People, especially mums, have this auto reflex to clean anything dirty. However, washing or vacuuming is not always ideal. With air purifier maintenance, for example, experts agree that it’s best to replace its HEPA filter rather than clean it.

To understand this recommendation further, let’s learn what is in HEPA filters that makes them unsuitable for cleaning. What exactly happens to these filters if you vacuum or wash them?

Then, read on to find out why it is necessary to replace your HEPA filters and how to do it.

What is a HEPA Filter?

High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters are mesh-like screens that remove particles as small as 0.3 microns in the air. Initially, these worked for research and industrial facilities to capture radioactive particles.

Today, HEPA filters are in air purifiers, vacuum cleaners, HVAC systems, and cars to reduce air pollutants.

Manufacturers make HEPA filters by combining and intertwining various materials to form paper-like screens.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), these materials may include fibres (glass, vegetable, or synthetic), coated animal hair, foams, and metallic wools.

However, some manufacturers may reinforce HEPA filters by adding other pre-filters, like activated carbon, to capture odour and smaller pollutants.

Air Purifier Access Door

Reasons Why You Should Not Clean a HEPA Filter

Based on the definition above, there are two points to highlight.

First, HEPA filters catch air pollutants and can become saturated and dirty over time. Second, manufacturers use delicate filter materials to make them.

While you need clean HEPA filters for optimum air purifying, you could also destroy them with regular cleaning techniques.

Here are the things that could happen if you vacuum or wash the filters rather than replace them.

1. The strong suction of a vacuum cleaner can stretch or pull the thin fibres of the HEPA filter.

Deforming the filter can create gaps or holes, decreasing its ability to trap and remove small particles in the air.

Also, your vacuum cleaner should have a HEPA filter when cleaning your air purifier. Otherwise, there is nowhere for the airborne contaminants to go but back into your home.

2. Dusting or vacuuming a HEPA filter can release pollutants back into the air.

Some would clean HEPA filters outdoors to avoid reintroducing pollutants into their houses.

However, this is counterproductive since you want to remove the pollutants, not release them only for your air purifier to recapture.

Also, cleaning a HEPA filter is messy and dangerous for people with respiratory ailments.

You could inhale microbial and harmful particles from the filter, leading to sneezing, coughing, or severe allergy flare-ups.

3. Washing the HEPA filter can damage the fibres, the filter frame, and the air purifier.

It’s similar to how new clothes shrink when you wash them for the first time. Water can ruin the form and size of fine fibres, making them less capable of catching air contaminants.

Also, water and any electric appliance or device do not go together. Bringing moisture into your air purifier could damage its motor and possibly lead to accidents.

4. Moulds can form in an improperly dried HEPA filter.

Washed HEPA filters can take a long time to dry completely because of their fine fibre material. You can wait at least 24 hours before using it, but it also means you cannot filter air the entire day.

On the other hand, using a semi-dried HEPA filter results in mould growth. The fungi can deform your filter and make your air purifier release toxic spores.

Note: Some HEPA filters have a pre-filter system that you can clean or wash. So, check your manual or ask your manufacturer first.

HEPA Filter with Pre-Filter

Reasons Why You Should Replace a HEPA Filter

The reasons above emphasise that HEPA filter replacement is safer and more practical.

But why replace it in the first place? What happens if you keep using a HEPA filter past its time?

  • Dirty HEPA filters affect indoor air quality. An air purifier works by drawing dirty air in, removing the pollutants through its filters, and then releasing cleaned air back into the room. Putting a clogged or blocked HEPA filter into this process will only recirculate harmful pollutants indoors.
  • Dirty HEPA filters strain the air purifier. A clogged HEPA filter forces the motor to work harder. This reaction can result in several problems like higher electricity consumption, overheating, or damaged air purifier.

When and How Do I Replace My Air Purifier Filter?

An air purifier with a clean and functional HEPA filter is essential for your health and safety. It is also best practice to replace the filter in time to preserve the quality and performance of your appliance.

Now, the next step is to know the signs when HEPA filter replacement is necessary. Most air purifier models will have an approximate replacement time in the manual.

Typically, it could be around 6 to 12 months.

However, the filter replacement frequency can also vary based on usage or the level of indoor pollutants in your home.

So, in most cases, you would have to rely on regular inspection and telltale signs. Here are some things to look out for:

  • Visible dirt build-up: HEPA filters are ready for replacement when you can already see an accumulation of dust, hair, or even moulds if you are in a humid area. Dirt build-up may also appear as black patches on the filter.
  • Poor air purifier performance: Conduct an airflow or air quality test to see whether your air purifier is doing its job. Sometimes, you might notice air quality changes yourself, like faster dust build-up, lingering odours, or recurring allergies. These only mean you need to check your HEPA filter and possibly replace it.
  • Lighted-up air purifier filter indicator: Some air purifier models, especially modern ones, have a control panel that tells you about air quality and filter status. Check your manual to see what these indicators mean. For example, if the indicator lights up in red, it’s time for filter replacement.

Purchase a new filter if you notice any of these warning signs. Then, turn off your air purifier, open the access door to remove the dirty filter, and put the replacement filter in.

Woman Showing Dirty and Clean HEPA Filters

Final Thoughts

The construction and design of HEPA filters make them unfit for dusting, vacuuming, or washing. Any of these typical cleaning techniques can only lead to more problems.

The best solution? Replace your HEPA filter. Check your manual for its approximate lifespan and inspect your filter regularly to know when to replace it.

Now that you know filter replacement is unavoidable, include filter specs and cost when choosing an air purifier.

Ideally, pick a manufacturer with readily available HEPA filter replacement at an affordable price. Also, consider an air purifier model with handy air quality sensors and filter replacement indicators.