The short answer is – Yes! Ozone generators can work on cigarette smoke. Running an ozone generator for several hours, depending on the severity of the issue, can eliminate every trace of tobacco smells. If cigarettes have only been used in the area for a few days, an ozone generator can eliminate the smell within an hour or less.
Unfortunately, ozone generators aren’t without fault. You might even have come across environmental crusaders championing a stop in the use of ozone generators. Many health experts have also contributed to the campaign against ozone generators with damning reports about the dangers ozone generators pose to human health.
Let’s get to the bottom of the matter to determine how ozone generators work, what makes them effective against cigarette smell, and the potential drawbacks to using an ozone generator in your home.
What are Ozone Generators?
Ozone generators are appliances designed to produce ozone intentionally. The appliances are commonly sold as air cleaners for commercial and residential use. Most manufacturers advertise their ozone generators as solutions that “disinfect, deodorize, remove, or kill dangerous or irritating airborne particles in indoor environments.
Ozone is a tiny molecule comprising three oxygen atoms. It’s highly reactive, which makes it unstable and potentially toxic gas.
The third oxygen atom in the ozone molecule can easily detach from the molecule and reattach to other substances, such as smoke particles and general odors. When it attaches to smoke particles, it transforms the particles into new particles, removing the particles and eliminating the associated smells.
How Ozone Generators Work
Ozone generators produce ozone by breaking oxygen molecules (O2) apart, leaving single, unstable oxygen atoms floating throughout the area. The unstable oxygen atoms then naturally attach to the few oxygen molecules left in the area, forming oxygen molecules with three rather than two atoms.
Breaking down healthy oxygen molecules can be done in two ways;
- Silent corona discharge: Silent corona discharge involves using machines that rely on electrical discharge to split normal oxygen molecules in the air into single atoms.
- Via UV radiation: This process is similar to how the sun’s ultraviolet radiation splits oxygen molecules to form individual oxygen atoms. It is less efficient than silent corona discharge.
The resulting ozone molecules chemically react with VOCs, bacteria, viruses, and other airborne pollutants to eliminate the order at the source. Unfortunately, research shows that the process is slow and sometimes ineffective. Therefore, to achieve the desired results, the ozone concentration must be higher than what’s considered safe to breathe.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is firmly against the use of ozone generators, has particularly reviewed scientific studies and concluded that ozone concentrations that don’t exceed what’s safe for human life are highly unlikely to remove odors. EPA notes that concentrations high enough to remove odors are typically high enough to cause damage to fabrics, plants, rubber, electrical wire coatings, and the pigments and dyes in some artwork. High ozone concentrations also pose multiple health risks.
To this end, technicians who deal with ozone generators generally require that everyone leave the house during the process. “It’s like breathing bleach,” says the owner of a Washington-based cigarette odor removal company.
Clients are also asked to remove all valuable items before the treatment. Above all, ozone generators are only operated by trained technicians – for a maximum of four hours. The operators usually the generator at a level that’s safe for wiring.
After the treatment, you’re required to leave the house closed for at least two full days to give the ozone particles time to do their work. Then the technician airs the space before people and pets can return to the house.
In an ideal scenario, you want to clean up the house first before ozone treatment begins. This often means removing and cleaning the carpet and carpet pads and scrubbing everything else, including the windows.
Once you move in after the ozone treatment, you’re typically asked to seal the walls and ceiling using oil paint. Some technicians also recommend oil or shellac-based primers followed by a fresh coat of whatever pain you prefer. Water-based paints aren’t recommended because they aren’t effective for this job.
Cost of Ozone Generator Treatment
You can easily purchase a modular, compact ozone generator from around $90 to $300. However, considering the level of pressing required and risks associated with running an ozone generator, it’s better to rent one from your local store and have a trained technician handle everything.
Ozone generator rentals start from $550 for 1,000 square feet to $2,000 for full-house applications. The cost may also vary depending on geographic location and the extent of the cigarette stench.
Are Ozone Generators Effective for Cigarette Smoke?
Yes, generally speaking, ozone generators work. Like other processes, they’re rarely 100% effective. However, they can remove cigarette smoke and associated odors.
Another way to look at it is that there’s no better alternative currently. Ozone is what takes away that smell. If you don’t do ozone, the cigarette smell will remain. Even a fresh coat of paint is unhelpful in cigarette smoke elimination without ozone. However, it works 99% of the time with ozone as long as the proper prepping is done.
Since the early 20th century, health experts have warned against the use of ozone generators. The professionals argue that just as ozone reacts with substances outside the human body, it can react with living tissue within your body.
According to EPA, ozone;
- Decreases lung function
- Aggravates asthma
- Causes throat irritation and cough
- Causes chest pain and shortness of breath
- Can cause inflammation of the lung tissue
- Increases susceptibility to respiratory infection
Take Precautions to Protect Yourself and Your Family
Unfortunately, sometimes ozone is your only option. This is especially true when you’ve just bought a house with a strong tobacco stench. Despite the long list of health risks and the potential to damage electrical wires and other items in your home, ozone can help eliminate the smell.
So, what do you do? Be careful.
If you must use it, begin by acknowledging that no agency or government agency approves the use of ozone generators in occupied spaces. This alone is a vital warning sign. You must take every measure possible to protect yourself, the people you love, your pets, plants in your house, and every item that ozone may damage. We recommend the following precautions;
- Go over your manual
This especially applies if you’re doing the ozone treatment yourself using a modular ozone generator. Read the manual and understand how the ozone generator works, the potential hazards, and how to best use the generator. The good news is that most manufacturers are truthful enough in their manuals to tell consumers that ozone isn’t 100% safe.
- Evacuate (and seal off) the area
You can run an ozone generator in a single room or the entire house. If you’re only concerned by one room, such as the reading room in the basement, evacuate the area and seal it off from other rooms. If possible, remove everything from that room, including electrical cables and cable extensions. If you’re treating the entire house, remove as many items as possible, especially your valuable possessions.
- Determine how long to run it
For smaller applications spanning just one room, you only need to run the ozone generator for 2-6 hours to achieve the desired results. However, a longer run time is required for larger applications. For example, if you need to treat the entire house, you may need to run the ozone generator for 26-30 hours and let the air conditioner and vent pull up the ozone gas and distribute it throughout the house.
- Cover your mouth and nose if re-entering the area
All modern ozone generators have a timer that you set and leave to re-enter the area during treatment. It helps protects the person operating the generator from the hazardous effects of ozone.
However, if you must re-enter the space, perhaps because your generator doesn’t have a timer, make sure to cover your mouth and nose with a towel and hold your breath, so you don’t breathe the ozone gas. Also, spend as little time as possible in the area under active treatment.
- Only go back when it’s safe
The owner’s manual will tell you how long to wait before you re-enter the treated area. For smaller applications, you can re-enter the area three hours after shutting the ozone generator.
However, for larger applications such as a whole-house treatment, the ozone may linger for longer. As such, you may need to wait at least two full days before re-entering the space.
First off, we can confidently say that ozone generators are, to a great degree, effective against cigarette smoke.
This is because the unstable ozone molecules quickly release unstable oxygen atoms that naturally attach to other available molecules, including cigarette particles, completely changing the molecular structure of these particles. This way, you effectively rid the area of the unwanted cigarette particle and the associated odors.
However, we must also admit that ozone generators aren’t 100% effective. The treatment may not completely remove all traces of cigarette smells. Additionally, ozone treatments expose us to a range of health risks, damage plants, and often cause discoloration.
Therefore, if you must use it, be careful. First, make sure you understand how the generator works. More importantly, stay away from the treatment area for at least three hours and evacuate your pets, plants, and valuable items too.