA-like" filters. They are designed to make you believe it is considered a HEPA filter when it is not certified. While most other filters are designed to remove particulate matter, allergens, volatile compounds, and chemicals from the air, the level of effectiveness and the stricter certification requirements make a significant difference between your options for air purification systems and your entire facility.
Despite the marketing fluff that you may read about different machine types and levels of filtration, there are three main categories of air filtration systems. From least to most effective against airborne contaminants:
- HEPA-style filters
- True HEPA filters
- H13 HEPA filter (Medical-grade)
Depending on the type of project your medical facility is undergoing, the air purification required will vary between these three levels. In this blog, we will explore the similarities and differences between the different types of filters, letting you make the best decision for your healthcare facility when the need arises for a high level of air filtration.
HEPA Filters 101
HEPA filters, "High-efficiency Particulate Air" filters, were initially developed during World War II to help protect soldiers from poisonous gasses. Since then, they have become a crucial tool for many industries, including healthcare, aerospace, pharmaceuticals, and residential and commercial air filtration systems.
These filters are designed and rigorously tested to capture tiny airborne particles, including those that may harm our health, using a fibrous maze that captures them through diffusion or inertial impaction. The filters can catch particles as small as 0.3 microns in size, making them incredibly effective at removing allergens, volatile compounds, and chemicals from the air.
Dust, debris, and other pollutants can accumulate in the air, leading to poor air quality and potentially causing health problems for everyone in the facility. With their long history of effective filtration, HEPA filters are essential for ensuring clean and safe air quality. They are uniquely suited to serve a medical facility where patients may be the most vulnerable.
Types of HEPA Filters
There is much discourse in the air filtration community about different types of filtration systems, but when it comes to HEPA-certified filters, there are three main categories:
1. "HEPA-like" Filters
Although marketing may lead you to believe otherwise, no "HEPA-like" or "99% HEPA" designation exists. Either the filtration system that you're considering is HEPA certified, or it is not. Don't be fooled by clever wordsmithing — this is false advertising. Any filters claiming to be any "partial HEPA" level is all marketing and should not be confused with a genuinely HEPA-compliant filtration system.
That is not to say that these other options do not provide value in certain situations, but if you're looking for the same level of filtration as a certified HEPA filter, be aware of misleading marketing jargon. These filters may still be a good option for less vulnerable populations where cost is more of a consideration and safety will not be compromised by a lesser degree of filtration. However, always consider the most susceptible population before choosing this option.
2. True HEPA Filters
When you hear HEPA filters mentioned, these are "true." The only reason this name, in particular, exists is because of the confusion caused by those "HEPA-like" and similar names created by marketing teams. A "true HEPA filter" is a filter that can reliably meet the HEPA standards for filtration and has proven this through testing. By their very definition, HEPA filters filter out 99.97% of .3 micrometer particles in the air.
3. H13 Medical Grade HEPA Filters
H13 Medical Grade HEPA filters are a specialized type of HEPA filter commonly used in hospital settings and sometimes referred to as medical-grade HEPA filters. Compared to "true" HEPA filters, which primarily target 0.3-micron particles, H13 can target even smaller particles at a tiny 0.1-micron. This advanced level of filtration is the best choice for highly vulnerable patient populations. It is a top choice for those who suffer from allergies because the filtration is significantly more effective than a standard HEPA filter.
What About ULPA Filters?
You may know that a ULPA (Ultra-low Particulate Air) filter removes even smaller particles. The ULPA standard requires removing 99.999% of particles down to 0.12 microns. However, while this type of filtration system catches more microscopic particles in the air, the truth is that some of the more dangerous pollutants are actually on, the larger side. So while a ULPA filter may sound more impressive, you'd need to pair it with a HEPA filter to achieve the most important results — keeping patients and facility staff as safe as possible.
Which HEPA Filter Should Your Facility Use?
Depending on the facility, the best choice of HEPA filter will vary. You'll want to consider both the type of pollutants you are dealing with and the sensitivity of your facility populations when evaluating which level of HEPA filter makes the most sense for your unique circumstances.
"HEPA-like" or similarly named filtration machines are a more basic type of filter and are generally less effective at capturing small particles. They are often called to convince buyers that they are equal to the filtration you'd receive with a certified HEPA filter, but the truth is that they are at least to some degree less effective, no matter how close they may be to HEPA compliance.
HEPA filters are the next option up and have undergone a variety of testing to ensure their effectiveness. They are also equipped to meet the Department of Energy (DOE) requirements and provide well-suited air filtration for those more sensitive to airborne pollutants. For the best air filtration of the bunch, you'll want to opt for the H13 Medical Grade HEPA filter. These are the best and excellent options for highly vulnerable patient populations or hazardous pollutants that may be stirred up in a construction or renovation project.
The Importance of Approved HEPA Filters for Your Equipment
HEPA filters are crucial in maintaining air quality by removing airborne particles and allergens in your home or office. It would be best to use approved HEPA filters designed for your equipment to ensure optimal performance and protect your investment. Approved filters guarantee proper fit and function, safeguarding your equipment's warranty and preventing potential damage.
By choosing approved HEPA filters, you provide the best air quality for yourself and those around you. Non-approved filters may not deliver the same level of performance, leading to decreased effectiveness and potential health risks. Investing in approved HEPA filters is an intelligent choice that protects your equipment and promotes a healthy environment.
How Do HEPA Filters Work in a Medical Facility Environment?
In an environment filled with patients whose immune systems are already compromised, protecting their health is of the utmost concern for the entire facility. Dust particles and other potentially dangerous airborne particles can harbor viruses, bacteria, and other pollutants poised to make sick patients even sicker. In these settings, indoor air quality (IAQ) must be as good as possible to protect everyone.
While genuine HEPA filters are the most commonly found, they are only sometimes the most efficient option, particularly in a medical setting. The heavier-duty medical-grade HEPA filters can kill dangerous microbes on contact, making them the ideal choice for the most highly-sensitive groups, like those in medical facilities.
How Will The Right HEPA Filter Benefit My Facility?
Selecting the right HEPA filter for your medical facility is critical to safely maintaining Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) through renovations, construction, or other disruptions that could potentially stir up the dangerous particulate matter. Using high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters can help prevent the spread of viruses in areas that may be contaminated, helping to keep possible patients from getting infected. This is especially important in healthcare facilities where the risk of infection is high. Additionally, using HEPA filters can keep facility staff healthy and working, as they will be less likely to become sick from exposure to airborne contaminants. This can help to maintain staffing levels and prevent disruptions to the facility's operations.
Choosing the Best HEPA Filter For You
Overall, the type of filtration system you choose for your medical facility will provide unique benefits — ensure you're selecting the right one for your project and population! If you want further guidance in making the right choice, check out our HEPA vs. ULPA Guide for more information!