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Can an air purifier really help you breathe easier during wildfire season?

It’s becoming a more and more common summer occurrence … dangerous wildfires burning across the country. Even if you’re nowhere near the literal line of fire, wildfires can have a much broader impact. Wildfire smoke is able to spread far and wide. Borne aloft on winds high into the atmosphere, smoke can be carried hundreds of miles from its origin, choking cities, towns, and even deeply urban areas. Particularly for those with health problems, breathing difficulties, and other medical conditions that can strain the heart and lungs, widespread wildfire smoke is not only an annoyance it’s a bona fide health hazard. Older adults, expectant mothers, and even small children can be most at risk of developing breathing difficulties when it’s smoky.

While firefighters will be working on putting out a blaze at its source (and thank you fire crews from coast to coast, and across Canada too!) it may seem like there’s nothing those of us inhaling the smoke so far away can do to fight back.

The expert advice is generally the same each summer: check local air quality reports, close the windows against the smoke, and try to avoid going outside in the middle of the day when temperatures are hot and smoke concentrations may be at their highest.

You can also invest in some products that can truly do a good job to help keep your indoor air clean. The U. S. Centers for Disease Control recommends keeping your indoor air as clean as possible.

Can air conditioners help with wildfire smoke?

Sweet relief! Yes, even the CDC thinks running an air conditioner is a good idea, particularly when the air outside is smoky. You do need to ensure the fresh air intake is not pulling in dirty air from outside, and it’s important to keep the filter clean. This may involve washing or rinsing it often, or keeping a replacement or two on standby, depending on the air quality.

In some cases, even a portable or small format air conditioner can help in the situation. On a particularly smoky summer day last year, I was able to keep our air conditioner running in the bedroom with all the room’s doors and windows closed, creating sort of a refuge room where we could escape if it got too smoky. Having a cool refreshing space can go a long way to helping you keep not just your sanity, but your overall health during a particularly smoky season. Even so, an air conditioner is not the ideal option.

Can air purifiers help with wildfire smoke?

Air purifier and filter on a table.

The best air purifiers designed for the home have a bunch of technologies that can help trap or destroy pollutants, chemicals, VOCs, smoke, and even viruses by pulling these molecules into their filters. They may create an electrical charge to attract and trap particles. They may also use a variety of filters, including HEPA filters to hold those unwanted particles and prevent them from getting back into the air. Air purifiers usually employ a fan to pull in particles.

There is any number of air purifier brands and products each with its own potential health benefits and smart technology. Each of them offers varying options in terms of the chemicals and pollutants they are able to trap. For the most part, having some type of device that is scrubbing your air is going to be helpful, but if you are targeting something like smoke specifically, you’ll want to ensure your air purifier has a properly designed filter to trap minuscule particles, and in many cases, this is a HEPA filter.

If your air is particularly smoky or the fire season is prolonged, you will likely need to run your purifier all day every day until things dissipate. That means another consideration for choosing an air purifier is to find one that is not too loud. There are also wearable air purifiers out there, too, if locking yourself in the house isn’t an option.

So, does an air purifier help against smoke?

I have had the opportunity to test several air purifiers over the last few years. In almost all cases, at some point during my testing, wildfire smoke has inundated my city. While in previous years all we could do was close the doors and windows and hope for the best, I am here to say that having a powerful air purifier (or more than one) running inside the house in addition to closing up the house is an outstanding way to improve the air quality.


One of the first air purifiers I had the chance to test was Molekule. While the version I had in my home is the smaller Molekule Air Mini, there is also a larger format version. I found the air mini on my bedside table was able to help create cleaner air while we slept. My initial intention for this purifier was to help alleviate my husband’s allergies, but I do think it helped scrub some of the smoke from our air. You can use the companion app to see what your purifier is detecting, and get an overall air quality report.

Dyson Pure Cool Humidify, Dyson Purifier Cool Formaldehyde

Dyson Pure Humidify Cool hero shot.

Dyson fans and purifiers are known as some of the most expensive, but also the most effective consumer air devices available. While I have not set up my own home microbiology lab to test them, I can say from personal experience that having one running in the house has helped lessen my husband’s allergic reactions.

During one particularly smoky summer where a pall of wildfire smoke hung over Calgary for nearly a month, I actually had two review units running in the house, the Dyson Pure Humidify + Cool, and the Dyson Purifier Cool Formaldehyde. These, combined with keeping the doors and windows shut as much as possible helped us create a zone of respite in the house.

Using the Dyson app and the detecting technology inside the purifiers, I was able to see the air in our house red-lining in the beginning, then gradually dissipating over several hours (usually until the next time we opened the door). I actually ended up lending one to my very grateful in-laws who were suffering in their own house.

It has been my personal experience that a high-quality air purifier can help those struggling to breathe during wildfire season. While I don’t have the science and laboratory skills to back that up, I’m not terribly fussed about the proof. I feel it works and my family agreed, and that’s good enough for me.

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Erin Lawrence
Erin has over 20 years of experience as a journalist in the media and news industries, with time both on camera and behind…
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