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Expensive vs Cheap Air Filters: Which One Should You Choose?

Posted: November 26, 2022 at 7:33 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

The air filter you use in your HVAC system plays a crucial role. A properly maintained air filter will remain free of any significant dust and debris and keep the air in your home fresh and clean. For your air filter to properly do its job, it must be replaced regularly. If you find yourself in a situation with your air conditioning not cooling effectively, you might even find that your filter is to blame.

Source: Unsplash

With so many filter brands and types on the market, which one should you choose? Is more expensive better? To make an educated decision when choosing an air filter, the first thing you must understand is MERV ratings.

Choose your Air filter based on MERV Ratings

When deciding between expensive vs. cheap air filters for your HVAC unit, it’s best to understand that the higher the MERV rating, the more expensive the filter will be. Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) is a standard used to determine an air filter’s ability to remove contaminants from the air circulating throughout your home from your HVAC system. 

The MERV chart measures this capability on a scale of 1 to 20. Most homeowners will look for a filter that has been assigned a MERV rating between 5 and 12, but what does the rating tell you?

  • MERV Rating 1-4: This filter will capture all contaminants larger than 10 microns large. This means it will filter bugs, dust, dust mites, and carpet fibers. While this filter will keep your HVAC system fairly clean, it will not greatly improve the air quality in your home.
  • MERV Rating 5-8: This filter will capture all contaminants larger than 3 microns. This means it will filter pet dander, mold particles, aerosol spray droplets, and cement dust. It will do a slightly better job of improving the air quality in your home, but will not remove all pollutants.
  • MERV Rating 9-12: This filter will capture all contaminants larger than 1 micron. This means it will filter auto emissions coming in from your garage, dust from your humidifier, bacteria, and other particles the size of flour. This filter is typically used by the general areas of hospitals to keep their air clean, so you can count on it to keep the air in your home clean and relatively germ-free. If you suffer from allergies or other breathing conditions, you’ll want to stay within or above this range with a MERV rating of 10 or better.
  • MERV Rating 13-16: This filter will capture all contaminants greater than .3 microns. This means it will filter additional bacteria, smoke from tobacco use, and bodily fluids from sneezing. This filter is typically used in surgical suites or hospital patient rooms, but can also be found in residential homes that require a high level of air purity.
  • MERV Rating 17-20: This filter will capture most contaminants, including viruses and radon. It is uncommon to find it outside of the type of cleanrooms employed for electronic manufacturing or scientific labs.

Ultimately, when making your choice, you’ll have to decide on how much you’re willing to spend for a higher MERV rating among other factors, and what level of filtration you’re comfortable with for your home environment.

Maintaining Your Air Filter

No matter which air filter you prefer, it will become a key part of the regular maintenance of your HVAC system. If your filter gets dirty and buildup forms, it will affect the efficiency of your heating and cooling system and degrade the air quality in your home. It might even cause damage to your HVAC unit’s motor, reducing the lifespan of your system.

As such, maintaining your HVAC filter and keeping it in good condition through regular cleaning will extend its lifespan and minimize the amount of times it needs replacement. In the long run, this will also save you money on total filter costs, so it’s well worth putting into effect to make sure you get the most bang for your buck.

Types of Materials Used For Air Filters

You’ll want to consider the materials in your filter, as they also affect your price point. Here are some of your options:

  • Fiberglass: This filter is woven of fiberglass threads. It’s cheap and does the job, but it must be changed at least monthly because it has less surface area on which to collect dirt, debris, and dust than more expensive types, clogging up your system.
  • Pleated: The pleated surface of this filter gives it more space on which to collect particles that could leach into the air of your home from your HVAC system. In a normal household environment, it may last as long as three months, but in homes with pets, a lot of dust, or during times of peak operation, you may want to change it at least monthly. Though this type of filter is a bit more expensive than its fiberglass counterpart, it will typically last longer in most homes.
  • Washable: This is a permanent air filter. Instead of replacing it with a new filter each month or quarter, you can wash it, dry it and replace it. It is more expensive than other filters and it has low filtering capabilities like the fiberglass type. You will save money in the long run if you don’t need significant filtration but it will be a trade-off for time spent cleaning it, usually by just spraying it with a hose. You’ll also need to make sure it is completely dry before putting it back into the system as any moisture can be a breeding ground for mold.
  • Furnace filters: It is a common misconception that you need a different filter for your heating than you do for your cooling. In an HVAC system, one filter serves both effectively. Choose your filter based on your budget and air quality preferences and you will be set for winter and summer alike.


As you can see, there are many factors to consider when deciding which air filter is best for your HVAC system. In addition to budget and air quality, you may also have special considerations of your own. You may want to pay a bit more for a filter that better prevents diseases from entering the air in your home or you may have an older system that could benefit from the added benefit of a high MERV rating.

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