HouseFresh is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

Air Scrubber Vs. Air Purifier: What’s The Difference?

Updated on December 15, 2022
Written by
Danny Ashton
Danny is the founder of HouseFresh and has been writing about air purifiers and indoor air quality since 2010. He is our lead tester, conducting all the tests we use to evaluate air quality products. That is why you will always see his name attached to our reviews.

Our verdict

Air scrubbers and air purifiers are not the same thing, although they do have something in common—they both clean the air—but to different degrees. 

An air purifier will draw air in from a room, pass it through a filter, then expel cleaner air back into the room. An air scrubber will suck the air from a larger area, simultaneously decontaminating the air. 

Air scrubbers are primarily used in commercial settings like factories or building sites. While an air purifier is suitable for the home.

Here are a few indoor air quality facts that may astound you.

  • The majority of us spend 60% to 90% indoors. (EPA)
  • More than 50 million USA residents suffer from allergies. (ACAAI​​)
  • Over 16% have allergies caused by fungi or bacteria in the air conditioning system. (NCBI).

So, it’s no surprise that many of us are beginning to take indoor air quality seriously. But if you’re new to this topic, you might be confused by the differences in the available technology. 

Air purifiers go a long way in helping to curb or prevent pollutants in the air. But there is also a device called an air scrubber. Air purifiers and scrubbers help improve indoor air quality, but they work differently and are better suited to different situations. 

We hope to shed some light on what tends to be a confusing topic and help you choose the right one for your situation.

What Does an Air Purifier Do?

An air purifier is designed to use one or more filters to trap pollutants in the air. An air purifier that uses HEPA filtration technology will, on average, remove 99.97% of air particles as small as 0.3 microns (a single human hair is 70 microns in diameter).

Here are the three stages of filtration that an air purifier can offer: 

Stage 1: Pre-filtration

The pre-filter removes large particles from the air, such as:

  • Dust
  • Hair
  • Pet dander

Stage 2: Activated Carbon Filtration

This filter uses a type of carbon that has been treated to make it more porous. This allows it to adsorb more pollutants from the air. The activated carbon filter removes volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and odors. 

The activated carbon filter removes odors from:

  • Cooking
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Bathroom
  • Pets
  • Weed smoke

Stage 3: HEPA Filtration

HEPA filters (High-Performance Particle Air) are a mat of randomly arranged woven fibers. They form a maze of sorts, which allows airflow but traps particles as they try to pass through. 

To put it simply, they filter minuscule pollutants from the air.  The HEPA filter removes tiny typical household airborne particles that can harm our health, including

  • Bacteria
  • Viruses 
  • Mold
  • Pollen
  • Smoke

Read our full report on how an air purifier works for the full ins and outs of how this technology works. 

What is an Air Scrubber Used For?

Image Credit:

An air scrubber is used when the air pollution in a building is such that an air purifier will not do the job. 

Air scrubbers are used in commercial environments when the air has to be cleaned quickly and efficiently. Due to being adept at removing dust and mold spores, air scrubbers are often used in construction work or industrial applications such as:

  • Home renovations
  • Water damage repairs
  • Construction sites

Air Purifier vs. Air Scrubber: Which is Best for You?

The answer to this question depends on your situation. An air purifier may do the job or prove inadequate. While an air scrubber may work, it also may be overkill. 

Let’s look at a couple of scenarios.

Scenario 1: You have a pet allergy and live in an apartment with a dog—Air purifier or air scrubber?

✅ An air purifier is what you need. 

Allergens released by your dog are microscopic and will float in the air long after your pet is no longer in the room. Depending on the air purifier’s technology, it should be able to remove the offending pollutants, especially if it has a HEPA filter as part of the filtration system.

Scenario 2: You own a factory and are concerned about harmful contaminants— Air purifier or air scrubber?

✅ An air scrubber is your solution. 

With harmful contaminants polluting the air in your factory, an air scrubber removes unwanted pollutants from the air and surrounding surfaces, such as gasses, chemicals, mold, smoke, odors and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

The powerful motor in the scrubber sucks air in, passing through a series of filters and trapping the airborne contaminants. Then it is exhausted outside via ductwork or back into the same area.

Frequently Asked Questions About Air Scrubbers and Air Purifiers

🤔 Do I need an air scrubber if I have an air purifier?

An air purifier is designed to use one or more filters to trap airborne particles in the air as it passes through the purifier. If you need better air quality in one or two rooms in your home, then an air purifier will certainly help. 

If you need to purify a bigger space or multiple rooms in your home, we recommend purchasing multiple air purifiers rather than an air scrubber. 

🤔 Does an air scrubber produce ozone?

According to the EPA, some ozone generators are sold as air cleaners, but a proper air scrubber does not produce ozone. They work by passing air through a series of filters to trap particulates and sending clean air back into the room or to the outside through ducts. 

The filters capture microscopic pollutants, VOCs, gases, etc., removing them from the air. Ozone is not generated during this process.

🤔 How much electricity does an air purifier use?

Air purifiers are designed to run 24 hours a day but don’t use much electricity. Their maximum wattage is between 40 and 200 watts, with the large units running at 100 watts on full power settings. Check out this online calculator to calculate how much electricity your purifier uses.

Final Thoughts

If you’re looking to improve the air quality in your home or office, then an air purifier will do the job. An air scrubber for home use is overkill — they’re for industrial use and not suited to continuous use in the home. Now that’s been cleared up, why not explore our list of best air purifiers for 2022


American College of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. (2022). Facts and Stats — 50 Million Americans Have Allergies.

Ashton, D. (2022). How Much Electricity Does An Air Purifier Use?

Ashton, D. (2022). Taotronics AP003 Air Purifier Review.

Ashton, D. (2022). 53 Indoor Air Quality Statistics.

Ashton, D. (2022). 10 Science-Backed Benefits Of Air Purifiers.

Ashton, D. (2022). What Is PM2.5? (And How You Can Reduce It In Your Home).

Ashton, D. (2022). What Does An Air Purifier Do?

Dunkin, M.A. (2021). HEPA Filter Benefits for Allergy Relief.

Sowiak, M et al. (2017). Does the air condition system in buses spread allergic fungi into driver space?

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2022). Indoor Air Quality.

About the author

Danny Ashton

Danny is the founder of HouseFresh and has been writing about air purifiers and indoor air quality since 2010. He is our lead tester, conducting all the tests we use to evaluate air quality products. That is why you will always see his name attached to our reviews.