Graphic of air purifier vs air scrubber
Image features Dri-EAZ F284 Air Scrubber

With the global increase in concern over indoor air quality, the terms “air purifier” and “air scrubber” are being tossed around a lot more these days.

Some people even use the words interchangeably, but these two types of machines are far from identical.

If you’re not sure which product is the right choice for your own home (air purifier vs air scrubber) or if you think you may need to have both, this post is for you.

We’ll go over the key details about how each machine works, why you should choose one over the other, and put to rest any questions you may have about these air purifying products.

Air Purifier vs Air Scrubber

Comparison Chart

Here’s a quick overview of what you’ll learn here about air purifiers and air scrubbers. This chart should make it easy for you to compare the two types of products.

Characteristic Air Purifier Air Scrubber
Application Uses a HEPA filter or ionization to clean the air Uses wet or dry scrubbing to clean the air
Benefits Beneficial for domestic use to help with allergies and asthma Beneficial for commercial use to improve air quality for workers
Removes or Reduces Allergens, Dust, Mold Spores, Smoke Chemicals, Gases, Toxic Particles
Intended Use Domestic (Every day) Commercial (Temporary)

Defining an Air Purifier

An air purifier is a portable device that’s used to clean the air inside a home.

These units come in all shapes and sizes, including ones that can fit in the palm of your hand up to larger machines that are over two feet high.

Most air purifiers are designed to purify the air inside a single room and all have a limited reach.

For example, a small air purifier may only cover 100 sq. ft. of space while a larger unit could handle 700 sq. ft. or more.

The most popular air purifiers come equipped with a HEPA filtration system because it traps up to 99.97% of airborne contaminants as small as 0.3 microns inside a physical filter. In our article on what are HEPA filters made of, we explain how this filter consists of thousands of interwoven fibers that work in various ways to trap pollutants as they pass through the material.

The second favorite type of air purifier uses ionization to remove harmful particles from the air as opposed to a physical filter.

Some home air purifiers can be upgraded to include an activated carbon filter (to remove odors) and ultraviolet (UV) lighting (to kill germs).

Air purifiers are used inside the home to remove pollutants like dust, allergens, smoke, bacteria, pet dander, mold spores, viruses, and odors.

These products are a long-term solution for keeping the air fresh inside a home that’s not flooded with high levels of harmful particles on a daily basis.

The price range for an air purifier can be anywhere between $50 to $1,000 or more depending on how powerful it is and the levels of air filtration it uses.

A good portable home air purifier can often be found for around $200. You can also get a whole house air purifier that attaches to the furnace. This system will filter the entire air that flows through your home You can get one of these units for around $400.

You can find our best rated air purifier reviews here or take a look at our list of best budget air purifiers to find an affordable portable unit. Or check out our best whole house air purifier reviews for whole home air purification.

Defining an Air Scrubber

An air scrubber is a machine that also works to clean the air inside a home.

However, it’s mostly used for commercial applications but could act as a whole house air purifier if needed.

Air scrubbers are primarily used to remove chemicals, gases, and toxic particles from the air that come from household projects or indoor issues.

These units are very popular with mold remediation companies, contractors, and home remodelers because they quickly improve the surrounding air quality and make it safer for people to work in.

These machines can also cover thousands of square feet with a single air scrubber, which makes them more cost-effective than an air purifier.

Air scrubbers use two methods to scrub the air: dry and wet scrubbing.

If the machine uses wet scrubbing, it sucks the air through a damp pad or filter to trap free-floating particles and contaminants.

If it uses dry scrubbing, it sucks the pollutants and particles through dry filters to clean the air.

Some air scrubbers also come with activated carbon filters to remove odors. And others include a UV light to kill germs.

While the most common air scrubbers are used in commercial settings and are portable in design, there are products you can install directly into your HVAC system.

Once installed, all air that flows through your ductwork will pass through the air scrubber and be purified. This essentially creates a whole house air purifier system.

Portable air scrubbers range in price from $500 to $1,500 or more.

Often, people (or companies) just rent these units for the duration of a household project that requires it.

Air scrubbers that are installed in the HVAC system can range anywhere between $1,000 to $3,000 or more.

Do Air Scrubbers Really Work?

Air scrubber technology is close to 100% effective. Some models can eliminate up to 99% of airborne microorganisms as well as surface microorganisms, including black mold, Staph, and MRSA. Air scrubbers also work well for gases, vapors, VOCs, and offensive odors.

Many people choose to use an air scrubber in a workplace environment or during house remodeling projects because of its powerful ability to remove VOCs.

But if you’re looking for general VOC removal to keep your indoor air safe to breathe on a daily basis, then a good VOC air purifier can also be beneficial without having to pay a high price for an air scrubber.

Which is Better: An Air Purifier or Air Scrubber?

While both devices can technically be used in a domestic setting, the better choice for answer the question, “do I need an air purifier or air scrubber?” really depends on what you want to achieve by having the unit inside your home.

Choosing an Air Purifier

An air purifier is best used on a daily basis and is designed for single rooms of the home.

It’s also the most cost-effective solution for improving indoor air quality.

Running an air purifier 24/7 will continue to keep your air cleaner and healthier for you to breathe.

They’re especially useful for removing allergens, dust, pet dander, mold spores, odors, bacteria, and VOCs, which is great news for anyone who wants to stay healthy.

As we mentioned previously, air scrubbers are popular tools used by mold remediation companies for serious mold issues, but you can remove a significant level of mold spores from your indoor air with a home air purifier.

Check out our best air purifier for mold spores reviews to find out more.

And if you have asthma, an air purifier is a must-have item because it can remove the widest range of indoor particles that trigger an attack. Many asthmatics choose to use an air purifier in ther bedroom and living room to the get best relief.

To find out more, check out our in-depth guide on finding the best asthma air purifier.

Choosing an Air Scrubber

A portable air scrubber is best used as a temporary solution to clean a home’s air from a high influx of harmful contaminants.

Common applications include professional mold remediation, major renovations, or large interior painting jobs.

Portable air scrubbers can purify large spaces quickly and keep them fresh while indoor work is being performed.

If you can afford the installation of an air scrubber in your HVAC system ($1,000-3,000), then the air inside your whole home will stay as fresh as possible.

When it comes to the debate between an air purifier vs air scrubber, this would be considered the optimal choice.

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About David Morrison

David is an Air Quality & Comfort Technician. He has expert knowledge on the technology and design of air purification, air conditioning, and heating systems. His main role is to write content that helps people get the most value out of their air purifiers, air conditioners, and heating units. (See Full Bio)