sharing our knowledge.
Photographic gallery.  Thousands of particles under the microscope.
Cigarette Ash

Cigarette Ash

This is a tapelift from a wall in the living room of a home with two people who smoked cigarettes in the home. The white agglomerated particle in the center of the field is an example of the "white ash" from a cigarette. Small fragments of charred leaf can be seen mixed in with the ash particle. The rhombohedral particle on the upper right of the ash particle is calcite associated with plaster and smaller calcite particles from recent construction in this home. Skin flakes, dog dander, bark fragments, and clothing fiber are also present.


Cigarette ash is the residue remaining after the burning of cigarette tobacco. Cigarette tobacco contains many more inorganic additives than other tobacco products in order to promote even and continuous burning. One of the major additives for this purpose is potassium nitrate. The result is the distinctive mix of highly birefringent inorganic derivatives and charred leaf residues in the ash.

Significance in the Environment:

The presence of these particles in an indoor environment indicates the presence of a person who smokes cigarettes. It does not necessarily indicate the smoking of cigarettes at this location. As the amount of cigarette ash increases it becomes increasingly probable that a cigarette is being burned at this location.

Characteristic Features:

Cigarette ash is a bit unique among the plant ashes because of the potassium nitrate and other substances added to the tobacco in a cigarette. The result is that the ash is associated with a significant amount of highly birefringent small crystals. Often the amount of charred plant matter is quite small compared to the associated mass of small highly birefringent crystals. The white ash is an agglomerated particle containing numerous individual particles ranging from about two micrometers to sub-micrometer in diameter. The individual particles are rounded rather than having any crystalline face evident. No background matrix material is evident but often there are traces of charred plant fragments present.

Associated Particles:

If there are a number of cigarette ash particles present in a sample then it increases the probability that some of the clusters of highly birefringent crystals seen in that environmental sample are from cigarette ash. Distinguishing between cigarette white ash, some sodium nitrate aerosols, some carpet adhesive decomposition products, some plaster or spackle dusts, etc. will require closer examination of the size distributions, shapes, and associated chemical phases in the agglomerated particle.