Wildfire smoke causes much more than just an unpleasant smell. The CDC reports that people who have heart or lung diseases, or asthma, are at higher risk from wildfire smoke, while elderly people and children are also at increased risk. Moreover, wildfires that burn through populated areas carry more toxic substances than controlled burns and wildfires that only burn natural areas.
Following air quality reports and staying indoors when wildfire smoke levels get too high, as well as keeping windows closed and using air conditioning, are important ways to minimize your exposure to wildfire smoke. You can also use an air purifier to help offer relief when inside. But will an air purifier work on wildfire smoke? And how can you tell which air purifier is the best for wildfire smoke?
The best air purifier for wildfire smoke
Like tobacco and other forms of smoke, wildfire smoke is made up of both gaseous toxins and particulate pollutants. A Stanford University School of Medicine study found that children exposed to wildfire smoke inhaled “nitrogen dioxide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, elemental carbon, carbon monoxide and particulate matter,” and had their immune systems suppressed by the exposure [Nadeau et al, 2019]. When it comes to the range of pollutants found in wildfire smoke, an air purifier should be able to handle both airborne chemicals (specifically volatile organic compounds, or VOCs) and particulate matter. Therefore it is important that you use an air purifier that can handle both types of pollutants.
- A dual-filtration system composed of a pre-filter and proprietary PECO-Filter;
- Can replace the air in a 600-square-foot room once per hour;
- Removes particulate matter and destroys VOCs, bacteria, viruses, mold, allergens and other pollutants.
Why it is the best: Wildfire smoke contains hundreds of airborne chemicals, including carcinogenic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like formaldehyde and benzene. Some of the smallest pollutants that are present in wildfire smoke, such as VOCs, are the most harmful, and Molekule’s PECO technology breaks them down at the molecular level. The device removes particulate matter from the air, and unlike other filters that simply trap pollutants, Molekule destroys VOCs so that they do not reappear and circulate in the airstream. The unit is portable and can be taken from room to room, depending on where you are and in need of relief. Because of the proprietary PECO technology that destroys pollutants, we believe that Molekule is the best air purifier to help offer relief from wildfire smoke. Molekule can play an integral role as part of a comprehensive air quality plan for wildfire smoke. Make sure to check air quality updates, avoid the outdoors when possible and close windows in your home as part of this plan for protecting against wildfire smoke.
Other air purifiers and wildfire smoke
IQAir HealthPro Plus
- Filtration system composed of pre-filter, carbon & pelletized chemisorption filters and “HyperHEPA”;
- Covers up to 1,125 sq. ft.;
- Claims to target VOCs and odors; HyperHepa is said to target ultrafine particles down to 0.003 microns.
You should know: In a wildfire smoke situation, it would be beneficial to move the unit to the areas you are occupying at the time, and especially into the bedroom while you sleep. This air purifier is quite heavy (35 lb) and not practical to move from room to room. While its square footage may seem adequate to cover your entire house, it may not actually clean the air effectively in other rooms or on other floors if you take air flow into consideration. Though the V5-Cell can temporarily remove VOCs from the air, it would need to be replaced once it is saturated, and replacements cost up to $100. However, there is the possibility that VOCs that are trapped on the carbon air filter can release back into the air at any time, even before the filter becomes saturated. Finally, like all mechanical filters, the “HyperHEPA” filter technology created by the manufacturer (not an industry standard) needs regular replacement—costing about $200 each time. This expense can quickly add up, especially in a wildfire smoke situation if the filter has to be replaced more often.
Honeywell AirGenius 5
- A 3-stage filtration system composed of a potassium permanganate calcite pre-filter, washable pre-filter and electronic ionizer;
- Covers up to 250 sq. ft.;
- Claims to target dust, pollen, pet dander and smoke;
- Potassium permanganate calcite can be used in lieu of carbon for odors and VOCs.
You should know: This unit contains an electronic ionizer stage, and ionizers can cause particulate pollutants to precipitate out of the air and onto surfaces in the room, where they can easily be kicked up again. In fact, the manufacturer’s manual mentions that surrounding areas should be cleaned or vacuumed frequently to prevent build-up of dust, and to beware of permanent staining on light-colored carpets. With the contamination from wildfire smoke, this would not only present an inconvenience, but also a potential risk of particles being disturbed from surfaces and released back into the air. Note that ionizers can also release ozone as a byproduct, a known respiratory irritant that the EPA recommends against using in your home. This unit also claims to have a “permanent filter,” but we do not recommend washing and reusing mechanical air filters.
Blue Pure 411 Air Purifier
- Filtration system composed of 3-stage [pre-filter (mechanical filter), particle filter (electrostatic filter/ ionizer) and carbon filter];
- Weighs 3.4 lbs.
- Covers up to 161 sq. ft.;
- Claims to target larger particles and some odors.
Things to note: This small air purifier is only suitable for smaller rooms and not for high air pollution events. It appears to be primarily a mechanical filter, but the manufacturer does not list its efficiency rating in terms of what percentage of particles of a certain size it can trap. This could mean it is not rated to trap as many small particles as it needs to (wildfire smoke contains very tiny particulate pollutants). The carbon filter is most likely very thin and can saturate quickly. Mechanical and carbon filters also require regular replacement, especially during events that cause high pollution such as wildfires.
PureZone 3-In-1 True HEPA
Price: $99.99 – 129.99
- Filtration system features a “3-in-1 filter” containing a pre-filter, carbon filter, HEPA filter and UV-C light;
- Covers up to 200 sq. ft.;
- Claims to target larger particles like dust and pollen and some household odors
Caveats: This unit is also quite small, and for extreme air quality events such as wildfire smoke, the filters must be replaced frequently or pollutants can dissipate from the filter surface and be released back into the air once it saturates—which would happen fairly quickly during a wildfire situation. This purifier also incorporates a UV-C light to deactivate some pollutants like mold. However, doing so effectively requires longer exposure times and higher energy levels than retail UV-C purifiers are likely to provide. Plus, UV-C bulbs can potentially emit ozone as a side-effect, and ozone can cause respiratory problems if it builds up in an indoor area.
How air purifier technology works on wildfire smoke
HEPA: HEPA filters can trap particulate matter, and are advertised to remove 99.97 percent of particles that are 0.3 microns in diameter. One of the major health risks from wildfires is inhalation of particles. However, HEPA filters eventually become clogged with the particles they trap and must be replaced. If a HEPA is clogged, the possibility arises for microbes trapped on the surface to remain. Moreover, some of the most dangerous pollutants in wildfire smoke can pass through, as HEPA filters are not capable of removing VOCs and other gaseous toxins from the air.
Carbon: Carbon filters use the scientific principle of “adsorption” to help remove VOCs from the air, trapping the molecules as they pass through the carbon. This can temporarily remove gaseous pollutants, though there is the possibility that they will “unstick” from the filter and be released back into the air. Also, once a carbon filter becomes saturated with molecules, it will no longer be effective and needs to be replaced. The Molekule air purifier has a Pre-Filter that contains carbon, which can trap some VOCs, though if they do off-gas, they will simply enter the PECO-Filter and be destroyed. Carbon filters are not designed to remove particulate pollutants from the air.
Ionizers and ozone generators: These types of air purifiers generate ozone, either intentionally or as a side-effect. Simply put, you do not want to create ozone in your house, as it even moderate concentrations it can cause respiratory irritation and exacerbate allergies and asthma. During a wildfire event, your lungs are already subjected to numerous irritants and toxins, so the last thing you want is ozone adding to the problem.
PECO: PECO technology was developed to go beyond simply trapping pollutants on filters, to destroying them through a catalytic reaction. Pollutants such as VOCs that are present in wildfire smoke are broken down at the molecular level. This makes it the best choice for dealing with wildfire smoke.
Indoor air quality tips for wildfire smoke
During a wildfire emergency, you should keep an eye on your local air quality reports to see if you will be affected by wildfire smoke that day, and stay indoors as much as possible and keep your windows closed. Keep children, who are particularly vulnerable to the effects of wildfire smoke, from playing outside. Cut back on all other sources of indoor air pollution, such as smoking or burning candles. The right N95 face mask can also reduce particle inhalation when you do have to go outside.
Wildfires can produce large quantities of carbon monoxide. This is a colorless, odorless gas that impedes the flow of oxygen to your body’s organs—inhaling it can lead to headache, nausea, confusion and even death. Air purifiers are not intended to remove carbon monoxide from the air. If you suspect elevated levels of carbon monoxide from a wildfire, you may have to evacuate to an area unaffected by the fires.
If you live in an area with the potential to be affected by wildfires, it is a good idea to have an indoor air quality plan ready. The right kind of air purifier can help make a difference for clean air in your home, and we believe that the Molekule air purifier is the best choice for wildfire smoke.