Air Purifier vs Air Scrubber Differences

Last Updated on May 9, 2024 by Peter Simmons

Which is better, an air purifier vs air scrubber? Air scrubbers clean smaller and larger spaces more efficiently and faster than air purifiers. However, they’re costlier, heavier, less portable, and noisier.

Also, they need more frequent filter changes. Besides, they remove surface pollutants and can be used to clean outdoor air, whereas air purifiers focus solely on airborne contaminants and indoor environments.

I’m basing the comparison on the following factors:

  • Construction material and durability
  • Size, weight, and portability
  • Cleaning power and efficiency
  • Device and replacement filter cost
  • When to use each device
  • Air filtration technology

Let’s roll!

1. Size, Weight, and Portability

In the picture below, a person is setting up an air scrubber so they can use it to capture construction dust.

air scrubber being used at a construction site

Air scrubbers are typically larger and heavier than air purifiers and are designed for heavy-duty use and industrial applications. The typical portable air scrubber weighs around 35–50 pounds, while a residential air purifier weighs 10–15 pounds.

How much do commercial-grade air scrubbers (aka negative air machines) for asbestos abatement and mold decontamination weigh? They can weigh up to 10 times more than a typical air purifier. For example, the HEPA-AIRE Deluxe Portable Air Scrubber weighs 124 pounds!

But that’s too heavy, you say, plus it would be overkill. Get the BlueDri BD-AS-550-BL HEPA air scrubber instead. It weighs under 45 pounds and removes remodeling paint fumes, organic vapors from mold, and drywall dust like a beast.

*As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small commission from all qualifying purchases, at no extra cost to you.

Painting walls, sanding drywall, and the musty air from your damp basement won’t bother you anymore. It’s one of the best HEPA air scrubbers out there. And it’ll set you back not $1,000 but $600, which isn’t too bad.

Air scrubbers are less portable, often requiring wheels or casters to roll around. In contrast, air purifiers are more compact and lightweight. Moving them around the house or office is a breeze.

me touching the air inlet vent of my HEPA air purifier

This is me unboxing a HEPA air purifier I shipped in for my daughter, Agnes, who woke with a stuffy nose most days until I started running this thing in her bedroom.

2. Construction Material and Durability

The outer casing of many residential air scrubbers is made of strong plastic, while others have an aluminum or steel casing. These tough materials support heavy-duty use and promote longevity.

In contrast, air purifier manufacturers typically utilize lightweight ABS plastic or polycarbonate for the casing. An air scrubber has a more solid construction and thus lasts longer.

3. Cleaning Power and Efficiency

An air scrubber can move a large volume of air quickly, making it a better option for industrial settings. The air feels cleaner and fresher after running a decently powerful scrubber like the BlueDri BD-AS-550-BL HEPA air scrubber for 30 minutes.

Our living room air purifier needs at least 4–6 hours to notice a difference in air quality. But this could just be our perception; only actual testing can reveal the truth about performance differences.

Most nights, we leave our bedroom purifiers running, especially during allergy season. Keep an eye on the CFM rating of each device when shopping.

4. Device and Replacement Filter Cost

Air scrubbers typically cost $500 to $2,000. In comparison, air purifiers are generally cheaper, costing between $100 and $500.

For perspective, the BlueDri BD-AS-550-BL Portable Air Scrubber costs roughly $600, while a comparable air purifier, the Honeywell HPA300, costs $300. That’s 50% cheaper.

As for replacement filter costs, they typically range from $50 to $200 for air scrubbers and $10 to $100 for air purifiers.

5. When to Use Each Device

Air purifiers are ideal for kitchens, bedrooms, family rooms, and offices. They also excel at controlling pet odors, removing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) after painting, and reducing airborne virus particles, making them valuable for general indoor air quality improvement.

Air scrubbers are better suited for industrial and commercial environments with specialized air purification needs. They play a crucial role in construction projects by controlling dust and debris. This ensures cleaner air during renovation or construction.

In industrial settings, they help remove harmful chemicals, fumes, and particle pollutants. This goal is to maintain safe working conditions for employees. Mold remediation, water damage restoration, and fire damage cleanup companies also use scrubbers.

Also, air scrubbers prevent cross-contamination in healthcare facilities. Other use cases include asbestos abatement, chemical spill cleanup, and flood restoration. In these applications, the removal of hazardous airborne particles is important.

On top of all that, they prevent dirt and debris from entering the air ducts and HVAC systems. As a result, your overall indoor air quality improves, as does the system’s longevity.

6. Air Filtration Technology

Air scrubbers use prefilters, HEPA filters, and activated carbon to trap particulate matter and filter out gaseous pollutants.

HEPA filters capture solid particles as small as 0.3 micrometers. These include dust, pollen, mold spores, dust mites, pet dander, and more. Activated carbon, aka activated charcoal, absorbs odors and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Air scrubbers produce ozone as a byproduct, which can be harmful in high concentrations. The same applies to air purifiers that ionize the air.

7. Ease of Installation

Air purifiers are generally easier to install. They are typically stand-alone units that you can easily move and place in any room that needs purifying. Air scrubbers are usually integrated into HVAC systems and require professional installation.

If you opt for an air purifier, place it in a central location so it can circulate the air effectively. Also, ensure there are no furniture or other objects to obstruct airflow.

8. Noise Levels

Air purifiers are generally quieter than air scrubbers.

While some find air scrubbers too noisy, my experience disagrees. Having used a Ridgid Shop-Vac, I’d say that the average air scrubber running on medium is tolerable.

But I bet you’d want to sleep in the same room with it! For reference, I’m talking about the BlueDri BD-AS-550-BL air scrubber.

Air purifier noise levels range from 20 to 60 decibels (30-40 dB on low). Twenty decibels is about as much noise as you make when whispering something to a friend in a meeting. And sixty decibels? It’s as loud as a normal conversation.

Air scrubbers produce noise levels in the 50 to 90 dB range. On low, they’re not loud at all. But at 90 dB, you’re well and truly in the hairdryer, power tool, or blender category.

If you think about it, 90 dB isn’t too bad. And you won’t even be running the air scrubber on the fastest (and noisiest) setting. So yeah, you can live with an air scrubber.

9. Energy Efficiency

Air purifiers are generally more energy-efficient than air scrubbers. How much power does an air scrubber consume versus an air purifier when run for 8 hours per day? Let’s see.

A typical air purifier consumes 50–200 W, equivalent to 0.05–0.2 kWh/hour or 0.4–1.6 kWh/day.

The unit would consume 12–48 kWh monthly, increasing your energy bill by $2.088–$8.352. These calculations are based on the average rate of $0.174 per kWh reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Midwest Information Office, in March 2024.

“Air scrubbers are typically more power-hungry, consuming 200–500 watts per hour, or 0.2–0.5 kWh units per hour. This equates to 1.6-4 kWh units per day, or 48–120 kWh per month. Therefore, running an air scrubber for the same duration could cost you $8.352–$20.88 per month.”

However, these figures may vary depending on device efficiency and electricity rates in your area.

Choosing the Right Solution for You

Now that you know at least 10 differences between air scrubbers and air purifiers, what’s next? It’s up to you to pick the right option for your needs. If you don’t breathe as easily as most people and are looking for a device to clean your bedroom at night or office during the day, get a HEPA air purifier.

Alternatively, install a whole-house system that combines an air scrubber and the HVAC system.

If you run a factory and want to stay within the EPA’s safe emission limits, get an industrial-grade air scrubber. And if you’re a builder, home remodeling service, or mold removal and remediation service, get a heavy-duty air scrubber.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are the Primary Differences Between Air Purifiers and Air Scrubbers?

Air scrubbers are more versatile, as you can use them to clean individual spaces as well as entire buildings and factories. They’re bigger, heavier, less portable, and more expensive than air purifiers. Also, their filters cost a little more and need more frequent replacements.

Both remove airborne contaminants, but air scrubbers go even further and address pollutants lying on surfaces. Plus, while air purifiers only clean indoor environments, scrubbers are good for indoor and outdoor air cleaning. By outdoor air cleaning, I mean purifying the air surrounding a plant or facility.

Regarding accessibility and ease of use, air purifiers are the better option.

How Do Air Purifier Operating Costs Compare to Air Scrubber Costs?

Operating an air purifier generally costs less than operating an air scrubber. Usually designed for residential or smaller commercial spaces, purifiers typically require less frequent filter changes.

Conversely, air scrubbers, typically used in high-concentration environments, need more frequent filter changes. They’re also more expensive.

Air scrubbers cost more, ranging from $500 to $2,000 for the unit and $50 to $200 for replacement filters. Typically priced between $100 and $500, air purifiers are cheaper, and their filters range from $10 to $100.

Do Air Scrubbers Remove Mold From Indoor Environments?

Yes, they can. Air scrubbers with HEPA filters can capture mold spores, preventing their spread. Also, some models have UV lamps that emit UV-C light, which can kill mold spores. UVC light at wavelengths of 100nm-400nm will even kill mold lurking in ducts, according to Miami Mold Specialists.

However, while air scrubbers can help with mold issues, they don’t address the root cause: excess moisture. They’re an integral part of a comprehensive mold control strategy and not the only solution.

What Potential Hazards, if Any, Are Associated With Using Air Scrubbers in Homes?

Air scrubbers may pose potential hazards in residential settings if not used properly. They can generate ozone, which can be harmful to humans and pets if inhaled in large quantities. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and use air scrubbers only in well-ventilated areas.

Air Quality Improvement: How Do Air Scrubbers Stack up Against Air Purifiers?

Both are good at purifying air, but air scrubbers outperform air scrubbers, particularly when sanitizing larger spaces. They’re ideal for removing gases, chemicals, and particulates in industrial, commercial, and construction settings.

Air purifiers are most suitable for residential or smaller commercial spaces. Also, air scrubbers can help clean the air outdoors, something no portable air cleaner can do.

What Are the Limitations of Using Air Scrubbers in Home Settings?

Some air scrubbers might not be the best option for homes due to their size, noise level, cost, and potential hazards. They’re larger, heavier, and noisier than air purifiers, possibly producing ozone. And ozone can be harmful.

To be clear, some air purifiers also emit ozone, so pick one with adjustable ozone settings. In addition, air scrubbers generally come at a higher cost and need more frequent maintenance and filter replacements.

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