By now, most everyone is aware of the dangers of smoking, but not everyone is willing or able to give up the habit. In fact, smokers now account for 20 percent of the American population. Despite smoking bans and designated smoking areas, exposure to secondhand smoke is nearly unavoidable, especially if you have a smoker living in your home.
Over 4,000 chemicals are used in cigarettes, almost 60 of which are known to cause cancer. With every puff, smokers inhale poisonous toxins such as carbon monoxide, cyanide, and arsenic into their lungs, inhibiting the essential functions of their respiratory and cardiovascular systems. By reducing the flow of oxygen to the heart, smokers increase their risk heart attack and stroke.
What we generally refer to as secondhand smoke is a combination of mainstream smoke exhaled by the smoker and side-stream smoke put off by the lit cigarette. Of the two, side-stream smoke is the more dangerous because you’re inhaling the exact same chemicals as the smoker without the benefit of a filter, which means you’re actually taking in a higher concentration of toxins. Unfortunately for nonsmokers, exposure to secondhand smoke can increase the risk of many of the same life-threatening diseases. The long-term dangers notwithstanding, the more immediate effects of secondhand smoke in the home are increased respiratory illnesses, allergies, and asthma attacks, especially in children.
While separating smokers from nonsmokers can help reduce the exposure of secondhand smoke, removing the cause is the only way to eliminate the problem entirely. However, if you live with a smoker that may be easier said than done. Thus, the best that you can do is look for ways to reduce the chemical toxins and odors left behind by secondhand smoke. That’s where air purifiers come in. There are a variety of air purifiers available for home use, each with its own brand of filtration. Unfortunately, because of the various chemicals involved, secondhand smoke is not easily removed from indoor air and requires a unique approach.
Air Purification: How does it work?
An air purifier essentially uses a fan to pull in dirty household air, force it through a cleaning mechanism, and remove offending particles before returning the now cleaner air to your home. This cleansing process can be addressed in a number of ways, with each having its advantages. The most common methods of filtration involve mechanical and carbon filtering, electronic air cleaners, and ozone generation.
In an air purifier that uses mechanical filtration, the airborne contaminants that are pulled into the machine are forced through the tiny perforations of a mesh sieve, which filters the particles from your household air. While these filters may vary in terms of efficiency, High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters are perhaps the best known, being able to trap almost 98 percent of airborne contaminants down to the size of 0.3 microns. That means HEPA filters can remove allergens that almost 10 times smaller than the smallest particle we can detect with the human eye.
Unfortunately, HEPA filters are not particularly effective in removing chemicals like those found in secondhand smoke from your household air. Carbon activated filters, however, are. With carbon activated filters, your household air is pushed over a large, porous surface area which absorbs. This makes carbon filtration perfect in the fight against secondhand smoke in your household. Ironically, carbon filters are not especially efficient in terms of allergens and microorganisms, which makes their relationship with HEPA filters quite complimentary.
Another method of air filtration is an electronic air cleaner. These devices provide incoming air particles with an electronic charge before forcing them over a series of plates that carry the opposite charge. Thus, using the old adage of “opposites attract,” electronic air cleaners remove contaminants from your air. However, this method is virtually ineffective against the chemical vapors and odors of secondhand smoke.
Ozone generators do exactly as their name would imply; they generate ozone. Unfortunately, while they are excellent when it comes to removing odors from the home, they are ineffective against allergens or chemicals. In addition, ozone is a known lung irritant, and is considered dangerous to humans by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Consider the Options
It would seem that combining carbon filtration with HEPA technology is the most efficient means of battling the harmful effects of cigarette smoke in your home. Still, if you’re going to invest in household air purification, you should attempt to address every potential obstacle standing between you and your ideal level of indoor air quality. While air purifiers aren’t known for a host of added features, here are some options to consider.
In addition to the chemicals produced by secondhand smoke, if you’re interested in addressing allergens and microorganisms, consider combining ultra violet (UV) light with carbon and HEPA filtration technology. UV lights eliminate harmful contaminants such as bacteria by infiltrating the contaminant’s DNA and disabling its reproductive system. Without the power to reproduce, these contaminants die off quickly, leaving you with a healthier breathing environment.
As most air purifiers use fans to move your air through the purification process, a certain level of noise is to be expected. While there are models available that don’t make use of fans and thus offer a quieter filtration experience, those models tend to test poorly relative to fan-driven air purifiers. Keep this in mind when choosing an air purifier for your home.
Air purification depends on fresh, clean filters to maximize efficiency. As such, servicing monitors are a welcome addition to any air purification system. These monitors alert you to particle buildup on your filters which will be returned to your household air if left unaddressed.
Narrowing the Field: Top 5 Best Air Purifiers Available
With all of the various brands and models on the market, you may have a hard time figuring out which air purifier best suits your household needs. So let’s narrow it down a bit, shall we? Here are 5 of the best air purifiers on the market today.
Ideal in rooms up to 800 square feet, the Alen A350 is an environmentally friendly device that can be mounted on the wall of your home. With the Alen A350, air passes through a true HEPA filter coated in activated carbon with integrated pre- and post-filtration, a process that removes almost 98 percent of particles down to 0.3 microns. You also have the option of using built-in ozone-free ionization to further minimize pollutants. Additional features include 4 fan speeds, a 12 hour timer, and a HEPA filter life indicator.
The BlueAir 503 features HEPA silent technology and can be equipped with a specialized SmokeStop carbon filter. It is most efficient in rooms up to 580 square feet, and its quiet nature makes it perfect for use in the bedroom. It also includes an ozone-free internal ionizer and features three levels of progressive HEPA filtration that allow for the removal of almost 99 percent of particles down to 0.1 microns.
Efficient in rooms up to 1500 square feet, the Austin Air Allergy (HEGA) machine is an excellent smoke filtration device that can remove almost 98 percent of particles down to 0.3 microns, and 95 percent of particles down to 0.1 microns. Made from the finest military grade carbon cloth, the HEPA filter helps this model absorb the chemicals and odors released into your air by smokers.
The Airpura T600 utilizes a deep carbon bed which allows air to linger longer for more effective absorption. Equipped with a specialized TarBarrier pre-filter and a HEPA post-filter, this model is perfect for removing the chemicals, odors, and tar particles inherent in secondhand smoke. The Airpura T600 removes almost 98 percent of particles down to 0.3 microns and operates efficiently in rooms up to 2000 square feet. In addition, this environmentally friendly system boasts variable speeds, relative quiet, and no air leakage around air filters.
Finally, we have the Allerair 5000 DS, which was built with tobacco smoke filtration in mind. Featuring the same carbon bed depth as the Airpura T600, this model traps tar particles in its pre-filter before sending air through a micro-HEPA wrap filter capable of removing particles down to 0.1 microns. This allows for the efficient absorption of the tar, chemicals, and odors present in secondhand smoke. This model can also be operated at three different speeds, including a turbo option designed for quick filtration.
So, What Have We Learned?
While air purification can’t remove secondhand smoke in its entirety, by choosing the right air purifier for your household, you can remove a vast majority of the tar, chemical residue, and odor left behind by the smoker in your life. Of course, the true answer is to encourage your smoker to give up the habit and improve the living and breathing conditions of everyone involved. In the meantime, though we are treating the symptom instead of the cause, the combined efforts of HEPA and carbon filtration at least give us a fighting chance in the battle against second hand smoke.