After years of camping and traveling through the American West, I’ve gotten used to dealing with wildfires—and their smoke—during peak burn season. While the best way to handle smoke is often to leave the area and head to clear skies, sometimes that’s not possible. For those times when you’re stuck in place with the haze of fire all around, you might consider options to scrub the air inside your camper to shelter your lungs, eyes, sinuses, and the rest of your body from the adverse effects of wildfire and campfire smoke.
According to the Center for Disease Control, wildfire smoke “is a mix of gases and fine particles from burning trees and plants, buildings, and other material.” They share that while wildfire smoke, and the degraded air quality that goes along with it, can make anyone sick, it’s particularly troublesome for those with health complications like asthma, heart disease, and pregnancy. There are even studies that warn about the delayed effect of inhaled smoke on future health.
With a goal of keeping my lungs and body happy during wildfire season, I did a deep-dive on how to monitor and improve the quality of indoor air. While there are many options on the market, I’ve narrowed down the options down by what’s currently available, user reviews, and the advice of friends.
Air purifiers are machines that remove contaminants in the air. These contaminants can include allergens, toxins, pollutants, and other particles. Long touted by those who suffer from allergies and asthma, an air purifier can help to clean the air inside the RV while wildfire smoke swirls outside.
The Dyson Pure Hot + Cool HP01 HEPA Air Purifier is the least expensive Dyson unit and includes a heater but not an air quality sensor. It draws 50 to 60 watts of power on cool mode, and 1,500 watts on heat mode. According to a fellow RVer, who has the Dyson Hot Cool Link (which is the same as the HP01 but also sends data to an app), “Run it no higher than speed 5. Otherwise, it just bypasses air and doesn’t filter fully.”
The IQAir [Atem Desk Personal Air Purifier] is made by the same brand that publishes popular air tracking maps that provide a 5-day air quality forecast. I noticed on the comparison chart on Amazon that their Car Air Purifier was better with smoke than the desk purifier.
I called customer support for guidance, and they shared that I could use the car filter in the desk model if I wanted to have the desk stand and plug it into a 110-volt AC outlet. However, since most RVs have 12-volt DC outlets, the car purifier might be the better choice.
Air Quality Monitors
In addition to an air purifier, I chose to invest in an air quality monitor. Air quality monitors are used to measure particulate matter, including the fine particles (called PM 2.5) found in wildfire smoke and airborne ash. A 2017 study states that “short-term exposure to wildfire-specific PM 2.5 was associated with risk of respiratory diseases in the elderly population in the Western U.S. during severe smoke days.”
Knowing what is in your air can help you develop a game plan for how to best mitigate it. In addition to particulate matter, some monitors can also detect carbon dioxide (CO2) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in your indoor air. VOCs can cause cancer, damage to the nervous system, and damage to major organs. They’re released from burning fuel (such as wood, gasoline, and coal) and many consumer products.
Some days, it’s impossible to avoid going outside despite an unhealthy or hazardous air quality rating. If you must venture outside your camper during a wildfire, the EPA recommends choosing “a ‘particulate respirator’ that has been tested and approved by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). It will have the words ‘NIOSH’ and either “N95” or “P100” printed on it.”
To dig in a bit deeper, 3M has a resource that outlines the suggested respirators for the different phases of a wildfire. I purchased the 3M Medium Half Facepiece Reusable Respirator 7502/37082(AAD) (which was tested and approved by the NIOSH) and paired it with a 3M Particulate Filter P100.
With a long wildfire season ahead of us, I hope that you are safe and finding ways to be healthy this summer.
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