The Long-Term Effects of Wildfire Smoke

Every year, wildfires burn millions of acres across the United States. By far, California sees the worst of it. However, wildfires also break out in Oregon, Montana, Washington, Arizona, and Idaho, among other states. It’s not just the devastation to Mother Nature that we have to think about. There are long-term health effects of wildfire smoke that can impact human beings at risk long after the fires have been put out.

Why is Wildfire Smoke So Toxic?

You probably already know that smoke is bad for you, but let’s talk about wildfire smoke specifically. Inhaling these particles can cause a number of issues, including respiratory irritation and shortness of breath. Your eyes, nose, and throat might feel itchy or like they’re burning. Furthermore, if you have a pre-existing condition — like asthma, lung disease, or heart disease — exposure to wildfire smoke can make them worse.

It’s particularly hazardous for pregnant women and their fetuses, babies and children, and the elderly.

Over the long term, exposure might contribute to heart attacks, stroke, lung cancer, and even problems with cognitive functioning.


car driving through wildfire smoke outside


Wildfire Smoke Can Linger

Containing and eliminating the smoke from wildfires is not a quick process. In fact, there really is no such thing as “eliminating” it. First, bear in mind that it can take weeks and even months to get a fire under control.

The amount of time the smoke can linger in your area — and thus, your home — depends on a few factors, including the weather. For instance, wind patterns can carry the smoke to neighboring states. This is why wildfires in Canada sometimes mean that the smoke makes its way throughout the United States.

The severity of the wildfire also has an impact. Fires that are more copious and ongoing are going to produce more smoke that can last longer and travel farther.

Additionally, wildfire smoke will initially gather at higher elevations in the atmosphere. However, when it’s abundant, it will gather lower down, too, reducing visibility and causing respiratory problems.

All in all, it can take several weeks for smoke particles to clear out of the atmosphere. Sometimes, if there are mountains anywhere nearby, the particles will eventually settle in the ice and snow. 


people watching wildfires from their yard


What Does This Mean for Indoor Air Pollution?

If wildfires are burning nearby — this means in neighboring states or countries — there’s a high likelihood that the smoke will end up in your home. First, you can check to see exactly what the air quality is like in your area. 

If the website tells you that the quality isn’t great, you might need to consider wildfire smoke finding its way into your home. There are a few ways it gets inside:

  • Natural ventilation (through open windows and doors)
  • Mechanical ventilation (through fans and the HVAC system)
  • Infiltration (through smalls cracks and openings around closed windows and doors)

While you might not be able to control the smoke outside, there are things you can do to prevent it from coming indoors and making you and your loved ones sick:

  • Keep the doors and windows closed as much as possible.
  • If you notice a draft when you stand next to them, there’s a gap that smoke can get through! Seal them up and add extra insulation.
  • Use an air purifier that utilizes a replaceable medical-grade HEPA 13 filter. This will help to remove some of those nasty smoke particles from the air you breathe, making it safer and also removing the smell.
  • If your HVAC system has fresh air intake, set it to recirculate mode so that it reuses the air in the home, instead of bringing in new air from outside.
  • If you need to cool a room, opt for fans or window air conditioners (but only if you can close the outdoor air damper) over evaporative coolers.
  • To target all types of indoor air pollution, it’s a smart idea to keep your home clean. Disinfect high-touch surfaces daily. Wash your bedding weekly. Vacuum once a week and possibly more frequently, if you have pets. And try to keep your pets off of any furniture that you sit on!

What to Look for in Air Purification Technology

An air purifier is one of the best ways to fight wildfire smoke in the home because it relies on the power of sophisticated technology and it’s a mostly hands-off approach.


Look for an air purification system that uses multiple layers of filtration and sanitization. While a medical-grade HEPA 13 filter will do a good majority of the work, a pre-filter, activated carbon filter, and UV-C light are also good additions. Use a purifier that monitors the air quality in real-time and runs as needed. It should also notify you when it’s time to replace the filter so that it can continue running optimally.

The great news about air purifiers is that they won’t work solely on wildfire smoke in your home. Do you have pets? Do you cook with a gas stove? Do you light candles? Do you use toxic household cleaners? Even if you answered “no” to all of these questions, at the very least, you have dust in your home, no matter how much you clean. Everybody does. In that case, an air purifier will be your ally.

Cleansing and Purifying the Air You Breathe

We don’t think much about the air around us, but it’s constantly having an impact on us — positive or negative. There is a direct link between air pollution and our health. Take control of the quality of your indoor air and shop with Sans today.