an air conditioner next to an air purifier

What Is the Difference Between Air Conditioners and Air Purifiers?

by Karl von Luckwald / January 7, 2024

Both, air conditioners and air purifiers are essential devices in modern homes and offices, yet they serve different purposes.

Let’s explore what both devices are about; when to use them, and what distinguishes air conditioners from air purifiers.

What’s the Difference Between Air Conditioners and Air Purifiers?

Air conditioners regulate temperature and humidity, while air purifiers filter airborne contaminants. In other words: air conditioners cool the air, and air purifiers clean the air. Both complement each other and can be used together.

What are Air Conditioners?


Air conditioners are designed to control the temperature in a space. They work on the principle of heat exchange, removing warm air from a room and replacing it with cooler air. This process involves a refrigerant, a compressor, and a series of coils.

an air conditioner next to a compressor
Air conditioners cool the air by replacing hot air with cool air using a compressor.


There are several types of air conditioners, including split systems, central air conditioning systems, and portable air conditioners. Each type varies in installation method, size, and capacity but functions on the same basic principle.

a wall mounted air conditioner next to a central air conditioning hvac system in an office building
A regular air conditioner (split unit) next to a central system in an office building.


The primary benefit of air conditioners is temperature control. They make environments more comfortable during hot weather. Additionally, by reducing humidity, they can prevent the growth of mold and mildew.

What are Air Purifiers?


Air purifiers, unlike air conditioners, are designed to clean the air and improve indoor air quality. They mainly consist of a fan and a HEPA filter that traps all kinds of pollutants like fine dust (PM2.5) allergens, dust, smoke, viruses, bacteria, and even microscopic particles from the air.

the sqair air purifier on white background
Air purifiers filter contaminants improving indoor air quality


There are various types of air purifiers, including HEPA filters, activated carbon filters, UV light purifiers, and ionic purifiers. The most common type of air purifier works with HEPA and carbon filters. Both provide comprehensive protection from indoor air pollution.

a clean white hepa filter next to a dirty hepa filter
An unused HEPA filter alongside its dust-laden used counterpart.


The main benefit of air purifiers is improved air quality. They particularly help people with allergies, asthma, or other respiratory issues. People living in highly polluted areas should consider air purifiers as well. Air cleaners using Carbon filters can also reduce odors and smoke, making the air fresher and healthier to breathe.

Key Differences Between Air Conditioners and Air Purifiers


The fundamental difference lies in their primary function. Air conditioners regulate temperature and humidity, while air purifiers clean the air of contaminants.

Health Impact

Air conditioners primarily provide comfort, whereas air purifiers directly impact health by removing harmful particles from the air.

Components and Operation

Air conditioners use a refrigerant and a complex system of coils and compressors. In contrast, air purifiers mainly rely on filters and, in some cases, UV lights or ionizers.

Installation and Maintenance

Air conditioners often require more complex installation, especially central units. Maintenance involves cleaning filters, checking refrigerant levels, and ensuring the system is running efficiently. Air purifiers are generally simpler to install and maintain, primarily involving filter replacement and regular cleaning.

a technician cleaning and repairing an air conditioner
Air purifiers are low-maintenance; air conditioners require professional servicing.


When it comes to price, air conditioners and air purifiers vary significantly based on type, size, and technology.

Generally, air conditioners tend to be more expensive than air purifiers. The cost of an air conditioner includes not only the unit itself but also installation, which can be substantial, especially for central systems.

Air purifiers, on the other hand, are a simple technology mainly using fans and filters. Although some brands charge a few thousand dollars, most air purifiers don’t exceed a couple of hundred bucks.

Both air conditioners and air purifiers incur additional ongoing costs, such as electricity consumption and maintenance (like filter replacements for purifiers and regular servicing for air conditioners). Consumers need to consider both the upfront and long-term costs when choosing between these devices.

Combining Air Conditioners and Air Purifiers

In many environments, both air conditioners and air purifiers are used together. This combination ensures a comfortable, temperature-controlled environment with clean, healthy air.

Bottom Line

While air conditioners control temperature, air purifiers clean the air, making them complementary in modern homes and offices. By choosing the right device for your needs, you can significantly enhance your indoor environment.


Since air purifiers and air conditioners serve different purposes, they can’t be compared. Air conditioners control temperature, while air purifiers filter contaminants. Both can be used complementary.

Air conditioners cool the air, while air purifiers clean the air. If you are particularly concerned about indoor air pollution you should consider air purifiers as a complementary add-on to improve air quality.

Although air purifiers are great at filtering pollutants, they should not be used to cool the air. If you want to control temperature, better choose air conditioners.

Although air purifiers can release a cold breeze, they are primarily designed to filter pollutants. If you want to cool the room you should consider air conditioners.

Karl von Luckwald

Karl von Luckwald

Since moving to Thailand in 2019, Karl noticed the lack of scientific integrity in air purifier and water filter reviews. In response, he founded WE DO AIR to champion unbiased, science-based evaluations and empower consumers to make better-informed decisions.

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