Did you know that secondhand cigarette smoke includes over 250 compounds that are hazardous to your health? Some air purifiers are engineered to remove far more of these dangerous compounds than others. This is an area in which we have a lot of experience and which perplexes certain individuals more than others. Continue reading for tips on how to deal with cigarette smoke in the house.
Tobacco smoke particles
The most frequent particle size range in tobacco smoke ( including marijuana smoke, incidentally ) is 0.3 to 0.5 microns, yet many of the most dangerous particles are as small as 0.1 microns. To put it in context, the head of a typical pin could hold about 1000 single microns.
Is it possible for an air purifier to filter out particles so small?
This is an important question! In a nutshell, some people can, while others cannot. This is when picking the right air purifier becomes quite important. A ‘Hepa’ air purifier is the most effective form of air purifier for removing tobacco smoke ( Hepa stands for High Efficient Particulate Arrestor). The grey area is that there are several ‘grades’ of Hepa filters, and not all of them can filter out the finer, more dangerous particles above. You can buy what looks to be a very attractive ‘Hepa’ air purifier in most High Street retailers these days, such as John Lewis or Argos. Some are reasonably priced, while others might cost hundreds of pounds. However, a close examination of the fine print (specification) almost always reveals that the Hepa filter inside the air purifier is only capable of removing particles as small as 0.3 microns, and thus is incapable of removing large quantities of the most harmful airborne pollutants that are smaller than 0.3 microns. Hepa filters capable of collecting particles as small as 0.1 microns will be found in the most effective hepa air purifiers for tobacco smoke removal. That isn’t to suggest that simple hepa air purifiers with 0.3 micron filters don’t have a place; they may be quite efficient in removing bigger, less dangerous pollutants such as pet dander, plant spores, and pollens.
So any air purifier with a good Hepa filter can get rid of tobacco smoke?
That’s not the case. The filter is only one-third of the answer; getting all of that smokey air into the filter is another third, and finally, eliminating the smoke’s real smell is the last third! When you think about it, no matter how efficient the Hepa filter is, if the fan sucking the smokey air into it isn’t powerful enough to swiftly draw all of the air in the room into it, the filter is virtually useless. So, the best combination is a good Hepa filter (which filters particles down to 0.1 microns) combined with a powerful enough fan motor to draw all that smokey air into it as quickly as possible ( ideally around 5 times every hour in your specific room size). Finally, the last piece of the puzzle is to get rid of the smoke’s real odour.
How do you get rid of the smoke odour?
Odor is not a particle, therefore even the finest Hepa filters will not be able to capture it. Obviously, removing the particulate ( visible ) component of the smoke is a big part of the solution, and the Hepa filter and fan power are important for that. Tobacco smoke, on the other hand, brings with it smells and hazardous compounds, the bulk of which are so little that they flow straight through the Hepa filter. These odours and hazardous substances must be absorbed as they pass through the filter and before reentering the room. Only a charcoal filter put right after the Hepa filter will successfully do this. The amount of pollutants adsorbed is directly proportional to the kind and size of the carbon filter. Genuine activated carbon will be found in air purifiers containing a kg or more. Most of the cheap and cheerful ( and some not so cheap ) items in our High Street retailers include just a symbolic gesture of carbon, which is usually simply a lightweight, thin piece of sponge soaked with a little carbon. All that is necessary for the manufacturer to claim that their equipment eliminates tobacco smoke and odours is a little amount of money. The fact is that such a little amount of carbon can only absorb a tiny bit of smell, thus their value is insignificant.
The technical part… The speed at which air flows through a carbon filter is critical for it to efficiently absorb pollutants. In general, the slower polluted air passes through the carbon, the better. The longer the air lingers on its journey through, the more smell, fumes, and gases are absorbed into the carbon, which is known as the ‘dwell time.’ As a result, the thicker the carbon, the longer the dwell time (which is good), whereas the thinner the carbon, the shorter the dwell time (which is negative!).
Finally, consider the size of the room
When it comes to buying an air purifier, this is one of the most common mistakes consumers make. For an air purifier to be truly effective, it must be strong enough to pull all of the air in your room size through the filter about five times an hour, as we discussed previously in this article. This is referred to as the ACPH number ( Air Changes Per Hour ). However, it is simple to be misleading in this regard.
Winix, for example, makes a popular entry-level air purifier called the Zero, which is advertised as suited for rooms up to 99m2. This makes it appear to be an excellent choice for larger spaces. Winix, on the other hand, does not specify how long it will take the device to filter all of the air in a room of that size. A short read of the small print reveals that the Winix Zero when operated in a room of 99m2, will recycle all of the air once in around 59 minutes. As a result, it would only give 1 air change each hour.
Compare that to a specialised air purifier like the Blueair 205 Slim Smokestop from Sweden. Even though the 205 is only touted as being suitable for rooms up to 26m2, because Blueair designs all of their units to give a generous 5 air changes per hour, it would clean the air roughly 58 per cent more efficiently than the allegedly more powerful Winix in the same big 99m2 space.
So, regardless of what is indicated on the box, treat the quoted room size with a grain of salt and always inquire how much real air changes the unit will offer in your room.
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