Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Question: Regarding HEPA air filters for homes, how effective are they in protecting our lungs from smoke particulates? Any recommendations on how to use them? 

— Santa Barbara-area resident Kristen Kovacs

Santa Barbara County Public Health officials say the Thomas Fire has caused the worst air quality ever recorded, prompting handouts of N-95 masks and recommendations for people to leave town or stay inside, if possible. 

The masks are disposable and easy to use, just make sure they have an airtight seal around the face, officials say. 

To get more information regarding the use of HEPA filters, I went to the Public Health Department and Air Pollution Control District for answers, including Health Officer Dr. Charity Dean and APCD spokeswoman Lyz Hoffman.  

They suggest creating a “clean air room” in your residence by purchasing an air cleaner with a HEPA air filter and putting into a designated room. The devices should say what square-foot area they work for, and are available online if local stores are out of stock. 

Adding to that, having one room with clean air gives lungs a break, and using a bedroom means sleeping in clean air, Dean said at Tuesday’s community meeting at San Marcos High School.

To keep more unhealthy air out, people can try to create seals by placing towels under doors and tape around windows if they are letting in air. 

Dean said to qualify as HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters, they need to remove 99.97 percent of large and fine particles, down to size of 0.3 microns. 

If people aren’t able to purchase a HEPA filter, or feel like indoor air quality still isn’t healthy, they should consider leaving the area until air quality improves, if possible, Public Health officials have said. 

They also caution people not to start cleaning up ash yet, since it’s still falling.

Santa Barbara County does have tips for cleaning ash, like avoiding skin contact and using a vacuum with a HEPA filter for indoor areas.

“Please do not use leaf blowers,” Dean noted.

She also reminded people that it’s the tiny, invisible particles that are harmful, not necessarily the visible smoke and ash in the air and on the ground. 

Check daily air quality here, along with a smoke forecast.

Click here for current N-95 mask distribution sites and information about wearing them correctly. ​

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at gmagnoli@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at gmagnoli@noozhawk.com.