Have you ever thought about the quality of your indoor air? We tend to think of the air inside our homes as safe and clean… but the reality might surprise you. According to the EPA, our indoor environment is two to five times more toxic than our outdoor environment and on average Americans are spending about 90 percent of their lives indoors! Poor indoor air quality can lead to a variety of health problems, including allergies, respiratory issues, and even cancer. Fortunately, there are simple and effective ways to improve indoor air quality and create a healthier living environment for you and your family. In this blog post, I’ll share five easy ways to improve your indoor air quality.
Sources of Indoor Air Pollution
Indoor air pollution can come from all kinds of sources. A lack of proper ventilation can trap indoor air pollutants and allow them to accumulate. Stale indoor air can be a breeding ground for contaminants! Being aware of these toxic sources can help us to improve indoor air quality, a little at a time. Here are some sources of air pollution that might be in your home:
Smoking indoors is a major source of indoor air pollution. It releases harmful chemicals and particulate matter into the air, which can have severe health effects on both smokers and non-smokers. It’s fairly common knowledge that smoking is bad for you, but many people don’t understand the damage that second hand smoke can cause. It’s especially harmful for children.
Cooking & Heating Appliances
Gas stoves, fireplaces, and heaters can release pollutants like carbon monoxide (CO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) when not properly vented or maintained. Even electric stoves can produce indoor air pollutants when cooking at high temperatures. Carbon monoxide disrupts oxygen levels and cause many other symptoms. Research has shown that it causes direct damage to the heart and high levels lead to death (source). Nitrogen dioxide can cause eye, nose, throat, and respiratory tract irritation. Continued exposure to high nitrogen dioxide levels can potentially lead to acute or chronic bronchitis.
Household Cleaners and Chemicals
Many household cleaning products, paints, solvents, and air fresheners contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can off-gas into the indoor air. These chemicals can contribute to poor indoor air quality and can increase toxic load. It’s estimated that the average home contains about 63 synthetic chemicals for a total of about 10 gallons of hazardous material inside of just one home (source). Yikes!
New or poorly maintained building materials and furnishings can release VOCs. For example, formaldehyde is often found in pressed wood products and insulation materials.
Mold and Mildew
Damp and humid conditions in homes can lead to mold and mildew growth. These fungi release spores and mycotoxins into the air, which can trigger allergies and respiratory issues. If you suspect there is mold in your home, call in professionals who use green methods to take care of the issue. Mold is serious and should be treated right away!
Pollen and Outdoor Allergens
Allergens from outside, such as pollen, can enter your home through open windows and doors, on clothing, or by pets. These allergens can accumulate indoors and affect indoor air quality.
Skin flakes, urine, and saliva from pets can contain allergens that become suspended in the air. These can trigger allergies and asthma in susceptible individuals.
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that can seep into homes from the soil and rock underneath. Prolonged exposure to high levels of radon can increase the risk of lung cancer.
The use of pesticides indoors and outdoors can release harmful chemicals into the air. Integrated pest management practices and non-toxic alternatives should be considered to avoid harmful chemicals.
Candles and Incense
Burning candles and incense can release particulate matter and potentially harmful chemicals into the air, contributing to indoor air pollution. Consider using essential oil diffusers rather than scented candles.
Older homes may contain asbestos in insulation, floor tiles, and ceiling tiles. When disturbed, asbestos fibers can become airborne and pose serious health risks.
Health Risks of Poor Indoor Air Quality
Poor indoor air quality can have a range of adverse health effects, both short-term and long-term. Exposure to indoor air pollutants can impact different individuals differently, depending on factors such as their overall health, age, and the specific pollutants involved. Here are some common health risks associated with poor indoor air quality:
- Respiratory Problems
- Asthma Exacerbation
- Irritation of Eyes, Nose, and Throat
- Headaches and Fatigue
- Aggravation of Pre-existing Health Conditions
- Increased Risk of Respiratory Infections
- Developmental and Cognitive Effects (Especially in young Children)
- Long-Term Health Effects
Five Ways to Improve Your Indoor Air Quality
Yikes. Now that we’ve talked about sources of indoor air pollution, let’s see what we can do to clean up the air we are breathing!
1. Regular Ventilation
One of the simplest and most effective ways to improve indoor air quality is to make sure you are getting fresh air circulating often. Proper ventilation helps in removing indoor air pollutants and brings in fresh outdoor air. Here are some ways to achieve this:
- Open Windows and Doors: Whenever weather permits, open your windows and doors to allow fresh air to circulate through your home. This can help flush out indoor pollutants and renew the air inside. I try and open my windows for 20-30 minutes every day, even in the winter. Even when the air is cold it is always so fresh and clean.
- Use Exhaust Fans: In areas like the kitchen and bathroom, where pollutants like cooking fumes and moisture can accumulate, use exhaust fans to remove them directly outside.
- Invest in an Air Exchange System: If you live in an area with extreme weather conditions, consider installing an air exchange system. These systems help maintain indoor air quality by constantly bringing in fresh air while expelling stale air.
2. Invest in An Air Purifier
Air purifiers are devices designed to remove pollutants and allergens from the air, improving indoor air quality. They are particularly useful in homes with limited natural ventilation or in areas with high outdoor pollution levels. When choosing an air purifier, consider the following factors:
- Filter Type: HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filters are highly effective at capturing particles like dust, pollen, and pet dander. Some purifiers also come with activated carbon filters to absorb odors and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
- ACH: Air Charges per Hour. Experts recommend at least 4 air changes per hour for optimal removal of airborne particles from the air. Check to make sure your air purifier is cycling air frequently enough.
- Room Size: Make sure the air purifier you choose is appropriately sized for the room it will be used in. Most purifiers indicate the maximum room size they can handle.
- Noise Level: Some air purifiers can be noisy, so consider the noise level if you plan to place one in a bedroom or other quiet space.
- Maintenance: Regularly clean and replace the filters in your air purifier as recommended by the manufacturer to ensure it functions optimally.
My Air Purifier recommendation: AirDoctor
Not all Air Purifiers are created equal. The quality of your air filter matters! I’ve been using AirDoctor for almost a year in my home, and I’ve been really impressed by the results. It has helped reduce allergies and the amount of dirt and nasty particles that are in the filter are absolutely disgusting. To think that all those particles were originally floating around the air (and ending up in our lungs) is appalling! AirDoctor removes air particles 100 times smaller than the HEPA Standard, and has been tested and proven to remove airborne particles as small as 0.003 microns in size. They also have multiple sizes so you can choose the right one for the size of the room you are trying to filter.
3. Control Humidity
Maintaining the right level of humidity in your home is essential for good indoor air quality. High humidity can lead to mold growth and dust mites, while low humidity can dry out your respiratory system and increase the concentration of certain pollutants. To control humidity:
- Use a Dehumidifier: In humid climates or during wet seasons, a dehumidifier can help maintain a comfortable and healthy humidity level in your home.
- Use a Humidifier: In dry climates or during the winter when indoor heating systems can dry out the air, a humidifier can add moisture to the air to prevent dryness and discomfort.
- Monitor Humidity Levels: Invest in a hygrometer to monitor indoor humidity levels. Ideally, indoor relative humidity should be between 30% and 50%.
4. Use Indoor Plants to Improve Indoor Air Quality
Indoor plants not only add a touch of green, fresh life to your living space but can also help improve indoor air quality. Certain plants are known for their air-purifying properties, as they absorb pollutants and release oxygen. Some excellent choices for indoor plants include:
- Spider Plant: Effective at removing common pollutants like formaldehyde and xylene.
- Snake Plant (Mother-in-Law’s Tongue): Known for its air-purifying abilities, especially for removing formaldehyde and benzene.
- Peace Lily: Helps remove ammonia, benzene, and formaldehyde from the air.
- Aloe Vera: Known for its soothing properties, it also helps remove pollutants like formaldehyde and benzene.
- Boston Fern: Excellent at removing pollutants and adding humidity to the air.
- Bamboo Palm: Effective at removing airborne chemicals like formaldehyde and benzene.
Plants are one of my favorite ways to freshen indoor air because they are beautiful and natural!
5. Reduce Indoor Pollutants
This might seem obvious, but getting to the source of the indoor air pollutants and removing them is vital to improve indoor air quality. Several common indoor pollutants can significantly impact the quality of the air in your home. Here’s how you can reduce them:
- Tobacco Smoke: If you smoke, consider quitting or smoking outside. Secondhand smoke is a potent indoor air pollutant.
- Household Cleaners: Many household cleaning products contain chemicals that can release harmful VOCs into the air. Opt for natural, non-toxic cleaning alternatives. I love Thieves from Young Living as an all-purpose cleaner in my home.
- Pets: Pet dander, saliva, and urine can be allergenic. Regularly groom and clean up after your pets to reduce the presence of these allergens.
- Carpets and Upholstery: These can trap dust, allergens, and other pollutants. Vacuum and clean them regularly, and consider using a HEPA-filtered vacuum cleaner.
- Radon Gas: Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that can seep into your home from the ground. Consider testing your home for radon, and if levels are high, take steps to mitigate it.
How Do I Test My Indoor Air Quality?
Testing indoor air quality can be helpfull to assess the presence and levels of pollutants and to determine steps for cleaning the air. Several methods and tools are available to test IAQ, ranging from simple DIY options to more comprehensive professional assessments. Here are some common ways to test indoor air quality:
DIY Air Quality Monitors
Consumer-grade air quality monitors are available in the market and are designed for homeowners to monitor IAQ themselves. These monitors typically measure parameters like particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon dioxide (CO2), and humidity. They provide real-time data and can be a useful tool for identifying air quality issues.
Radon Testing Kits
Radon is a colorless, odorless, and radioactive gas that can seep into homes from the ground. These testing kits are available at hardware stores or online, and allow homeowners to collect air samples and send them to a lab for analysis. Long-term testing is often recommended for accurate results.
Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detectors
Install carbon monoxide detectors in your home, especially in areas near fuel-burning appliances, to alert you if there are elevated levels of CO. CO is a potentially lethal gas that can be emitted by malfunctioning appliances.
Mold Testing Kits
Mold testing kits can help identify the presence of mold in your home. These kits often involve collecting air or surface samples and sending them to a lab for analysis. Keep in mind that identifying mold is only part of the process; addressing the source of moisture and removing the mold are also essential.
For a comprehensive assessment of indoor air quality, consider hiring a professional indoor air quality consultant or environmental testing company. These professionals have specialized equipment and expertise to test for a wide range of pollutants, including mold, VOCs, formaldehyde, and more. They can provide detailed reports and recommendations for improving IAQ.
Ventilation and Air Exchange Testing
Professionals can conduct tests to assess the effectiveness of your ventilation systems and ensure that your home is adequately exchanging indoor air with fresh outdoor air. This is crucial for maintaining good IAQ.
These devices measure the number and size of airborne particles in your home, including dust, pollen, and other contaminants. Particle counters provide real-time data on particulate matter levels.
Gas detectors are used to identify the presence and levels of specific gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). They are particularly useful for homes with fuel-burning appliances.
Formaldehyde is often found in building materials and furnishings. Some professional IAQ assessments include formaldehyde testing to determine if it’s present at elevated levels.
When testing Indoor Air Quality, it’s essential to follow the instructions provided with the testing kits or equipment, as well as to interpret the results accurately. For more complex issues or if you’re unsure about the results, consider consulting with a professional IAQ expert for guidance and recommendations.
Improving indoor air quality is a crucial step toward creating a healthier and more comfortable living environment. By implementing these five easy steps, you can significantly reduce indoor air pollutants and allergens, making your home a safer place for you and your family. Whether it’s through proper ventilation, the use of air purifiers, humidity control, pollutant reduction, or the addition of air-purifying plants, taking these steps can have a positive impact on your well-being and overall quality of life. Don’t underestimate the power of clean indoor air!