What Commercial Air Filters can do for Secondhand Smoke?

Good air quality is essential to the well-being of humans and our environment. Considering that 90% of our time is spent indoors, Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) has a very significant impact on our health. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has created and implemented a set of standards and guidelines for commercial and industrial buildings with the goal of maximizing people’s safety in terms of internal air quality. Technically there is no safe level of exposure, but the EPA has outlined the limits and thresholds for certain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to try and keep us safe.

The EPA and Center for Disease Control (CDC) warns of something known as “environmental tobacco smoke (ETS),'' which is a fancy way of saying secondhand smoke (SHS), or involuntary smoking. While the current percentage of people who smoke cigarettes in the United States is under 20% (which is the lowest in quite a few decades), it is estimated that roughly 3,000 or more non-smoker deaths each year can be linked back to secondhand smoke exposure. Protecting the people in your commercial building from secondhand smoke is possible with a robust industrial air filtration system and a proper air filter.

If your main concern is the removal of cigarette pollutants from the air, then a carbon filter is what you are looking for. Carbon filters, like the V4-Bank Filter, specialize in removing fumes, tobacco smoke, exhaust, and other odors in general Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. These filters are designed to produce high airflows while efficiently removing particulates that contaminate the indoor air. They also do a great job of removing unwanted odors, including the smell of cigarette smoke.

When selecting a carbon filter, you’ll want to focus on the features of the media. Look for a filter that is carbon-loaded and uses non-woven synthetic fibers. These are woven together in the construction in order to improve the filtration of gases and odors. Make sure that the filter you purchase has a sturdy plastic frame that is free of any metal parts, as these can cause punctures in the media and corrosion. We have found that the filters with a pleated design are the most efficient at reducing pressure drops in the system which helps maximize efficiency.

When it comes to the danger of secondhand smoke, most of us are conditioned to associate the term with that of cigarette smoke. While cigarette smoking is certainly not helping the air quality or environment, they are not the only offender, and certainly not the worst.

One of the biggest problems we face in terms of air pollution is secondhand smoke from fires. California, for example, is still recovering from the unprecedented fires last year that heavily filled the airstream with horrible pollutants of all kinds. Local businesses have been forced to amp up their air filtration systems to compensate for the horrible air quality that was left in the wake of that disaster.

The CDC states that smoke from wildfires consists of fine particles and gasses from burning trees and other plant material. This type of secondhand smoke can cause irritation to the respiratory system and permanently damage the eyes. It has also been linked to the worsening of chronic conditions such as lung or heart disease. Unfortunately, in terms of air quality and pollution, a wildfire is the preferred option to an industrial or residential fire as the secondhand smoke released into the airstream is much more harmful to human health and can create elevated ozone levels. In an industrial setting, it is imperative that you protect your equipment and systems from acidic ash and smoke damage.

The key to dealing with unusually high levels of secondhand smoke is to first get a proper carbon filter and then clean or replace it regularly during peak pollution times. We mentioned carbon filters before, but specifically what you are looking for is an “Activated Carbon filter.” These types of carbon filters can remove odor producing VOCs such as:

● Smoke/Ash
● Diesel fumes
● Acetone
● Gasoline
● Naphtha
● Perchloroethylene
● Benzene
● Methylene
● Chloride
● Nitrobenzene
● Pyridine
● Chlorobenzene
● Methyl Chloroform
● Ozone Styrene
● Chloroform
● Methyl Ethyl Ketone
● Paint fumes
● Toluene

Maintaining your activated carbon filter is essential to its performance. When air pollution and secondhand smoke levels are high, your filter will fill with ash and smoke which can cause corrosion and other lingering odors in the media. It is essential to clean your filter regularly or replace it once it shows signs of corrosion.

Some filter manufacturers discourage the practice of cleaning filters, maybe to encourage more sales for themselves, or maybe because the filter is less effective after it has been cleaned, the world may never know. Some businesses find that it lowers operating costs to clean and reuse filters, so if your plan is to be frugal with your filter maintenance later on, be sure to invest in high-quality air filter upfront. If you decide to clean your air filters, make sure you consult the manufacturers suggestions and methods as it can be unsafe to clean a filter simply by “shaking out the dust.”


At the end of the day, if opening a window isn’t able to clear out the odor or smoke that plagues your building, you need an indoor industrial air filtration and ventilation system. Depending on where you live, current ETS levels are the equivalent of smoking 1-3 cigarettes a day just by breathing in the air around you. It is important to know that not all air filters are the same and that air filter choice is key to optimal internal air quality.

When focusing on removing secondhand smoke, an activated carbon like the V4-Bank Filter is the premiere choice and can clear the air of many of the harmful chemicals that smoking leaves behind. When choosing your filter you want one with a rigid construction and a strong, non-shedding, moisture resistant, and antimicrobial media. Don’t be afraid to invest in quality filter for long-term savings in energy and efficiency.


Advanced Filtration Concepts is a
Certified Veteran-Owned Small Business.