The best HVAC filters of 2024

Breathe easier—and remove pet hair, dust, and even bacteria from your home more efficiently—with the right filter.

Best overall

The Aerostar MERV13 is the best HVAC air filter overall.

Aerostar MERV 13 Pleated Air Filter

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Best for pets

The Colorfil MERV* is the best HVAC air filter for pets.

Colorfil MERV 8 Air Filter

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Best for allergies

AirX filters are the best HVAC air filters for allergies.

AIRx Filters Allergy

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It’s pretty easy to forget about your HVAC air filter. And that can be a good thing—that means the filter is doing its job properly, and your HVAC system is the better for it. It’s keeping out dust and debris, as well as trapping the pet dander, pollen, and other indoor irritants that would otherwise circulate through the system and possibly affect your health and quality of life. For such a small item in your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system, the right air filter really stays busy. But every three months or so, it’s time to pull out that filter and replace it with a new one to keep your furnace and air-conditioning running smoothly. This guide will help you find one of the best HVAC filters based on various criteria that help ensure a cleaner, more comfortable home.

How we chose the best HVAC filters

One quick search and you’ll quickly realize that there are more HVAC air filters in more sizes than anyone could possibly test. To narrow down the options, I considered what might work well for the average homeowner—for instance, I have pets, so I need that pet dander gone, and some in my home have allergies, so pollen is a no-no around here. In addition to pets and allergies, here are some other factors I took into account:

Size: Almost all of the filters tested here were 20 by 25 by 1 inches (also one of the most common sizes in furnace filters). However, the actual dimensions of most filters are usually smaller by a quarter of an inch on each side; this means that the filter might not fit as snugly as necessary in some newer models, which could lead to air whistling and inefficient performance.

MERV rating: An air filter’s minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) rating measures how effectively the filter stops dust and other contaminants from passing through the filter and into the air stream. Filters with higher MERV ratings trap small particles more effectively than filters with lower MERV ratings. How well does a filter remove the things you need removed from your home’s air? That depends greatly upon where you live. While an air filter with a MERV 8 rating works well just about anywhere, those who live in heavy smog areas might want one rated MERV 11 or higher. Those with immunocompromised family members might choose a MERV 13 filter to remove bacteria and viruses.

Airflow: While a MERV 13 air filter might remove everything, that may also mean that the HVAC unit needs to work harder to pull air through the filter. That can lead to problems with the HVAC over time, such as “short cycling” or shutting off prematurely. A lower MERV rating may be the right choice to ensure proper functioning of your unit.

Annual cost: Most filters come in a pack of at least four, with the idea that you will change it every three months and thus have plenty for a year. But that might not be enough, so sometimes a pack of six is much more efficient and might be cheaper. You may also want to consider one of the best air purifiers for your home.

The best HVAC filters: Reviews & Recommendations

Choosing the right HVAC air filter begins with the question of which size you need. Once you figure that out, you’ll find endless options in that particular size. That’s why we’ve narrowed them down to the following five picks to make it easier, because getting the right component the first time can feel like a breath of fresh air.

Best overall: Aerostar 20x25x1 MERV 13 Pleated Air Filter

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Why it made the cut: This efficient and quiet filter provides a high level of filtration at a budget-friendly price.

Specs

  • Rating: MERV 13
  • Size: 19.75 x 24.75 x 0.75 inches
  • Quantity: 6

Pros

  • Filters out bacteria
  • Affordable price
  • Made in the USA

Cons

  • Might not provide a snug fit
  • Product packaging might allow allergens in before use

This MERV 13 air filter from Aerostar features a pleated design made of 100% synthetic electrostatic material, which gives it high efficiency while permitting low air resistance, resulting in a quieter air exchange. It filters out microscopic particles that lower MERV-rated filters might miss, such as bacteria, spores, lint, dust mites, viruses, pet dander, and pollen.

Though it’s recommended you change this filter every three months, consider changing it every month during the peak of summer or winter. This product is manufactured in the USA by Filtration Group, which makes multiple filtration products for use in homes and businesses.

Best for pets: Colorfil 20x25x1 MERV 8 Air Filter

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Why it made the cut: This color-changing filter helps clear the air in pet-filled homes and alerts you when it’s time to be changed.

Specs

  • Rating: MERV 8
  • Dimensions: 19.75 x 24.75 x 0.75 inches
  • Quantity: 4

Pros

  • Color-changing technology removes guesswork
  • Excellent for capturing pet hair and dander
  • Greater capacity for air filtration than other options

Cons

  • Might not provide a snug fit
  • Doesn’t pick up the tiniest dust particles

This unique filter from Colorfil starts a vivid pink but slowly turns orange, then yellow, as it collects pollen, dust, pet dander, and odors. The yellow color signals that the filter is at 25% capacity and will need to be changed soon, but it will continue to work, graying as it approaches the end of its useful life. The entire process can take from two weeks to four months. The more pets in a household, the sooner the filter will fill up and become yellow. This MERV 8 filter is made of synthetic fiber and has a pleated design to trap more allergens.

The air filter technology used in this product was originally developed for NASA to protect astronauts in the atmosphere of a spacecraft. As such, it has five times more capacity for air filtration than the leading commercial activated carbon filters. You can also tidy up with the best vacuums for pet hair.

Best for odors: Flanders 16x16x1 NaturalAire with Baking Soda

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Why it made the cut: The fiberglass pleats are infused with baking soda, meaning this MERV 8 filter can pick up odors better than most.

Specs

  • Rating: MERV 8
  • Dimensions: 16 x 16 x 1 inches
  • Quantity: 4

Pros

  • Baking soda for odor control
  • V-pleats allow for larger surface area
  • Precise fit

Cons

  • Can be easily damaged during shipment
  • Might inhibit airflow on some systems

With V-pleats that allow for a greater surface area and plenty of infused baking soda, expect this sturdy filter from Flanders to take care of odors in the air while also reducing pollen and other allergens. The wire-mesh backing keeps the filter firm and straight in the unit, and unlike many others, the actual dimensions of this filter match the nominal dimensions, making for a precise fit. The result is a strong filter that stands up to constant use of the HVAC system and needs replacement about every three months.

This filter has a MERV rating of 8, which means it can pick up the most common dust and airborne particles without restricting airflow through a well-maintained HVAC unit. Manufactured in the USA, these filters are built into a frame of recyclable clay-coated molding that resists moisture, making these great for use in high-humidity regions. They can be easily damaged during shipment, so check for any problems promptly when they arrive.

Best for allergies: AIRx Filters Allergy 20x25x1 MERV 11 Pleated Air Filter

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Why it made the cut: A MERV rating of 11 is just right for removing typical allergens from the air without restricting airflow.

Specs

  • Rating: MERV 11
  • Dimensions: 19.50 x 24.50 x 0.75 inches
  • Quantity: 6

Pros

  • Higher MERV rating for better allergen removal
  • More pleats than most retail air filters
  • Traps smoke and smog

Cons

  • Might not provide a snug fit
  • Might restrict airflow in older units

Those who have serious problems with allergies will appreciate this MERV 11 filter from Airx Filters. This filter has more pleats than most filters available to consumers, which means it grabs more of those annoying allergens, such as pet dander, dust mites, mold spores, pollen, fine dust, lint, smog, and smoke. Made in the USA, this filter has sturdy mesh that keeps it from collapsing in the unit, which can be especially helpful if yours is an older unit that may have trouble with airflow when using a higher-rated MERV filter.

The company is a member of the National Air Filtration Association. This filter meets or exceeds the industry standard for performance set forth by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).

Best budget: Crisp Filters 20x25x1 MERV 8 Air Filter

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Why it made the cut: With advanced pleat technology that assures better filtration, this filter captures dust, pollen, and more at an affordable price.

Specs

  • Rating: MERV 8
  • Dimensions: 19.75 x 24.75 x 0.75 inches
  • Quantity: 6

Pros

  • Extensive pleats assure better filtration
  • Traps particles but doesn’t tax the system
  • Budget-friendly price

Cons

  • Doesn’t capture viruses or bacteria
  • Might not provide a snug fit

This MERV 8 filter from Crisp Filters features more pleats than other residential filters, meaning that it can capture more of the debris and allergens floating through your home at a price point that still easily rivals low-performing brands. Use them for up to three months, but for even better operation, replace them every month.

Expect this filter to remove pollen, dust mites, fine dust, and mold. This filter works well in high-temperature, humid, and moist areas without compromising its performance in removing particles from the air. Simple instructions on the filter itself make changing it a breeze. This product is also made in the USA.

Things to consider before buying an HVAC filter

Your priorities

Start by determining your priority—do you want to clean your home’s air of dust and other allergens, are you concerned about your city’s smog level, or do you want a filter that can help with odors as well as particulate matter? Once you know your expectations for the filter, you can choose options by looking at the MERV ratings. The MERV is typically printed very clearly on the filter, but some filters might use different rating systems. The MPR, or Microparticle Performance Rating, is favored by 3M for their filters, while Home Depot uses the FPR, or Filter Performance Rating, for filters that carry the Home Depot name. What they all have in common is that the higher the number, the better the filtration.

But with higher filtration may come the downside of reduced airflow. To capture the tiniest viruses and bacteria, the material that catches those particles must be of a very tight weave. Some older units may have trouble moving air through the material. Consider the difference between trying to breathe through a piece of cheesecloth versus a piece of terry cloth; the cheesecloth doesn’t restrict breathing at all, but the terry cloth certainly does. When you try out a filter, ensure it’s not blocking too much air, or the filtration will be negated by the lack of air moving around the house.

Size

Filters come in many different sizes to fit various HVAC systems. Check carefully the measurements needed for your system to ensure proper fit. Most filters, like the ones reviewed here, are one inch thick, but some systems may require one with a thickness of up to five inches. Remember, again, the more filter the air has to go through, the tougher it gets for the unit to run properly.

FAQs

Q: Are HVAC air filters reusable?

Some HVAC air filters are reusable. While most filters are the disposable type, some units accept reusable filters that can be cleaned with warm water and dried before using them again.

Q: Does where I live make a difference in my filter?

Yes, where you live makes a big difference when selecting the best HVAC filter. For instance, those who live in very humid or damp areas will want a MERV rating of 6 or higher to capture mold spores, while those who live in urban areas with a great deal of smog might want a filter with a rating of MERV 11 or higher.

Q: Why is my air filter whistling?

The sound of your air filter whistling might result from air flowing around the filter rather than through it. The air flowing around it means the filter isn’t fitting snugly and therefore is not working efficiently. Measure carefully and choose a filter that fits the space. Pay attention to the actual size, not the nominal size.

Final thoughts on the best HVAC filters

It’s a fine balance between a filter that cleans effectively and doesn’t impede airflow. Look for a filter that removes as much as possible without leading to air restriction. Many newer model HVAC systems can easily handle MERV 11 or higher, such as our best overall pick, the Aerostar 20x25x1 MERV 13 Pleated Air Filter.

Why trust us

Popular Science started writing about technology more than 150 years ago. There was no such thing as “gadget writing” when we published our first issue in 1872, but if there was, our mission to demystify the world of innovation for everyday readers means we would have been all over it. Here in the present, PopSci is fully committed to helping readers navigate the increasingly intimidating array of devices on the market right now.

Our writers and editors have combined decades of experience covering and reviewing consumer electronics. We each have our own obsessive specialties—from high-end audio to video games to cameras and beyond—but when we’re reviewing devices outside of our immediate wheelhouses, we do our best to seek out trustworthy voices and opinions to help guide people to the very best recommendations. We know we don’t know everything, but we’re excited to live through the analysis paralysis that internet shopping can spur so readers don’t have to.

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