Health & Wellness Blog

8 Practical Ways to Help Protect Yourself and Your Family From Wildfire Smoke

8 Practical Ways to Help Protect Yourself and Your Family From Wildfire Smoke

 

Did you know smoke from wildfires can sometimes travel thousands of miles from the fire itself? That’s right — wildfire smoke can affect air in communities thousands of miles away. Fortunately, the amount of smoke arriving from such a distance is likely to be small. But even small amounts of smoke can affect our health. For example, in July 2021, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services advised sensitive individuals to limit outdoor exertion as a result of fine particle air pollution from wildfires in central and western Canada and the western United States. 

Exposure to the tiny airborne particles of burned materials — wood, plastics, and metals, for example — that comprise wildfire smoke can result in a scratchy throat, stinging eyes, and more. 

For many, simply staying indoors with the windows shut isn’t a viable option. And, even if it is, some studies suggest that indoor air can be more polluted than outdoor air. So, how can you and your family minimize the effects of wildfire smoke before, during, and after wildfire season? 


Before Wildfire Season Starts

 

1. Create an evacuation plan. 

While smoke from a wildfire can cause serious problems, your first concern should always be remaining safe from the wildfire itself. Your goal is to be prepared if local authorities instruct you to leave the area. Follow their instructions. The best way to limit exposure to wildfire smoke is to avoid it.

Get familiar with more than one route leading out of your area. 
Know which roads lead to local shelters. If you evacuate to a shelter, inform the staff of family members’ medical conditions, such as asthma.

Have N95 respirator masks ready to go for adult household members. 
They offer adults some protection from unavoidable exposure to wildfire smoke. Note that N95 respirator masks are not made to fit children. Surgical masks, dust masks, and bandanas will not protect children from wildfire smoke. Evacuating is the best way to protect them.

Have a 7- to 10-day supply of family members’ necessary medications in reserve.
Store them in clearly labeled containers that are waterproof and childproof.

Plan for the safety of your pets and livestock. 
Shelters that take in people might not accept animals. Many pet websites offer information about local animal shelters and rescue groups. 


2. Protect Your Home in Advance

Designate at least one “clean room” in your home. 
If local authorities advise residents to stay indoors, it would be ideal to have a space with filtered air available  — especially if your household contains children, loved ones with chronic conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or pregnant family members. 

Set up an air purifier that uses HEPA filters.
Air purifiers that use high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters are more effective against wildfire smoke than air purifiers that don’t. HEPA filters remove up to 99.97% of dust, pollen, smoke and non-living airborne particles 0.3 microns and larger. All Honeywell InSight® Series Air Purifiers use HEPA filters and odor-reducing pre-filters, and are engineered for use with smoke-reducing pre-filters that may help remove smoke odors up to 4.5 times faster. Select an air purifier for the square footage of the room where it will be used. Honeywell InSight® Series Air Purifiers can change a room’s air 4.8 times an hour and are available as towers or consoles.

Change your filters. One way that smoke can infiltrate your home is through your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system, and most HVAC companies recommend changing your air filter every three months. Before fire season, check to ensure your HVAC filter has been changed within the last three months. Additionally, you’ll want to ensure you have changed out your air purifier filter within the previous six months, so it’s ready to work at its optimal rate once it’s time.

Reduce infiltration. 
The process by which air enters your home is called “infiltration,” and there are small steps you can take prior to wildfire season that will help keep your home’s air quality more safe. The National Parks Service recommends weatherizing your house to reduce infiltration — caulking cracks, sealing an unused fireplace, and adding weatherstripping. Added bonus? This will help ensure your home is not only more safe from smoke infiltration but also is more energy efficient. 


If Wildfire Smoke Reaches Your Home 

 

3. Stay informed of wildfire, smoke, weather, and road conditions. 
Real-time, local information can help your household make decisions, like whether or not to evacuate, more safely. Check AirNow’s Fire and Smoke Map and NOAA’s Fire Weather page frequently on your phone or computer. Tune in to local tv or radio for alerts about road closures. 


4. Keep an eye on your loved ones.
Follow local authorities’ recommendations about exercise and going outside for sensitive individuals. If you or a family member has trouble breathing or experiences other symptoms that don’t improve, continue limiting exposure to wildfire smoke and seek medical care. If it is safe to evacuate, consider doing so. 


5. Reduce your smoke exposure.
Keep windows and doors closed. Don’t smoke. Don’t use gas, propane, or wood-burning stoves or furnaces. Don’t spray aerosol products, fry food, or burn candles or incense. These activities will add particulate matter to the air in your home and may affect family members’ breathing. 


6. Use your “clean” room.
Remember that indoor air can be five times more polluted than outdoor air. Turn on your air purifier and try to spend the majority of your time in this room. Make sure it’s fitted with smoke-reducing filters you’ve changed within the past six months. 

In addition to cleaning the air, you should also be cleaning your home itself. According to The New York Times, during and after a wildfire, smoke particles will inevitably settle on surfaces and flooring, so using a damp mop or cloth to clean more than usual is recommended. Perhaps unsurprisingly, clothes and household linens may also benefit from more frequent laundering. 


After the Smoke Has Cleared

 

7. Listen to local news and authorities.
If you evacuated your household, do not return home until local authorities announce it is safe. If you’ve returned home — or if you never had to leave — continue to monitor local air quality. Smoke can stay in the air for days after wildfires have ended. 

Wildfire smoke may not be easy to see outdoors, but even haziness can be hazardous to your health. Seek immediate medical attention or dial 911 if you experience shortness of breath, a cough that won’t stop, or other irritations that are not going away.


8. Clean up!
While the fire is still active, it’s important to mop, wipe surfaces, and launder linens more frequently than usual. But now that the fire is over, you’ll want to conduct a couple of deep cleanings over the next couple of weeks, being sure to clean your blinds, curtains, linens, rugs, and floors. Children and other sensitive family members should not participate in any clean-up efforts, as it can harm their health. 

 

What You're Breathing In during a Wildfire

wildfire smoke

A wildfire can have tragic and widespread effects, and one of the farthest-reaching dangers is the smoke it produces.

Wildfire smoke is a complex mixture of substances that can negatively impact health. The issue is compounded by the fact that wildfire smoke can travel for thousands of miles, polluting the air nearby and far from the fire itself.

Take a look at some of the things you could breathe in during a wildfire, and learn why it’s important to limit your exposure to wildfire smoke.

 

What’s in wildfire smoke?

Wildfires often burn more than trees – buildings and man-made materials can also be burned. The result is not only increased devastation, but smoke that contains a wide variety of pollutants, including:

  • Fine particulate matter.
    Burning breaks down material into tiny particles that can get into your eyes, nose and throat, causing irritation. The tiniest particles are called “fine particulate matter” – they have a maximum diameter of 2.5 micrometers (20 times smaller than the width of a human hair). Fine particulate matter is dangerous because it can get deep into lungs and potentially cause or worsen problems with breathing and overall health.

                   According to the EPA, fine particles make up approximately 90% of the total particle mass emitted from wildfires.

  • Byproducts of burning wood and vegetation.
    Many people think that wood smoke smells good, but it actually contains harmful substances. Smoke from wood and organic matter can contain known carcinogens such as benzene and formaldehyde.
  • Byproducts of burning building materials.
    Treated lumber, plastics, metals and a wide range of building materials may burn in a wildfire. The gasses and particles that are released can include an enormous range of irritants and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can harm health. 
  • Ozone
    Ozone gas is not released by wildfires, but it can be produced in the air as wildfire smoke moves downwind, especially in urban and industrial areas. Ozone can irritate the throat and lungs, exacerbating conditions such as asthma.

 

What can you do to protect yourself from wildfire smoke?

While wildfire smoke is a definite menace, there are many things you can do to limit your exposure to it when wildfires are occurring:

  • Protect your indoor air.
    Keep your windows and exterior doors closed, and use air purifiers with HEPA filters to reduce smoke particles in your air.
  • Limit outdoor activity.
    Don’t exercise outside or let your children play outside. If you live close to a wildfire and need to be outdoors, talk to your doctor about using an N-95 or P-100 mask. 
  • Know your air quality.
    Sites like airnow.gov and airquality.weather.gov provide fast information on the air quality in your area, including levels of fine particulates, ozone, and larger pollutants like dust.

By educating yourself about wildfire smoke and the air quality where you live, you can take steps to protect yourself and your family from potential health impacts.

Get help with protecting your indoor air quality: learn more about Air Purifiers.

What Happens When You Don’t Clean Your Humidifier?

You love the benefits of your humidifier – softer skin, relief from coughs, and no new gaps forming in your hardwood flooring, woot! But chances are, you don’t always remember to clean your humidifier. And that’s a no-no. Cleaning your humidifier is actually really important (and really easy, too).

What happens when you don’t clean your humidifier?

1. Mineral buildup, leading to poor performance

  • The water that you add to the tank leaves hard mineral deposits (“scale”) throughout the humidifier. Scale can clog up your humidifier and hamper its performance.
  • In visible mist humidifiers, scale can prevent the heating element or nebulizer from functioning – that means no mist and no humidification.
    In invisible moisture humidifiers, scale can clog the filter and prevent moisture from getting into the room – resulting, again, in no humidification.

2. Mold/bacteria growth, leading to unclean moisture or odors

Without regular cleaning, the parts of your humidifier that come into contact with water can develop mold and bacteria growth.

  • In visible mist humidifiers, mold spores and bacteria can potentially be released in the mist. Of course, bacteria and mold spores are always in the air we breathe – it’s just best not to add more with an unclean humidifier.
  • In invisible moisture humidifiers, mold and bacteria can grow on the filter, creating an odor and preventing the filter from working properly.

Since nobody wants a humidifier that (1) doesn’t work well or (2) becomes a mold hang-out spot, you absolutely need to clean your humidifier regularly.

The 3 Steps to Effective Cleaning

The good news is, cleaning your humidifier is really easy, especially if you clean it regularly.

1. Daily rinse and refill: A daily rinse and refill goes a long way towards preventing scale and mold/bacteria growth in the first place.

  • On days when you’re using your humidifier, just rinse out the humidifier and refill it with clean water.
  • For a filtered humidifier, also be sure to flip over your filter (top to bottom) when you refill the tank.

2. Weekly descale and disinfect: During periods of time when you’re using your humidifier, descale and disinfect it once a week.

  • Clean the humidifier with white vinegar to remove mineral deposits.
  • Then clean the humidifier with a bleach solution to disinfect it.
  • See your owner’s manual for the specifics of this two-part process.

If your humidifier has a filter, the filter should be replaced every 30-60 days.

  • Never clean the filter with chemicals or soaps.
  • You can loosen scale on a hardened filter by soaking the filter in cool water – but know that a replacement filter will be needed soon.
  • If the filter has mold growth on it or smells “off,” replace the filter promptly.

3. Seasonal shut-down and start-up:

  • Before you store your humidifier, descale and disinfect it one last time.
  • When you bring the humidifier out of storage again, descale and disinfect it again to ensure good working condition for the season.

The benefits of humidifying outweigh the small amount of cleaning that keeps your humidifier working well.

Find the right humidifier for you – or visit our YouTube channel for cleaning videos on your product.

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