Washable Furnace Filters VS Disposable Filters: What’s the Difference?

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It’s getting to be that time of year where many parts of the world start to experience a wintry frost which lasts for quite a number of months. To beat the winter chill, nothing’s better than coming home to a toasty warm house to defrost. To keep you extra warm this winter, you probably already have a central furnace in place to provide additional heat. A furnace can distribute warmth by blowing heated air via air, steam or hot water.

To keep your furnace working in optimum condition, you need a filter for your furnace to prevent airborne particles from getting inside your unit and causing it to work less efficiently. These filters usually fall into two categories of washable and disposable. Here, we’ll give further insight into both so you can decide whether a washable or disposable air filter would suit you better.

Washable Furnace Filters and Disposable Filters Comparison

WASHABLE DISPOSABLE
6 STAGE ELECTROSTATIC WASHABLE PERMANENT HOME AIR FILTER in white background
Glasfloss Industries PTA16251 PTA Series Heavy Duty Disposable Panel Air Filter in white background
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  • An effective way to save money as you don’t have to replace them as often.
  • Improves your landfill footprint as they’re more sustainable
  • You must clean and dry yours every month
  • You can choose the right amount of filtration (MERV value) for your needs as there are different types of disposable filters
  • Easy to replace with no washing and drying required
  • Not environmentally friendly

A Closer Look

Before we dive into washable/reusable and disposable filtering, it’s important to get an idea of why you need one for your unit and how it works. A furnace helps to provide your house with warm air by first taking in cold air through the system’s return ducts before heating it through a heat exchanger. The heated air then travels through the vents into your home, and the whole process repeats itself. With this constant exchange of air, harmful pollutants could end up getting stuck in the furnace, and you’ll end up breathing it in.

As the name suggests, your filtering system helps to sift out harmful substances while the furnace does its job. Specifically, it protects the blower fan from all the pollutants such as dust, debris, and hair that the return duct takes in. With the help of a filter, it’ll improve the indoor air quality in your house which allows you to breathe in air that is clean and fresh.

They are also rated on what’s known as the MERV rating scale. The letters MERV stand for minimum efficiency reporting value and ranges from 1 to 16. While a higher MERV rating means that the filter would catch more dust and pollutants, it may not be ideal as it also means that it is thick and dense – which could impede airflow. MERV ratings are crucial, and you should check with an HVAC technician to determine the best value for your furnace.

Washable Furnace Filters

Maintenance

Close up dirty car air conditioner filter isolated on white

A washable furnace filter is also known as an electrostatic filter and most of them are made with an aluminum frame which holds static-prone woven electrostatic fibers that both attract as well as trap airborne particles. With washable furnace filters, you usually wait until they’ve accumulated a fair bit of dust and dirt after a few months before cleaning the filter. As the filter usually consists of several layers of fibers, you need to make sure that they’re cleaned thoroughly. You should also wait until the washable furnace filter is completely dried before replacing it or mold and mildew will form.

Eco-Friendly

Washable ones are a popular choice as they’re environmentally friendly and less expensive than disposable air filters in the long run since most of them can last for five years or longer. You can also custom make your own washable furnace filter to save yourself from constantly running to the hardware store to search for the right disposable filter size for your furnace.

Performance

While the washable kind does come with their own benefits and can filter out pollutants in your house, they generally have a MERV rating of 1 through 4. Hence, they may not be able to filter out micro-debris, pet dander or smoke. If you have serious allergies, asthma or a lung condition, this may not be an ideal choice for you.

Disposable Furnace Filters

Maintenance

Male arm and hand replacing disposable air filter in residential air furnace.

There are many different types of disposable air filters available depending on what you’re looking for. The two most popular options are the disposable fiberglass ones and the disposable pleated kind. The fiberglass one is the least expensive disposable type and is made from a 1-inch thick spun fiberglass. However, they’re not quite effective in filtering out pollutants. Hence, if you have airborne allergies or asthma this wouldn’t be a good pick.

Eco-Friendly

Disposable pleated ones, on the other hand, are made from cotton paper or polyester. They’re generally effective in removing small particles such as mites and spores. However, they’ll need to be changed frequently to avoid clogging or overtaxing the furnace – rendering them more expensive.

Performance

With disposable air filters, there are more options available depending on the type of filtration you’d like to achieve. Some disposable furnace filters even have a MERV rating of 16 or higher – which means cleaner air. They will, however, need to be changed every 90 days and you’d need to check them regularly to ensure that they’re working in optimal condition.

Conclusion

Since both disposable and washable furnace filters come with their own set of pros and cons, it can be difficult to choose between the two. If you’re unsure of which kind would be more suitable for your home, you can read up on some reviews online and there’s also no harm in getting some advice from your HVAC technician.

Furnace filtering plays an important role as it helps to strain out harmful pollutants in your home. Installing the right kind and being able to maintain it properly is crucial to keeping the air in your home both fresh and healthy. A model that is unsuitable for your home or not properly maintained would mean breathing in air with harmful pollutants which would be detrimental to your health.

Take your time in deciding between either a disposable or a washable furnace filter as they are a long-term investment for you and your family’s health. Once you’ve purchased your filter, remember to check it frequently and maintain it properly. If you need help with maintaining your filter, you can research online or ask your HVAC technician for some tips.

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