Prepare for Wildfire Smoke by Creating a “Clean Air Room”

September 27, 2019

En Español

Lyz Hoffman, Public Information Officer, Air Pollution Control District, (805) 961-8819
Jackie Ruiz, Public Information Officer, Public Health Department, (805) 896-1057

Prepare for Wildfire Smoke by Creating a “Clean Air Room”
Tips for using air purifiers and masks

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — In recognition of September as National Preparedness Month, Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District (APCD) and Santa Barbara County Public Health Department encourage Santa Barbara County residents to plan for poor air quality conditions caused by future wildfire smoke. The smoke and ash from wildfires is made up of very small particles known as particulate matter, or PM. These particles can harm respiratory and cardiovascular systems, and children, seniors, pregnant women, and people with medical conditions are especially sensitive.

When smoke is present, it is important for everyone to avoid outdoor activities – making indoor air quality that much more important. Those who are unable to keep their indoor air clean during a wildfire should consider relocating to an area where the air is cleaner, even if only for a few hours. Symptoms of smoke exposure include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, chest tightness or pain, nausea, and unusual fatigue or lightheadedness.

Below are some tips to create a safe environment at home:

  • Create a “clean air room” with a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) air purifier. HEPA purifiers can reduce the amount of harmful particles indoors by approximately 90 percent.
    • HEPA air purifiers are available for purchase at home improvement stores and online. They come in various makes and models for various room sizes. The device should be used in a room where a lot of time is spent, such as a bedroom. A purifier the right size for an average bedroom starts at approximately $75.
    • Filters on HEPA air purifiers should be checked frequently and replaced as often as is indicated in the owner’s manual. The filters need to be replaced more often if used during a wildfire.
    • California Air Resources Board keeps a list of air purifiers confirmed as safe and legal for sale in the state:
    • A less expensive, but similarly effective, option involves attaching a MERV-rated filter to a box fan, which are both available at home improvement stores and online for a total cost of approximately $30-$40. Find instructions here:
  • If advised to stay indoors, keep windows and doors closed. If temperatures are high and there is no way to keep the home cool with the windows and doors closed, consider temporarily relocating until conditions improve.
    • Drink plenty of fluids to keep respiratory membranes moist during smoke events.
  • Run home and car air conditioners on recycle or recirculate. Keep the fresh air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent bringing additional smoke inside.
  • Consider several factors before using face masks. N-95 masks can be effective at reducing smoke exposure outdoors, but only if they fit properly. Surgical masks, scarves, bandanas, and other means of covering the mouth and nose are not effective and should not be used.
    • The N-95 mask must fit snugly around the nose and chin. For this reason, they should not be used on children or people with facial hair, as they won’t seal well enough to provide protection. An N-95 mask requires that an airtight seal be created around the edges of the mask once it is on the face and pressed into place across the nose.
    • Generally, if the air quality is poor enough to consider using an N-95 mask, it is best to stay in a “clean air room” indoors or temporarily relocate to somewhere with better conditions. The use of N-95 masks should not be used to extend time outside beyond what is absolutely necessary.
    • Individuals with heart and lung conditions should consult their health care provider before using an N-95 mask.


During wildfires, there are various ways to stay updated on local air quality conditions:

Sign up to receive air quality alerts from APCD and Public Health

Check hourly air quality conditions

air pollution control district logo

New Phone Numbers
The District has new direct lines for all staff, as well as for all of our phone lines, including our main phone number and Complaints line. You can find our new phone numbers on this webpage.

Nuevos números de teléfono
El Distrito tiene nuevos números de teléfono para comunicarse con el personal directamente, así como también para todas nuestras líneas telefónicas, incluyendo nuestro número principal y el de las Quejas. Puede encontrar nuestros nuevos números de teléfono en esta página web.