Before we get into how to remove smoke, it's good to understand first what smoke is.
What is Smoke?Smoke is a combination of tiny particulates and gases. Most commonly we see a need to remove cigarette smoke and this contains hundreds of gases as well as particles.
What we have learned in selling air purifiers for smoke removal for many years is that the user judges the performance based on the air cleaner's ability to remove the smoke odor.
Yet, to be effective an air cleaner should remove both airborne particles and the smoke smell.
While HEPA filter based media is effective for many of the airborne particles, the smoke odors (which are gases), will simply pass through the fibers. In some cases, the filter fibers can catch some smoke odors.
We see this when someone smokes heavily and uses only this type of filtration to clean the air. What happens is you can still smell the tobacco smoke and in some cases the smoke smell is re-released back into the room.
For the removal of airborne particles like dust and pollen, a HEPA filter based media pleated filter is best. However, smoke can be particularly tricky and these filters tend to not be effective in odor removal. This is because these air filters are not designed to remove gases. Activated carbon filters in combination with HEPA filter based media filtration are a better solution if smoke is your main concern.
To effectively remove smoke requires the ability to remove the smoke odors as well. This is really what you are looking for and we address the different technology options further down the page.
How to Remove Smoke SmellAs we highlight here with an air purifier, there are 3 core strategies for clean air.
- Remove the Source of the Smoke. For example, don't allow people to smoke indoors.
- Ventilation - bring in fresh air from the outside and ventilate out the indoor air
- Air Filtration - use an air cleaner or air filtration to remove smoke from a space
If you are reading this, chances are the first two options (removing the source of the smoke and ventilate it outside) are not viable options. Or they are not completely solving the problem.
So, the next best option is to clean the air through air filtration. We see this commonly with people who do not smoke but rather second-hand smoke and smell from a neighbor enters their apartment. Or you smoke and want to remove it to improve the indoor air quality.
Here is an overview of the ways to filter the air.
Types of Smoke Eater Technologies
- Electronic: An electronic smoke remover commonly uses electrical charges such as negative ionization to remove odors. They commonly produce ozone as a by-product and the ozone is what neutralizes the unwanted odors.
- Electrostatic: In an electrostatic system there are positively and negatively charged metal plates that collect the smoke particles. Ozone can be produced to remove the odors. This type is sometimes called an electronic air cleaner.
- Activated Carbon: Carbon once activated acts like a sponge to adsorb gases, smoke and VOCs. Carbon by itself is not effective for all gases such as formaldehyde, however it is a safe, ozone free method for the removal of most gases. See our guide on activated carbon to learn more about how it works and the benefits.
- Ozone Generator: As the name implies an ozone generator pumps out volumes of ozone to quickly wipe out any odor. Ozone is very effective however it is dangerous for your lungs. You should not be in a room where ozone is being used. Think of it like fumigating a room for bugs, very effective but not meant to be breathed in while it’s running. In 2010, the state of California enacted ozone emission standards for room air cleaners and as a result you do not see ozone generators in residential use.
Home Versus Commercial Smoke EatersNext we will go into the three basic groups – home use, commercial and portable.
- Home Smoke Eaters: A home smoke eater as the name suggests is a residential system. These tend to be smaller since in most cases they are designed to clean a single room. The most popular is a room air purifier since there is no installation required. There is an option to install this into your ventilation system however we have not seen one that is effective for odor removal. If you do put in a whole house air cleaning system in your home’s HVAC, it most likely is for the removal of dust and other large airborne particles and not the gases related to smoke and smoke odors.
- Commercial Smoke Eaters: A commercial smoke eater is often installed in the ceiling. You commonly see these in restaurants and bars. The air flow rates tend to be much higher than home units. Considerations for the proper commercial unit include the number of smokers and the size of the room. You need sufficient ventilation and air flow to properly clean the air in a commercial setting.
- Portable Smoke Eaters: A portable smoke eater is a smaller device for removing smoke odors. They are common in homes. We suggest the mod+ air purifier since it balances a high air flow with high efficiency filtration and a bed of advanced granular activated carbon. In some cases you can find portable units as rentals at a big box store. Be careful not to use an air cleaner that releases ozone as this is a lung irritant and considered indoor air pollution.
How to Choose a Home Air Filtration SystemAs noted above, the best way to remove smoke and the associated odors with air filtration is with a dedicated room smoke eater. For it to work well it has to move enough air for your square footage. And it needs to have sufficient filter media to improve the indoor air quality.
To guide you through the process we wrote this article on how to choose an air purifier based on your room size. It goes into CADR, or Clean Air Delivery Rate which is the industry standard for assessing the volume of clean air from an air cleaner.
We also suggest for tobacco smoke removal to ensure the carbon air filter has at least a few pounds of granular activated carbon. Otherwise the smoke eater does not have enough carbon to adsorb the odors.
Another consideration is the type of home. Rooms that open to others effectively create a much larger area that needs cleaning. Also need to consider any ventilation you may have from the air conditioning system that could bring in air from other spaces. The design of your home may impact this as well such as from a split-level home.
We specialize in making portable room smoke eaters for both home and office use. There are some other types of installations and here is a brief overview.
Types of Smoke Eater Installations
- Ceiling Mounted: In commercial applications like restaurants, bars and casinos a ceiling mounted unit is able to tie into the ventilation system and provide the needed air changes.
- Portable: A portable air cleaner is most common in the home since most people don’t want to deal with the hassle of an installation. We are starting to see growing demand in office buildings and other commercial environments for portable air purifiers. A benefit to the room air purifier is that it has a dedicated fan so it has enough power to push through dense carbon air filters. This is what you need in order to remove smoke smell.
- Concealed: No one likes to see an ugly industrial air cleaner so concealed systems are a good option for commercial use to keep the air cleaners out of sight.
Commercial Smoke Eater UsesThere are a variety of uses for smoke eaters in commercial buildings. Here is a listing of some of the most popular uses we see.
- Cigarette Smoke: This is the most common reason for purchasing a smoke eater. Thanks to internet search data we also see a fair amount of activity for marijuana smoke removal.
- Cigar Smoke: While not as popular as cigarettes, we see a good demand for cigar smoke removal
- Vaping Smoke and Vapors: Vaping has become as recognizable and popular as cigarettes. The smoke and vapors released from a vape device needs to be cleaned just like cigarette smoke.
- Wildfire Smoke: Wildfire smoke is a major issue for anyone living or working in an area that experiences wildfires. Having a powerful system that cleans your indoor air of wildfire smoke is essential.
- Restaurant Smoke: Restaurants have a need to remove smoke from the kitchen area. With smoking laws being enacted across the country you see less smoking indoors however some restaurants still need a ventilation system to provide proper indoor air quality.
- Bar Smoke: Bars tend to have smaller spaces than restaurants and bar smoke can reach high concentrations. This requires a top notch commercial smoke eater that is integrated into the ventilation system.
- Bowling Alley Smoke: Bowling alleys used to be smoke havens but in recent years less so. Similar to a restaurant kitchen, bowling alleys have a need to smoke removal related to food preparation and the occasional smoker.
- Casino Smoke: Welcome to a popular place for smoke. Think Vegas. And a lot of cigars in a large area. A commercial system is needed to help manage the indoor air quality.
- Bingo Smoke: Bingo halls have not changed much in 50 years and there remains a strong need for smoke removal.
- Office Smoke: Currently most office workers need to go outside to light up so office smoke is not the concern it was previously however a commercial air purifier has been shown to improve worker productivity up to 9%.
- Welding Smoke: Gases and fumes from welding and other industrial applications are frequent users of a smoke eater.
Want to learn more about cleaning your air? Check out this guide on how to choose an air purifier.