You sigh with relief as you get home to your sanctuary. What you might not realize is you may be taking a deep breath of pollutants. When many of us think of air pollution we think of cities with factories and lots of cars that lead to smog. Unfortunately, that is not the only air pollution we should be worried about. We should all be taking steps to improve indoor air quality for healthier homes for our families.
For many of us the air pollution we have to worry about more often is inside. The EPA noted that the average American spends 90% of their time indoors where levels of some pollutants are often 2-5 times higher than outside. (1) Sometimes these levels can be up to 100 times higher. These pollutants can come from inside or outside. As our buildings get old and worn there is a risk for pollutants that we no longer use or biological agents like mold. Even new homes are at risk with materials that are off-gassing contaminants and are built so efficient they have minimal ventilation.
What Are Common Indoor Air Pollutants?
We often talk about our toxic bucket and how it can get full making it harder for our body to detoxify. These toxins are all around us including the water we drink, the food we eat, products we use, and the air we breathe. Many of these toxins go undetected past the naked eye and right into our lungs. In fact, there are several common indoor air pollutants that are found in many homes.
These pollutants can cause immediate reactions that we may notice right away but not understand what is causing the reaction. These reactions can include sneezing, headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and other irritating symptoms. Your home’s air could be causing irritation and additional toxicity that can lead to serious illness. Pollutants can also trigger asthma or lead to cancer, heart disease, or respiratory illness.
These are the most common indoor air pollutants that can cause an immune reaction and affect your respiratory health.
- Dust and Dust Mites
- Formaldehyde and Building Materials
8 Ideas to Improve Indoor Air Quality
1) Change Your HVAC Filter
That means remember to change it regularly and make sure you have a quality filter. Out of sight often means out of mind but your HVAC system can do a lot to protect your indoor air quality if you let it. Most filters can remove large particles like pet dander, pollen, and other pollutants while a higher rated filter can remove even smaller particles. Filters can remove many particles but if they aren’t changed regularly it reduces their effectiveness and efficiency.
So, change your filter at least every 3 months and invest in a quality filter such as a HEPA or MERV 16 filter that is compatible with your system. If you are unsure what works with your system, then be sure to talk to a professional. Putting a filter in that doesn’t fit will restrict air flow which actually reduces filtration and could cause your system to break down.
2) Invest in an Air Purifier
There are a number of good air purifier brands out there, such as Molekule, that can further help filter out some of those pollutants. Over brand, it is more important to consider size of room, air exchange rate, and the size of particles removed. Put your air purifier in areas where you spend the most time like your bedroom and remember to change the filter on your air purifier!
3) Stick to the Cleaning Schedule
Your cleaning schedule plays a part in protecting your indoor air quality. When you dust and vacuum you remove dust, dust mites, mold, and other biological agents that are potential pollutants. Pay attention to those floors, linens, and curtains. Upgrading to a HEPA vacuum cleaner can also help trap some of those particles. Add a regular cleaning of closets and storage areas. If you aren’t using it and it’s just collecting dust (or even mold) then don’t keep it around the house or find a way to put it to use.
4) Upgrade Your Cleaning and Personal Products
What you might not realize is you might be polluting your indoor air every time you clean or even use your personal care products. Many popular brands of products we use regularly have VOCs. What are VOCs? Volatile organic compounds and these aren’t the good kind of organic. Some of these gases emitted from solids and liquids are linked to a number of adverse health effects.
Avoid aerosols, dryer sheets, candles, ingredients like fragrance and other products with questionable ingredients. We have some upgrade suggestions for cleaning supplies, lotions, laundry detergent, and a variety of other products. Some cleaning swaps like vinegar and water will actually save you money and you will know what the ingredients are.
5) Shop Green for Building Materials and Furniture
Building materials like pressed wood have the potential to release harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde. When shopping for carpeting, flooring, paint, building materials, furniture, and mattresses be aware that those products can release chemicals into your home for a few years. Consider purchasing greener materials or get thrifty with a reused find.
6) Don’t Let Pesticides In
The EPA noted a study that indicated that 80% of pesticide exposure happened in the home and that found measurable levels of a dozen pesticides in the air of homes. (2) Pesticides in the home are no good as they have been linked to cancer, hormone disruption, birth defects, nervous system toxicity, and antibiotic resistance. (3) Pesticides disrupt gut health and may be particularly damaging to developing children. So, leave the outdoor shoes at the door so they don’t track in pesticides and don’t use pesticides in your home to control bugs and rodents.
New homes are built more efficient and tighter but this reduces air flow. Make sure your home is getting a flow of outdoor air. If your heating and cooling system doesn’t bring fresh air into the house then find ways to ventilate your home. Use exhaust fans to remove toxins when cooking. Here’s your reason to open a window and get some fresh air! This helps to dilute and remove indoor air pollution.
8) Keep Mold Out
I’ve called mold the silent destroyer. If you see it then it’s already been circulating around your home. Mold can have devastating effects on your respiratory system and overall health. You need to make your house an inhospitable environment for mold. Mold grows well in wet, warm environments so keep your house dry. Clean up any flooding, excess water, and keep humidity below 50%. If you find mold be sure that it is properly remediated.
Taking steps to improve indoor air quality will make it easier to have a big sigh of relief at the end of the day. These steps will remove air pollutants that can cause an immune reaction and increase inflammation. Protecting your family’s respiratory health can help keep them breathing easy now and help their immune systems be ready for other unavoidable assaults.
Written by Dr. Patrick Flynn
Dr. Jason Nobles talks about Asthma in this video:
Resources for Improving Indoor Air Quality