Each year, wildfires endanger the health and safety of millions of people, including people several states away from fires. We're here to care for you and your air.
In this article, we discuss:
- Why wildfire smoke is so dangerous
- Symptoms of breathing wildfire smoke
- Tips to get prepared and keep your indoor air safe
Learn more about how our air purifiers can help with wildfire smoke and related shipping information.
Wildfire smoke and red skies in San Francisco
A Cautionary Tale
Sarah had just moved across the country for a new job. Like a lot of parents, her Dad, John, was worried about her. He was afraid Sarah's beloved dog would trigger asthma attacks in her tiny San Francisco apartment. Little did he know, a much larger threat loomed. Soon, San Francisco would have the worst air quality in the world. The devastating Camp Fire made all of Northern California especially dangerous for anyone with breathing conditions like asthma. Luckily, the Alen air purifier John ordered for Sarah arrived just before the smoke.
"The BreatheSmart 45i has made my daughter's apartment a comfortable and breathable refuge from the smoke and ash. Thanks.” -John G.
Is Breathing Wildfire Smoke Dangerous?
Each wildfire season, as the world's worst air quality returns to the Northwest, many face breathing threats similar to Sarah’s. Wildfire smoke contains an array of harmful fine particles and chemicals that endanger people near fires. But you don’t even have to be close to a wildfire to find yourself in harm’s way. Just being downwind from forest fire smoke can cause problems, and the effects can travel hundreds and even thousands of miles. Smoke from Western wildfires is causing pollution 3,000 miles away on the East Coast.
For that reason, we’ve listed a few important ways to fight smoke's worst effects. But first, let’s look at what makes wildfire smoke so hazardous.
Wildfire Smoke Health Effects
Can smoke from a fire make you sick? In short, yes. Wildfire smoke is a complex mixture of gases and fine particles produced when wood and other organic materials burn. This creates a two-fold threat for air quality: Chemical gasses called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) combine with ultra-fine soot or ash particles that can travel deep into the lungs and cause lasting damage.
According to the CDC, the following populations are at heightened risk and should take precautions to limit exposure to wildfire smoke:
- Children, pregnant women, elderly individuals, and people who are sensitive to air pollution
- The immunocompromised or anyone taking immune system-suppressing drugs.
- Anyone with chronic health conditions such as heart or lung disease, including asthma and diabetes.
However, if there is enough smoke in the air, anyone can become ill.
Smoke particles visible in macro photography
Smoke Inhalation Symptoms
Particulate matter is smoke's most dangerous ingredient, according to the EPA. These microscopic particles can cause many health problems, from burning eyes and runny nose to asthma attacks to aggravation of chronic heart and lung disease, leading to emergency department visits, hospital admissions, and even premature death.
Additional effects of smoke in the air include coughing, irritated sinuses, chest pains, fast heartbeat, fatigue, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
VOCs in smoke include carcinogens like acrolein, benzene, and formaldehyde that can stay present in smokey air and trigger symptoms from headaches and nausea to loss of coordination or liver damage. Longer-term exposure becomes even more serious.
Before we talk about how to filter toxins out of your home’s air, we want to list a few important ways to stay safe by getting prepared.
Top Three Ways to Be Ready for Wildfires
Be sure you are receiving emergency alerts before you need them:
- FEMA Wireless Emergency Alerts - FEMA works with US cell phone carriers to send free emergency texts to cell phones (that can get text messages) within range.
- Emergency Alert System - A public warning system that uses existing TV, radio, cable, and other systems to send critical messages to the general public. Messages are local or national, depending on the situation.
- NOAA Weather Radio - A nationwide network of radio stations broadcasting continuous weather information directly from the nearest National Weather Service office. NWR broadcasts official Weather Service warnings, watches, forecasts, and other hazard information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- AirNow.gov - For quick and accurate local air quality index reports, this website run by the EPA and NOAA provides current fire and smoke data.
Develop a family emergency plan
- Find your community’s evacuation plans and several ways to leave the area
- Gather emergency supplies
- Have fire extinguishers on hand
Create what the EPA calls a Clean Room as a refuge from smoke
- Choose a room with no fireplace and as few windows and doors as possible, such as a bedroom, and equip it with a HEPA air purifier that's the right size for the room.
How to Keep Wildfire Smoke Out of the House
If you fall into any of the categories of people vulnerable to smoke pollutants and smoke particulates—or have loved ones who do—our top recommendation is to run a HEPA air purifier to remove smoke from your indoor air. But there are a few other ways:
Upgrade your HVAC filter to a higher MERV rating
For household heating and air conditioning system filters, MERV rating stands for the minimum efficiency reporting value and measures its filtration ability. An average filter has a MERV rating around 8. According to the US Department of Energy, filters with a MERV rating up to 13 can provide additional wildfire smoke protection and still be compatible with most systems.
Your home’s HVAC system may filter out some of the larger particles from smoke, but not the smallest particles. And those ultrafine particles are the biggest danger as they can pass from the lungs directly into the bloodstream.
Make your home more air-tight
The main idea here is to keep out harmful smoke particles while ensuring you can quickly evacuate if needed. Shut off mechanical ventilation like bathroom or kitchen fans that vent to the outdoors. They create negative pressure and can pull air in from outside. If your HVAC system or window air conditioner has a fresh air option, turn it off or close the intake. Finally, if you have cracks or openings around doors or windows and your area has unhealthy or hazardous air quality, consider sealing openings to prevent smoke infiltration.
- Use painters tape around exterior doors and windows that do not seal.
- Close your chimney flue and seal chimney openings with painters tape and plastic.
- Use wet cloths or towels to cover exterior vents (kitchen, bathroom, chimney)
If you can’t get a HEPA purifier, make a DIY Purifier
If you are experiencing poor air quality and don’t have a purifier or are waiting on yours to arrive, a homemade purifier can help. The New York Times made one by securely taping a standard 20 x 20 HVAC filter to a 20-inch box fan. They reported that it cut particulate load by 87%. That’s not nearly as good as the 99.99% reduction possible with True HEPA filtration, but any additional filtration is better than none in adverse conditions.
Choosing the Best Air Purifiers For Wildfire Smoke
Public health experts recommend using a HEPA air purifier that's the right size for your space and running it 24/7 on its highest fan setting. If you can safely stay in your home, Alen has top-rated purifiers and smoke filters that offer proven wildfire smoke protection for a variety of spaces—backed by our exclusive Forever Guarantee.
To protect indoor air, you must remove smoke’s most harmful ingredients: fine particles and toxic chemicals gasses (like VOCs). Alen pairs its top-rated purifiers with specialty activated carbon filters to eliminate both—quietly and effectively.
How to Pick a Air Purifier for Wildfire Smoke
- Pick a purifier with a max coverage area slightly larger than your room, as max coverage is based on the unit’s highest fan speed. This way, your purifier can do its job effectively on a lower, quieter speed 24/7.
- Select one of Alen's proprietary True HEPA H13 filters for wildfire smoke. Each contains extra activated carbon to absorb gasses and odors, plus medical-grade HEPA material to remove ash, soot, and the most dangerous fine particulates.
Customers Trust Alen for Protection Against Wildfire Smoke
We could list more facts about why Alen’s wildfire purifiers are the surest way to stop wildfire smoke’s most dangerous and irritating effects, but thousands of 5-star reviews by our customers say it better than we ever could. Here are just a few from previous wildfire seasons:
“We bought two FIT50 air purifiers with HEPA filters to deal with smoke from the outdoors coming into our house. For a period of time every summer, wildfire smoke settles in our area. I used to wake up with a headache every morning. Not anymore - not one headache since we started using the FIT50s a couple of weeks ago, despite the smoke. What a relief! We have them in our bedrooms, and we are sleeping better, too. Thanks so much!” -William O.