Electronics can be delicate and finicky things, with a laundry list of things that can cause them damage and/or impair their function.
Audio equipment is certainly no exception to this rule, so if you’re a smoker or use fog machines, or otherwise create smoke in your ambient environment, you might be wondering if this could be bad for the sensitive audio equipment exposed to the smoke.
Today we’re going to take a look at the facts surrounding audio equipment and smoke damage, so keep reading to have all your questions answered.
Can smoke around microphones cause problems?
In a word: yes. Smoke can cause damage to electronics of all sorts if it manages to seep into its inner workings, and given smoke’s airborne nature, it’s very good at doing just that.
Audio equipment is especially vulnerable to smoke damage because it’s generally out in the open and exposed.
It kind of has to be to do its job, after all; your microphone wouldn’t be much use if it was inside a protected box where it couldn’t pick up your voice, now would it?
Let’s take a look at the various ways smoke can cause damage to your electronics:
Smoke contact often leaves behind a thin black film with insulative properties.
Just about every electronic device emits heat, and when covered in insulation like the film smoke leaves behind, the heat won’t be able to dissipate into the surrounding environment as well, making your equipment more prone to overheating.
- Acidic Soot:
Smoke also carries soot with it, and deposits this soot onto surfaces it comes into contact with.
The acidity of the soot can cause corrosion damage, which can cause delicate connections in circuitry and wiring to stop functioning altogether.
- Magnetic Charge:
Smoke can also carry a slight magnetic charge, though how strong such a charge may be depends on the source of the smoke.
If strong enough, this slight ionic charge can cause failure to some electronics in a similar manner to passing a magnet over them. Hard drives are most susceptible to this kind of damage, but speakers and microphones typically function with magnets in some capacity, meaning they could likewise be susceptible to this type of damage.
What are the long-term effects of smoke around a microphone?
Most electronics, including your audio equipment, will be protected enough that one or two exposures will not adversely affect them right away.
So if you’re worried because a friend smoked a single cigarette near your microphone, or you burned incense one time and forgot to put away your audio devices, you can probably relax as your equipment should be alright from one or two brief exposures.
The real risk comes with continuous or repeated exposure. The soot and residue left behind by smoke can be very minimal with a short exposure and may even clear up over time, but can build up to a thick, corrosive, suffocating mess when exposed over and over again.
You may start to notice your equipment runs hotter than usual after some time exposed to smoke, and the quality of the audio signal may also gradually degrade.
With continued exposure beyond this point, eventually, the corrosion will reach fatal levels and your microphone and/or speakers will simply stop functioning entirely.
What’s more, any other electronics nearby will also accrue damage, so if that delicate audio setup is connected to a computer, the entire system could be at risk of fatal damage.
Notably, the source of the smoke has an impact on how damaging it will be. As a rule of thumb, cigarettes are often the most corrosive and damaging common source you typically need to worry about.
Smoke from incense or other sources will be less damaging, but smoke of any kind still has the potential to eventually cause fatal damage with repeated exposure.
So you’re best off stepping outside or at least into another room regardless of which type of smoke you’re creating.
What about fog machines for live shows, do they affect the mics?
After reading the above, you might be concerned about the safety of your audio equipment even if you don’t expose it to any of the common sources of smoke, but do use it around smoke machines, which are common in live music shows after all.
The good news is the “smoke” from fog machines, as you might guess from our use of quotes there, isn’t actually smoke at all, but a vapor produced through a variety of means depending on the type of fogger in use. Still, you might wonder if this fog could pose a risk to your equipment in some unforeseen way, so let’s take a look.
Different styles of fog machines will produce their signature billowing vapors in a variety of ways. The simplest and original method for this was to use dry ice, which is nothing more than frozen solid carbon dioxide, an inert, normally gaseous element found in the air we breathe.
Dry ice fog machines are less common these days.
If you do get ahold of one, the good news is these are about as harmless as they come: the CO2 produced by the machine will simply enter the atmosphere without leaving any damaging substances in its wake.
The other, more common category of fog machine these days is a fluid-fed fogger that you need to purchase a special liquid cocktail to refill the machine with.
The good news is these fog machines tend to be pretty harmless as well, however, it’s still worth taking a look at the ingredients of the fluid; if the fog machine uses a mineral-based liquid, it can leave an oily residue behind that will not cause any serious damage, but will require periodic cleaning from your equipment.
How do you clean a microphone used in a smoking environment?
First off: don’t use your microphone in a smoking environment in the first place. If you smoke, burn incense, etc, do it outdoors or at least in a separate room from your audio equipment.
Secondly, put your microphones in plastic bags when not in use.
This won’t necessarily protect them from smoke and you should still keep smoke out of your recording room, but it will help prevent dust and other particulates from building up.
And, if the room is somehow exposed to smoke by mistake, the extra layer of protection will certainly help.
All that being said, if you’ve already exposed your equipment to smoke, the good news is a careful cleaning can help. In fact, it’s a good idea to clean your equipment regularly anyway, as other factors beyond smoke, such as gradual accumulation of dust, can also hamper performance.
Let’s take a look at how to clean the two most common types of microphones you might be using. Do note that the usual disclaimer applies: clean your devices at your own risk and use caution and common sense.
How to Clean a Condenser Microphone
Condenser mics are one of the most common types of microphones out there these days, used in both casual and professional setups. Here’s how to clean a condenser microphone:
- With a soft-bristled toothbrush, you can very gently brush away dust from the microphone hole.
- Apply isopropyl alcohol to a soft microfiber cloth and clean the entire exterior surface of the microphone.
- DO NOT use any kind of spray cleaner on your microphone, and do NOT let the isopropyl alcohol get into any seams or orifices.
How to Clean a Ribbon Microphone
Ribbon microphones are much more delicate. There’s not as much you can do to clean them, so it’s best to avoid exposing them to damage in the first place.
To clean a ribbon mic, very gently wipe the exterior surface free of dust and particulate, and be especially careful not to push anything into the gap where the sound is picked up.
That’s about it; more intensive forms of cleaning would risk doing more harm than good. Keep your ribbon mic clean and boxed when not in use.
Is smoke generally bad for audio equipment?
As you have probably guessed by now if you’ve read everything above this point: yes, smoke, in general, is something you should keep away from your audio equipment.
If you engage in any smoke-producing habit, you’d be best off doing it outside or at the very least in a separate room, with the door to your audio room closed.
As the old proverb goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Keep smoke away from your audio equipment and you’ll be rewarded with crisp sound for hopefully a long time to come.