What is a HEPA filter?

what is a hepa filter

When you are looking for a new vacuum cleaner, it is important to pay attention to the filters, among other things. Because, a good filter means low dust emissions. More and more often a vacuum cleaner is equipped with a so-called HEPA filter. But, what kind of filter is this actually and how does this type of filter work?

What does ‘HEPA' stand for?

Let's start with the meaning of the abbreviation HEPA. HEPA stands for ‘High Efficiency Particulate Air'. It is not the only abbreviation known. For example, there is often talk of ‘High Efficiency Particulate Arrestance'.

In addition to the HEPA filter, it is also often referred to as an EPA or an ULPA filter. EPA is the abbreviation for Efficiency Particulate Air'. ULPA stands for ‘Ultra Low Penetration Air': these are the filters with the highest retention. The abbreviation depends on the filter level.

Different HEPA levels

An air filter should not just be called a HEPA, EPA or ULPA filter. A filter must meet a minimum retention level.

There are different HEPA filter classes:

HEPA levelRetention
EPA 10> 85%
EPA 11> 95%
EPA 12> 99,5%
HEPA 13> 99,95%
HEPA 14> 99,995%
ULPA 15> 99,9995%
ULPA 16> 99,99995%
ULPA 17> 99,999995%

History of the HEPA filter

Although a HEPA filter has only been used in vacuum cleaners in recent years, the filter itself was developed a long time ago. Around 1940, the HEPA filter was designed to prevent the spread of radioactive particles through the air. It was referred to as the ‘Manhattan Project‘ at the time.

Around 1940, the HEPA filter was designed to prevent the spread of radioactive particles through the air.

About 10 years later, in the 1950s, the filter was made available for consumer products. In the years that followed, the filter was further developed and better filters were created, including the ULPA variants.

To this day, the filters are used for many different applications. The filters are used in, among others:

  • Hospitals (operating rooms)
  • Aerospace
  • nuclear power plants
  • Air ventilation of buildings
  • Consumer electronics (air purifiers and vacuum cleaners)

In some applications, the use of a HEPA filter may even be mandatory. For example, for the removal of asbestos or when vacuuming fine dust on a construction site.

How does a HEPA filter work?

The operation of a HEPA filter is simple: sucked in air enters the filter, after which it leaves the HEPA filter, filtered. A HEPA filter consists of fibers. For example, there may be a HEPA filter made of glass fiber or cellulose.

The density of the fiber structure determines the filtering level: the denser the fiber structure, the better it filters. It is good to know that a HEPA filter can become clogged over time. Cleaning a HEPA filter regularly is a must. Is it a non-washable HEPA filter? Then you have to replace it regularly.

This can remove a HEPA filter from the air

A HEPA filter can remove many clay particles from the air. From dust to very small particles, such as allergens and bacteria. Some examples of what a HEPA filter can filter out of the air:

  • Dust
  • Particulate matter
  • Smoke
  • Fungi
  • Bacteria
  • Pet hair
  • Dander
  • Allergens

The above examples are of course dependent on the HEPA filter level.

A vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter is important

I mentioned it just now: when buying a new vacuum cleaner, it is very important to pay attention to the filters. If a vacuum cleaner has a bad filter, you are only spreading polluted air.

If a vacuum cleaner has a bad filter, you are only spreading polluted air.

When you choose a vacuum cleaner with at least a HEPA 13 filter, you're in the right place. This is because there is a retention (> 99.95%) that is high enough to filter the air for dust particles.

Also important for allergies

Several allergens can be found in a home, including dust mites and pollen. Do you have pets? Then I don't have to tell you that there is pet hair everywhere.

A vacuum cleaner with a good HEPA filter is therefore able to filter various allergens from the air. This minimizes the chance of an allergic reaction and keeps the air quality in the house in order. Read more about what to look out for with a vacuum cleaner for allergies.

FAQ: frequently asked questions about HEPA filters

Lately I have received an incredible number of questions about HEPA filters in vacuum cleaners. I have tried to answer the most frequently asked questions in the guide above. View the frequently asked questions below.

What does the abbreviation HEPA stand for?

HEPA stands for High Efficient Particulate Air (Filter). In addition to HEPA, there is also EPA (Efficient Particulate Air) and ULPA (Ultra Low Penetration Air).

What is a HEPA filter?

A HEPA filter is a type of air filter with such a high retention that the filter may bear the name HEPA.

Which HEPA filters are there?

At the moment there is an E10, E11, E12, H13, H14, U15, U16 and a U17 filter.

When was the HEPA filter created?

The HEPA filter was developed in the 1940s for the Manhattan Project. It was intended to prevent the spread of radioactive debris in the air.

Where is a HEPA filter used?

The HEPA filter is widely used in many situations, including hospitals, nuclear power plants and vacuum cleaners.

How does a HEPA filter work?

Suctioned air enters the HEPA filter, after which the air is filtered through a fiber structure. The denser the fiber structure, the higher the retention.

What can a HEPA filter filter?

A HEPA filter is suitable for filtering very small particles from the air. This includes dust, fine dust, smoke, mold and allergens.

If you're interested in finding the best vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter, you can check out our comprehensive guide on the best vacuum cleaner options available.

Robbert Tigchelaar
Robbert Tigchelaar

Robbert Tigchelaar has made testing vacuum cleaners his life's work. He has dedicated himself to conducting fully independent and valuable tests of vacuum cleaners to provide consumers with honest advice. His expertise in vacuum cleaners has been highlighted in The Washington Post and the Daily Express.

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