Does an Ionizer Remove the Smell of Smoke?

Do you live in a home that smells like cigarette smoke? Maybe you’re a smoker yourself, or maybe you’re a former smoker who bought a vape kit from a company like E-Cigarette Empire and quit smoking. Maybe you’re still a smoker, but you’d like to do what you can to make your home smell better. Perhaps you’ve never been a smoker, but you got a great deal on a home formerly owned by someone who smoked. You’ve looked into what it would cost to put the home through a major smoke remediation project, and there’s simply not enough room in the budget.

You’re looking for the least expensive way to remove the smell of smoke from the home, and you’ve seen ionizers that claim to purify the air at an incredibly affordable price – sometimes as low as $50 – and without the need to periodically buy new filters, they have no ongoing costs aside from the cost of the electricity needed to operate them.

So, here’s the big question: Does an ionizer remove the smell of smoke?

The short answer is that, as with many other things in life, buying an air purifier usually is a situation in which you get what you pay for. While all air purifiers do remove contaminants from the air, many experts advise against buying ionizers because they don’t improve air quality in a measurable way.

Here’s why.

How Do Air Ionizers Work?

An air ionizer works by filling the air with negatively charged ions. The ions stick to airborne particles such as the molecular components of smoke. The particles, now negatively charged, want to balance out their charges by finding and attaching themselves to positively charged surfaces. Conveniently, there’s a collection plate in the ionizer that has a positive charge. The negatively charged particles stick to the collection plate, and when the plate is full, you reset the ionizer back to its original state simply by wiping the plate clean with a cloth.

That’s the ideal scenario, anyway. In practice, though, many experts say that ionizers don’t quite work as advertised.

Why Aren’t Ionizers Effective for Removing the Smell of Smoke?

As great of a solution as ionizers may seem to be for removing the smell of smoke from a home, the unfortunate fact is that they seldom manage to achieve their ideal level of efficiency in the real world.

  • Aside from the much lower price compared to filter-based air purifiers, one of the biggest selling points of air ionizers is the fact that they operate in almost total silence. One of the reasons why a filter-based air purifier has a fan, though, is because the fan allows the device to purify a much greater volume of air. Without a fan, an air ionizer can only process the air that’s close to it. The negative ions won’t actually reach the other side of the room. Even if they do, the negatively charged particles in the air will be attracted to the nearest positively charged surface – and that won’t be the ionizer’s collection plate.
  • The next problem with air ionizers is that most of the particles that are negatively charged by the ionizer aren’t actually removed from the air via the collection plate. Instead, those particles stick to other positively charged surfaces, such as the walls, the floor and your television. If you find yourself cleaning the flat surfaces in your home more often after getting an ionizer, you now understand why. That problem is only compounded once the ionizer’s collection plate begins to fill; an ionizer begins to decrease greatly in efficiency as soon as the plate has just a bit of grime on it.
  • The final problem that effects the efficiency of ionizers is that the collection plate is just a small strip of metal, and anything that doesn’t stick to the plate isn’t actually removed from the room. Are you looking for an air purifier that makes smoke particles stick to your walls and floors? No, you’re not. Cigarette smoke is an extremely sticky and tenacious substance, and the fact that it sticks to surfaces is the problem you’re dealing with already. An ionizer will only make that problem worse. There’s a reason why filter-based air purifiers are so big and heavy; it’s because you need a lot of filter media to trap and remove the tiny airborne particles that cause unpleasant smells and aggravate allergies.

In short, the only thing an ionizer is potentially good for is minimizing the immediate effect of a cigarette as it’s being smoked, and the only way it’ll have any chance of having that effect is if you smoke right next to it. If you really want to remove the smell of smoke from a home, though, the only way you’re going to get a noticeable effect with an air purifier is if you use one with a fan and a HEPA filter stage. It’s also wise to choose a filter with an activated carbon stage that traps gaseous particles. Activated carbon works extremely well to remove unpleasant smells.

Did that statement about smoking next to an air ionizer give you an idea? You might want to think twice.

Air Ionizers Could Do More Harm Than Good

In addition to the fact that they aren’t actually very effective when it comes to purifying the air, ionizers have another potential problem in that they emit constant streams of ozone during operation. When the air ionizer craze reached its peak in the early 2000s, some people bought multiple ionizers for their homes and actually found that they had more trouble breathing than they had before they installed the ionizers. It’s likely that the high concentration of environmental ozone had something to do with that.

The good news is that many nations and states – California, for example – have enacted laws limiting the amount of ozone that an air ionizer can legally generate because ozone is a harmful compound that isn’t safe to inhale. However, experts caution that while most ionizers do emit less ozone than legally mandated, the concentration of ozone can still build up in a room that has poor air circulation.