Many now understand the dangers of secondhand smoke, and as a result, legislation has followed to limit indoor exposure. Yet sometimes you cannot fully control the source of smoke. If your neighbor is a smoker and secondhand smoke drifts from their apartment into yours, then you might be forced to deal with it. Or maybe you live in a fire-prone area, and wildfire smoke is a real problem. Whatever your situation, there are steps you can take to improve it, and often an air purifier can help.
Why is smoke so essential to get rid of?
You already know that smoke is harmful to health. But exactly how harmful can further inform your decision to take action. If you have children, older adults, or someone with a respiratory condition like asthma in your family, they are more at risk.
Smoke from wildfires, though harmful, is at least temporary. If you are trying to filter smoke from a regular source like secondhand smoke from a neighbor, it is even more important to take the first line of action, like asking them to avoid smoking nearby. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says there are at least 250 harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke, and at least 69 are carcinogens, such as arsenic, benzene and formaldehyde. Secondhand smoke may cause disease and premature death in nonsmoking adults and children. For children, exposure to secondhand smoke can cause an increased risk of SIDS, colds and bronchitis, and for those that already have asthma, can worsen their symptoms.
How are air purifiers designed to address smoke?
Now you know exactly what you are dealing with when it comes to smoke–harmful particles and gases. Why is that so important to understand? It is because the best air purifier for smoke has to reduce both. Like mentioned before, usually air purifiers are designed with only one technology–either they filter particles, or they filter gases. Be careful of some air purifiers that say they are the best for smoke, yet only filter one type of pollutant.
Below is information about the four types of air purifiers that could be used for smoke: HEPA (to filter particles), carbon (to filter gases), hybrid (to filter both) and Molekule (to remove both). It is important to understand what these units can do for smoke, so you can determine which air purifier will be the best one for your situation and the type of smoke you are dealing with.
HEPA filters. If you want to filter particles, you might consider a HEPA filter. Yet whether or not an air purifier can remove a particle is based on size. A rating called a MERV rating (from 1 to 20) tells you the smallest size of particle an air purifier filters. The higher the rating, the smaller the particle it can filter. A HEPA filter is designed to remove 99.97% of particles that are 0.3 micrometers or larger, with the idea that the most penetrating particle size (MPPS) is very near to 0.3 micrometers.
However, the tiniest particles in smoke are smaller than 0.3 micrometers. Also, depending on the nature of the flow and the HEPA filtration media, the MPPS may be significantly less than 0.3 micrometers. This means that the most dangerous, tiniest particles in smoke might not be filtered by a HEPA filter. There is an exception: The highest level of HEPA filter (with a MERV of 20) can remove 99.99% of particles in the 0.1–0.2 micrometer range. However, these filters are used in electronics and pharmaceutical manufacturing and as a consumer you probably cannot buy one.
But even a perfect HEPA filter is only doing part of the job when it comes to smoke. Much of the harm done by smoke comes from gaseous pollutants like carcinogenic VOCs, which a HEPA filter cannot remove.
Carbon filters. These are designed to remove gases and odors, though of course none can remove them all. Carbon filters are primarily useful for organic compounds–also known as VOCs. Please remember that carbon monoxide is likely not addressed by any type of air purifier, and therefore carbon monoxide sensors (for detection) and adequate ventilation (for mitigation) are highly recommended where carbon monoxide may be an issue.
There are a couple of problems associated with carbon filters. One is they can quickly become saturated and have to be replaced often. If the carbon filter becomes saturated, toxic gases can be released from the filter back into the air. Even if the filter is not saturated, but the composition of gases in the air changes (say if a window is opened and more air is let inside) it has been shown that gases on the filter surface can also be released back into the air.
What does this mean for you if you are thinking of using a carbon filter for smoke? Because it must be replaced according to saturation levels, it is best to get one with a high quantity of carbon to allow for a greater surface area for gases to stick to.
So far, you really need to buy a best air purifier for smoke to save your life.
Want to know more why you need the air purifier, you can read here: Do air purifiers help with smoke?
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