In this article we’re gonna be looking at removing wildfire and cigarette smoke from the air, using an air purifier.
We’re gonna primarily focus on wildfire smoke in homes. However, much of this article very much applies to tobacco smoke.
So whether you are aiming to remove wildfire smoke or cigarette smoke from the air, this article video definitely applies.
Smoke itself consists of both solid and liquid particles and also gases.
There are multiple components to smoke. The EPA calls particulate matter specifically the primary pollutant of concern in wildfire smoke.
If you are looking to remove wildfire smoke, the EPA recommendation is that you primarily need to be concerned with the actual particle component, the solid and liquid component of the smoke, and remove that from the air.
Particulate matter, the particles in wood smoke specifically, tend to be in the 0.4 to 0.7 micron range.
A HEPA equipped air purifier is going to be able to take care of 99.97% of such particles that travel through the air purifier. On subsequent trips to the air purifier, eventually all of those particles will be removed.
Really any air purifier equipped with a HEPA filter is going to be highly effective and is our recommendation for wildfire smoke for that particulate component that the EPA deems as the most important pollutant of concern in the wildfire smoke.
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Our specific recommendation for a HEPA equipped air purifier is Winix 5500-2.
We recommend 250 CFM units and we do so because they provide a sufficient amount of air processing power for most applications.
This Winix is going to be able to process 250 cubic feet of air each and every minute. It’s not only going to be able to pull that air into the unit, but it’s also going to be able to push that air out of the unit.
The point here is that it doesn’t matter what the CFM of the fan is, the CFM of the fan can really be anything at all. The point here is that you want to look for CFM of the unit itself. How much air is actually processed through the unit, through all the filters. What is the volume of air that is able to process every minute?
250 CFM on this unit is really the baseline level that we recommend for most applications.
The Winix 5500-2 and other top rated units are also highly energy efficient.
They also don’t produce a lot of noise. They are also a great value for what they do provide – the level of filtration quality, the level of output for the price that they are, they normally tend to fluctuate in the hundred and fifty to two hundred dollar range.
Again the EPA calls particles the primary pollutant of concern in wildfire smoke.
And when it comes to cigarette smoke, those are also primarily what you are concerned about. You’re concerned about those particles and those are primarily what you need to remove from the air, if you were to remove smoke from the air.
And again, an air purifier equipped with a HEPA filter is going to be able to remove those particles from the air very well.
However there is also a gaseous component to the smoke, both to wildfire smoke and to cigarette smoke alike.
When we talk about this gaseous component, we’re talking about compounds like acrolein, benzene, formaldehyde. Those are the type of components that we’re talking about here.
These gaseous components, if they are present in wildfire smoke, are of a sufficiently low concentration, if they are even there at all to not be a concern according to the EPA.
However, in tobacco smoke, they are definitely always a concern.
We should also mention here that it is not all gaseous compounds that are not a concern for the EPA. They definitely are concerned about carbon monoxide.
However an air purifier should never be used to remove carbon monoxide from the air.
That is not a chemical that we are concerned about here at all because there are other ways to deal with that particular chemical.
We are talking about compounds like acrolein, benzene, formaldehyde, gaseous elements like that. That’s where an air purifier actually can make a difference.
Let’s just say for the sake of argument that you are concerned about those gaseous components.
Let’s say you’re looking for an air purifier for a lot of tobacco smoke, where you really need to remove all of that tobacco smoke.
Or let’s say that regardless of what the EPA says about all of these compounds inside of wildfire smoke, that you are still very much concerned about those gaseous compounds, and you just want to remove anything that could possibly be there. You really want to remove those gaseous components on top of the particles that make up the smoke.
If that is the case, you definitely want to look at more than the HEPA filter. An air purifier with HEPA filter is not going to be able to remove any of those gaseous components from the air.
There is a specific filter installed in the air purifier and that filter has the sole purpose of filtering those types of chemicals from the air.
The specific gas filter that is used on most air purifiers is going to be an activated carbon filter.
This Winix unit actually is equipped with an activated carbon filter and that gas filter is going to be able to remove many types of chemicals from the air.
However it is limited in that there is not a lot of gas filtration media and the gas filtration media that is there is only activated carbon.
Austin Air HealthMate
As an example of a unit that is especially good for gas filtration is the Austin Air HealthMate. It contains a combination filter.
There is actually just one filter inside of the unit. There is a pre-filter that wraps around the outside. However there is one single filter that fits into the unit and that combination filter contains many different types of filters. However the primary component in there is the gas filtration media.
That gas filtration media contains 15 pounds of activated carbon and zeolite. Not only do you get a lot more activated carbon inside of the filter of the Austin Air, but you also get the addition of zeolite. Zeolite specifically is going to be able to remove a lot of chemicals that carbon cannot remove.
Carbon can remove the vast majority of chemicals from the air. However there are certain chemicals, especially low molecular weight chemicals, that the carbon can not remove from the air.
How it works is the carbon actually bonds to these chemicals to remove them from the air and carbon simply cannot bond to certain chemicals. That is the role of the zeolite in the gas filtration media in the Austin Air.
That zeolite is going to be able to bond to an even greater number of chemicals, such as formaldehyde. It is going to be able to remove even more chemicals from the air than the activated carbon itself.
In addition to that, remember there is also 15 pounds of gas filtration media inside of the Austin Air.
For comparison, the Winix unit maybe has one pound or so of gas filtration media. So you have at least 10 to 15 times as much gas filtration media inside of the Austin Air as the Winix.
But the Winix actually has even more activated carbon than most other air purifiers, especially at its price point on the market today.
So even this unit that has more activated carbon than most of other units has less activated carbon than the Austin Air.
What is the bottom line here?
If you are especially concerned about gas filtration, if you are especially concerned about chemicals in the air, VOCs, things like benzene, acrolein, formaldehyde, then you definitely want to consider a more expensive option like Austin Air.
It usually retails for somewhere between $500 and $600, so you are spending quite a bit more to get that extra level of filtration.
However if you are not that concerned about those chemicals, if you are going to trust the EPA on this one, and you’re going to be primarily concerned about particles, then something like Winix will definitely get you by and it’s going to give you the same level of particle filtration as Austin Air.
Austin Air has a true HEPA filter inside of the combination filter, just like Winix has a true HEPA filter.
So for particle filtration you can definitely get away with less expensive options like Winix.
For gas filtration, you definitely want to choose the Austin Air.
That is not to say that Winix unit and similar units cannot remove any gases from the air or cannot remove gas from the air at all. They certainly will, but they will not to the same extent as the Austin Air.
If you are especially concerned about the gaseous components of smoke, and you want to remove those types of compounds from the air, then you definitely want to move up to something like the Austin Air.
Our personal recommendation for most applications where smoke needs to be removed from the air would be the Winix unit.
It’s going to get you by, it’s going to remove most gaseous compounds from the air, and it’s also going to do a terrific job of particle filtration.
However if it is especially important for you to remove VOCs, to remove odors, to remove the gaseous components of the smoke from the air, then we would definitely recommend stepping up to something like Austin Air.