How to reduce your exposure to smoke

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Smoke and air quality September 14, 2020
Smoke and air quality September 14, 2020. AirNow.

September 14, 2020 | 7:40 a.m. MDT

Wildfires in the West are producing large quantities of smoke that is severely affecting residents in those areas, but it is also spreading to other states.

Simply staying inside is not enough to protect yourself unless you are aggressively filtering the air with HEPA filters. Outdoor air finds ways to come into your home. If there was no air exchange, you would eventually die as the carbon dioxide levels rose and all of the oxygen was used.

The information below is from AirNow.gov.


What can I do to reduce my exposure to fine particle pollution when levels are extremely high?

  • Stay indoors in an area with filtered air. Particle pollution can get indoors, so consider purchasing an air cleaner if you live in an area with high levels of particle pollution. (See information on selecting an air cleaner below.)
    • Air cleaners that remove particles include high-efficiency mechanical filters and electronic air cleaners, such as electrostatic precipitators. Avoid using an air cleaner that works by generating ozone, which will increase the pollution in your home.
    • If you do not have air cleaners in your home, try to go somewhere that does have air filtration. This could, for example, be a friend’s home, if it has air filtration.
  • Keep your activity levels low.
    • Avoid activities that make you breathe faster or more deeply. This is a good day for indoor activities, such as reading or watching TV.
  • If you cannot buy filters for your entire home, create a clean room for sleeping.
    • A good choice is a room with as few windows and doors as possible, such as a bedroom.
    • If the room has windows, keep them closed.
      • Run an air conditioner or central air conditioning system if you are certain your air conditioner does not draw air from outdoors and has a filter. If the air conditioner provides a fresh air option, keep the fresh-air intake closed. Make sure that the filter is clean enough to allow good air flow indoors.
    • Use an air filter in that room. Avoid using an air cleaner that works by generating ozone. Those types of cleaners will increase the pollution in your home.
    • Follow steps for keeping pollution in your home low (see next section).
  • Take additional steps to keep pollution in your home low. Air cleaners alone may not be enough. Because particle pollution from the outdoor air can easily get inside, take steps to avoid adding even more pollution indoors when outdoor PM2.5 levels are high:
    • Avoid using anything that burns, such as wood fireplaces, gas logs and even candles or incense.
    • Keep the room clean – but don’t vacuum unless your vacuum has a HEPA filter. That stirs up particles already inside your home. Wet mopping can help reduce dust.
    • Don’t smoke.
    • Be cautious when the weather is hot. If it is too hot to stay inside with the windows closed, or if you are in an at-risk group, go somewhere else with filtered air.
    • When air quality improves, open the windows and air out your home or office.
  • Selecting an air cleaner:
    • Air cleaners that remove particles include high-efficiency mechanical filters and electronic air cleaners, such as electrostatic precipitators. Avoid using an air cleaner that works by generating ozone, which will increase the pollution in your home.
  • Should I wear a dust mask if I have to go outside?
    • Do not rely on dust masks for protection. Paper “comfort” or “dust” masks are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. These masks will not protect your lungs from small particles such as PM2.5. Scarves or bandanas won’t help either.
    • Disposable respirators known as N-95 or P-100 respirators will help if you have to be outdoors for a period of time. It’s important that you wear the respirator correctly.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

7 thoughts on “How to reduce your exposure to smoke”

  1. Thanks Bill! Northwest Wyoming is pretty rough right now. Great tips. Never lived where smoke was so bad, except in Gatlinburg in November 2016.

  2. Thanks for this information. I live in Washington State. A lot of fire smoke was coming into my apartment through the AC unit so we put a wet towel over it. I am also keeping boiling water so the steam helps reduce soot in the air. We have plenty of that boiled water to drink or use if the power goes out. We have electric stove. It is so smokey here we can barely exchange outside air. Now, if our neighbors could stop tossing their cigarette butts out in the grass I could stop watering our back porch.

  3. Thanks so much for this great information! I’ll save your site for future use. We’ve been dealing with fire-season in Montana since we moved here in the early 90’s. It’s true, the air inside can get worse all closed up. Think it’s time to get an air filter since I now have lung problems due to an herbicide exposure in 2013. No sense in me having to keep on suffering through these 2-3 months that the season lasts. Thanks again!

  4. Good article, but on a practical level a large, thick, wet bandanas can help with smoke when you have to go outside or drive. Especially if that is all you got. From experience here in north California it work better than an N-95.

  5. I did not say a dry bandana, I said a wet one. A thick one. I actually use an old fashion washable diaper. It is thick. I do not have the resources or facility to do a double blind study or the equipment to measure the permeability of a bandana. What I can do is build a smokey fire and inhale with and with out. Perfect no, better yes, while costing a few bucks. Try it. I live in an area that hit 250 levels according Purple Air. This helps when I walk to my mail box and is very different with and without. Try it. Be well.

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