Can Filters Capture Viruses? – Short #172

In this short podcast, Bryan talks about filtration and IAQ, especially as they relate to virus control. He also answers the age-old question: “Can filters capture viruses?”

While it may seem like particle size matters when it comes to filter efficacy, filters are not nets that strain air particles and prevent pollutants from passing through. When we talk about particles, we tend to focus on ones that are 0.3 microns in diameter, which tend to be medium-sized particles. Viruses tend to be among the smallest particles that we aim to control when it comes to IAQ.

Filter media are crisscrossed fibers that catch particles in different ways. Inertial impaction is one means of stopping particles from passing through; the initial impact stops the particles from passing through. Interception happens when particles graze filter fibers and get stuck. Electrostatic attraction relies on energy to attract and catch particles. Diffusion happens when smaller particles move more erratically due to Brownian motion and get caught in the filter media.

Viruses are among those smaller particles. Smaller particles’ erratic motion makes them more likely to collide with the filter media, so they aren’t necessarily harder to catch. Higher MERV ratings are associated with higher capture efficiencies. HEPA filters surpass the MERV scale and have also been proven to filter viruses out of the air, but we rarely use true HEPA filtration in residential HVAC because they are too restrictive for total system airflow. We can use bypass HEPA filtration to filter the air without creating a massive restriction at the unit. Large filter-back returns with 2” filters can help catch more particles with a greater surface area without tanking the static pressure.


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