Do Air Purifiers Effectively Combat Tobacco Smoke?
Did you know that the air quality in your home is likely to be between two and five times poorer than the air quality outdoors? No matter who you are, what kind of lifestyle you live, what region you live in, and how much time you spend at home, indoor air pollution poses a threat to your health — unless you take proactive steps to increase your indoor air quality.
Some of the largest polluters include mold, Volatile Organic Compounds emitted by furniture and household products, household dust, and particulate matter that made its way into your home from outside. If you smoke — or if another member of your household does — you will certainly know that tobacco smoke represents an extremely dangerous pollutant as well.
Beating a smoking addiction is difficult, and you may wonder how you can increase your indoor air quality even if you keep smoking, likely to protect the health of others and render your space more hospitable to visitors. Do air purifiers filter tobacco smoke, and the thousands of harmful chemicals contained therein, from your home?
How Does Environmental Tobacco Smoke Impact Human Health?
Environmental tobacco smoke, more often called second-hand smoke, is the smoke released as a nicotine user burns tobacco products like cigarettes and pipes. This highly-toxic mixture of substances harbors over 7,000 known harmful compounds, and is classified as a Group A carcinogen. Over time, exposure to second-hand smoke can directly cause a variety of respiratory diseases, including asthma, and lead to lung cancer.
So-called third-hand smoke poses a frequently-overlooked health risk as well. The hazardous chemicals and ash produced by smoking settle down on indoor surfaces like carpets, furniture, and walls, where they pose a hazard long after the smoker has extinguished their cigarette or other tobacco product. Not only is third-hand smoke easily released into the air again if it is disturbed (by shaking out pillows, washing walls, or vacuuming, for instance), it can also react with other environmental pollutants to create even more dangerous mixtures.
Research is still ongoing to determine what long-term health effects third-hand smoke exposure can have, but it is already clear that this tricky substance has the potential to do the same types of damage as second-hand smoke. Because it is so hard to clean up effectively, that means that even if nobody in your home smokes but the previous occupant of your home was a smoker, you may be at risk of health complications.
As you would expect, already vulnerable people — like those with preexisting asthma or allergies — are most sensitive to the effects of second-hand and third-hand tobacco smoke. The same very much holds true for young children. As their bodies and immune systems are still developing, they will develop respiratory symptoms much more easily. Children exposed to environmental smoke on a chronic basis additionally have a much higher risk of developing asthma.
Are Air Purifiers a Good Option for Homes with Tobacco Smoke?
As more and more people are becoming aware of the fact that poor indoor air quality represents a major health risk, air purifiers are gaining popularity. The types of air purifiers that have scientifically been proven to be effective at fighting the most common and most hazardous sources of indoor air pollution may seem to be the perfect solution for smokers who want to achieve cleaner air in their home. You are especially likely to consider installing an air purifier in your home if you have already learned that increased ventilation in the form of opening the windows is not a very successful way to eliminate tobacco smoke from your property.
True HEPA air purifying systems — which possess complex mechanical filters that are able to filter out 99.97 percent of particulate matter 0.3 microns in diameter, while being even more effective in eliminating smaller and larger particles — are the gold standard. Having a true HEPA air purifier will significantly raise the air quality in any room, as long as the air purifying system is powerful enough to handle the dimensions of that space.
These powerful air purifiers will indeed help to combat visible tobacco smoke in a room. They will even reduce that characteristic stale tobacco smell. True HEPA air purifiers are not, on the other hand, designed to work against gases — which tobacco smoke also releases in ample quantities.
For that purpose, you will want to turn to a gas phase filter, most commonly an activated carbon filter. Many of the best air purifying systems that possess a true HEPA filter also feature carbon filters, which do trap many of the Volatile Organic Compounds emitted by tobacco smoke.
Not only do carbon filters quickly become saturated, rendering them ineffective, however, they are also powerless against persistent third-hand smoke that sticks to surfaces in your home.
Here, it is important to note that cheaper air purifiers called ionizers or ozone generators both work by releasing ozone. While they do filter out some air pollutants, that means that they also release one in the process — as ozone is, in higher concentrations, itself a health risk. These air filters can cause lung irritation in sensitive people all on their own, and should not seriously be considered.
In short, using an air purifier with a true HEPA filter as well as a carbon filter is certainly going to improve your indoor air quality, whether you smoke or not. Even this very best option will never eliminate all the harmful chemicals released by smoking, however, and this is why refraining from smoking indoors is the only responsible step to take.
What if the Previous Occupant of Your Home Was a Smoker?
If you are considering purchasing a home that was previously occupied by a long-term and heavy smoker, or if a tenant who smoked just vacated a rental property, you will face significant clean-up challenges. You will certainly want to replace any carpets, and thoroughly clean all walls and ceilings with a cleaning agent designed for the purpose of cleaning smoke residue. You will also want to prime and paint the entire home. As smoke residue will have accumulated in the many porous surfaces in the home, however, even these steps may not be enough to render the property smoke-free. Hiring a company that is dedicated to cleaning up smoke residue may be your only effective step.
What if Your Home Smells like Tobacco Smoke, but Nobody in Your Household Smokes?
In apartment buildings and other types of multi-family housing, any tobacco smoke released by neighboring units may make its way into your home, accosting you with nasty odors while simultaneously polluting your indoor air.
There is, however, another potential cause of odors that smell a lot like cigarette smoke — and it is one few people would suspect. Mold is a widespread problem in homes and other buildings with high humidity levels, those that suffered from floods, properties with leaks in the pipes or roof, and properties with poor ventilation. Often, even when a mold infestation is not visible, you will be able to recognize it by is typical musty or moldy odor. Mold does not always smell like mold, however. Some molds may smell like rotting wood, wet dogs, or stale cigarette smoke instead. Not only do individual mold species emit different smells, the way in which you interpret the odor will also vary.
If you have recently moved into an older home, it is even possible that the residue you see on the walls — and which you thought was nicotine residue — could instead be mold growth.
This situation can be tricky, because mold exposure has the potential to cause some of the very same symptoms you might also experience around second-hand and third-hand smoke:
Mold can, as such, not be ruled out if your home strongly smells of smoke but you are absolutely certain that nobody in your household smokes, and you also experience a combination of these symptoms.
If you suspect that your home could have a mold infestation, having an independent mold inspection carried out is an excellent way to ascertain whether your home indeed has mold, and if so, what species and in which concentrations. As a long-standing nationwide mold inspection only company, MI&T offers thorough visual mold inspections that don’t miss even the most hidden spots that you probably did not pay attention to or could not reach. Our independent mold inspectors then take air samples, which are analyzed in a laboratory to offer absolute certainty about the precise nature of any mold problem.
Like cigarette smoke, mold can lead to allergy symptoms and respiratory irritation in the short term, and to more serious health complications after prolonged exposure. Although not all molds are harmful to human health, tackling a mold infestation is as important to your indoor air quality and your health as eliminating tobacco smoke from your home.