Tobacco smoke contains more than 4,000 compounds, at least 40 of which are known carcinogens, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. In addition to tiny particles that can harm your health, cigarette smoke also contains gaseous pollutants that can leave an unpleasant odor in your home. While eliminating tobacco odors completely can be difficult, the right furnace filter can help to reduce tobacco-related odors and improve indoor air quality in your home.
Tobacco Smoke Components
Tobacco smoke consists of both fine particles and gaseous pollutants. The fine particles in smoke pose serious health risks, and can irritate asthma and contribute to lung or cardiovascular disease. A typical furnace filter is designed to trap these particles, though these filers vary significantly in their effectiveness. The odor in tobacco smoke comes from gaseous pollutants, not particles. Even the most effective traditional furnace filter can't trap gaseous pollutants. That means a standard furnace filter might help protect your health but does little to address the unpleasant smell associated with tobacco smoke.
Filters for Tobacco Odors
To eliminate tobacco odors, look for gas-phase filters rather than standard fibrous filters. Gas-phase filters work by either adsorption or chemisorption. Adsorption filters contain a layer of activated carbon or another sorbent to capture gaseous pollutants. Chemisorption filters contain a sorbent that undergoes a chemical reaction with tobacco smoke, transforming pollutants within the smoke into harmless materials like carbon dioxide or water vapor. Gas-phase filters are much less common than fibrous filters for residential furnace systems, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and not all are designed to remove tobacco odors. These filters also have relatively short lives and need to be replaced often to prevent them from releasing odors back into the air. Consult an HVAC professional for help choosing a gas-phase filter system that will trap tobacco odors and work with your heating and cooling equipment.
Combination particle and gas-phase filters help filter both particles and odors from tobacco smoke in a single step. These filters consist of layers of impregnated media, such as fibrous panels coated with carbon, alumina or another sorbent. Like gas-phase filters, these impregnated filters have a relatively short life and require frequent replacement to remove odors.
Typically, gas-phase filters should be used with traditional particle filters. The particle filter not only captures harmful particles to protect your health but also keeps these particles from affecting the performance of the gas-phase filter. For example, a particle filter may be placed at air return grills, with the gas-phase filter installed further along the return duct line. When choosing a particle filter, pay attention to the minimum efficiency reporting value. The higher the MERV, the more effectively the filter is able to capture small particles, such as those found in tobacco smoke. Traditional furnace filters feature a MERV value between 1 an 4, according to the EPA, and only capture the largest particles of dust and dander in the air. A MERV rating of 10 means the filter captures at least 50 percent of particles measuring 1 to 3 micron, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. A MERV 16 filter captures 95 percent of these particles, including small particles found in tobacco smoke.
Even the best furnace filters can only do so much to control tobacco smoke in the home. The best way to eliminate tobacco odors and poor indoor air quality is to eliminate the source of these odors and ventilate your home with fresh outdoor air, according to the EPA. Consider smoking outdoors and asking guests to keep cigarettes outside to avoid unpleasant odors in the home.
- U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission: The Inside Story -- A Guide to Indoor Air Quality
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Residential Air Cleaners -- A Summary of Available Information
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Guide to Air Cleaners in the Home
- Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory: System Effects of High Efficiency Filters in Homes
- Bob Vila: How to Choose the Right Furnace Filter
Emily Beach works in the commercial construction industry in Maryland. She received her LEED accreditation from the U.S. Green Building Council in 2008 and is in the process of working towards an Architectural Hardware Consultant certification from the Door and Hardware Institute. She received a bachelor's degree in economics and management from Goucher College in Towson, Maryland.