Ways to keep indoor air clean when there’s wildfire smoke in your area

Breathing in wildfire smoke can have immediate health effects, including an asthma attack, chest pain, coughing, fast heartbeat, headaches, irritated sinuses, runny nose, scratchy throat, shortness of breath and wheezing, stinging eyes, tiredness and trouble breathing normally.

Children, older adults, pregnant women and people with preexisting respiratory and heart conditions may be more likely to get sick if they breathe in wildfire smoke.

Government officials and healthcare professionals encouraged New Yorkers to stay home and avoid going outside to protect themselves as New York City’s air quality remained unhealthy due to Canadian wildfires. (Related: California wildfire smoke may have contributed to over 1,000 deaths – so far.)

But the advice to stay home isn’t enough without paying attention to the quality of air indoors. Here are some steps individuals can take to improve the air quality in their homes and keep indoor air as clean as possible:

Keep your windows and doors closed

Make sure your windows and doors are shut to prevent ash and smoke from getting inside your home and reduce your exposure to harmful air pollution. You can stuff rags, sheets or towels to block air coming from the sides of windows or the bottom of doors.

Monitor indoor air quality

Using air monitor devices is recommended because sometimes the air quality inside can be just as bad or even worse than that outside.

An air quality monitor is a device that measures the particulate matter within the air at its location, explained Dr. Stephanie Christenson, an assistant professor in the division of pulmonary, critical care, allergy and sleep medicine at the University of California in San Francisco (UCSF). An air quality monitor typically has different meters within it – some have three and others are four – that assess oxygen content, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and volatile gasses inside the house.


Use an air purifier

A high-quality air purifier, such as those that contain high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, can be very effective at keeping your inside air clean.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests running your air cleaner on the highest setting to reduce air pollution by at least half. You can create your own if you can’t find an affordable air cleaner.

Experts advise against using ionic purifiers as they can do more harm than good. They can create ozone (another air pollutant) and are often more expensive.

Set your air conditioning system to cycle fresh air

Many window air conditioner units filter the indoor air as it is cooled and will provide some reduction in indoor wildfire smoke. The effectiveness depends on what type of air system you have in your home — “the higher the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Values (MERV) rating, the better the filtration will be,” according to Dr. Mike Van Dyke of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the Colorado School of Public Health.

If you have forced air or a central heating and cooling system, keep the air con on to help recirculate the air and filter out the harmful particles in the wildfire smoke; if you have an HVAC system, set it to recirculate mode; if you have a window unit, turn off the outdoor air intake damper; if you cannot turn off the outdoor air intake damper, turn the entire AC unit off as you don’t want it pulling smoky air into your home; and don’t use outdoor mounted evaporative coolers if you have one as these can bring large quantities of outdoor air into the home.

Reduce air pollution indoors

Avoid activities that can create finer particles and worsen your indoor air quality, such as vacuuming and cooking with gas, propane and wood-burning stoves.

Vacuuming generates a large amount of airborne dust, which requires air flow and dilution to dissipate. It’s best to vacuum when you can open the windows. Burning methane indoors, meanwhile, releases the pollutants nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide, which are harmful to health.

Also avoid using aerosol products, smoking cigarettes and lighting candles or incense indoors.

Wear a face mask

A high-quality face mask secured tightly to your face can prevent you from breathing in pollutants during long periods of time outdoors when the Air Quality Index (AQI) exceeds 150, or if you have pre-existing respiratory or cardiovascular issues, says Van Dyke.

Air out your house when the air quality improves

When the hazardous smoke blows away and the air is clean again, you’ll want to freshen your indoor air.

Take advantage of days where the Air Quality Index is 50 or lower and open the windows.

Opening your doors and windows to clean outdoor air will very quickly remove air pollutants.

Watch the following video to learn how to keep your air quality safe as Canada’s wildfire smoke spreads.

This video is from the Daily Videos channel on Brighteon.com.

More related stories:

Wildfire plumes worldwide are contributing to ozone pollution and harming air quality.

Just one day of bad air can negatively affect children’s health, caution scientists.

Report: 4 in 10 Americans breathe polluted air.

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