Air filtration is a topic affecting everyone‟s lives, whether it is for occupational safety
requirements, environmental or home health concerns. Control of airborne particulates in indoor
environments is critical to develop quality products, protect employees from contact with
hazardous materials, or prevent health problems from prolonged exposure to allergens. How
airborne particulates are controlled varies from industry to industry and from an occupational
setting to a home environment.
Air purifiers are appliances that aid in removing pollutants from air. Air purifiers serve
residential as well as commercial needs. Commercially air purifiers serve various industrial,
medical and commercial industries.
Air purifiers have HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters that aid in cleaning the air around
that is circulated. A HEPA filter is a type of mechanical air filter; it works by forcing air through
a fine mesh that traps harmful particles such as pollen, pet dander, dust mites, and tobacco
smoke. They help get rid of contaminants and impurities from the air. It is possible for the HEPA
filter to remove about 99.9% of dust particles bigger than 0.3 microns (the standard measure for
microns) that is, that for every 10,000 air particles that are 0.3 microns, the HEPA filter will only
allow 3 of them to pass through (Choudhary, 2014).
Human Hair (70 - 100 microns)
Human Sneeze (10 - 100 microns)
Pet Dander (0.5 - 100 microns)
Pollen (5 - 100 microns)
Spores from Plants (6 - 100 microns)
Mold (2 - 20 microns)
Tobacco Smoke (.01 - 1 micron)
Dust Mite Debris (0.5 - 50 microns)
Household Dust (.05 - 100 microns)
Skin Flakes (0.4 - 10 microns)

Bacteria (0.35 - 10 microns)
Fungi (0.5 - 5 microns)
Viruses (.002 to 0.3 microns)
*A micron is 1/25,000 of an inch
Table: Showing examples of some common air contaminants and their size in microns (Achoo
Allergy, 2014).
HEPA filter can be used in numerous configurations, including the following:
 in booths or enclosures recirculating air back into the room,
 within a room either in freestanding (portable) air-cleaning units or in wall-mounted
recirculation units,
 in HVAC ductwork prior to recirculation to other areas, or
 in exhaust ducts prior to exhaust to the outside (Flannigan et al., 2003).
HEPA filter is constructed of borosilicate microfibers in the form of pleated sheet. Sheet is
pleated to increase the overall filtration surface area. The pleats are separated by serrated
aluminum baffles or aluminum seperators, which direct airflow through the filter. This
combination of pleated sheets and baffles acts as filtration medium. It is installed into an outer
frame made of fire-rated particle board, aluminum, or stainless steel. The frame-media junctions
are permanently glued or sealed to ensure a leak proof.
HEPA filters are typically manufactured with a mat of randomly arranged fibers and of various
materials. The air space (effective density) between HEPA filter fibers is usually larger than 0.3
microns. The techniques by which HEPA filters trap pollutants and particles are discussed next.

Figure: Instrumentation of HEPA filter (Das, 2012).

Figure: Mechanism of HEPA filters to capture airborne particles (Kelly, 2007).
HEPA filters are composed of a mat of randomly arranged fibers. Key factors affecting function
are fiber diameter, filter thickness, and face velocity. The fibers are typically composed of
fiberglass and possess diameters between 0.5 and 2.0 micrometers. The air space between HEPA
filter fibers is much greater than 0.3μm. HEPA filters are designed to target smaller pollutants
and particles. These particles are trapped (they stick to a fiber) through a combination of the
following four mechanisms:
1. Straining/sieving is defined as when a particle is too large and becomes trapped between
two filter fibers. These particles are too large to pass between the fiber spaces.

Figure: Straining process
2. Impaction or inertia impaction is when a particle of relatively greater mass than the fluid
surrounding them and as the fluid changes direction to enter the fiber space, the particle
continues in a straight line because of inertia (which is a function of the particle‟s mass and
velocity) and collides with the media fiber where it is trapped and held. Inertia works on
large, heavy particles suspended in the flow stream (Donaldson Company, 2011).

Figure: Inertia impaction process
3. Diffusion works on smallest particles. Small particles are not held in place by the viscous
fluid within the flow stream. As the particles traverse the flow stream, in a random manner
known as Brownian motion, they collide with the fiber and are collected.

Figure: Diffusion process
4. Interception occurs when a section of a particle “runs into” a filter fiber. These particles
follow the flow stream as it bends through the fiber spaces. Particles get intercepted or
captured when they touch the fiber (Kelly, 2007).

Figure: Interception process

The larger the particle, the greater the role of interception and impaction in capturing particles,
which is a way of saying that these mechanisms are more efficient in capturing larger particles
than smaller ones. Diffusion works in the opposite direction: smaller particles act more like the
gas molecules we associate with Brownian motion, so it is a more efficient particle capture
mechanism for smaller particles.
HEPA filters work by sucking air through a filter that removes particles as small as 3 microns.
HEPA air cleaners come with outer filters to preserve the life of the HEPA filter, which can be
almost as expensive to replace as buying the HEPA filter originally. The outer filters can be
carbon or foam and are washable. The HEPA filter uses a fan to pull air through it and it puts the
filtered air back into the room to reduce dust, pollen and dander (Johnson, 2014).
Types Grade Application Performance
A industrial Non-critical areas, first stage filtration,
hospitals, food processing areas.
99.97 % at 0.3 µm
B nuclear Nuclear R & D, commercial reactors. 99.97% at 0.3µm
C laminar flow Laminar flow work stations and
cleanrooms, semiconductor and parental
drug manufacturing areas.
99.99% at 0.3µm
D very-large-scale
integration (VLSI)
Semiconductor and parental drug
manufacturing areas.
99.999% at 0.3μm
E biological Hazardous biological containment
facilities for stopping toxic, nuclear,
chemical and biological threats.
99.97% efficiency
F ultra-low penetration
air (ULPA)
Semiconductor manufacturing areas. 99.999% at 0.1 to 0.3μm
Table: The different grades of HEPA filter and their applications (Flanders Corporation, 2004).


HEPA filters are used in many industries including, pharmaceutical manufacturing, Bio-Tech,
Bio-Electronics, Aerospace, Hospitals, and more. Overall applications are discussed below:
1. HEPA filters are used in a clean room, where the goal is to remove as much particulate from
the air as possible. Clean rooms are used in the manufacturing of electrical components
where a single spec of dust can ruin the entire circuit board. Computer chips, computer hard
drives, motherboards, cellular phone components, and a vast array of electronic components
are a few examples of the type of manufacturing where HEPA filters are a must.
2. These are also used in the healthcare industry, where the goal is to have a sterile
environment. A spec of dust will not do as much damage as long as it is sterile, but it easier
to remove the particulate than it is to sterilize it. Also, working with hazardous items such as
the AIDS virus, the TB virus, E. coli bacteria, and many other deadly bacteria and viruses
for the sake of research, requires HEPA filtration. Most pharmaceutical companies have vast
operations requiring HEPA filtration from their research departments to their drug
production line and finally their packaging departments. Some hospitals use HEPA filters
over surgical tables and in their TB isolation areas.
3. A HEPA Filter of efficiency of 99.97% is usually used in aseptic manufacturing filing and
packing, parental dosage manufacturing. These filters are mounted in Laminar Air Flow
Bench which are then used as clean area for actual aseptic manipulations or aseptic filling
where usually a clean area of class 100 are required, such laminar air flow bench are
typically found within a clean area of class 1000, which again are maintained by HEPA
filters installed in a HVAC system (Das, 2012).
4. Many vacuum cleaners also use HEPA filters as part of their filtration systems. It is used in
industrial vacuum cleaners.
5. Modern airliners use HEPA filters to reduce the spread of airborne pathogens in recirculated
air (Boeing, 2014).
6. Other areas where HEPA filters are used include for nuclear contamination and lead and
asbestos abatement. They are even used in universities and food processing industries.


HEPA filters are used in clean rooms, operating rooms, airplanes, and homes where people need
relief from allergies or have lung problems.
Highly efficient: The HEPA filters are highly effective at removing air borne pollutants. Air
purifiers actually clean the air around us purifying it by removing microns of 0.3 and larger size
to render it 99.9 percent dust free. The HEPA filters are rated according to their ability to remove
particulates measuring 0.3 microns, an industry standard. Because of the way these filters are
designed, their efficiency actually increases for particles both smaller and larger than the most
penetrating particle size, which is about 0.1 to 0.2 microns. The efficiency of HEPA filters to
remove bacteria and viruses (.01 to .1 microns) is greater than 99 percent (Boeing, 2014).
No microbial growth: Bacteria and viruses do not breed in true HEPA filters. HEPA filters
provide a dry environment and without moisture there is nothing to keep bacteria alive, much
less breed. These trapped contaminants eventually die from lack of moisture. This is why only
true HEPA filters are used where health is critical as in hospital operating rooms and ICU wards.
Bacteria can breed within the filter only if the air coming into the filter is moist. If such is the
case, methods for killing bacteria within a HEPA filter include antimicrobial treatment of the
media or a germicidal ultraviolet light.
Removal of a wide range of particulate matter from the air: Because of their design the
HEPA filters used in cleanrooms remove a broad range of airborne contaminants including fine
dusts, smoke, pollen, soot, bacteria, viruses, asbestos and radioactive particles.
Chemical Resistance: All materials used in the filter have good resistance to most organic
solvents and are resistant to many weak organic and inorganic alkalies and acids (Donaldson
Company, 2011).
Filter Replacement: HEPA filters cannot be cleaned repeatedly to remove particulate and dust
loading and must be replaced. As the particle load increases, so will the resistance to flow and
hence the pressure drop across the filter. HEPA filters quickly clog and become ineffective, so
they must be replaced regularly.

Exposure to contaminants during filter replacement: These filters may tend to hold moisture
in, which actually breeds mold and releases it back into the room. It is true that they can remove
mold spores and bacteria from the air, but unless the filter is treated with an anti-microbial
substance the still-living microbials continue to grow and multiply on the HEPA filter. When one
changes the HEPA filters, one can expose himself to extremely high concentrations of the
harmful substances the HEPA is filtering from indoor air (James, 2012).
Cost of Operation: The HEPA filers are very expensive. HEPA filters must use electricity to
operate. HEPA filters are extremely fragile and can easily be damaged during installation,
cleaning, and even when the unit is moved. HEPA filters should be tested at least annually
(James, 2012). Calculating the initial cost of the HEPA units, plus the maintenance and
replacement costs, as well as the energy cost of running the unit, it will cost as much as a major
appliance to operate.
Noise generation: Most HEPA air cleaners on high fan speed, which is needed for full
efficiency, sound like a train going through the room.
Filter limitations: HEPA air purifiers are not very good at capturing ultra-fine particles like
viruses or eliminating foul odors, organic compounds, or chemical fumes (Achoo Allergy, 2014).
HEPA filter media will not tolerate excessive amounts of moisture, either from airborne droplets
or condensation as this can plug the filter and result in failure by over-pressure (James, 2012).
Characteristics that need to be taken into account when buying a HEPA air purifier are as
1. Proper air flow rate: Air flow rate is the amount of air that the filter pulls through and
processes from the air around it. An HVAC technician and some home inspectors have
equipment that can easily measure the air flow rate at a given point in the system. The air
flow rate or velocity should be proper so that a balance is maintained between the room
requirements for a sterile environment with the cost and energy consumption.
Class Names Air Changes Rate per Hour
1 >750

10 500 - 600
100 150 - 400
1,000 60 - 100
10,000 25 - 40
100,000 10 - 15
Table: Air flow rate for cleanroom design
2. High quality, effective activated carbon filters: A low quality activated carbon filters will
not be able to pull VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and other gases and vapors from the
air. So HEPA air purifiers with high quality, effective activated carbon filters should be
chosen for the best results.
3. Long term performance: Top HEPA air purifier models, that is, those that have proven
long term performance should be used. This means that they clean the air just as efficiently
over a long period of time as they do right at the start.
Some special and useful features that may be present are as follows:
1. A layer of activated charcoal: This removes odors and some chemicals the HEPA layers
do not.
2. A built-in ionizer: It helps remove all kinds of airborne pollutants and bad odor.
3. LED indicator: This reminds one regularly when the right time is to change the filter.
4. UV protection: It helps to neutralize and kill harmful germs, viruses and bacteria present in
the air passing through the filters (Clark, 2014).


Kelly, J. (2007) „Tutorial on HEPA Filtration‟ Controlled Environments. Available from:
http://www.cemag.us/articles/2007/03/tutorial-hepa-filtration [Accessed at 30th May 2014]
Choudhary, A. (2014) „HEPA Filters used in Pharmaceuticals‟ Pharmaceutical Guidelines.
Available from: http://www.pharmaguideline.com/2011/02/hepa-filters.html [Accessed at 30th
May 2014]
Clark, G (2014) „Things to Consider When Buying an Air Purifier‟ Clean Air Plus. Available
from: http://www.cleanairplus.com/blog/when-buying-an-air-purifier.html [Accessed at 30th
May 2014]
Das, P. (2012) „About HEPA filters used in HVAC system‟ USCGMP Available from:
http://www.uscgmp.com/2012/11/using-hepa-filters-in-industry.html [Accessed at 30th May
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from: https://www.donaldson.com/en/aircraft/support/datalibrary/042665.pdf [Accessed at 30th
May 2014]
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[Accessed at 30th May 2014]

Flannigan, B., Samson, R. A. and Miller, R. A. (2003) Microorganisms in Home and Indoor
Work Environments: Diversity, Health Impacts, Investigation and Control. 2
ed. Florida: CRC
James, C. A. (2012) „HEPA Filter: What It Is, What It Does and What It Doesn't Do‟ Inspired
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30th May 2014]
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http://www.ehow.com/about_6656809_hepa-vs_-ionic.html [Accessed at 30th May 2014]
Achoo Allergy (2014) „Air Purifier Buying Guide‟ Available from:
http://www.achooallergy.com/air-purifier-buying-guide.asp [Accessed at 30th May 2014]
Boeing (2014) „Commercial Airplanes: Frequently asked Questions about Cabin Air Systems‟
Available from: http://www.boeing.com/boeing/commercial/cabinair/facts.page [Accessed at
30th May 2014]

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