Monthly Archives: August 2022

What is Third-Hand Smoke? Is it Dangerous?

What is Third-Hand Smoke?  Is it Dangerous?

Smoke smells take a long time to dissipate.  I have bought wooden furniture, clothing, an SUV, and a couch from smokers (with months to years between these purchases) and I remember thinking at the time, this is not too bad.  This thought probably occurred after my sense of smell had already been deadened in the smoker’s home.  Then, I put the item in my car (or drove the SUV home) and thought, Ok, I just need to air it out well. Then, I got to my non-smoking home and realized WOW!  It was bad.  What do I need to do now?  Throw it out?  I gave the couch away to another smoker, but I managed to "salvage" the other things.  That was before I knew about the dangers of third-hand smoke.

For someone who is conditioned to recycle and reuse, throwing an item away may seem like an extreme measure, but you should consider what is making the smell.  It’s called third-hand smoke.  Smoke released in a room or car contains toxic chemicals like nicotine that cling to and penetrate walls, clothing, upholstery and other surfaces ( Results of a study published in 2010 found that when this nicotine reacts with nitrous acid in the air, it forms carcinogens, which are compounds that can cause cancer. (  It’s not clear how much damage third-hand smoke does to our bodies, but it can cause DNA breaks and is thought to be more dangerous to children.  Clearing third-hand smoke is not as easy as wiping down and airing out the item, because the “off-gassing” may occur over years. 

Sadly, we often have clients who need help dealing with smoke clean-up.  Here are some examples of how to clean smoke-contaminated items:

Ozone generators: Ozone is a proven way to remove smoke from surfaces and even within soft furnishings.  For years, hotels and auto detailers have relied on ozone generators to remove smoke from hotel rooms and cars quickly (in a matter of hours).  Because there are three oxygen atoms in an ozone molecule, it is unstable, and the extra oxygen molecule will break away and bind to other molecules, converting them to safer, less odorous molecules.  In the high concentrations that are needed to remove smells, the EPA warns that ozone can cause damage to our health, plants, rubber, electrical wire coatings, fabrics, and the dyes and pigments in some artwork.  Therefore, it’s not safe to breathe and should only be used for 2-4 hours and then the space sealed off for some time before ventilation (up to several days for maximum effect). (It’s tough to get rid of cigarette smells, but an ozone treatment can do it)

To get the most effectiveness out of the ozone treatment, all surfaces in the room or car should be thoroughly cleaned first, then you can use an ozone generator like this one to finish the smoke removal in small spaces.  The end of this video describes the safe use of the ozone generator in a car.

Vehicles:  Like couches and furniture, seat cushions don’t give up the smell very easily.  Here is an excellent video that recommends Citrol 266 used in a specific way to remove smoke permanently from fabric (but it's NOT for use on plastics).  

It’s important to realize that when the car ventilation is running, smoke can pollute the cabin air filter.  It’s best to replace the filter with a new one.

If the item is small and relatively inexpensive, you could consider tossing it and accepting the loss.  However, whole homes can be contaminated with third-hand smoke, and although costly, rehabilitation is quite possible.  

  • Carpeting and drapery is sometimes successfully cleaned with Citrol 266 at a 10:1 dilution (see video for application tips–don’t use on wood or plastics), or by using an ozone generator.  If not, these soft items should be removed and discarded because the chemicals from the smoke have penetrated to the padding, which is not accessible.
  • If removing and replacing the drywall is not an option, walls can be painted to seal in the odor by carefully cleaning and priming them before painting.  This article gives advice from a professional painter on painting smoke-impregnated walls.  He lists one non-toxic degreaser (Krud-Kutter), with an alternative more toxic one (TSP).  We would add that Earth Clean is an excellent non-toxic de-greaser that can be used on many other surfaces in the home even after the smoke is gone; the strength is customizable by adding water.  The primer (BIN) solvent completely evaporates and can be covered by any low-VOC paint.  
  • Ceilings can easily be overlooked, but they are just as (or more) smoke-absorbent than the walls!  If the ceiling is a popcorn ceiling or other decorative finish that is easily damaged by water and scrubbing, it's best to get professional help to remove it and resurface the drywall. Often popcorn texture was used to hide bad taping and floating jobs so you'll need help to get the ceiling looking good without this camouflage.
  • Hidden in your walls, ventilation ducts can hold a lot of third-hand smoke.  Particularly, the evaporator coil can trap dust and toxins, and is best cleaned by a technician (they can actually remove and clean it chemically).  This is different from cleaning the ducts alone.  If the ventilation ducts are internally insulated with fiberboard, this material is very difficult to clean safely, and the ducts may need to be replaced or encapsulated (sprayed with a coating that traps the toxins and prevents their release into the air).    
  • If you can clean the flooring with water and cleaner, it may take several rinses to get all of the nicotine and residual chemicals from the surface.  Vinegar can be helpful in this process, but again, non-toxic Earth Clean will lend professional strength to the job.  If the flooring cannot be cleaned by water, such as hardwoods, you can seal it with a number of safer products (see this article).  Professional remediation is possible but may require chemical stripping or sanding, which can release a lot of PM and VOCs.  As a last resort, you may need to budget flooring replacement! 
  • Finally, the insides of cupboards, undersides of tables, backsides of bookcases, insides of closets and mattresses are all overlooked places that smoke can hide.  Solid wood cupboards and furniture can be cleaned using Earth Clean also, but particle-board cupboards and furniture is likely to harbor even more smoke, and cleaning these with loads of water risks them soaking up water and becoming moldy. These places may be hard to clean but likely have a significant smoke reservoir.  If you can, adding a coat of sealer or primer (Earthpaint has a number of non-toxic sealers and primers) will finish the job.

It's all about thinking hard about where those wisps of smoke went and then going on a "seek and destroy" mission to eliminate them!

Photo by Daniele Fotia on Unsplash

Monitoring air quality for the sake of the youngest

Monitoring air quality for the sake of the youngest

There are so many things to avoid when you’re pregnant.  Alcohol and smoke are some of the top offenders, causing birth defects, neurodevelopmental disorders, pre-term birth and low birth weight.  Did you know that air pollution is also dangerous to expecting mothers and their infants?   

Of course, air pollution includes tobacco smoke, but it’s more than that.  Here are some of the other types of air pollution that pregnant women and newborns may be exposed to (

  • Asbestos, carbon monoxide, ozone and radon
  • Chemicals (including cleaning product fumes) and smoke from factories
  • Dust, mold and pollen
  • Fumes from paint and strong chemicals

These pollutants can impact the lung development of a fetus, making them more susceptible to diseases and conditions like asthma and obesity later in life.  Here are some specific ways babies are impacted:

  • Both babies whose mothers smoke while pregnant and babies who are exposed to secondhand smoke after birth are more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) than babies who are not exposed to cigarette smoke. (
  • Pollution from vehicle traffic has many different toxins in it.  In particular, sulfur dioxide (SO2) is a big contributor to infant death according to a 2019 study in the UK and Wales.  The risk of infant death was 19% higher with increaseing SO2, compared with 7% higher with increased exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and 4% higher with increased exposure to PM10.   

There are several ways to protect yourself while pregnant, and your infant after they are born (UT Southwestern Medical Center).

  • Check outdoor air quality at and avoid being outside when the air quality is low.
  • Add an air purifier with HEPA filter to your home and/or office, because although inside is safer than outdoors on a low air quality day, pollution like PM2.5 infiltrates buildings that are not highly sealed.
  • Stay away from smoke, including second-hand, third-hand and wildfire smoke.  

Knowing what we do about indoor air pollution, here are some surprising sources of indoor air pollution:

  • Cooking: Fine particulates can cause your kitchen to have worse air quality than many cities when you are using the stove, oven and/or toaster!  Make sure to use a kitchen exhaust vent that exhausts outside while cooking, baking and for 30 minutes afterward while the stove cools down.
  • Cleaning: switch over to non-toxic products so that you’re not putting harmful VOCs and chemicals into the air and onto surfaces.  TotalClean is a multi-purpose wonder cleaner for non-toxic cleaning, odor and stain removal!
  • Candles:  Still incredibly popular, conventional candles can release a number of toxins including phthalates used in fragrance (an endocrine disruptor) and formaldehyde (a known carcinogen). (  Try switching over to essential oil sprays and simmer pots to get the scent without the toxins (see our post).

Little lungs take time and clean air to develop properly, so it’s important to give them the best chance!

Some small plants can make a big difference!

Some small plants can make a big difference!

I have to admit that this post was inspired by an episode of Alone.  One of the participants boiled “Reindeer Moss” to eat.  That made me wonder, is moss good for anything else?

You will never see some of the best plants at filtering air pollution when strolling through the aisles at the local garden center or nursery.  Why?  Well, they just aren’t…popular.  If we only knew what they could do, maybe they would take front and center stage!

Moss: Ok, you may see moss at the garden center but it’s typically only used as a decoration to cover bare soil.  A couple of German entrepreneurs think it has a lot more to offer than decoration.  They have launched their business to bring moss walls to cities across Europe and around the world.  Moss walls are available in three configurations for installation in temporary or permanent displays.  Why moss?  

  • The moss walls filter up to 82% of fine dust from the air flowing through them.
  • Water vapor evaporates from the leaf surface of the moss, creating a cooling effect of up to 4 degrees C (about 7 deg F)
  • The moss wall also removes up to 355 kg of CO2 every year.

To make the most out of this amazing plant, fans draw in air through the moss and sensors monitor the health of the plants, providing automatic watering.  Sounds like we could use moss walls in the US!

Plankton: Unless you are a fish enthusiast, plankton is not usually very convenient to keep in your home.  Enter the Bio Orb, a glass container of bioluminescent phytoplankton, plankton that can produce light at night and fresh oxygen during the daytime.  Pyro Farms, is the maker of the Bio Orb, a glass sphere with a flat bottom and a specially designed stopper to allow air exchange but prevents excessive evaporation.  The Bio-Orb provides the ideal environment for growing PyroDinos (the bioluminescent phytoplankton) at home, in the office or at school.  (  Scientists estimate that all plant-plankton (phytoplankton) are responsible for more than 70% of the air we breathe, so keeping plankton in your home, school or office offsets your personal carbon output. (

Source: (

Lichen: I remember learning about this plant in biology and probably geography.  Pictures of reindeer munching on lichen in the tundra come to mind.  What I don’t remember learning is that it’s not actually just a plant, but a combination of two or three organisms: a fungus and green algae or cyanobacteria, often both.  The fungus provides the structure that determines the shape of the organism, while the algae and/or cyanobacteria  provide photosynthesis to feed both the fungus and the algae/bacteria.  There are three types of lichen growth, which have various abilities to absorb pollutants and concentrate heavy metals (  They are like natural sensors in the environment to tell us about the pollutants in the air. 

  • Crustose lichens are flat; since they have the least amount of surface area to absorb pollutants, they are the most abundant.

  • Foliose lichens have a leafy shape and tend to stand off the substrate (wood, rock, etc) a bit.  They have a little more surface area so are a little less tolerant to air pollution.

  • Fruticose lichens are like tender, miniature shrubs, having the most surface area.  These only thrive in pristine areas with minimal air pollution.  

Next time you are on a walk, look for moss and lichen.  They are small plants that can make big contributions to healthy air!

Two "Moss Trees", source

Going with your Gut

Going with your Gut

For several years now, I’ve been more aware of my health and doing my best to preserve it.  In the second half of 2020, I had a major health incident that “reset” my digestive system and life.  For reasons still unknown, I had lymph node swelling and pain in many places throughout my body, and I became very sensitive to gluten and lectins.  My energy plummeted and my active lifestyle generally slowed down to a crawl.  I’ve since regained some energy but my diet is still very limited.  A lot of HypoAir clients or their family members can relate to having these kinds of “limitations”.  How do we go forward?

I don’t want to make this article about all the symptoms, although many of my daily decisions are made to avoid symptoms.  I do want to talk about awareness and respect for the limitations of my body as I approach 50 years old.  Even if you are a super-healthy 30-something, it’s time to stop thinking that you are invincible!  The saying “the mind is willing but the body is weak” should be amended to “the mind is aware that the body is mortal”!

Yes, I used to be the one who rarely wore dust masks when sanding or spray-painting, pushed the envelope of squeezing working time into my week, and ate whatever I wanted to. Being thankful for all the knowledge I’ve acquired at HypoAir, it’s time to apply that knowledge to my own life.  Notwithstanding viruses, weather conditions and quantity of sleep, there is validity to the theory that if I feel “off”, it very well may be the air I’m breathing or the food I ate.  Here are some of the mental checks that can help to diagnose the source and correct the situation:

Your nose knows.  

  • If you’re smelling it, it’s already in your bloodstream.  For example, sometimes it’s easy to smell a gas leak, because the gas company adds a harmless odorant called “mercaptans” to help us know when it does leak.  That’s great, but what do we do after that first whiff?  We sniff around some more to try to find the source of the leak!  By the time you’ve determined where it is the strongest, you have probably already inhaled a good amount of the more harmful bulk of the gas, which may contain up to 21 toxins (  Similarly, the smells of car exhaust or gasoline mean that the harmful gasses have already entered our bloodstream by being absorbed through the lungs.  The takeaway?  Stop inhaling deeply and get out of the area as soon as possible.

  • Unless a product’s ingredients are listed and they are non-toxic, “good” smells can be deceiving.  Opt for the unscented, because you can usually add essential oils to make a wonderful scent of your own!  

  • “Stale” does mean too little ventilation.  Crack the window (if there is good quality air outside) and see what a difference it makes in the scent of the room, as well as your thinking ability (check out our post on CO2). 

  • “Musty” does mean mold.  According to the EPA, the musty smell is microbial volatile organic compounds (mVOCs), which means that mold is already growing in the building.  If you also check the humidity of the musty room and find that it’s high (above 65%), you can confirm your diagnosis with great accuracy even before finding the mold.

  • Listen to your body!  “Sick” buildings are not apparent to everyone, but your body will tell you when the building is not healthy for you.  For example, I worked once a week in a store where I had seen water coming through the ceiling after a hard rain.  Certain parts of the store smelled musty, and I tried to avoid staying too long in them.  Yet, fatigue was a routine part of my 4-hour shift.  When I started developing severe headaches after only several hours in the store, I knew I had to tender my resignation.  My health was not worth the small income that the job yielded. 

We really are what we eat (and what we eat it in).  

  • Is that dark stuff mold?  Yes, mold can hide in “fresh” food that you’ve just opened.  For example, nuts can be contaminated by mold and mycotoxins, which can get into the shell through the stem opening, or during storage after the nut is shelled.  Moldy nuts are particularly dangerous because they harbor a fungus called Aspergillus flavus, which, "produces one of the most deadly toxins known to humankind. The toxin accumulates in the liver and can cause liver cancer.” (Dr. Patrick Hickey, mold expert,  If the shells are intact and there’s no mold on the outside, you should be fine. 

    • Soaking the nuts in salt water removes mold and pesticides and makes them easier to digest.  Soak only the amount of nuts you will eat in a few days.

    • This article also recommends soaking nuts but then drying them to store them.

    • Here is a list of other foods that may be high in mold and what to do about them.

  • Not only does fast food contain ingredients that don’t play well with our bodies (like potassium bromate, propylene glycol, TBHQ, calcium sulfate, phosphate additives and BHT)(, even the wrappers have chemicals that do damage, like PFAS and phthalates. (

  • If it doesn’t look like the foods it came from, put it back!  Would you eat food that’s already been digested?  That sounds disgusting, but many foods on the supermarket aisles qualify to be in this new category: ultra-processed foods.  Ultra-processed foods are packaged foods that have been made by food companies using many manufactured ingredients, rather than actual foods. Those ingredients are combined in some way to make something that is edible, but it in no way maintains the integrity or nutritional content of the original foods. (  It’s best to limit these foods because they cause weight gain and have little nutritional value.  Examples are soft drinks, chips, chocolate, candy, ice-cream, sweetened breakfast cereals, packaged soups, chicken nuggets, hotdogs, fries and more. ( Here is a chart that shows how these are made:


  • Listen to your gut!  When I feel fatigued and my gut is irritated, I take a look back at what I ate the day before.  Sometimes foods do not outright make us sick, but they do not sit well and are not digested well.  When that happens, very little nutrients are absorbed and what comes out is not “normal”.  If this happens on a routine basis, start a food journal by writing down everything you eat and how you feel each day.  If you find a correlation between certain foods and your symptoms, take the (sometimes difficult) step to eliminate it from your diet and find a healthier substitute!  When you want to make a drastic improvement, Whole30 is a plan that is highly recommended by doctors and nutritionists to identify what is good for you to eat.

Does my lifestyle reflect the person I want to be?

  • Having a physically comfortable job is not always healthy.  I must admit, working from home has been good for my finances, and for the most part, my body.  Isolation protects us from viruses and bacteria to a large degree, and home can be extremely comfortable for casual dress and “office” surroundings. But, working at a computer for hours on end without significant movement is not good.  To avoid physical issues due to bad posture and poor circulation, It’s necessary to invest in a good chair and/or standing desk and set a timer to get up, stretch and move around once an hour.  
  • Adrenaline junkie + computer/phone job = poor health.  I liken this to the stock jockeys, the dispatchers, and yes, the customer service industry.  These are high-stress jobs, but without a physical outlet for the stress, the adrenaline produced continues to build up and cause inflammation and auto-immune problems.  Why?  Stress produces adrenaline in what is know as “fight or flight”. (see  Both of these actions traditionally are physical–you fight the intruder or you run away from the intruder.  But what if the stressful situation is the conversation with a customer on the other end of the phoneline, or a looming deadline and your computer is acting up?  All that stress and adrenaline are internalized (because you aren’t allowed to fight with your words!)  When this happens and you develop deteriorating physical symptoms, it’s time to talk with your employer about job modification, or look for a new job.  I know; I was a dispatcher for 2 years and a customer service representative for about 8 years.  Value your health and fight for it!
  • Does my schedule reflect my priorities?  Yes, it’s necessary to get that paycheck in order to pay the mortgage/rent/car note etc.  But along with valuing your health, value the priorities that cause you to prosper as a person.  Are you learning new skills and do you have the opportunity to use your natural abilities and passions in your job?  It may sound like a luxury, but a lower-paying job may be worth more in the long run when it is a job you really love and enjoy!  Consultants like can help you discover these priorities and make them a reality, even increasing your reach and impact in your community and industry. 

These are just some of the ways you can “go with your gut” in order to make wiser, healthier decisions that keep you moving onward and upward and not bogged down by ill health and ill emotions.  Ideally it shouldn’t take decades to start on this path, but it’s never too late to start!