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Types of Furnace Filters - Which Should You Buy?

A furnace filter is an essential feature of a safe, modern home. It is the barrier between your furnace burner and the dusty particles of its surroundings, and it keeps family, friends, and pets safe by filtering contaminated air. 

Choosing the correct furnace filter is an important decision that can impact both the efficiency of your furnace and the healthiness of your living environment. If it’s time to change out your furnace filter or if you have questions about the type you should be using, contact WM Buffington for all your furnace maintenance needs. 

What Are Furnace Filters? 

Furnace filters are an integral component of your home heating system, designed to trap dust, dirt, and other airborne particles that can cause damage to the furnace components and impair its performance. They aid in ensuring the efficient functioning of the furnace while improving the indoor air quality of your home by reducing the number of pollutants and allergens circulating in the air. 

Furnace filters are usually made of disposable, pleated paper or reusable, spun fiberglass material and are situated between the furnace's intake and the blower motor. They come with a MERV rating, which stands for “Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value”. The MERV rating ranges from 1 to 20 and identifies a filter’s ability to remove particulate matter. The higher the MERV rating, the better the filter.  

Types of Furnace Filters

Several different types of furnace filters exist with various benefits including: 

Pleated: Usually made from paper, cotton, or polyester, pleated filters have increased effectiveness against airborne particles. It is a disposable filter and needs to be changed every one to three months. The more pleats an air filter has the more thoroughly it will clean the air, but the tradeoff is reduced airflow.

Fiberglass: Fiberglass is among the most affordable options of filters which is key for anyone trying to lower expenses. However, fiberglass filters will usually have the lowest MERV ratings and lifespans of about 30 days. 

Activated Carbon: While this filter is usually chosen for its effectiveness at removing odors, it is also especially efficient at trapping gasses, particles, and even (in some cases) Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). 

Electrostatic: Just like when you shock yourself with static on a door knob or light switch, electrostatic filters work by using an electric charge to attract and trap particles like a magnet. There are both disposable and washable forms of electrostatic filters. 

Washable: Unlike disposal filters with lifetimes of 30 to 90 days, washable variants are available that last up to ten years when cleaned with care. This is obviously the environmentally-friendly option compared to disposable filters, but they do have a significant downside. Most washable filters have low MERV ratings, commonly maxing out at 4 of 20. Furthermore, if not cleaned and dried properly, there’s the risk your filter could develop mold which is a serious health hazard. 

HEPA: High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters trap at least 99.97% of particles in the air that are at least 0.3 microns in size. Some HEPA filters include ultraviolet lights that denature and neutralize cellular organisms as they pass through to kill live pathogens. Others further bolster their efficacy by utilizing activated carbon. HEPA filters are incredibly effective but their benefits are reflected in the cost. 

Things to Consider

It is hard to determine which furnace filter to purchase unless you’ve considered your particular situation. It is important to think about: 


Each of the filter types discussed above varies in price and frequent furnace maintenance can make routine air filter changes a costly endeavor. However, it is important to be aware that while low prices are great, paying a little bit more is probably worth it when it comes to having clean air.

Current Living Environment

A big consideration for the type of filter to purchase is your current living environment. Both indoor and outdoor air quality have an impact on your overall health; so whether you live in a clean apartment in a smoggy city or a dusty farmhouse in the country, consider which factors will affect your air quality and choose a filter according to your needs. 

Family Health and Circumstances 

Family circumstances will play a role in determining the type of filter to purchase. If any family members have allergies, asthma, or other respiratory problems, a filter with a higher MERV rating will likely be a good choice for their health and comfort. 

Which furnace filter should you buy?

So which filter furnace should you buy? The answer is, fortunately, very dependent on your situation. 

If you have a healthy, young family and you’re on a budget, maybe it’s best to choose a washable filter or a disposable fiberglass filter for the money-saving potential. On the other hand, if you have allergies, you may want a filter like a pleated or HEPA filter that can trap smaller particles. Aim for a MERV rating of 10 or more!

Trust the Experts in Furnace Maintenance

Furnace filters are a critical component of your home’s healthy ecosystem. However, no matter what type of filter you choose, regular maintenance and filter replacement are key to maintaining your system's efficiency and ensuring clean, breathable air in your home. For help with furnace maintenance, contact the experts who have been serving Harrisburg homes for over 70 years - call WM Buffington for all of your HVAC needs! 

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