Air Scrubber vs Air Purifier: Which One to Use?

Air scrubbers and air purifiers operate on slightly different technology. However, the reason you want to buy one is the same: to keep the air in your home or on your remodeling site safe and breathable.

Air particles, chemical fumes, dust, spores, and other irritants that can be released during a renovation project can make your air dangerous to breathe, especially for children.

Understanding the differences between the way the separate machines achieve the goal of filtering your air will help you figure out which is the right machine to buy for your remodeling or renovation project.


How does an air scrubber work?

Air scrubbers are a common sight on industrial installations and in large buildings like hospitals and universities where air quality is a necessity.

Some are designed to be portable, often weighing little enough for one person to easily bring them to different job sites or different rooms of an installation. Most, however, are quite large.

There are two main types of air scrubbers: wet scrubbers and HEPA scrubbers.

A wet scrubber is a larger installation, typically installed permanently on a worksite or factory with the intention of processing the air for dangerous gases and chemicals. The wet scrubber sucks the air in, passes it through a water-based filtration system, and pumps it back out at large volumes.

This type of scrubber should only be considered if you manage a large chemical installation or factory. For most commercial and home uses, the HEPA scrubbers are what you’re looking for.

HEPA air scrubbers use a cloth filter-based system of filtration that traps particles in the air like dust, smoke, pollen, and gases that may be present on a construction site or kicked up by your remodeling work.

This includes sawdust, paint fumes, and mold spores, which are some of the more prevalent irritants when you start breaking down walls and working on projects. Mildew, spores, and charcoal dust from water and fire damage restoration also pass into the filters and leave the air once the scrubber is done moving it.

How does an air purifier work?

All air purifiers work on a multi-stage HEPA filtration system, which is why they can often be confused with HEPA air scrubbers and why the result of using them is very similar.

For use in private homes, small air purifiers work to clean the air of many particles like spores and dust. They also process the air for odors. For pet owners, those sensitive to smoke or burnt food odor, or those who do a lot of painting, an air purifier can make breathing much more comfortable.

For near-total removal of germs and spores (most guarantee 99.97% removal of airborne irritants), air purifiers use a two to three-stage system of filtration. They do this using carbon or nylon filters with absorbent pores that trap pollutants, particularly larger particles.

The stages of filtration are increasingly fine-tuned with the intention of removing all irritants from the air by the time the HEPA purifier pushes it back out into the room.

Which is Better?

When to use an air scrubber

Both air scrubbers and air purifiers accomplish similar tasks, however, both are slightly better suited to different kinds of pollutants on different kinds of projects.

Air scrubbers for instance use industrial-grade HEPA or water filtration systems to remove fumes, chemical irritants, and gases. While they also filter out some larger particles, they are primarily used for dangerous worksites and hospitals.

For renovation purposes, an air scrubber is preferable to an air purifier when it comes to projects that produce chemical irritants such as those from cleaning products, finishers, or paint. Fumes such as from a gas leak that you need to repair would also be preferably managed with a scrubber as opposed to a purifier.

An air purifier fitted with a carbon filter (most often these are sold separately) performs similarly to an industrial air scrubber. However, with other types of filters sold with the purifier units, their ability to filter out gases and fumes is limited compared to the best air scrubbers.

When to use an air purifier

Air purifiers are more useful for everyday domestic filtration, particularly for asthmatics. This is because the multi-stage HEPA filtration units are much more efficient at eliminating common air irritants, including pollen, mold spores, dust, and other larger particles.

This makes them an ideal choice for when your renovation or remodeling project includes a lot of demolition, as a purifier is more efficient at filtering out drywall dust, possible mold and mildew spores, asbestos, sawdust, and other particulates.

Though they don’t have as much use for purifying the air of gases, they are also better than air scrubbers at removing odors, another benefit to those with sensitive sinuses. So those with stinky pets who are irritated by their dander or sensitive to burnt food smells from cooking accidents may do better with a purifier.

The Takeaway

Air scrubbers and purifiers are similar machines that accomplish a similar goal. However, the subtle differences in their filtration technology give you a choice between them based on the specific nature of your daily filtration needs or the needs of your planned renovation or construction project.

For filtrating the air of gases, fumes, and chemical irritants, an air scrubber is more often the better choice because of its absorbent filters and its water-based filtration technology. This makes it the machine of choice for those who want to filter the air of a large institution like a hospital, chemical plant, factory, or specific construction site.

For larger air particles, particularly those that can irritate the sinuses, air purifiers are smaller, subtler machines with more fine-tuning in terms of removing larger irritants. If pet dander, dust, mold, or irritating odors are your problem, a HEPA air purifier is probably the right machine for you.

Regardless of which you choose, both machines are efficient at making the air in your home more breathable while you work on your renovations and both will go a long way to keeping you, your employees, or your family safer.