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Smoke can seem like a simple cloud that harmlessly vanishes into thin air. It is actually a complex substance that can be made from a wildly varied assortment of chemicals. That variety is because so many things, from ovens to cigarettes to cars, can make smoke, though the real danger is in what you cannot see.
Smoke does not evaporate. It is composed of solid particles, vaporized liquids, and gases. Particles will spread out and coat surrounding surfaces and vapor will cool and condense back to droplets. Gases will diffuse into the atmosphere, but much of what makes it up will remain in the area.
In this article, I will explain why smoke does not evaporate. I will also discuss what actually happens, what safety concerns there may be, and how you can address them to protect yourself and those closest to you.
Why Smoke Does Not Evaporate
Smoke is a mess of different chemicals. As it spreads out and cools over time, it gradually becomes too thin for you to see, but it is not gone. The smoke has broken down into some of its many parts. But then, in general, what are they?
Solids in Smoke
Smoke contains bits of material that were not completely burned away. This ash, or soot, is spread as the cloud expands and drifts down like a layer of gray snow that will stick to clothing, skin, hair, furniture, and more. These fine particles then mix with other air pollutants, leading to lingering smells and an increased risk of respiratory issues as more and more of this ash makes its home in your lungs.
Liquids in Smoke
As smoke is already a gas, it literally cannot go through the process of evaporation, where liquid is turned into a gas (vapor) either through applied heat or some other means. However, smoke does contain vapor and can leave behind a sticky wet residue as it cools back down. Vapor within the smoke will go through condensation, turning back from a gas into drops of liquid resin.
Have you ever wondered why so many homes and apartments do not allow smoking indoors? Condensation like this is a big reason. The liquid residue of cigarette smoke is a sticky orange substance called tar that, given enough time, can collect on the ceiling and bond to the paint on the walls. Not only is this unpleasant to look at, but the toxins can cause cancer and are often costly to clean.
Gases in Smoke
The exact make-up of smoke can depend on lots of factors. But, since items that make smoke almost universally contain carbon, there are some things you can count on. Thanks to this, relatively harmless gases like carbon dioxide usually live right alongside very dangerous ones like carbon monoxide within the smoke.
Odorless and colorless, this gas will stay perfectly invisible as it fills a room. Without proper ventilation, this substance can kill people, over 400 a year in the United States alone, sometimes before they even realize they are in danger. This is the main reason carbon monoxide detectors are required by law in so many places.
What Kind of Smoke Is Dangerous?
All smoke is dangerous. But, when you think of the hazards of smoke, cigarettes, and their well documented harmful effects are usually what come to mind. Cigarettes are made from a laundry list of thousands of harmful chemicals. They can cause everything from tooth decay to heart disease. However, they are not the only sources of air pollution.
Smoke in the form of exhaust from motor vehicles has a big impact on air quality. It contributes to what the World Health Organization estimates are 4.6 million deaths from air pollution every year. In fact, according to the EPA, even wood smoke from a fireplace is toxic, especially for children.
How Much Smoke Is Safe?
There really is no “safe” level of smoke exposure and the best cure is always prevention. That said, for most people, cutting all sources of smoke out of your life is neither practical nor realistic. While there honestly is not much you can do today about the air quality in your town or city, do not worry, I am here to help make your home a little bit safer.
How to Clean the Air
- Open your windows. What, too simple? Believe it or not, just having good ventilation goes a long way to managing your air quality. With the windows, open smoke can escape the confines of the space and carry contaminants with it before they can coat surfaces.
- Get a window fan. Honestly, get two. You can maximize your ventilation with a window fan like the Lasko 16” Window Fan from Amazon. From personal experience, these machines offer serious bang for your buck in terms of performance and quality. The reversible feature allows you to pull the bad air out quickly and a second unit will create a wind tunnel through your home that is also amazing for keeping cool.
- Turn on your AC. As it turns out, one of the strongest weapons in your arsenal might just be your air conditioner. If you have central air, the system works by pulling air out of your home through a filter, cooling it, and recirculating the chilled clean air.
- Use an air purifier. A HEPA filter is another great way to keep the air in your home clean. The best selling Levoit Air Purifier from Amazon is an excellent choice here. Fast and quiet, the machine can pull 99.97% of harmful particles out of the air.
How to Reduce Smoke
- Quit smoking. It is no secret that smoking is terrible for your health, but second and even third-hand smoke is nearly as bad for you. The toxins in the smoke you exhale settle into your hair and clothes, re-exposing you and anyone around you to dangerous chemicals. Vaping has been celebrated as a safe alternative, but medically, it is not much better. Cutting out this habit completely is the safest choice you can make.
- Have an indoor fireplace? Make sure you are using only quality wood for your fires and that the structure itself is free of obstructions and damage. If you are having an issue with fireplace smoke filling your home, you can also watch this youtube video that tackles some common problems fireplace owners face: https://youtu.be/QDrAwciSReQ
- Clean your oven. This one almost sounds silly, but by keeping your oven clean, especially around the burners, you can prevent old food from being burnt and casting off smoke in the process. You could also try avoiding olive oil when cooking because of its low smoke point.
- Take care of your car. The EPA issues emission standards for a reason. Get regular tune-ups, keep up with maintenance, and choose the right motor oil to keep your exhaust emissions low.
As harmless as it may seem when you cannot see it, smoke does not evaporate or disappear. Instead, it splits into gases, liquids, and ashes that are often quite toxic on their own. These substances can linger in your home and garage, soaking into your clothing and even your paint. Air pollution from these sources poses serious health hazards and can lead to long term harm for you and your family.
In the end, the best things you can do are to take steps to reduce the amount of smoke you create and how much of it you breathe in.