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How to keep indoor air clean during a wildfire

Air purifiers that help remove smoke and its smell

Published: August 11, 2015 08:00 AM

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The smoke and smell from burning wildfires like those in the West can create unhealthy air quality both outside and inside your home. If local authorities have asked you to evacuate your home, you should listen.  If not, you can check local air quality at airnow.gov.  Type in your zipcode to get detailed information and also check the wildfire map. Here are some dos and don’ts for dealing with wildfire smoke inside your home plus some air purifier picks from Consumer Reports tests.

How to clear the air

Keep doors and windows and fireplace dampers closed. Even if you have a portable air cleaner, it can become overwhelmed when too many particles are in the air and won’t clean as effectively.

Buy extra filters to have on hand. Activated charcoal filters typically need to be changed every three months. But you may need to change them more often if wildfire smoke hangs in the air for days or weeks. A lingering smoke smell while the air purifier is running is a sign you need to switch to a higher setting, or change the filter if the unit is already on high.
 
Run your window or central air. But set the fan on recirculate or close the fresh air intake so smoky air isn’t coming in. And remember to change that filter too. In Consumer Reports’ tests of whole-house air purifiers, Filtrete’s Healthy Living Ultimate Allergen Reduction 1900 MPR, $20, did an impressive job of removing smoke and dust.

Don't make matters worse. Burning candles or wood in the fireplace and smoking cigarettes or other tobacco products will add to the smoke in your home.  And don’t vacuum when air quality is at its worse as it can stir up particles already in your home.

Honeywell HPA300

Top air purifiers from our tests

Portable air purifiers with activated charcoal filters can help remove small particles in smoke. The Honeywell HPA300, $250, and the Whirlpool Whispure AP51030K, $300, removed the most smoke at lower, quieter settings in our tests. Both can clean large rooms. The Honeywell 50250 and Honeywell 50255 are less expensive, $160 and $180, but weren’t as effective on lower settings and were very noisy on higher, more effective settings.

For more choices check out our air purifier Ratings of 40 portable room and whole-house (labeled home) air purifiers. Our air purifier buying guide will give you a rundown on the latest advances in this product category.

 –Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman (@cklehrman on Twitter)

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