Merv 13 vs Hepa: Which Filter Is More Effective?

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Written By Jamila W.

MERV 13 and HEPA filters are two of the leading types of air filters.  They are both used to remove particles, enhancing indoor air quality in a wide range of settings. However, if you need super clean air for your facility or business, or to protect yourself from airborne pathogens like COVID-19,  selecting the best-performing air filter type is essential. 

MERV 13 vs HEPA Filter: Side-by-Side Comparison

Full nameMinimum Efficiency Reporting Value  13High-Efficiency Particulate Air filter
What is it:An efficiency rating for air filtersAn efficiency standard for air filters
Initial release:1987The 1940s (updated in 1983)
Developers:The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)Arthur D. LittleThe Manhattan ProjectThe US Department Of Energy
Filter types/structure:PanelCartridgePleated panelFilter frame containing a corrugated continuous sheet of fiber medium.
Minimum particle size filtered:0.3 micrometers0.3 micrometers
Percentage of particles removed:<75%99.97%
Types of particles removed:bacteriacooking oilsmoke insecticide dustpollen paint pigmentsrespiratory dropletsface powderbacteriavirusescooking oilsmoke insecticide dustpollen fungal sporesrespiratory dropletslead dustdust mites
Applications: Commercial and industrial HVACGeneral hospital air filtration Hospital air filtration (including operating theaters) Air filtration in the nuclear industryAir filters for the electronics sectorAir filtration in the food and beverage sector

In this article, we explain the key differences between MERV 13 vs HEPA filters, equipping you with the knowledge to select the best air filtration solution for your specific residential, commercial, or contamination control application.

What is Merv 13? 

The Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value known as MERV is a measurement scale for rating the effectiveness of air filters. The MERV scale was developed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) in 1987 and is respected for its level of detail and regular updates. 

scientist, research

How does the MERV rating system work?

A MERV rating indicates the performance of an air filter in trapping air pollutants on a scale from 1 to 16. The MERV rating indicates the minimum efficiency of the filter, so real-world levels of particle capture may be higher. 

What do MERV 13 air filters remove?

The highest Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value ratings (13 to 16) indicate that an air filter can trap the smallest airborne particles, although this is usually with sub-HEPA efficiency. A MERV13 filter can trap E1 particles with a size of 0.3 to 1.0 micrometers with an efficiency of 75%. These are some of the smallest particles used in air filter testing, including smoke, dust mites, bacteria, and aerosol generated by sneezing.

MERV 13 air filter formats

MERV 13 air filters are made of multiple layers of acrylic and polypropylene fibers that trap and form an electrostatic attraction to the air pollutants that pass through them. They are available in a variety of formats including pleated panels, cartridges, and panel filters that have a maximized surface area for air filtration.

What is HEPA?

High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) is an alternate international efficiency standard for air filters. According to standards produced by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, ISO, and U.S. Department of Energy, HEPA filters are capable of removing between 99.95% and 99.97% of particles with a diameter of 0.3 microns or greater that pass through them. 

The history of HEPA

High Efficiency Particulate Air filters have been used since the 1940s, in HVAC applications that require a high level of contamination control. They were developed in the 1940s during the Manhattan Project to filter radioactive particulate material

Following World War II, HEPA technology became heavily commercialized and an international standard for air purification. HEPA filters are now routinely used in the food and beverage, electronic, and healthcare sectors because of their efficient and reliable performance. 

How do HEPA air filters work?

A HEPA filter consists of a highly pleated mechanical air filter that intercepts, impacts, and retains the particles that diffuse through it. HEPA filter media is usually made from fiberglass, polypropylene, or acrylic. HEPA filters are suitable for the removal of diverse smaller particles including airborne viruses, bacteria, and mold spores. [1]

MERV 13 vs HEPA Filter: What’s the difference?

HEPA filter

Though MERV 13 and HEPA filters can both capture particles with a diameter of 0.3 microns, there is a marked difference in their format, cost, and performance. Here are six key differences between a MERV 13 vs HEPA filter.

1. Efficiency

HEPA filters must meet stringent international standards that require the filter to remove at least 99.95% of 0.3-micron particles. MERV filters have a much lower efficiency standard, with only a 75% rating range for capturing particles between 0.3 and 1.0 microns in size. This makes MERV13 filter better suited to removing large particles. [2]

2. Cost

The disparity in efficiency makes MERV 13 filters cheaper than true HEPA air filters because they mainly remove larger particles from the air. MERV 13 filters are still an excellent choice for a commercial or industrial HVAC system, and air filtration in general healthcare settings. 

3. Applications

The effectiveness of HEPA filters at removing the smallest air particles makes them a priority for settings that require stringent contamination control. HEPA-based ventilation systems can filter bacteria, viruses, and fungal spores making them essential for high-cleanliness settings like operating theaters, nuclear facilities, and semiconductor factories.

4. Format

MERV 13 and HEPA filters also differ in their structure and format. HEPA filters use sheets of a fibrous filter medium that have been corrugated and enclosed in a filter frame. The range of HEPA filter formats is more limited than MERV filters which come in pleated panel, cartridge, and panel formats. 

5. Airflow

Airflow is another differentiating factor for both types of filters. As MERV 13 and HEPA filters target particles that have been suspended in air, energy is required to push air through the filters.

Using HEPA filters in an HVAC system can lead to a marked reduction in airflow through the filter, increasing the amount (and cost) of energy required for air conditioning. 

6. Installation

MERV 13 filters are easier to retrofit into an existing HVAC system than HEPA filters, while HEPA filters perform best installed in portable air purifiers. [3]

It’s also important to note that the HEPA standard has been heavily commercialized over the last 50 years. It is now a generic trademark, so not all filters that are labeled ‘HEPA’ meet official standards. 

Combine Merv 13 and Hepa for To Maximize Air Quality


Both MERV 13 and high-efficiency particulate air filters can play an invaluable role in improving the indoor air quality of your commercial buildings or facility. It’s just a matter of using each type of filter appropriately so that you benefit from their effectiveness in filtering the varied particulates in your environment.

MERV 13 air filters are often the best choice for upgrading your HVAC. These filters are a cost-effective in-duct solution, that is available in a variety of formats that are easily installed. [4]

You can be confident that MERV 13 HVAC filters can cleanse circulating air of large particles like dust and pollen without significantly impeding airflow and increasing energy costs. This makes them suitable for most residential HVAC systems too.

Small particles are effectively filtered by a high-efficiency air filter installed in a portable air purifier. A portable filtration system has the added benefit of being able to be moved to environments that require the cleanest air.

Closing Thoughts

Both MERV 13 and HEPA air filters offer a reputable standard of air filtration. However, for small particles like viruses, a HEPA filter is non-negotiable if you want to incorporate air quality controls in your building.

By implementing MERV 13 and HEPA filters together you can comply with any mandated air quality controls for a facility of any size. It is simply a matter of achieving the right balance between in-duct MERV13  filtration and the use of Portable HEPA air purifiers that can tackle the smallest contaminants.

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