Air Sanitizer vs Air Purifier – What’s the Difference?

Air sanitizers and air purifiers both bring a different approach to the indoor air quality problem. Indoor air quality has always been important but even more so in these testing coronavirus times as it can have detrimental effects on health. 

Apart from the COVID-19 threat, there are other pollutants like dust, pollen, pet dander, VOCs, harmful germs, and many others that can make asthma symptoms worse according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Air sanitizers and air purifiers bring very different ways of purifying the indoor air. Where one depends on mechanical filters the other brings the power of ultraviolet light, an aerosol spray, or ozone to cleanse the air. 

If you’re confused in the air sanitizer vs. air purifier debate, this guide will help you understand what each of these machines is, how they function, and what advantages each brings to your indoor space.

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What is an Air Sanitizer?

What is an Air Purifier?

Difference (AirPurifier vs Air Sanitizer)

What is an Air Sanitizer?

Air sanitizers are air cleaning machines that work by using ultraviolet light or generate ozone that destroys the microbes at a molecular level. Air sanitizers are particularly helpful against pathogens and can neutralize some chemicals in indoor air. Sanitizers can be used as standalone units or can be coupled with HVAC systems to sanitize the whole indoor air. 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, air sanitizers can significantly bring down the airborne microbes with just a 5% concentration of glycols. Test studies also indicate a 99.9% reduction in the level of microbes. Contrary to popular misconceptions, air sanitizers do not act as air fresheners. While some manufacturers might bundle the two features into one device, these are very different functions.

How do air sanitizers work?

Air sanitizers attack the microbes by way of an aerosol spray or by using UV-C light. These two methods are very different and while they deliver comparable results, both have their own advantages and drawbacks.

Aerosol Air Sanitizers

The aerosol spray sanitizers work by maintaining a 5% concentration of glycols in the circulating air and can bring down the bacterial level down by 99.9%. The purification is done outside the body of the sanitizer and is highly effective against airborne pathogens. Aerosol sanitizers do not filter out or neutralize particulate matter.

UV Air Sanitizers

UV Air Sanitizers work by channeling the air into a UV-C light chamber, where exposure to ultraviolet light destroys the microbial DNA. Both of these air cleaning technologies are not that efficient against gaseous pollutants but will help with the odor if its root cause is microbial growth like mold. 

Air sanitizer machines can help improve air quality levels in humid and warm areas where the conditions favor microbial growth but are not a standalone solution to the problem of high indoor air pollution.

Air Sanitizer for COVID

According to the FDA, UVC light may lead to the inactivation of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (COVID-19) and the EPA has compiled a list of aerosol disinfectants that are known to be effective against COVID. Air sanitizers can inactivate the virus but the exact length of exposure and concentration of the disinfectant are still not known. Although the COVID-19 threat is not completely neutralized by air sanitizers, they add some much-needed defense against the deadly virus.

What is an Air Purifier?

An air purifier is a machine that uses a mix of different filters, which help in bringing down airborne pollutants. Air purifiers filter out contaminants like dust, mold spores, pet dander, cooking odors, household odors, VOCs, and even microbes. The filtration is done by employing various filters including a pre-filter, a charcoal filter, and a HEPA filter.

Different manufacturers use patented filter technology to produce intended results, but most air purifiers feature between 2-5 filtration stages.  A 3-stage filtration system, consisting of a pre-filter, a HEPA filter, and a carbon filter is the most popular choice of most manufacturers. According to a recent study, asthma attacks are significantly reduced with improved air quality from an air purifier.  

Air purifiers can filter out particulate matter down to a size of 0.3 microns with a 99.97% efficiency. This number further goes up to 99.99% with the use of a True HEPA Air Cleaner. Air purifiers are significantly advanced these days and can pack optional UV-C light, an ionization chamber, and even an air diffuser. Air purifier brands are not afraid of innovating and have even equipped their top purifiers with features previously only seen on an air sanitizer machine.

How do air purifiers work?

Different Air purifiers can bring a different approach towards tackling indoor pollution, but the most common ones follow a general pattern of passing the air through a series of filters, including:


A nylon or synthetic mesh-based pre-filter is placed in the path of the air before it can make its way towards the more expensive filters. These pre-filters capture large particles including hair, fur, and dust specks. Pre-filters get dirty very often and are usually washable.

HEPA Filter (High-Efficiency Particulate Air Filter)

A High-Efficiency Particulate Air Filter (HEPA) can remove 99.97% of airborne particles, including atmospheric dust, allergens, dust mites, and even wildfire smoke among other airborne particulates, down to a minute size of 0.3 microns. A HEPA Air purifier can increase the efficiency of filtration up to 99.99% by using a medical-grade filter.  These filters are great for removing particulate matter and help asthma or allergy sufferers with health issues.

Activated Carbon Filter

An activated carbon filter or a simple carbon filter is great at neutralizing most common odors, like cooking odors, household odors, pet odors and can also help with volatile organic compounds. Air purifiers can use these filters in different forms. Some use a thin sheet on either side of the HEPA filter while others use a honeycomb mesh to maximize air-filter contact. Carbon filters can have the problem of off-gassing where the filter releases absorbed gaseous contaminants back into the air in minute quantities.


Some air purifiers add additional filtration stages that add features to the nifty machines. UV-C chambers in air purifiers can act as an additional stage and will destroy the microbial DNA. This ensures sanitized air circulation without using a dedicated air sanitizer.

Ionic Filtration 

Ionic purifiers pack another stage of filtration where negative ions are produced and given off into the indoor air. The ions cause small particles to fall out of the air and cling to surfaces in the form of dust, which can then be filtered through the mechanical filters in an air purifier.

Also Read: Air Purifier vs Ionizer (Ionic Air Purifier) – Difference?

Air Sanitizer vs Air Purifier

Air purifiers bring multiple filtration stages and trap particulate matter from the indoor air including VOCs, allergens, smoke, pet dander, etc. On the other hand, an air sanitizers only kill microbes using UV-C light or aerosol vapors and are ineffective against large particles. Air sanitizers are great for sensitive places like hospitals where microbial content is high, but can prove to be an ill-equipped device for the average indoor air where an air purifier offers much better protection. 

Apart from the multiple filtration stages, air purifiers bring the air into their own body to carry out the filtration process. Air sanitizers carry out the filtration outside the body of the machine if it is an aerosol-based sanitizer and inside the body, if it is a UV-C sanitizer.

With the increasing amount of innovation and improvement in technology, purifiers are now offering sanitization too, but at an added cost. 

CharacteristicAir SanitizerAir Purifier
Kills Bacteria and VirusesYesOnly some Purifiers
Removes DustNoYes
Removes AllergensNoYes
Removes VOCsNoYes
Effectiveness against MoldHighly EffectiveHighly Effective
Power10-40 Watts5-100 Watts
CoverageCan be coupled with HVAC systems for 360° protection against microbes50-1500 sq. ft.

Air Sanitizer vs Air Purifier Effectiveness Against Killing Mold

Both the air sanitizers and air purifiers are effective against mold. Air purifiers trap the airborne mold spores hence limiting their spread. Air sanitizers deal with the mold at a molecular level and degenerate the DNA, making them ineffective. While both of them help in controlling mold, an air purifier with a UV-C light can bring the best of both in one device. HEPA air purifiers with UV-C light can trap the mold spores and will also degenerate the DNA.

For effective mold remediation, make sure the air purifier filters are washed or replaced on time.

So, which air cleaner is right for me?

Air sanitizer and air purifiers can be used alongside each other and will complement each other. If you’re only looking for one of these devices, an air sanitizer will work great where airborne particles are less in amount but pathogens can be an issue (hospitals, clinics, zoos) but for all other places where there is high particulate matter and a mix of pathogens amongst the indoor air contaminants, air purifiers are the better option.

UV-C air purifiers will bring the benefits of both machines in one unit and can offer excellent protection against allergens or pathogens while ensuring a clean delivery of breathable air in any indoor setting.

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