Wildfires have become a serious problem in the Pacific Northwest. While everyone knows that fires are a threat to animal and human life, some people don’t realize that the smoke these fires put off can be equally dangerous.
Wildfire smoke contains a mix of toxic gases and fine particulate matter. While the fumes can make anyone sick, people most at risk include children, pregnant women, and people with respiratory conditions and heart disease.
So what can people do to reduce the impact of wildfire smoke within their homes? We'll discuss several ways to minimize smoke in your home and decrease your risk of smoke-related illness.
Wildfire smoke can be extremely dangerous for humans and their pets. According to the CDC, the immediate effects of wildfire smoke inhalation include:
- runny nose
- chest pain
- rapid heartbeat
- irritated sinuses
One of the scariest side effects of smoke inhalation is asthma attacks, which can be deadly if left untreated.
Long-term exposure to wildfire smoke can exacerbate pre-existing health conditions and even lead to permanent lung damage. Furthermore, experts say that scarring of the lungs can leave people and pets at higher risk of developing lung infections and COVID-19.
Here are few things you can do to reduce the levels of wildfire smoke in your home.
An air purifier will be your first line of defense against wildfire smoke in the home. Air purifiers clear the air by filtering out toxins and particles and recirculating the newly cleaned air. Steer clear of air purifiers that have ionizing or electric technology, as well as those that produce ozone. Instead, opt for a HEPA or activated charcoal model.
Air purifiers can get quite expensive, but there are some options to DIY your own. All you’ll need is a box fan and a MERV-13 air filter. Make sure you purchase a MERV-13 and not a lower quality filter — this is what you’ll need to remove the particulate matter from the air. Simply tape the air filter to the front of the box fan with duct tape, making sure the airflow arrows point toward the fan, then use the fan as you would normally.
Smoke can come in through the tiniest of crevices. For this reason, it's important you seal off all openings. Keep windows closed and place damp rolled towels under doors and over window sills to prevent smoke from slipping through the cracks. Refrain from holding the door open for long periods when entering or exiting the home.
Shoes can carry particulate matter on them, so it’s a good idea to take them off at the door. Dirty paws can also track in smoke and particulate matter. Buy a quality welcome mat with thick ribbing and gently scrub your pup’s paws on it before allowing them to enter the home.
Designate a clean air space in your home and retreat to it when the air quality gets too low in your home. When picking a clean space, you should choose one with the fewest windows and doors in your home. Keep the air clean by placing an air purifier in the room and seal off any openings with a rolled wet towel.
Replacing your HVAC air filter is a great way to combat the impact of wildfire smoke in your home. Make sure you choose a quality filter with a high microparticle filtration rate — ideally, you should select one with a MERV rating of 13 or higher. The MERV rating stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value. Higher-rated filters will filter out smaller (and thus more) particles than filters with lower ratings.
Refrain from using air fresheners and aerosol sprays or burning candles or incense when the air quality is low. These products can further pollute the air and lower indoor air quality. Experts suggest baking or sauteing foods rather than frying or broiling since these cooking methods can also emit particles in the air.
It’s a good idea to change clothes as soon as you come home since smoke particles can linger on the fibers of your clothing. Instead of placing your clothes in the hamper, put them immediately in the washing machine and close the lid until it’s time to wash them.
No matter how vigilant you are about removing your shoes and keeping doors closed, wildfire smoke will still make its way in and settle on your floors. Walking on particle-laden floors will stir up the particles and recirculate them through the air. We recommend cleaning your floors regularly with a damp mop.
It's important that you take precautions against smoke inhalation while outside the home too. Here are a few more steps you can take to reduce the impact of wildfire smoke while out and about.
A face mask or respirator can help minimize the amount of smoke entering your lungs while outside. If possible, choose a quality mask like a K-N95, which will better filter the air.
Outside trips, in general, should be shortened to minimize exposure to wildfire smoke. Temporarily discontinue your daily walks and make bathroom trips for pets as short as possible.
Rather than rolling down the windows or turning on the regular AC in your car, set your AC to recirculate the clean air in your car.
If the smoke gets too thick inside your home, it might be time to relocate temporarily. We know it’s inconvenient to pick up and leave your home, but it’s better to do that than to risk health problems due to smoke inhalation.
For more tips and information, check out our guide on preparing your pets for an emergency evacuation from a wildfire.