Smoke odors, whether from cigars, cigarettes, wildfires or cooking can be a nuisance. Fortunately air purifiers can help to clear the air, so to speak.
Smoke particles and odors are a combination of a variety of microscopic gases. If you can see the gases you are seeing a high concentration.
What is tricky about smoke is that it is a combination of particles and odors (chemical gases).
In this article we will show you how to choose an air purifier for smoke. Plus the advantages and limitations of HEPA and carbon filters.
We conclude the article with the most popular smoke air cleaners.
What to look for in a smoke air purifier
Smoke particles can be removed well with a high quality HEPA filter. We suggest looking at the efficiency of the air purifier. This will show you the percentage of particles that are removed with each air pass. The higher the better.
Also look at the air flow. This will give an indication for how large of a room the air purifier can clean.
Choosing an air purifier with a high efficiency and strong air flow is the way to get good particle removal.
In our testing this is the information that we report in our air purifier reviews. You can see this in the best air purifiers page.
But, don’t forget about the smoke odors. Odors are gases.
Gases are so small that filtration technologies such as HEPA air filters or electronic air cleaners are only somewhat effective. Most gas particles will simply pass through the filters in the air purifier.
This applies to smoke gases whether from a cigar, cigarette or vaping an e-cigarette. Both have gases and activated carbon is a good solution to adsorb them.
A different approach is needed to remove smoke odors for fresh air.
This is difficult for us to measure. So, in our ratings we also rely on information from customer reviews and the manufacturer specifications.
Most air purifier manufacturers utilize carbon to adsorb the chemical gases. Carbon is commonly used in water filtration such as aquariums. Even for foot odor – think Odor Eaters.
Here is a summary of the good and bad of activated carbon.
Advantages of activated carbon filters
- Acts like a sponge to adsorb odors, smoke and certain VOC’s (volatile organic compounds)
- High performance
- Relatively low cost
Disadvantages of Carbon
- Not effective for all gases. The most notable is formaldehyde.
- May not be as effective in humid environments
- Does not remove particles. It requires HEPA to complement it.
- HEPA – as mentioned above, HEPA works very well to remove the smoke particles. But not the smoke odor. For a complete solution you need a combination of HEPA and activated carbon.
- Ionic/Electrostatic – in certain situations can be somewhat effective. For this to work for odor removal you need a high concentration of ozone. However with the production of secondary pollution this is not a suggested solution. Ionic is not effective for the smoke particle removal.
- Ozone Generator. In this article, we go into depth on the pluses and minuses of ozone generators for smoke removal. In short, ozone machines can be good for odor removal but not for particle removal. And they can be quite dangerous to your lungs. They are sold as commercial products. They are generally not purchased for consumer use.
Rather than bore you with information from the periodic table and covalent chemical bond mumbo-gumbo we will cut to what you care about.
That is – does this really work?
The short answer is yes. A more complete response would be that it works in relation to the amount of HEPA, carbon and air flow. And the amount of surface area that is exposed to the smoke gases as they pass through the air purifier.
Some air purifiers use a thin layer of filter media that has carbon sprayed onto it such as a foam carbon pre-filter. While other air purifiers have tiny activated carbon pellets. Others have larger activated carbon pellets.
In our research we have found the air purifiers with activated carbon are more effective than the sprayed on carbon pre-filters. The larger activated carbon pellets will last longer than the smaller carbon pellets. However they may leave more room for gases to pass right through. Larger carbon pellets may also have less surface area. This means a lower ability to absorb gases.
It also matters how much carbon there is. The easiest way to compare is by weight. So, in general the higher the weight the better the carbon filter will be in smoke odor removal. However, there is also generally a lower air flow the more carbon there is so you need to keep in mind how large of a room it will clean.
Keep in mind that an air purifier can do a good job in removing smoke from the air. But they will not remove smoke odors from your carpeting, furniture or curtains. For complete fresh air you may need to do more than just use an air purifier if there is a smoker in your home. The same applies if you are looking to remove air pollution such as exhaust fumes from cars.
In this article we introduced you to the challenges in removing smoke odors. Smoke is difficult to remove since it is made up of many particles and gases.
To effectively clean the air you will want an air purifier with good HEPA and carbon air filters. This was the conclusion we reached in our smoke air purifier reviews.
Finally, an air purifier cannot clean everything. For example, an air purifier will not remove odors if they are being held in fabric like carpeting, furniture or draperies.