It’s wildfire season.
Although wildfires are nothing new, they have been increasing in severity over the past few decades.
Wildfire smoke can be very damaging to your health, causing or exacerbating:
- respiratory problems (like coughing, difficulty breathing, bronchitis, and generally reduced lung function)
- serious cardiovascular problems (heart attack/failure)
- weakened immune response and increase in fungal infections
- skin and eye irritation
- pregnancy loss, low birth weight, and preterm delivery
- increased risk of lung and brain cancer/tumors
I know this can be scary, especially since there’s essentially nothing immediate you can do as an individual to stop a wildfire once it’s happening.
However, there is quite a bit you CAN do to care for yourself and your loved ones if/when you are experiencing poor air quality due to wildfire smoke.
I hope this guide will help you feel more prepared so that you can better support yourself and your neighbors while experiencing poor air quality due to wildfires.
Table of Contents
- 1. Do your part to prevent wildfires from starting in the first place.
- 2. Be prepared to evacuate if you need to.
- 3. Be aware if you or your loved ones are more vulnerable.
- 4. Monitor your air quality.
- 5. Stay inside if needed.
- 6. Don’t make it worse.
- 7. Create a “Clean Room”
- 8. Mask up.
- 9. Eat & drink for holistic support and detox.
- 10. Be careful during cleanup.
- 11. The Best Air Purifiers for Wildfire Smoke
This article contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase.
1. Do your part to prevent wildfires from starting in the first place.
A lot of us grew up hearing Smokey the Bear telling us that “Only you can prevent wildfires,” and that message is perhaps even more important today, for adults included.
According to the National Park Service, “Nearly 85 percent of wildland fires in the United States are caused by humans. Human-caused fires result from campfires left unattended, the burning of debris, equipment use and malfunctions, negligently discarded cigarettes, and intentional acts of arson.”
(The other ~15% are started by natural causes such as lightning.)
Here are things you can do to make sure YOU don’t accidentally start a wildfire that gets out of control:
- If you smoke (cigarettes or other things), dispose of them properly. Make sure they’re completely extinguished and put them in a trash can.
- If you have any campfires or bonfires, always follow safety guidelines. Check out Smokey’s best practices here. Depending on where you live, there may be times when you should not have a fire at all. Never leave fires unattended, have a water source nearby, and always extinguish them fully.
- Know how to operate outdoor equipment properly. This includes grilling but also other things that could generate a spark, like lawnmowers, chainsaws, or welding equipment.
- Don’t putt off your own fireworks. (Or at the very least, make sure you know what you’re doing and avoid using them during times of increased fire risk.)
- Talk to the young people in your life about not playing with matches, lighters, etc.
- Stay alert to local burn bans, restrictions, and regulations.
2. Be prepared to evacuate if you need to.
It might go without saying, but if a wildfire is actually happening in or close to your area, make sure you play close attention to the news and follow warnings and recommendations from your local officials.
Wildfires can be difficult to control and they can change direction and size pretty fast, depending on the weather.
ReadyForWildfire.org has a lot of great resources to help you make an evacuation plan. (They even have an app that will help you make a customized plan with checklists and everything.)
3. Be aware if you or your loved ones are more vulnerable.
Just like with other kinds of toxicants, some people are more susceptible to the damaging effects of wildfire smoke.
Those who are more vulnerable include:
- Those with respiratory diseases like COPD, lung cancer, and asthma
- People with heart problems
- Older adults
- Babies and children
- Pregnant people
- People with autoimmune conditions, MSC, or other sensitivities
If you, your loved ones, or neighbors are in one or several of those vulnerable populations, you may need to either evacuate sooner and for longer, and/or take more of the precautions below.
You will also want to be in communication with your doctor so they can make sure you put the best measures in place based on your individual needs.
Of course, if you are having trouble breathing or having other worsening symptoms, don’t hesitate to go to the emergency room or otherwise get the help you need.
4. Monitor your air quality.
Once a fire gets going, you’ll want to keep a close eye on the air quality in your area so that you can decide if you should be going outside and how much extra support you should give your body.
PurpleAir is one of the best places to check the realtime area quality in your area.
Staying alert to local news and public health messages is always a good idea, too.
5. Stay inside if needed.
Despite the fact that indoor air quality actually tends to be worse than outdoor air quality in general, it’s obviously different when there’s wildfire smoke.
That’s especially true if you’re able to use an air purifier inside, which we’ll get to more in a minute.
So if your outdoor air quality is bad because of smoke, shut the doors and windows and stay inside when possible. Obviously that’s not always possible if you have to work or go to the store, but just do what you can.
Use common sense here, too. If tempuratures are really hot and you don’t have air conditioning, don’t overheat in your house. Under extreme circumstances, you may need to go to a designated local shelter for a time.
6. Don’t make it worse.
Avoid putting more smoke and other particulates into your air by skipping the candles, air fresheners, and other fumes for the time being. Don’t use the fireplace. Try to make your meals without using the stove or oven if you can, especially if it’s gas-powered.
You don’t have to go to the extreme about it, but when your air quality is already poor, these little practical things can help make a difference.
7. Create a “Clean Room”
Rather than trying to “purify” your whole house, it may be easier to designate one “clean room” where you’ll spend most of your time. It’s much easier (and cheaper) to control the air quality and temperature in one specific room rather than the entire home.
The bedroom or living room is probably the best choice, but it will depend on things like family size, bathroom location, etc.
Here are the basics to creating a “clean room” in your home:
- Choose a room that ideally has minimal windows and doors to the outside. Even better if it has an attached bathroom.
- Close the windows and doors to the outside. Depending on how severe your situation is, you may even want to use heavy-duty tape or weather stripping to further seal gaps or cracks where smoke could enter.
- Decide whether or not you should close all the vents and/or turn off the HVAC system. On one hand, you may want to avoid using the HVAC since it draws in air (and therefore smoke) from outside. But you don’t want to overheat, either. You may choose to run a regular fan instead of the air conditioner. Be mindful and make the best decision you can based on your needs and current air quality.
- Run a freestanding air purifier. This is, of course, one of the most powerful steps you can take. We’ve got the rundown on air filter recommendations below.
- Have your essential supplies handy. This might include drinking water, non-perishable food, a first aid kit, flash light, batteries and chargers, etc. You may even have an evacuation bag packed and ready to go. Again, this is going to depend on the severity of your situation, how close you are to current wildfires, and how high-risk your local climate is in general.
- Spend as much time in the clean room as you can. If you designated the living room as your clean room, then you may want to sleep on the couch or air mattress. If your clean room is in a bedroom and you usually work from a home office, then you may want to bring your computer into the bedroom for the time being. You get the idea.
Here is a more info from the EPA about creating and maintaining a clean room during a wildfire.
8. Mask up.
To help minimize particulate inhalation, the CDC recommends N95 or P100 respirators with two straps. They say you should not rely on things like “dust” masks, bandanas, or other makeshift masks when dealing with wildfire smoke, especially for longterm exposure.
Depending on your situation, you may also want to put other protective layers on as well. Think eye goggles, long sleeves, and hats.
9. Eat & drink for holistic support and detox.
I strongly believe in avoidance first and detox second. That being said, there are obviously some environmental toxicants you just cannot avoid. You still have to breathe, whether the air is dirty or not!
So, here are some things you can do to give your body support against the exposures you can’t control. (As always, make sure to talk to your doctor or healthcare professional before starting a new supplement or diet.)
- Stay hydrated. It helps you flush toxicants out and supports your overall health. Even better if you can drink filtered water.
- Focus on getting as much high-quality sleep as you can. During sleep, our bodies do a lot of repair and rejuvenation, which includes flushing toxins that could build up and cause problems down the road. Of course, being well-rested will also help you think clearly and manage stress and anxiety in the short-term as well.
- Get cancer-fighting antioxidants in your diet. This includes things like berries, nuts, vegetables, and green tea.
- You may even consider providing extra support with a quality multivitamin or supplementation, like glutathione (a great antioxidant) or liver-supporting herbs. (But again: you should talk to your doctor before starting new supplements. It’s not always right for everyone.)
- Support your gut mmbiome with prebiotics and probiotics. These can come from food (like onions, garlic, kimchi, and sauerkraut) or via a high-quality synbiotic. Our intestinal cells also have detoxification system and fostering a healthy gut microbiome can make sure those are working properly.
- Make sure you’re drinking enough and going to the bathroom regularly. (Our body primarily gets rid of toxins through urine and excrement.) Pre- and probiotics can help with this, too!
- Try to limit additional inflammatory substances such as alcohol, tobacco, and overly processed foods.
- Try to decrease exposure to other toxicants in your environment through personal care and cleaning products. This can help decrease your overall body burden and give your liver and kidneys less work to do.
- Stay active. Exercise can help rid of certain toxicants through sweat and reduce overall inflammation that can lead to disease (including cancer). Of course, exercise can be very beneficial for mental health during stressful times as well. This can be tough if you’re staying inside, but there are lots of free home workouts available on YouTube! Again: just do what you can.
- Speaking of stress, try to manage it. Life is stressful enough, and extreme weather events don’t help. Remember that chronic stress can be toxic to your longterm health as well. So take care of yourself, whatever that looks like for you. It might mean spending time with loved ones; meditation or breath work; reading or watching TV, dancing, singing, or playing music; snuggling with pets; etc.
10. Be careful during cleanup.
If you’re in an area that was more directly affected by a wildfire (as opposed to smoke just “passing through”), then make sure you take precautions after the fire is over as well. The ash that gets left behind can be very irritating to the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs, so make sure to wear protective gear and wash things down.
If you’re in one of the vulnerable populations mentioned above, you should probably not be doing cleanup work. Here are more tips on safe cleanup from the EPA.
11. The Best Air Purifiers for Wildfire Smoke
As mentioned above, running a mobile/freestanding air purifier is one of the most powerful things you can do during a wildfire. So let’s talk about that…
First things first: anything is better than nothing.
I have included my top recommendations for air filter brands below, but they all require a monetary investment. While I do think pretty much everyone can benefit from filtering the air in their home and/or workplace, I know that not everyone can afford a high-quality air purifier right now.
Not to mention, if you’re reading this in the midst of an active wildfire situation, you may not have the time to order an air purifier online and wait for it to be shipped to you.
So, first: remember that for the most part, any filtration is better than no filtration. If you need to run to Target or Walmart and grab whatever you can—great. If possible, look for one with a mix of filtration media, including both activated carbon and a HEPA filter. This will help get rid of a variety of differently-sized particulates, gasses, and more.
But again, anything is better than nothing.
Second: bear in mind that no air purifier is perfect. In my opinion, they shouldn’t really be called “air purifiers” because they can’t 100% “purify” the air so that it’s completely free from any toxicants at all. But well-made ones will make a huge difference.
Lastly, if you already have an air purifier, then now might be a good time to check and see if any of the filters need replaced!
If you’d like to take a deeper dive into what exactly to look for in the best air purifiers for wildfire smoke, check out this article.
How to Make a Cheap DIY Box Fan Air Filter
Now, if you for some reason can’t even get your hands on a store-bought air purifier, the EPA has directions on how to make your own DIY air filter for cheap.
As you can see, it’s pretty simple: you basically just attach a MERV 13 HVAC filter to a box fan. (MERV 13 filters fine particulates found in smoke.)
Another good thing about this option is that you can really easily tell when the filter needs to be changed just by looking at it.
Just note that this is really not meant to be a longterm solution.
Now let’s get to my recommendations for the best air purifiers for wildfire smoke.
The AirDoctor is one of the best “universal” air purifiers, meaning:
- It’s in the middle price range (they have a few different versions, ranging from ~$329 to ~1,200 if you buy a bundle).
- They go with a variety of lifestyles, meaning they fit into small spaces, can be easily moved from room to room, are good for both home owners and renters, etc.
- They’re relatively quiet. (Although they do get louder when the air quality is bad. They have an automatic sensor, so it gets louder or quieter depending on how dirty the air is and how hard the filter is working.)
- They get the job done with their UltraHEPA filtration, which has the ability to capture 100% of particles that are 0.003 microns in size and larger. (They don’t have very much carbon though, which is the main downside.)
- They’re very user-friendly.
There are four different versions of the AirDoctor, and the main difference between them is the coverage they’re able to provide for different-sized rooms. The 5500, which is their most powerful option, also has double the filters in it.
All of AirDoctor’s options have three types of filters:
- 1 Pre-Filter (attached to UltraHEPA® Filter)
- 1 Carbon/VOC Filter
- 1 H13 UltraHEPA Filter
They also all have an air quality particle sensor and indicator light, which turns colors (blue, orange, or red) based on how dirty the air is at any given moment. You also have the option of turning the automatic setting off and manually choosing your speed if you want to.
IQAir also comes with a HyperHEPA filter, which is able to filter out 99.5% particles at 0.003 microns and larger. The amount of carbon they have is in between AirDoctor and Austin Air—it’s between five and 12 pounds, depending on which model you get.
Pricing starts at $849 for the full room purifiers. (They do have smaller ones for the car, nightstand, or desk, which start at $399.) Some of their models are kind of bulky, but their Atem Series options are smaller, quieter, and relatively easy to move around the house.
Austin Air is an okay option.
They are quite a bit more expensive than the AirDoctors (their most affordable option currently starts at $715) and they tend to be louder and a bit bulkier compared to the AirDoctor.
But they are also made from steel (the AirDoctors are made with plastic) and have a lot more carbon than the AirDoctors. Austin Air comes with 13.5 pounds of carbon whereas the AirDoctor’s only come with a max of three pounds. That said, Austin Air’s activated carbon is mixed with zeolite, which most sources say is a filler that doesn’t adsorb quite as well.
It does have a HEPA filter, however it’s just a standard HEPA as opposed to an UltraHEPA. (Where the AirDoctor can filter 100% at .003 microns, the Austin Air ones can filter 99.97% at 0.1 microns.) You can read more about this here.
In terms of how long the filters actually last before you have to replace them: the Austin Air ones tend to last the longest, followed by IQAir and then Air Doctor. Specifics depend on which model you get and how much filtering they’re doing.
All of these air purifiers are good options—both for wildfire smoke management and for everyday use. Ultimately, what you choose will depend on your preferences, needs, and budget.
I hope this guide has helped give you make a plan and find a little peace of mind in the midst of wildfire season. If you found this helpful and would like to receive similar info, recommendations, and more delivered to your inbox once a week, sign up for Filtered Fridays.