What are the Best Air Filters for the Pharmaceutical Industry?

Have you ever thought about the impact contaminated indoor air can have on the efficacy or safety of your medication? The prime directive of pharmaceutical companies is to provide the highest-quality drugs to doctors and patients. However, not all pharmaceutical companies are using the best technology available to ensure safe, high-quality products are produced. In this article, we will explore the effectiveness of different types of air filters in pharmaceutical settings, as well as how choosing the right air filter can save energy, reduce labour costs, save money, and significantly reduce liability concerns for the pharmaceutical industry.   

The pharmaceutical industry is highly regulated because the products produced by it have a direct impact on the health and well-being of the public.

Making sure that pharmaceutical products are free of contaminants is essential and air filtration plays a very important role in the process. Let’s look at the different types of air filters used in the pharmaceutical industry and how they help to ensure the safety of our medications.

This article covers the following topics:

What are the different filters used in the pharmaceutical industry?

The most common type of air filter used in the pharmaceutical industry is a HEPA filter. HEPA filters can remove up to 99.97% of all particles that are 0.3 microns or larger from the air. Other types of air filters that are used in the pharmaceutical industry include molecular air filters – often called “activated-carbon” or “carbon”  (carbon or potassium permanganate for odour/gas removal) air filters, pleated filters, dust collectors, bag filters, cartridge filters, gas turbine filters, ULPA filters, and absolute-rated filters.

What is the best type of HEPA filter for the pharmaceutical industry?

The term HEPA is used to market vacuum cleaners, water filters, and even boiler filters. HEPA filters are high-efficiency particulate air filters. HEPA stands for high-efficiency particulate air. HEPA air filters are tested at a minimum efficiency of 99.97% on particles that are 0.3 microns utilizing a Type A penetration test, or minimum 99.99% efficiency on 0.3 microns utilizing a Type C penetration and leak test. To guarantee quality and efficiency, HEPA filters should be individually tested to assure they the highest-quality and have the test report attached to the filter itself.

What are the requirements for HEPA filters in the pharmaceutical industry?

HEPA filters can be extremely efficient for pharmaceutical production and packaging environments.  Such efficiency is required to keep out contaminants and impurities. Proper air filtration in the pharmaceutical industry is one of the most important steps in producing safe, high-quality pharmaceutical products, and reducing liability. It’s very important to choose a manufacturer that individually tests each HEPA filter for efficiency, instead of simply running batch tests.  More on HEPA Air Filters and Life Sciences

What is an ULPA filter?

Ultra-low particulate air (ULPA) filters are typically more efficient than standard HEPA air filters (although some HEPA filters may actually rate as high in efficiency as ULPA filters). ULPA filters have an efficiency rating of 99.999% at 0.10-0.20 microns utilizing a Type F penetration and laser test and are capable of filtering particles as small as 0.03μm. ULPA filters are used in the cleanest areas of pharmaceutical cleanrooms, such as those used for sterile manufacturing or packaging.

What are molecular air filters?

Molecular air filters utilize a technique known as adsorption. This means that the molecules adhere to materials with large surface areas. Molecular filters can use activated carbon or activated alumina, potassium permanganate or a combination of any of these to target specific gasses. They are sometimes also impregnated to attract the target molecules. Molecular filters are also known as chemical filters or gas phase filters.

Activated carbon filters are used to remove harmful gases and odours from the air. They work by adsorbing these contaminants onto the surface of the activated carbon. They are also used to remove volatile organic compounds (VOC) from the air.

A guide on air filters for the pharmaceutical industry

The pharmaceutical industry has strict guidelines for cleanrooms. Air filters play a crucial role in maintaining the cleanliness of these rooms. Here is a guide to help with choosing the right air filter for a pharmaceutical facility:

What is better in a pharmaceutical setting, a HEPA air filter or an ULPA air filter?


  • ULPA filters are capable of removing smaller particles from the air and are therefore, usually more effective against pathogens
  • ULPA filters are more expensive than HEPA filters – Application will dictate the requirement
  • ULPA air filters are usually more efficient overall. Quality of media used is very important for guaranteeing effectiveness 
  • HEPA filters typically last longer than ULPA filters
  • HEPA filters allow for more airflow than ULPA filters, airflow is a crucial element in maintaining clean indoor air
  • HEPA filters are capable of filtering out an adequate amount of contaminants for most pharmaceutical industry needs

HEPA location is a key factor to the overall cleanliness of a room. Not all pharmaceutical areas require cleanroom level cleanliness but may require something close to cleanroom classification. For applications that are not certified as cleanrooms, standard box-style HEPA filters can be installed within the ducting or air handling systems. Certified cleanrooms require HEPA/ULPA filters to be installed at the last point of air entry into a room. 

What type of air filter is used in an aseptic area or a clean room/sterile environment?

The type of air filter used in an aseptic area or a cleanroom – also known as a sterile environment, is dependent on how important it is to keep contaminants out of a given area. Some sections of a pharmaceutical research or production facility will require more stringent efficiency, while it may be unnecessary in other sections. For example, packaging areas will require higher-efficiency air filters than the filling area. An ULPA filter or HEPA filter for cleanrooms must be able to filter the most destructive particles from the air and prevent them from accumulating on surfaces. Since downtime in these applications can be extremely costly, expected life of the filter should be a definite criteria.  

The Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technology (IEST) sets standards for efficiency and performance for HEPA and ULPA filters for cleanrooms, medical and pharmaceutical applications. They have standards and recommended practices for the industry. www.iest.org/Standards-RPs/Recommended-Practices/IEST-RP-CC001

More information on air filters for pharmaceutical applications

Labour savings in installing air filters (ceiling mounted terminal housings)

In this time of high labour shortages, a great way to reallocate labour energy and in doing so, save on costs, is to reduce the time it takes to perform HVAC maintenance. Labour is one of the most costly expenditures in any company. Installing air filters can be a labour-intensive process, particularly if the HVAC system is large or complex, which describes many buildings in the pharmaceutical space. 

Savings of time and energy in HVAC air filter installation as well as less frequent removal and disposal is a great way to save on labour costs and allow maintenance staff to work on other projects.  By using a high-quality prefilter, you can avoid having to service and replace your main air filters often because they last longer without dropping in efficiency. This will save you time and money in the long run.

There are labour-saving solutions for installing and maintaining air filters, and air filtration experts can provide guidance regarding the options. 

Some in the pharmaceutical industry have been slow to adopt new technology to save on energy costs and labour, but they are now beginning to see the benefits of investing in labour-saving technologies, such as high-quality air filters.

According to a 2015 report by the U.S. Department of Energy, air filters that are properly designed and installed for energy savings can help save up to 30% on heating and cooling costs. “One of the best ways you can reduce overall energy consumption in your building is to choose the right air filtration system. To save energy with air filters, choose a high-quality, high-efficiency air filter with the lowest average pressure drop. The combination of efficient air filters, single-stage or multi-stage – achieving the lowest average pressure drop – along with a variable frequency drive (VFD) fan will save the most energy.” From Clean Air Canada Blog 

How to save labour costs with better air filters

High-quality air filters will last longer and capture more contaminants. Indoor air quality will be improved with the use of better air filters. The air filters also won’t need to be replaced as often. This can save significant amounts of time and money over the course of a year.

In addition, using the best air filters can help to improve the efficiency of an HVAC system. This means that a system may break down less often or require less maintenance overall, which can further reduce labour costs.

How to reduce the total cost of ownership of air filtration systems

HVAC systems are costly to maintain, and the total cost of ownership (TCO) of an air filtration system and air filters is a very important consideration. This includes the initial purchase price, installation costs, operational costs, and maintenance costs. Considering these variables before designing or choosing an HVAC system will reduce the total cost of ownership. 

Sometimes, more expensive infrastructure and more expensive air filters may actually be cheaper to operate over time due to their energy efficiency, less need for maintenance, or longer lifespan.

How to reduce operational costs in air filtration 

The operational costs of an air filtration system include energy consumption and the replacement of air filters. Energy-efficient air handling units will cost less to operate and maintain over time, and HVAC systems which incorporate high-quality air filters can be replaced less often. HVAC systems that are cleaner require less maintenance.

How to reduce maintenance time in air filtration for the pharmaceutical industry 

A fully welded ducted filter module is recommended for HEPA or ULPA filter installations. The filter modules are available with bubble-tight, guillotine or radial blade bow tie dampers for precise air volume control. Typical applications include pharmaceutical and semiconductor manufacturing facilities, medical facilities and other clean process applications. Housing frames, louvers, terminal-housing. Camfil Pharmaseal

Camfil also manufactures bag-in/bag-out safety housings. Camfil offers solutions for all safety demand levels, from low-risk applications to high-risk biosafety labs, BSL4. 

After use, the filters often contain harmful contaminants. The filter change is safe for the worker since the housings are equipped with the bag-in/bag-out (BIBO) filter change system. Safety housing

Longer-lasting air filters will require less maintenance as fewer filter changes will be necessary and the HVAC system will be cleaner over the lifetime of the filter.

Talk to an air filtration expert to get the best advice on labour savings, extending air filter life, reducing the total cost of ownership, and choosing the right air filter for every application related to the pharmaceutical industry. 

To consult with an air filtration expert on any of the topics covered in this post or for further information, please use this contact form and an air filtration expert from Camfil will answer any questions you may have. 

About Camfil Canada Clean Air Solutions

For more than half a century, Camfil has been helping people breathe cleaner air. As a leading manufacturer of premium clean air solutions, we provide commercial and industrial systems for air filtration and air pollution control that improve worker and equipment productivity, minimize energy use, and benefit human health and the environment. Read more about Camfil Canada


Media Contact:

Phillip Ilijevski

Camfil Canada Inc.

T: 437-929-1161

About Camfil Canada Clean Air Solutions

For more than half a century, Camfil has been helping people breathe cleaner air. As a leading manufacturer of premium clean air solutions, we provide commercial and industrial systems for air filtration and air pollution control that improve worker and equipment productivity, minimize energy use, and benefit human health and the environment. Read more about Camfil Canada

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