The capability of air filters (filterclass: F6, F7) to retain airborne outdoor microorganisms was examined in field experiments in two heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. At the beginning of the 15-month investigation period, the first filter stages of both HVAC systems were equipped with new unused air filters. The number of airborne bacteria and molds before and behind the filters were determined simultaneously in 14 days-intervals using 6-stage Andersen cascade impactors. Under relatively dry (< 80% R. H.) and warm (> 12 degrees C) outdoor air conditions air filters led to a marked reduction of airborne microorganism concentrations (bacteria by approximately 70% and molds by > 80%). However, during long periods of high relative humidity (> 80% R. H.) a proliferation of bacteria on air filters with subsequent release into the filtered air occurred. These microorganisms were mainly smaller than 1.1 microns therefore being part of the respirable fraction. The results showed furthermore that one possibility to avoid microbial proliferation is to limit the relative humidity in the area of the air filters to 80% R. H. (mean of 3 days), e.g. by using preheaters in front of air filters in HVAC-systems.