When most people hear the word “air pollution” they immediately think of the outdoors.
What usually comes to mind are images of smoke pouring out the top of industrial buildings and exhaust fumes coming from the tailpipes of automobiles. Hazy skies are also a tell-tale sign of polluted air.
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It seems like every other day there are news reports about how poor the air quality is around us and on extremely bad days the public is even advised to stay inside. This concern has become so widespread that AirNow.gov has developed an interactive map for reporting daily air quality levels across the U.S.
Unfortunately, what the media doesn’t tell you, and most people are not aware of, is the fact that the air inside your home can actually be up to 5 times worse than the outside environment. In some cases, it’s 100 times more polluted and includes all houses no matter where they’re located (rural and city centers).
If this comes as a shock to you, you’re not alone.
The truth is that while outdoor pollutants like the burning of fossil fuels are easy to spot there are numerous indoor toxins that are invisible to the naked eye. Just because you don’t see pollution doesn’t mean it’s not there and harming your health.
Another thing to keep in mind is that a majority of the population spends up to 90% of their time inside which makes poor indoor air quality a real threat to your well-being.
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The long-term health effects associated with breathing bad air include:
- Heart disease
- Lung cancer
- Kidney disease
- Liver damage
- Impaired mental function
- and more
Why is Indoor Air So Bad?
At this point, you’re probably wondering what makes the air inside our homes so horrible to breathe?
The simple answer is that buildings are being constructed to be more energy efficient than they were in the past. Part of this process includes making structures with tighter construction so there’s a lower chance of air leaking out.
The tighter a home is sealed the less energy is wasted trying to maintain a comfortable temperature.
While you may spend less money on your heating and cooling bills with this type of modern design, it does come at a cost of degrading the air that fills up your home. The reason being is that outdoor pollutants which make their way inside and toxins that originate from interior sources have no way to escape from an airtight house.
Sadly, every breath you might be taking inside your home could be more harmful than if you took that same breath outside.
The Top Sources of Indoor Air Pollutants
Fortunately, a lot of research has been done on the topic of indoor air pollution and we now know what the most common sources are for poor household air.
These sources include:
- Bacteria and viruses
- Smoke from tobacco, wood stoves, fireplaces and cooking
- Carbon monoxide
- Nitrogen dioxide from unvented or faulty gas appliances
- Animal dander
- Paints and varnishes that contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
- Cleaning chemicals, aerosol sprays and fresheners
- Adhesives, solvents and glues
- Furniture, carpeting and building materials that contain VOCs
Now that you have a better idea of what the sources are for indoor air pollution, it’s a good idea to start thinking of ways for how to handle them. We’ll address this issue next.
How to Improve Air Quality Inside Your Home
Although the list of indoor toxins is quite long, cleaning up your household air is not as hard as you may think. In fact, if you follow just a few simple guidelines you can rest assured that the air you breathe at home is safe as it can be.
Below are the top things you can do right now to improve your indoor air.
Store Paints and Strong Cleaners Outside
Surprisingly, once a paint can or other strong cleaning product that contains VOCs is opened, the fumes can still leak out through tiny cracks in the lid. Therefore, it’s always best to store these types of products outside and away from the house. If you do a lot of home improvements or have hobbies that use products with high levels of VOCs, you may want to consider investing in an outdoor shed for this purpose.
The next best option is to store these types of containers in a well-ventilated garage and place them at the farthest point away from where foot traffic occurs. This will reduce human exposure of any residual VOCs that may leak out over time.
If outdoor storage is not an option, you should highly consider ditching your high-VOC products and only purchasing low-odor or zero-VOC paint and cleaners in the future.
Stick to a Routine Cleaning Schedule
Every time you open your door to come inside or leave the house, outdoor pollutants such as carbon, allergens and bacteria can make their way indoors, and lower the air quality. Additionally, toxins sneak their way in by latching onto your clothing and then depositing themselves on interior surfaces as you move around.
If you own pets, their dander, saliva and feces coat much of your furnishings and floors, and this also reduces the quality of air you breathe. If your pets are allowed outdoors, they too can track in harmful contaminants on their fur and track them all over the house.
To keep your indoor air as healthy as possible it’s best to develop a regular cleaning schedule and stick to it. Make it a habit to dust every room on a weekly basis and use cleaning products that don’t contain VOCs.
Vacuuming your floors is also a must, but it’s essential that you use a vacuum cleaner that includes a HEPA filter. A HEPA filter is a special filter that’s designed to collect microscopic particles inside a fine mesh material. These filters are excellent at trapping pollen, bacteria, mold, dust, pet dander and more inside tiny woven fibers.
If you use a vacuum cleaner that doesn’t have a HEPA filter, then you risk the chance of spreading those harmful particles around the house each time you run it.
HEPA filters are certified to capture 99% of particles that contribute to bad indoor air quality. When you vacuum your home with a device that’s equipped with one of these filters, you can feel confident that the floors are being stripped of the most germs and toxins.
Invest in a Home Air Purifier
An air purifier is also a must-have item for anyone who is serious about producing the freshest air possible inside their home. While it’s true that houseplants are natural air purifiers that absorb toxins and release fresh oxygen back into the air, they’re really no match for an air cleaning device.
Like HEPA vacuum cleaners, high-quality air purifiers also use HEPA filters which makes these products 99% effective at cleaning the air around you. While a HEPA vacuum cleaner is designed to suck up harmful particles that have collected on the floor, a HEPA air purifier removes pollutants from the air you breathe.
If you want a home that’s free of the most contaminants, the best thing you can do is invest in both a HEPA air purifier and HEPA vacuum cleaner. This combination of household tools will strip your home of the largest number of pollutants and help you maintain the best health imaginable.
Before we leave this topic, one other thing you should be aware of is that some air purifiers don’t use HEPA filters, but rather a technology called “ionization” to purify the air. Ionic air purifiers such as these clean the air by emitting a steady stream of charged ions into the room that forms a bond with pollutants.
This electrostatic attraction weighs the toxins down and prevents them from staying airborne and getting into your lungs. The result of using an ionizer is that the contaminants land on the floor as opposed to being trapped inside a HEPA filter.
Due to their design, and inability to collect particles, ionic air purifiers are much cheaper than HEPA air purifiers. If cost is a concern you may want to consider purchasing this type of air cleaner instead of one that uses a HEPA filter. Homeairguides.com has a list of the top air purifiers in both categories and is a good place to start your research.
Ensure Proper Ventilation in the Kitchen and Bathrooms
For obvious reasons, kitchens and bathrooms are the most common places for smoke, mold and bacteria to accumulate.
Without proper ventilation, these areas can become breeding grounds for indoor toxins that can harm your health.
To stay safe, make sure that every time you cook on the stove (no matter how small the meal) that you turn on the exhaust fan over the range or open a window if it doesn’t have one. This may seem like a meaningless step, but it makes a big difference in the quality of air you breathe. In 55-70% of homes, the emissions of nitrogen dioxide from gas stoves often exceeds the levels deemed safe by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Similar advice applies to the bathroom. Whenever you use it to take a shower, always turn on the exhaust vent and keep it running for at least 30 minutes after a steam. Open a window if you don’t have a vent. This will remove as much moisture as possible from the bathroom and cut down on the chances of mold growing on the ceilings and walls.
When in Doubt, Perform an Indoor Air Test
By following the tips above, you can eliminate many of the hidden pollutants that build up inside your home and potentially cause harm to your health. However, you may be the type of person who really wants to know for sure just how good or bad the air is you’re breathing without taking any chances.
To satisfy your curiosity, there are DIY air quality testing kits you can purchase to examine household air.
The process for testing the air is simple:
- Order a kit
- Take samples of the air using the provided collector
- Return the samples by mail to the manufacturer’s lab
Within about 14 days you’ll have the results informing you of what toxins were found inside your house. Then, you can take the appropriate steps to eliminate them.
There are several brands that make indoor air testing kits such as Home Air Check, Air Oasis, Pro-Lab, etc. and each one offers a variety of kits to choose between. We won’t make any formal recommendations here because each manufacturer and kit has its own pros and cons, but no matter which one you buy the same thing will remain true – the air you breathe indoors won’t be a mystery any longer.