Types of AC Air Filters: A Comprehensive Guide

AC Air Filter

Is it time to replace your AC air filter, but you’re not sure what type you should be using?

Air filters come in various shapes and sizes—they may also be made of different materials.

Each HVAC system requires a particular type of air filter to ensure optimal performance and good indoor air quality.

Thus, homeowners need to know which type of air filter their cooling system is using.

That way, you can ensure your HVAC system is functioning well year-round.

In this article, we’ll explain what air filters are and how they work.

We’ll also take a deep dive into the different types of HVAC air filters and their pros and cons.

What Are Air Conditioner Filters?

HVAC air filters are an important component in every cooling system.

They’re designed to filter out pollen, dust, dirt, pet dander, and other pollutants from indoor air.

These particles are trapped by the filter, preventing them from recirculating back into your home.

As a result, families can enjoy higher indoor air quality and comfort.

Beyond filtering out small particles, air filters also work to keep larger objects out of the cooling system.

This prevents these objects from damaging your AC components.

What is MERV Rating?

MERV stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value.

It’s an air filter rating system that measures the air filter’s ability to remove particles from the air.

The higher the MERV rating, the more effective a filter is at doing its job.

Ratings typically range from 1 to 20, giving you an idea of how many pollutants a single filter can trap.

One is the lowest MERV rating, while 20 is the most effective.

Pre-Filters vs Final Filters: What’s the Difference?

Pre-filters and final filters both play an important role in a multi-filter HVAC system.

While pre-filters remove large dirt particles, the final filters serve as the primary filter and are responsible for trapping the smaller particles.

This type of system helps to extend the life of the more expensive final filters, optimizing long-term cost savings.

Pre-filters are a sensible solution to achieve optimal filtration in any size space, surpassing the efficacy of single-filter systems.

What are the Different Air Filter Types?

Pre-filters and final filters can be further categorized into seven different filter types. These include:

  • UV Filters
  • HEPA Filters
  • Electrostatic Filters
  • Media Filters
  • Washable Filters
  • Spun Glass Filters
  • Pleated Filters

HVAC filter materials are made from various fabrics and fiberglass—they also have different MERV ratings. Finding the right type for your HVAC system is essential, to ensure optimal performance.

HVAC Filters Review and Comparison

To help you decide which the best type of HVAC filter is for your system, here’s a quick comparison of the different filter types and their pros and cons:

1. UV Filters

UV HVAC filters are an innovative means of reducing the spread of airborne illnesses and bacterial contamination.

These filters use short-wave ultraviolet light to eliminate bacteria and viruses from the air that passes through a home’s HVAC systems.

This provides an effective form of protection for the entire family.

UV filters are recognized for their exceptional ability to kill microorganisms that could cause serious health problems if inhaled or ingested.

However, for full and comprehensive disinfection, these lightbulbs must be replaced every year.


  • Kills microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, and even mold.
  • Provides exceptional indoor air quality.
  • Helps prevent diseases and respiratory illnesses.


  • Costly to install.
  • Not the best in terms of filtering out dust and allergens.
  • Ineffective against cigarette smoke, fumes, and gasses.

2. HEPA Filters

High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters are an innovative type of HVAC filter that can remove up to 99.97% of airborne pollutants and allergens from the air in your home.

You can say goodbye to dust, mold, pollen, pet dander, viruses, smoke particles, and bacteria with a HEPA filter.

For people who suffer from allergies or respiratory issues due to airborne particles, HEPA filters offer a way to improve air quality and reduce symptoms.

Investing in HEPA filters is an excellent way to make sure your family is breathing in the cleanest air possible.


  • Effectively purifies the air.
  • Captures large and small pollutants.
  • Cost-effective and requires only to be changed once a year.


  • Not the best when it comes to filtering fumes, odors, and gasses.
  • Are prone to mold growth.

3. Electrostatic Filters

Electrostatic filters are effective and cost-efficient types of HVAC filters.

Using small fibers made of paper or cotton, electrostatic filters create static electricity that acts like tiny magnets for dust, pollen, smoke, and other airborne particles.

This static prevents particle pollutants from spreading around your home and, instead, keeps them trapped inside the filter.

There are two different types of electrostatic filters:

  • Disposable electrostatic filters. Need to be replaced when their filtering capacity is reduced.
  • Reusable electrostatic filters. Can simply be washed to restore their original functionality.


  • Saves you money long-term.
  • Offers efficient air purification.


  • Can’t capture larger pollutants such as mold spores and dander.

4. Media Filters

Media filters are the go-to choice for those who demand top-notch air filtration at a fraction of the cost.

At first glance, they may appear no wider than six inches but their folded pleats actually give them an increased surface area of up to 75 square feet.

This makes them seven times more effective than standard air filter types.

And since this type of filter has such a high surface area, it can capture and reduce particles in the environment more effectively.

Experts recommend media filters over other types of AC filters for people living in industrial areas or for those with weaker immune systems.

These filters typically last up to two years, depending on your living environment.

No need to worry about getting your filters replaced too often.


  • Only needs to be replaced twice a year.
  • Can trap most pollutants, both big and small.


  • Needs professional installment every time.
  • Doesn’t filter out odors.

5. Washable Filters

Washable filters are an excellent choice for those looking to invest in a sustainable, money-saving approach to replacing HVAC system filters.

Its initial price is higher than most disposable filters. However, you’ll find that it’s an investment that will pay off over time.

With proper maintenance and cleaning, a washable filter can last much longer than its disposable peers – sometimes up to ten years depending on how often it’s cleaned and the conditions in which it’s used.

While washable filters tend to have lower MERV ratings, they are still a great way for homeowners to save on costs and achieve higher sustainability without buying any specialty filters.


  • Lasts up to 10 years—depending on usage.
  • Helps reduce waste.


  • Needs more careful and consistent maintenance.
  • Expensive up-front costs.

6. Spun Glass Filters (Fiberglass Filters)

Spun glass filters or fiberglass filters are created using strands of fiberglass and are one of the most common types of HVAC filters due to their cost-effectiveness and efficiency.

In most cases, spun glass filters work well in purifying your home’s air. However, it can only trap some dust and allergens.

As such, this type of filter is not ideal for individuals suffering from respiratory problems.

Those looking for an air purifier should opt for a more high-tech solution to ensure their home enjoys consistently clean air.


  • Cheapest air filter available on the market.
  • Great at filtering out lint and dust.


  • Can’t filter out smaller pollutants, such as allergens, bacteria, and viruses.

7. Pleated Filters

Pleated filters are a type of air filter primarily made with polyester fabrics and cotton folds.

This type of filter has a MERV rating of between 5 and 13, making them quite useful for removing dust and airborne pollutants from the air.

Pleated filters offer an advantage over non-pleat filters because they have a greater surface area.

This makes them more efficient at trapping potentially harmful particles, even those that may be too small to individually identify.

These pleats also serve to reduce noise from the HVAC fan. You can find pleated filters in both disposable and reusable forms.


  • Has a large surface area, perfect for catching more debris.
  • Last longer than most HVAC filters.
  • Is recyclable.


  • Can be expensive.

Improving the Air Quality in Your Home

Choosing the right air filter for you and your HVAC system is important for keeping your air clean and healthy.

With the wide range of HVAC filters available, you can easily find one that fits your needs and budget.

Take some time to consider your air quality needs and select the best air filter type for your home.

Regularly changing air filters is essential for keeping the air clean and healthy, so make sure to keep up with your air filter replacement schedule!

It’s also important to remember that air filters are only one piece of the air quality puzzle.

Consider taking other steps such as using air purifiers or air conditioners to keep your home clean and free from dust and debris.

Professional Heating and Cooling Services in Puyallup

Taylor Heating and AC are your trusted Puyallup air conditioning and heating repair experts.

We offer a wide variety of HVAC services, including air filter installation and maintenance.

Our team of certified technicians can help you choose the best air filter for your HVAC unit and ensure you have great air quality in your home.

For more details about our services or to request a quote, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Contact (253) 208-5315 today!

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