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How to Choose Which Type of Home Air Filter to Use

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Dan has been in the HVAC industry for 23 years, with experience ranging from installation and service to sales and distribution.


Furnace Filters, Air Quality, and Options

When it comes to furnace filters for our homes, there are a lot of questions. After 15 years in the business, trust me, I know. The most popular question is, "How often should I change my furnace filter?" This is usually followed by, "What type of filter do you suggest?"

There are also many people with medical conditions that are looking to go above and beyond the typical air filter, inquiring on whole house humidifiers, electronic air cleaners, and even UV lighting.

The options for cleaning the air we breathe in our homes are growing all the time, and knowing what works, or better yet, how it works, is important to each and every one of us whatever the reason. Whether it be to avoid changing the filter as much, wanting to do what you can without going too far, or wanting to make the air in your home the best on the block, this article will help you to decide and give you the tools to follow through.

How Often Should I Change My Filter?

You should change your furnace filter as often as it needs it.

I know how this sounds, some real intelligent HVAC advice, but let's just put to rest the myth that there is a "one size fits all" time frame for changing your furnace filter to maximize the air cleaning potential it has. Anyone who says every six months is good without considerations is wrong. I suppose this is a good reminder in the spring and fall, but it is not a rule of thumb.

  • Do you have pets?
  • Where do you live?
  • What type of filter do you have?
  • Have you had your ducts cleaned?

These are all questions that you would want to consider when you decide how often your filter should be changed. Even then it will depend on how clean you want your air, the time of year, and if you're interested in extending the life of your furnace fan. That's right, clean air isn't the only reason it's important to change the filter on your furnace. The harder the fan has to work to draw air, the harder it is on the motor, not to mention when the motor is working that hard, it draws more power and costs you more money to run. Keeping your furnace filter clean will, in turn, keep your furnace fan motor clean.

There is no short cut to just peeking in on your filter every so often and seeing if it needs to be changed to achieve the best air quality possible.

How often do you change the filter in your furnace?

Furnace Filter Types and What to Know About Them

How dedicated you will be to your filter inspections has a lot to do with what type of filter you should choose. Buying a better furnace filter to allow you more time in between changes is exactly opposite of the truth.

Let's take a look at a few filter options and help you choose what might work best for you.

Filter TypeFilter TraitsCost Considerations

Throw Away / Hair Mesh

Larger open spaces in filter allow for finer particles to pass. This filter will need changed the least since it doesn't catch as much dust. To a degree, the dirtier this filter is, the better it works at catching dust. This is a good option for those who don't keep up with changing their filter for the sake of their fan motor.

Very inexpensive. Approx. $25 for a year's worth of once a month changes.

Standard Pleated (1" thick)

Much better at catching dust than the throw away. These must be changed more often though since they do catch dirt so well and only have a 1" pleat surface.

A bit more costly but affordable at approximately $65 for a year supply if changed monthly.

Media Filter

These are also a pleated filter but often have a 4" - 6" pleat surface. These catch a lot of dust and do not need replaced as often as the 1" pleat. Some styles will however take a few minutes to change if you have to insert combs into an accordion style replacement.

The most costly of all the replacement type filters coming in at about $120 per year if changed 3 times a year. You may be able to vacuum this filter though to buy time between changes.

Electronic Air Cleaner

I'm not a fan. These must be installed and require power to run. Being mechanical, you now have the threat of a breakdown and being stuck with nothing more than a washable filter.

There is really no cost beyond the install except if service is needed to repair it and the cost it takes to run it year round. One of those service trips will likely cost more than changing filters of any kind for a year.

The lesson here is good for any type of filter assembly but did you hear what he said it cost?

What Kind of Furnace Filter Will You Choose?

Knowing what you know now about the filters and what types of dirt and dust contributors you have in your home, what filter will you choose?

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The one that takes the least amount of maintenance and cost or the one that catches the most dirt but requires a bit more attention?

For those of you with extreme allergies or other medical conditions, I suggest at least the standard pleat, but there are some other options you may want to consider.

Ultraviolet Air Treatment

The method of using UV light to treat air in our home is a relatively newer trend. Specially made UV-C lighting installed into your duct work kills bacteria and surface mold that might form in the air vents. UV light kits can be purchased for between $150 and $400, not including install which may even be something that you can do.

Whole House Humidification

Whole house humidification is great for colder and dryer climates. The moisture produced and introduced to the air will help to keep you from drying up and can also keep the dust down a bit. This is good for those who get frequent bloody noses too.

There is a fairly extensive list of benefits to humidifying your home that includes health, comfort, and value.

Household Chores That Will Help Clean Your Air

Aside from furnace filters, humidifiers and a plethora of other options out there or on the way, a few good housekeeping chores that are often overlooked will help immensely in cleaning your air.

Knowing More About Your Options Is Always a Plus

Though there was no magic answer to the eternal question, how often should I change my furnace filter, there was an honest one. It's just not so simple to say, "X" times a year should be good. There is much that we each need to consider and accept that we'll just have to check on it more often until we know the habits of our home's air.

I hope that the information here has helped you not only know more about the right furnace filter for you, but also shared some additional options for cleaner air, ways to save a few bucks and tackle a couple of chores to improve your indoor air quality.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: Where is the duct filter in my air filter?

Answer: Most filter housings or slots are attached to the furnace or are perhaps inside of it. Some have a filter grill which is usually mounted on a wall or in the ceiling, in which case there should be a latch and hinges to open and change the filter.

© 2012 Dan Reed


Neil on December 29, 2017:

we use the cheaper 30 day bought at Walmark and double them up.

Dagwood011 on September 15, 2015:

Great article. Definitly an article that I am going to pass on to my customers. Many times we get into a customers home and the customer has no idea how or when to change the furnace filter


bleedercleaners on June 30, 2012:


Kristin Trapp from Illinois on June 02, 2012:

Thanks for the additional information. We've tried the good filters several times and without fail they always shut the furnace down and trust me, that's not too pleasant in January in Chicago. Anyway, I wouldn't be surprised if it has something to do with improper sizing as you suggest. I think the builder just squeaked by on meeting code for a lot of things and I think one HVAC guy told me that the furnace or duct work size (or something like that) was at its limit for the square footage of the home.

Dan Reed (author) on June 02, 2012:

Thank you ktrapp. You may want to check your return air duct for restrictions or have it checked for improper sizing. A very dirty filter may shut down a unit and a really good filter will restrict airflow some but it should not shut down your unit. This leads me to believe there is an underlying problem.

Kristin Trapp from Illinois on June 02, 2012:

This is a really useful hub. We struggle with keeping our air clean due to allergies. However, we cannot seem to use one of the "better" allergen filters on our furnace because it shuts the whole system down. I think it cuts off too much airflow (or something like that). My husband purchased some stand alone air purifiers (IQAir) which cost a small fortune but I do think they help. In addition we've had the duct work cleaned. What I've wondered is, is there a way to install filters at the supply vents? And if there is, I wonder if this will this "choke" off our furnace too.

One thing I will try to do is to open the windows more since you say the indoor air may be more polluted than the outdoor air. I have to wait until the springtime pollens subside to do this, but hopefully it will help a little too.

Dan Reed (author) on May 26, 2012:

Thank you Jamie. I'm glad this was useful to you and hopefully will help to choose the right option for you when you buy filters next time.

Jamie Brock from Texas on May 26, 2012:

Great hub! This was very informative.. I am ashamed to admit that I had no idea there were even different filters.. my husband usually changes them. I am pretty sure we use the first one. I can also say it's unbelievable how nasty that filter gets in such short amount of time. Thanks for sharing this. I learned a few new things.. voting up and useful :)

Mmargie1966 from Gainesville, GA on May 19, 2012:

I had no idea there were so many choices. I just use either the standard pleat or hair mesh and change once a month.

There is a lot of great information here! Thanks for sharing!

Holle Abee from Georgia on May 18, 2012:

Great info! I especially liked the table. Now I'm going to make hubby read it. lol. Voted up!

summerberrie on May 16, 2012:

Cre8tor, you have made reading about changing air filters interesting. Thanks for this information. I have often wondered about what type of air filter to buy.

Dan Reed (author) on May 16, 2012:

Thanks Doc. I would imagine you get a lot of questions that expect a one size fits all answer of your own.

TahoeDoc from Lake Tahoe, California on May 15, 2012:

Good information! There isn't often a one-size-fits-all answer to lots of questions and you do a great job of explaining why.

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