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Pleated vs. Non-pleated Air Filter: Which one is right for me?

To examine the questions of whether to buy a pleated or non-pleated air filter, it helps to invoke examples. For our example today, let’s create an imaginary air filter consumer. We’ll call him Ted. 6 feet tall, brown hair, business owner. Nice guy, I think. He wants to find the right air filter for his apartment, which is 1,200 square feet and located in the heart of the city.

Ted is based in San Francisco, California, one of the places with the highest air pollution in the US. Ted wants to buy a filter, but has no idea where to start.

He knows that the job of a filter is to trap particles in order to make air clean and safe, and keep gunk from reaching the HVAC system.

To find the best filter, we need to consider three criteria:


The budget he has in mind for purchasing his filter is important. Being in San Francisco, he has to save up for rent.

Replacement Frequency:

Replacing an air filter is a boring chore. Ted would rather not do it very, so he wants a filter that doesn't need much attention.

MERV rating:

MERV means the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value. It is the level or ability at which a filter is able to capture particles. The recommended MERV rating for regular use is 1-16 for residential houses, and 17-20 for specialized medical/commercial use.

Now, to make things easy for Ted, we’ll divide air filters into 2 types - pleated and non-pleated. Let’s look at the advantages of each.

Pleated Air Filters

Pleated air filters are made from pliable materials like polyester, paper or cotton, and have a high surface area as compared to its counterpart, the non-pleated air filter.

A pleated filter is made up of different sizes, and readily captures pathogens as small as 0.3 microns, filtering out even the tiniest of bacteria. They are overall more effective in capturing very tiny particles than non-pleated air filters; 99.97% of airborne particles are trapped with a pleated air filter.

When it comes to price, a pleated air filter is technically more expensive than a non-pleated air filter, although all air filters are pretty cheap.

The ideal replacement frequency for a pleated filter is 90 days or 3-months, with the frequency increasing depending on how many pets you have and how dusty and polluted your area is.

A pleated filter has an MERV rating of 5+. The higher the MERV rating, the higher the amount of particles filtered, and the cleaner the air is on the other side. Note, however, that a higher MERV will require more energy for air passage, since the material is more dense. This makes pleated air filters less suitable for large spaces that require faster air passage.

Non-pleated Air Filters

Non-pleated filters are made of fiberglass or some other electrostatic material, which is weaved about in a random fashion to create a barrier through which air passes.

Compared to pleated air filters, non-pleated air filters are less expensive. They’re simpler to manufacture and use cheaper materials. Of course, no slash in price is without its trade-offs.

A non-pleated air filter is required to be changed every 30 days due to its large surface area. Non-pleated air filters are designed to catch the largest particles, which add up on the filter fairly quickly compared to the tiny particles that pleated filters are designed for.

A non pleated air filter has a MERV rating of 2-4, making it considerably less effective for catching small particles than a pleated filter. Filters with a MERV rating of 4 only catch less than 20% of particles smaller than 10 microns in size. Generally, a non-pleated filter is not suitable for people with allergies.

Here’s the good news: Because non-pleated filters are less air-restrictive. they require less energy for usage and can be fitted with any HVAC system available.

So which filter is better for our man Ted?

Well, Ted needs defense against the smog and pollution in his city. In order to protect against the bombardment of smoke and dust particles that will invariably enter his apartment, he’ll need a pretty high MERV on his filter. His apartment is also fairly cozy at 1,200 square feet, and his AC is up to residential standards, so air-restrictiveness is not a huge concern.

Now, a non-pleated filter is best suited for large spaces that require a free and fast flow of air, and only traps the largest particles. Because of this, the best place for a non-pleated filter is a large commercial space like, say, a warehouse or a workshop. Non-pleated filters catch carpet fibers, saw dust, leaves, and small pieces of trash. In a commercial setting, non-pleated filters are a great way to keep your air clean without spending a lot. The higher air flow allows more air cyclese power hour, which prevents the build-up of debris during working hours.

For Ted, a pleated air filter - and a high-MERV one at that - is by far the best bet. We’d recommend our MERV 10 Odor Eliminator for Ted, so he can filter out the stench of San Francisco along with all of the pollution and contaminants. By placing cost and air flow on the back burners, Ted can have the best quality of air in his apartment without having to replace his filter too often.

But hey, that’s just Ted. Regardless of which filter you need, Filter King is the best source for supplying it. With unmatched quality, super fast delivery, subscription services, and unparalleled customer service, it comes as no surprise that Filter King has earned its name.

Check out our online store to find any filter you’d like in just about any size (yes, even the rare ones). Select your size and your MERV, and get your filters on your doorstep in a few days. You won’t be disappointed.

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