Smoke Chemistry

Chemical Composition of Smoke

Wood Smoke
Nancy Habbas/EyeEm/Getty Images

Smoke is something that we will deal with all throughout our lives, in everyday situations as well as in emergencies. But not all smoke is the same -- in fact, the smoke will vary depending upon what is being burned. So then what, exactly, is smoke made of?

Smoke consists of gasses and airborne particles produced as a result of combustion or burning. The specific chemicals depend on the fuel used to produce the fire.

Here is a look as some of the principal chemicals produced from wood smoke. Keep in mind, there are thousands of chemicals in smoke so the chemical composition of smoke is extremely complex.

Chemicals in Smoke

In addition to the chemicals listed in the table, wood smoke also contains a large amount of unreacted air, carbon dioxide, and water. It contains a variable amount of mold spores. VOCs are volatile organic compounds. Aldehydes found in wood smoke include formaldehyde, acrolein, propionaldehyde, butyraldehyde, acetaldehyde, and furfural. Alkyl benzenes found in wood smoke include toluene. Oxygenated monoaromatics include guaiacol, phenol, syringol and catechol. Numerous PAHs or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are found in smoke. Many trace elements are released.

Reference: 1993 EPA Report, A Summary of the Emissions Characterization and Noncancer Respiratory Effects of Wood Smoke, EPA-453/R-93-036

Chemical Composition of Wood Smoke

Chemicalg/kg Wood
carbon monoxide80-370
methane14-25
VOCs* (C2-C7)7-27
aldehydes0.6-5.4
substituted furans0.15-1.7
benzene0.6-4.0
alkyl benzenes1-6
acetic acid1.8-2.4
formic acid0.06-0.08
nitrogen oxides0.2-0.9
sulfur dioxide0.16-0.24
methyl chloride0.01-0.04
napthalene0.24-1.6
substituted napthalenes0.3-2.1
oxygenated monoaromatics1-7
total particle mass7-30
particulate organic carbon2-20
oxygenated PAHs0.15-1
Individual PAHs10-5-10-2
chlorinated dioxins1x10-5-4x10-5
normal alkanes (C24-C30)1x10-3-6x10-3
sodium3x10-3-2.8x10-2
magnesium2x10-4-3x10-3
aluminum1x10-4-2.4x10-2
silicon3x10-4-3.1x10-2
sulfur1x10-3-2.9x10-2
chlorine7x10-4-2.1x10-2
potassium3x10-3-8.6x10-2
calcium9x10-4-1.8x10-2
titanium4x10-5-3x10-3
vanadium2x10-5-4x10-3
chromium2x10-5-3x10-3
manganese7x10-5-4x10-3
iron3x10-4-5x10-3
nickel1x10-6-1x10-3
copper2x10-4-9x10-4
zinc7x10-4-8x10-3
bromine7x10-5-9x10-4
lead1x10-4-3x10-3
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Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Smoke Chemistry." ThoughtCo, Apr. 1, 2017, thoughtco.com/smoke-chemistry-607309. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2017, April 1). Smoke Chemistry. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/smoke-chemistry-607309 Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Smoke Chemistry." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/smoke-chemistry-607309 (accessed November 24, 2017).