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Wildfire smoke lingers in your home, new research shows

Researchers found that once the compounds stick, it could take weeks, or even months, before they desorb back into the air.
Wildfire smoke lingers in your home, new research shows
Posted at 3:29 PM, Oct 18, 2023

Wildfire smoke from Canada inundated the United States this summer, causing apocalyptic scenes from New York to Washington. While the smoke moved out within days, some compounds may still remain inside your house.

New research found wildfire smoke may linger inside your home long after a fire is out.

“The gases associated with wildfire smoke, we call them volatile organic compounds or VOCs, so those gases enter into the home,” said Delphine Farmer, a professor of chemistry at Colorado State University and part of the study's research team.

“Then they end up sticking onto any of the indoor surfaces in your home, by that I mean the floors, the furniture, the drywall, the ceiling,” she explained.

Once the compounds stick, it could be for hours, weeks, or even months before they desorb back into the air, depending on the molecules.

@scrippsnews Compounds from #wildfire smoke may linger inside our homes longer than you think, new #research ♬ original sound - Scripps News

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“Some of these VOCs we know are carcinogenic, others we know are toxic to human health in different ways,” Farmer said.

Some of these compounds can cause cardiorespiratory issues or inflammatory problems, for example, depending on the amount of exposure. But it’s hard to tell if these compounds are there in the first place.

So what can you do if wildfire smoke has recently impacted the area you live in? Start by opening windows and doors to ventilate on a clean air day. However, Farmer said this only works while the windows and doors are open. When they are closed, VOCs will once again shed off the walls and other objects and accumulate in your indoor air.

What about air filters?

“Some of the air filters worked to reduce the levels but not by very much and only for as long as the air cleaners were turned on,” Farmer said.

Next, dust, mop, and vacuum your home.

“That actually had a very positive effect on indoor air quality, so it removed all those reservoirs of the VOCs that had stuck to the floors and the countertops,” she said.

While this helped get rid of any lingering compounds, researchers say the air never got back to initial levels before the smoke entered the home.

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