If one is trying to escape from a house fire, one old-time recommendation is to soak a t-shirt in water and breathe through that to help filter out soot and smoke that could cause lung damage.

Modern houses contain many items made out of plastic, much of which contains nitrogen. When such plastics burn or smolder, they produce hydrogen cyanide gas, which is highly toxic.

Is there an improvement on the wet cloth precaution that will also help neutralize HCN gas?

  • 2
    Well, there are 2 things that cross my mind, although not the answer you expect: avoid plastic and avoid fire. That way, no more cyanide gas. However, I guess that the cyanide gas in those situations is one of the smaller problems - I have yet to hear about a person who died in a house fire because of cyanide poisoning - as opposed to burning, carbon monoxide, other smokes, being crushed by objects falling or the building collapsing...
    – virolino
    Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 6:50
  • @virolino says "the cyanide gas in those situations is one of the smaller problems". No it isn't; it's simply one of the less obvious problems. See the references I just added. Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 13:12
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    None of the sources you presented mentions HCN poisoning as the main cause of death - they just mention that the fire caused "some" HCN in their blood. That is what i said too: HCN is a problem, but it is not the most important. "direct relationship between the blood cyanide concentration and the resulting fire death" - relationship does not imply "main cause" or "only cause". Furthermore, a night club is not a home. A prison is not a home. While your question still has merit, you over-react with regard to the impact of HCN - compared to the other dangers.
    – virolino
    Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 14:09

1 Answer 1


Gimme Shelter Lifehack…

You cannot breathe through water soaked fabric. Air will not pass through water soaked fabric.

What you describe as a recommendation is ineffective at filtration and a good way to kill yourself. The technique of trying to breathe through a water-soaked fabric is what makes 'water-boarding' a torture used by Americans at Guantanamo Bay Navy Base to extract confessions from political prisoners. (Looking at you Ron DeSantis.)

What to do in case of a fire…

Should you become aware of a fire or hear a smoke detector alarm, first check for smoke coming under the door or through the heating and air conditioning ducts. Then, feel the door and doorknob. If they are not warm to the touch, and the room is free of uncontaminated air, it should be safe to wear a SMOKE SHELTER and proceed to nearest exit. Do not use an elevator as it can become a death trap.

If it is not safe to leave the room, but the air inside the room is clean, place wet towels and sheets (and water-soaked t-shirts) under the base of the door and block the heating and cooling ducts to prevent smoke from entering. It then may be possible to open a window to admit fresh air (if smoke is not rising from outside) and wait for assistance.
A SMOKE SHELTER should be put on immediately at the first sign of smoke entering the room.
Should the room already be filled with smoke making it impossible to use a SMOKE SHELTER, drop flat against the floor. Smoke rises, so the air is likely to be clear near the floor.

A "Smoke Shelter" — a simple large transparent bag with ties. It is a life-support air reservoir. In action, you gather breathable air and pull the inflated bag over your head to use as an air supply to use as you made your way to safety.

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While they aren't available on the market for sale now, you can fashion one for emergency use.

Good luck.

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