If you care about the type of air filter you use, you’ll notice it’s either a PECO or HEPA filter. These air filtering technologies are fundamentally different but effective at what they do. If you’re looking to replace your existing air purifier, you may want to know what air filter is better.
While Molekule has repeatedly claimed that PECO filters are technically superior to HEPA filters, its claims are hard to prove. As no scientific report affirms or refutes these claims, it’s hard to categorically state that PECO filters are better. However, if all of the claims are true, PECO filters should be better than HEPA filters.
In this article, you’ll learn all you need to know about PECO and HEPA filters. Then, I’ll outline the advantages and disadvantages of both kinds of air purifiers, helping you to identify the best option.
What Is a PECO Filter?
As you may know already, PECO is short for photoelectrochemical oxidation, and it’s an emerging technology for purifying contaminated fluids. PECO as a term is new, but the underlying technology has existed for ages.
The underlying technology is referred to as PCO (photocatalytic oxidation), which is already a popular technology for air filters. Since PCO and PECO are fundamentally the same technology, they work similarly, with PECO being slightly more effective.
Alternate technologies like HEPA complete their work when they trap harmful particles. PECO filters, however, take a step further to kill these pollutants or neutralize them to make them harmless.
PECO is regarded as superior to the early PCO technology, as the latter was less efficient than the former. To break the limitations of PCO, certain air filter manufacturers altered the technology to create a faster and better technology. Apparently, the new technology became the popular PECO that many air purifiers use today.
Since the first PECO filters only came around in 2016, there aren’t many scientific studies confirming or refuting manufacturers’ claims. Nevertheless, Molekule, one of the pushers of the PECO technology, has repeatedly claimed that PECO cleaners are better than HEPA cleaners.
With this company facing a class-action suit related to false advertising claims, their facts are hard to trust. Nonetheless, this shouldn’t distract you from the excellence of PECO filters, even if they haven’t been proven better than HEPA yet.
What Is a HEPA Filter?
HEPA filters generally refer to all air purifiers that adhere to the HEPA standard by the US Department of Energy. The acronym stands for “High-Efficiency Particulate Air,” a set of standards invented to contain air in nuclear facilities.
Due to the successes of this technology in purifying the air at nuclear plants, it quickly moved into the consumer market. By the late 1960s, the first set of retail air purifiers for homes and offices had started hitting the market.
While the idea of PECO filters is very complex and hard to understand, that of HEPA filters isn’t. A HEPA air purifier is simply a glorified net of fibers with holes small enough to keep harmful particles out. HEPA filters work primarily on size, which leaves the technology at an apparent disadvantage in some cases.
Since a HEPA filter will only trap large particles, microscopic pollutants will likely escape a HEPA filter. To be precise, the HEPA standard only requires air purifiers to keep particles smaller than 0.3 micrometers away. Therefore, any bacteria, virus, or allergen that’s smaller than this can easily bypass air purifiers adopting this standard.
Also, HEPA filters don’t try to kill or neutralize the harmful pollutants it collects. Since most organisms survive wherever their life isn’t at risk, these filters are a good breeding spot for living particles. They converge, adapt, survive, reproduce, and get released into the air.
Is a PECO Filter Better than a HEPA Filter?
Reading through the descriptions of these purifiers, one may be convinced that PECO filters are massively better than HEPA filters. However, choosing the best air purifier for home use isn’t as simple as comparing the shortcomings. Also, that would be unfair on HEPA, which has been around for long enough for all its shortcomings to show.
Interestingly, the inventor of PECO filters is under fire for false advertising, proving that much is hidden about the technology. It would only be unfair to compare PECO filters to HEPA filters based on very debatable statistics.
Since there are no options at the moment, we may have to compare these kinds of filters anyway. After listing the specifications and advantages of both, you can decide if either filter is the best for you.
Advantages of HEPA Filters
HEPA filters have been around since 1940, making it easy to know a lot about their advantages. However, as hinted above, HEPA doesn’t refer to a specific technology; it’s only a specification to ensure that air purifiers are effective. Also, the HEPA specification differs across jurisdictions, making it a bit difficult to define what is and isn’t HEPA-certified.
To meet the general specifications of HEPA in the US, an air purifier must trap 99.97% of all particles. Meeting this requirement qualifies an air filter to be HEPA-certified, but that also isn’t the complete story.
If you work with multiple air purifiers, you might have seen manufacturers push terms like true-HEPA, HEPA-like, or HEPA-style. While there aren’t official standards for these terms, you should always go with true-HEPA, if you’re confused.
HEPA-like or HEPA-style are meaningless terminologies used to describe filters that don’t meet the HEPA specification. Consequently, they’re classified as EPA filters, whose only requirement is filtering 85% of particles. Since most people won’t want a filter without HEPA certification, manufacturers try to add HEPA in dubious ways.
Generally, HEPA filters should be sufficient to remove most particles and pathogens you don’t want around. However, it’s crucial to ensure you’re buying an authentic HEPA filter, as many manufacturers try to compromise the HEPA standard.
Advantages of PECO Filters
Since PECO filters are more recent, you’d expect that they’re superior to HEPA-based filters. However, the untrustworthiness of the company behind PECO makes this claim debatable. Nevertheless, if everything Molekule said was to be accurate, PECO air purifiers should be much more efficient than HEPA filters.
Here are some of the biggest advantages of PECO filters, provided that Molekule was a saint all through:
They Destroy and Oxidize Harmful Pollutants
Given the description of HEPA filters, you can already tell that it doesn’t care about eliminating trapped particles. Most of the dirt and particles that a HEPA purifier traps will eventually make their way back into the atmosphere. With PECO air filters, however, this shouldn’t be the case.
In addition to filtering these pollutants out from the air, PECO purifiers go the extra mile to neutralize them. While this should give them an obvious advantage over HEPA filters, other factors also matter.
They Are Easy to Maintain
PECO air filters are easy to maintain, as proper maintenance is a crucial factor contributing to a filter’s efficiency. When you buy a PECO filter, you automatically enter a subscription service where Molekule delivers new filters to you when necessary.
While you can quickly get replacement filter bags for HEPA purifiers, this subscription service makes it much more manageable. However, if you’re already invested in HEPA filters, this won’t be a fair reason to switch to PECO-based filters.
Other than the slightly easy maintenance procedures and the fact that they neutralize pathogens, PECO filters don’t have many perks. While you can see a list of pros on manufacturers’ websites, they’re usually just repetitions of the same point.
To answer the question of which of these technologies is superior, the answer depends on how much you trust Molekule. As expected, Molekule claims that its technology is technically superior to the HEPA standard. Interestingly, PECO purifiers don’t meet the HEPA standard in the first place, making this claim debatable.
As a memory refresh, HEPA requires all compliant filters to block 99.97% of particles large than 0.3 micrometers. PECO air filters don’t comply with this standard, as the goal is to go compete with the age-long standard.
If you’d rather be safe than sorry, you may want to consider going with a HEPA filter. However, PECO filters are also showing some potential, but it will take some scientific studies to rate them accurately.
Are PECO Air Purifiers Safe?
Since air purifiers are designed to keep your room safer by purifying the air, you may think they’re all safe. With many air filters allegedly causing breathing difficulties, coughs, sore throats, and asthma attacks, inquiring about their safety becomes justified.
Generally, PECO air filters have proven to be safe enough to be used in the home. Again, this claim is based wholly on anecdotal reports, as there aren’t enough studies proving that they are indeed safe.
Since the technology is already in wide usage without any widespread reports of hazard, your experience shouldn’t be very different. If you’re using your air filters as advertised and recommended, they should be pretty safe and efficient.