As wildfire season gets underway, local officials may suggest limiting your time outdoors if the air quality index shows that the smoke is making the air unhealthy. As you move indoors, there are additional steps you can take to protect your lungs from the dangers of wildfire smoke, as some unhealthy air may still seep into your home. This is why setting up a clean room may be a good idea. A clean room is a place where you make a dedicated effort to reduce the amount of wildfire smoke that seeps into your home, and where you and your family can spend most of your time during a smoke advisory.

When creating your clean room, here are some recommended steps to follow:  

  1. Pick an appropriate space. This should be a room big enough to fit everyone in your household comfortably. A bedroom with an attached bathroom, for instance, may be a good choice so that you can minimize the number of times people are going in and out of the room.
  2. Keep all windows and doors closed and secure the best you can. This could mean rolling up a towel and placing it at the bottom or sides of the door, where there are gaps, to avoid smoke seeping in from the rest of the house. However, you want to make sure that you are able to get out of the room in case of an emergency.
  3. Avoid adding any pollutants to the air. This includes avoiding burning candles or incense, smoking or vaping. You might be tempted to clean if you are in one room for an extended period of time, but vacuuming, using strong cleaners or aerosol products, or using air fresheners that mask the smell of smoke is not recommended. If you need to clean, consider dusting or mopping surfaces with a damp cloth. 
  4. Keep cool. This can mean running a fan or a central air AC set to recirculate. You should not use a whole house fan or a portable air conditioner with a hose leading outside because it will pull in the polluted outdoor air. If you are unable to keep cool without opening windows or using a cooling system that pulls in outdoor air, consider sheltering elsewhere.
  5. Filter the air. Consider using a portable air cleaner to filter the air in your clean room. The air cleaner should be the right size for your room, should not create ozone, and should have a HEPA filter. If you are unable to purchase a commercial portable air cleaner, you can also make an affordable DIY air cleaner with a box fan and a furnace filter. When it comes to your furnace/air conditioning unit, remember to check the filters and replace them with a high-quality MERV13 rating or higher filter as needed. Filters show a lot more wear when straining smoke, so make a note to get a new one after the unhealthy air event has passed as it will likely need to be replaced.

If you are unable to stay cool in your home with the windows shut or too much smoke is still getting into your home, it may be time to seek shelter elsewhere. You may consider staying with friends and family who are not impacted by the smoke or seek out a public clean air shelter.

Symptoms of Smoke Exposure

Anyone can be impacted by wildfire smoke. High levels of smoke can make breathing more difficult. Symptoms to watch for include wheezing, shortness of breath, difficulty taking a full breath, chest heaviness, lightheadedness and dizziness. If you experience these symptoms, or any symptoms that concern you, reach out to your healthcare provider. If you have a chronic lung disease, such as asthma or COPD, follow your action plan and take medications as prescribed and if your symptoms aren’t relieved, contact your healthcare provider.

For more advice, contact our Lung HelpLine at 800-LUNGUSA or visit Lung.org/wildfires.

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