Wearing masks during wildfire smoke

Do N95 and KN95 Masks Help With Smoke? - What You Should Know

The N95 and KN95 masks are known for being the superior masks for protection against COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases, but many have been wondering, do they help protect us against harmful particles in smoke?

Yes, they can, but to varying degrees depending on the actual smoke. Essentially, their efficiency when it comes to smoke depends on both the type of smoke, and the concentration of the smoke particles. Some examples like wearing a mask and facing a small cooking fire is not the same as facing wildfire smoke, which is also different from smoke exposure from burning plastic, and so on.

Different Materials Burning Produces Different Kinds of Smoke

Essentially, there are five kinds of different fires that produce different kinds of smoke (besides cigarette smoke): smoke produced from the burning of wood or paper, plastics and synthetic materials, metal, electrical, and wildfires.

Wood or Paper

Let's get a little scientific: when wood or paper is burned, it can release a range of harmful particles, including fine particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These particles can cause a range of health problems, from eye irritation to respiratory issues. Extreme cases such as wildfire smoke can cause respiratory illnesses, so it's highly recommended to keep high-quality masks on hand during wildfire season.


When plastic is burned, it releases dioxins, furans, phthalates, and flame retardants, which can potentially increase the risk of cancer. When it comes to metal, it releases magnesium, titanium, or lithium burn, they can release toxic gasses and fine metal particles that can cause respiratory problems. These types of particulates result in high levels of air pollution, so it's highly recommended to wear high-quality masks for respiratory protection and even consider a portable air cleaner in commercial settings.

Electrical Fires and Wildfire Smoke

Electrical fires release polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which are found in some electrical equipment, and wildfire smoke can release carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and nitrogen oxides.

In general, it is obviously best to avoid exposure to wildfire smoke as much as possible, but if you happen to not have any other choice, do the N95 and KN95 masks provide adequate protection?

The general consensus amongst experts is yes, they provide protection and are definitely better than not having on a mask at all. These masks are designed to filter out at least 95% of airborne particles, including wildfire smoke and other pollutants.

Depending on the scale of the wildfire smoke and the level of air pollution, there are other kinds of smoke to watch out for more than others. Burning plastic, for example, can produce highly toxic smoke and other hazards that can be more harmful to inhale than wildfire smoke.

The good news is the worst kind of fire that a mask can do little to protect against is radiation fires, such as those involving nuclear materials, which may require specialized protective equipment beyond masks to defend against. Fortunately, the average person will not have to endure these highly toxic forms of fire in their lifetime, and otherwise, masks are a good idea with all other fires!

Do N95 Masks and KN95 Masks Filter Out Cigarette Smoke?

Yes! But again, it depends. N95 masks and KN95 masks can be effective at filtering out particles from cigarette smoke, but the effectiveness may vary depending on the specific mask type and size of the smoke particles. N95 and KN95 masks are designed to filter out at least 95% of airborne particles, including those produced by cigarette smoke, which contains tar, nicotine, carbon monoxide, and fine particulate matter (PM2.5).

As always though, being near a smoker in a public open space is very different from sitting close to a bunch of them in an open space. Just don't expect the mask to be 100% protective, but definitely do not underestimate their value in these situations, and if it can be avoided, stay away from smokers and smoking areas.

    WellBefore and You

    It's important to remember that the effectiveness of the mask against poor air quality from wildfire smoke, plastics, cigarettes, and others depends on the fit above all! You need to get a mask that is your size and seals the gaps between the mask and your face.

    WellBefore offers N95 and KN95 masks in a multitude of sizes, as well as with adjustable ear loops that further ensure that your mask is situated on your face. It's also critical to note that the effectiveness of the mask can be reduced over time as the filter is clogged with particles, so get yourself a pack of disposable masks to ensure you are always protected!