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Does an Air Conditioner Purify Air?


The air conditioner’s cooling capacity has become essential to modern life, helping us stay comfortable in hot and humid weather. However, there is a common misconception that air conditioners cool and purify air.

While air conditioners can improve indoor air quality to some extent, their primary function is temperature control, and they are not designed to be a substitute for dedicated air purification systems. Here, we will explore how air conditioners affect indoor air quality and whether they can be considered air purifiers.

What’s the Difference Between Cooling and Purifying?

Purify Air

ACs, whether central systems or standalone units, work by cooling and dehumidifying the air. They do this by pulling in warm, moist air, cooling it through refrigeration, and then redistributing the cooler, drier air throughout a space. ACs do not take outdoor air in, and they do not produce fresh air; they recycle it over and over. 

In the process, ACs can remove some airborne particles, like dust and pollen, simply because these particles can get caught in the system’s filters or condensation coils. 

However, air conditioners’ air filters are not designed to address more significant air issues, such as bacteria, viruses, smoke, odors, or volatile organic compounds (VOCs). ACs can change warm air to cool air but can’t entirely fix polluted air. 

These systems lack the specialized filters and technologies in air purifiers specifically designed to trap and neutralize these pollutants. ACs are not entirely capable of removing airborne contaminants.

Does the Air Filter in an Air Conditioner Purify Air?

Dust and molds

No, not entirely. Many air conditioning systems come equipped with air conditioner filters that capture larger particles in the air. They are typically found near the air handler. 

These air conditioner dust filters are essential for properly operating the entire HVAC system, as they prevent dust and debris from clogging the system. 

AC air filters can slightly help indoor air quality by removing visible particles in the air inside the room. However, these air filters cannot trap smaller particles and remove airborne contaminants, such as microscopic allergens and pathogens that pose health risks. AC air filters also tend to become dirty more frequently and require cleaning or replacement more often when compared to air purifiers.

To enhance the air quality benefits of your air conditioning system, you can upgrade the filter to a more efficient one, like those of catechin filters or high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters. 

Catechin filters are made with a plant extract. They are designed to trap antifungal and antibacterial properties.

HEPA filters can capture particles as small as 0.3 microns. They can clean indoor air as HEPA air filtration can remove smoke and pet dander. They can also eliminate bacteria and remove other fine particles, making them the best choice when you want to protect your family’s health. 

Many vacuum cleaners and portable air purification filters have a HEPA filter installed into them. 

Choose an air filter with a higher Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating, as they can filter particles efficiently. A filter with lower MERV ratings won’t be able to filter virus particles, pet hair, and other finer particles (like fine dust and pollen).

However, even with a HEPA filter, ACs are still limited in addressing more complex air quality issues.

The Limitations of Air Conditioners in Air Purification

ACs are primarily designed for temperature control and humidity reduction. They do not possess the advanced purification technologies that dedicated air purifiers have, such as UV-C sterilization, activated carbon filters, or ionization processes. These technologies are essential for eliminating bacteria, viruses, odors, and other contaminants from the air.

In contrast, air purifiers are specifically engineered to effectively remove a wide range of indoor air pollution. They are the ideal choice to target specific air quality problems, especially if you or your family suffer from allergies, asthma attacks, or other respiratory issues. 

Can an Air Conditioner Be Used as an Indoor Air Purifier?

No, ACs are not intended to serve as air purifiers. Their primary function is to regulate temperature and humidity. Air purifiers, on the other hand, are specifically designed to target and eliminate a wide range of indoor air pollutants, including allergens, bacteria, viruses, odors, and volatile organic compounds.

While air conditioners can provide some level of filtration for larger particles, they lack the advanced purification technologies in dedicated air purifiers, such as UV-C sterilization, activated carbon filtration, and ionization processes. Therefore, relying solely on an air conditioning unit for purification is not advisable when dealing with more complex air issues.

Can You Use Air Conditioners and Air Purifiers Together?

For the best indoor air quality, it’s often recommended to use air conditioning systems and air purifiers in conjunction. 

Air conditioners can help maintain a comfortable temperature and reduce humidity, while air purifiers can effectively purify polluted indoor air, allergens, and other contaminants. This combination allows for optimal indoor air quality control.

What Is Better: an Air Purifier or an Air Conditioner?

Both of them are not comparable; they have inherently two different functions that serve different purposes.

The choice between an air purifier and an AC unit depends on your needs. Suppose your primary concern is maintaining a comfortable indoor temperature; the cooling of an air conditioner is essential. However, an air purifier is the most effective choice to ensure the quality of the air you breathe, especially in terms of reducing allergens and contaminants.

For the best indoor air quality, using both an air conditioner and an air purifier is often recommended. This combination allows you to enjoy a comfortable temperature while benefiting from the advanced purification capabilities of a dedicated air purifier. It’s the ideal approach for creating a healthier and comfortable indoor environment.

Final Thoughts

While HVAC systems can contribute to better air in your home by capturing larger particles, they are not designed to purify the air to the same extent as air purifiers. 

To clean air effectively, the best strategy is to use an air conditioner for temperature control and an air purifier for comprehensive air purification. This approach ensures you can enjoy comfort and clean, healthy indoor air.

JP Reyes

JP has been in the aircon industry for almost as long as he has been alive. As a child JP would help his tatay fix aircon units at their junk shop in Cavite. After graduating UP in the early 2000's, JP then started his own Aircon servicing business and within 5 years had 10 shops in 8 different cities. Fast forward to today and JP brings all his experience and expertise online to give readers trustworthy advice and reviews about Air-conditioning buying, servicing, cleaning and repair in the Philippines.

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