What absorbs cigarette smoke outside?

Cigarette smoke contains thousands of chemicals that can be harmful to both smokers and nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke. When cigarettes are smoked outside, the smoke diffuses into the surrounding air. However, there are several factors that can help absorb or filter cigarette smoke from the outside environment.


Plants are one of the best natural air filters. They absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen through photosynthesis. Some plants are particularly good at removing cigarette smoke and other air pollutants:

  • Peace lily – This plant is excellent at removing ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene from the air.
  • English ivy – Studies show this climbing vine can effectively filter airborne particles from cigarette smoke.
  • Bamboo palm – With wide, fan-like fronds, this plant is very efficient at absorbing cigarette smoke.
  • Snake plant – One of the top plants for filtering formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene.
  • Areca palm – The wide surface area of the fronds absorbs and traps toxins from cigarette smoke.

Other good options include spider plants, golden pothos, aloe vera, ficus, and philodendrons. The more plants, the better! Filling an outdoor space with leafy plants can help filter large amounts of cigarette smoke.

Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal is a highly porous material made from carbon. It has a sponge-like texture that causes it to effectively absorb odors and gases. Activated charcoal filters are commonly used in ventilation systems to remove cigarette smoke from the air. Placing containers of activated charcoal outside in smoking areas can help absorb smoke before it spreads.

How Activated Charcoal Works

Activated charcoal’s unique structure gives it an extremely high surface area. Just one gram of activated carbon can have a surface area of 500-1500 m2. This allows the material to adsorb smoke particles and gases efficiently. The many pores in activated charcoal trap cigarette smoke components as the air passes through.

Using Activated Charcoal Outside

Here are some tips for using activated charcoal to absorb cigarette smoke outside:

  • Use an activated charcoal filter or tray – Place these near seating/smoking areas. Replace the charcoal regularly.
  • Hang charcoal bags – Hang small sachets or bags of activated charcoal where smoke occurs.
  • Use in buckets – Fill outdoor trash cans or buckets halfway with activated charcoal to filter smoke.
  • Make charcoal air filters -Tape charcoal inside a box fan or insert panels into air vents.


Proper ventilation is key for clearing cigarette smoke from outdoor areas. Having open spaces allows smoke to readily diffuse and prevent heavy exposure in any one spot. Strategically placed fans can help direct smoke away from common gathering areas. Vents, screens, open roofs and shelters with large air exchange rates also facilitate smoke diffusion outdoors.

Using Fans for Ventilation

Fans help control airflow and cigarette smoke drift. Positioning fans strategically can direct smoke away from seating areas:

  • Use upward tilted fans – Tilting fans slightly upwards disperses smoke up and away.
  • Orient fans across the area – Positioning fans horizontally pushes smoke to the side.
  • Place fans near smoke sources – Put fans directly next to spots where people smoke to capture and ventilate the smoke.
  • Use strong airflow – High velocity fans help dilute and displace smoke quickly.

Designing Outdoor Spaces for Ventilation

The layout of outdoor spaces impacts their ventilation. Design elements to improve airflow and smoke removal include:

  • Avoiding enclosed, walled-off spaces
  • Adding awnings, screens and open-air shelters
  • Using vented, louvered roofs and pergolas
  • Installing fans and air intake vents
  • Positioning smoking areas away from entrances

Air Purifiers

Air purifiers are devices engineered to filter airborne particles and gases. High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) purifiers and activated carbon purifiers can help reduce cigarette smoke outside:

Portable Air Purifiers

Small portable air purifiers can be placed near seating areas to clean the air in a localized zone. They are compact enough to fit on tables and counters. Look for units designed for smoke removal.

Large In-duct Air Purifiers

More powerful in-duct air purifiers can be installed in ventilation systems to filter large volumes of air. They contain multiple filtration stages, including pre-filters, HEPA filters, and large amounts of activated carbon to absorb smoke.

DIY Box Fan Filters

Affixing HEPA and activated carbon filters to box fans makes a simple air purifying unit. The fan draws air through the filtration and expels cleaner air. These can effectively filter smoke if positioned correctly.

Barriers and Shelters

Using sheltering and barriers around smoking areas can help prevent the spread of cigarette smoke. This contains smoke in designated zones. Examples of barriers include:

  • Walls – Permanent/temporary walls around smoking spots limit smoke drift.
  • Screens – Screens act as breathable barriers to filter and dilute smoke.
  • Tents – Open-air tents help shield non-smoking zones from smoke.
  • Overhangs – Roof overhangs prevent smoke from entering adjacent doorways.
  • Glass panels – Glass partitions block smoke while still enabling visibility.

Barriers work best when designed with ventilation to direct smoke away from populated areas. Try combining barriers with fans, vents and air filtration.


Distance helps reduce cigarette smoke levels. Smoke particles disperse as they travel further from the source. Just a few meters can significantly lower exposure. Other tips for using distance include:

  • Move seating areas at least 6 meters (20 feet) from smoking zones.
  • Increase distance during events/crowds when more people are smoking.
  • Place smoking areas downwind to carry smoke away from crowds.
  • Avoid trapping smoke between structures like buildings/walls.

Maximizing the distance between smokers and non-smokers helps lower nonsmoker’s exposure to secondhand smoke irritants and odors.

Absorptive Materials and Fabrics

Certain materials are good at trapping cigarette smoke particles and odors as they pass through. Using them outside can help clean smoke from the air. Examples include:

Pollution-fighting Paints and Coatings

Specialized paints and coatings contain substances that absorb and neutralize cigarette smoke. Photocatalytic titanium dioxide is commonly used. When applied to walls, roofs, pavement and more, it can filter some smoke compounds from the air.

Air Filtering Fabrics

Fabric screens treated with activated carbon or catalysts can absorb smoke. These include shade sails, mesh fences, tarps, outdoor curtains and textile wall coverings.

Cigarette Smoke Sponge

Cigarette smoke sponges contain activated carbon suited for trapping smoke. Placing these on ashtrays and surfaces near smoking zones helps capture toxins.


Ozone generators release ozone gas to oxidize and neutralize odors and pollutants. While high levels of ozone are hazardous, these devices can potentially reduce residual cigarette smoke smell outside when used properly. However, ozone does not eliminate all smoke particles and gases.

Potential Risks

Ozone gas irritates the lungs. Prolonged exposure can worsen respiratory diseases. High levels produced by ozone generators can exceed public health standards. Ozone also reacts with chemicals in smoke to form other irritating compounds.

Safer Usage Tips

Here are some precautions for using ozone generators:

  • Only run with proper ventilation to prevent ozone accumulation.
  • Size the unit appropriately for the space with timers.
  • Place units away from seating/smoking areas to avoid direct ozone exposure.
  • Turn off when people are present.

Ozone can help remove residual odors but does not replace ventilation for active smoking.

Air Cleaning System Design

A well-designed air cleaning system uses multiple filtering methods to remove cigarette smoke particles, gases and odors:

Filtration Stages

Multi-stage air filters combine:

  • Pre-filters – Catch large particles
  • HEPA – Remove fine particles
  • Activated carbon – Absorb gases/odors
  • UV light – Inactivates microbes


Powerful fans and vents exchange and dilute smoke-filled air. This works alongside filtration to actively extract cigarette smoke.

Air Distribution

Smoke filtration units can be placed around outdoor smoking areas. Fans direct filtered air to seating zones to strategically control smoke drift.

With a well-planned layout and air system design, cigarette smoke can be cleared quickly from even crowded outdoor venues.

Avoiding Outdoor Smoking

The most effective solution is to avoid smoking in outdoor areas altogether. Here are some tips:

  • Prohibit smoking in outdoor dining areas.
  • Ban smoking in public outdoor venues like parks and beaches.
  • Provide designated distant smoking zones away from crowds.
  • Only allow smoking in enclosed shelters with separate ventilation.
  • Encourage vaping/smokeless tobacco use instead in outdoor spaces.
  • Post clear signage about non-smoking areas.

Going completely smoke-free outdoors is the best way to prevent exposure to cigarette smoke. With public smoking bans and distance limits, other air cleaning methods may not be needed.


Cigarette smoke can be effectively absorbed and filtered from outdoor areas through various methods. Plants, ventilation, air filtration and strategic barriers help capture and dilute smoke to protect nonsmokers. While outdoor smoke dissipates more readily than indoor smoke, taking steps to actively remove it creates healthier, more inviting public spaces. When possible, fully eliminating smoking from crowded outdoor venues provides the best public health protection.

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