Most of us spend around 90 percent of our lives indoors, yet the air we breathe inside is often two to five times more polluted than the air we breathe outside. Poor indoor air quality contributes to numerous health effects, including headaches, asthma, allergies, respiratory infections, and even lung cancer, so it’s important to recognize sources of indoor air pollution and the strategies that facilitate clean air.
WFP’s Take-Home Advice
The best way to avoid polluted indoor air is to control the source before it can compromise the air inside your home or office. We’ve provided some essential tips to help you reduce the air pollutants in your home and create a healthy living environment for you and your family:
- Cigarettes contain thousands of chemicals, many of which are carcinogens. When tobacco smoke permeates the air indoors, non-smokers are exposed to these chemicals in secondhand smoke. These substances also stay trapped in carpets, drapes, clothing, and furniture. To prevent exposure to secondhand and thirdhand smoke, avoid smoking indoors if you are a smoker.
- Leave your shoes at the door to minimize tracking in common air pollutants (molds and pollen) from outside.
- Sanitize, dust, and vacuum on a regular basis to help control dust, animal dander, bacteria, and viruses in enclosed areas. Use non-toxic, natural cleaning products to minimize exposure to products that off-gas chemicals, or VOCs (volatile organic compounds), and avoid commercial air fresheners. (For those who enjoy scented candles, stay away from standard paraffin wax candles and use all-natural, cleaner-burning beeswax or soy candles instead.)
- Many household products, such as pump hairsprays, nail polish remover, and even dry cleaning, can contain VOCs that permeate the air. Reduce exposure to these indoor air contaminates by using natural health and beauty products that don’t contain harsh chemicals. For dry cleaning, find a local, eco-friendly business that uses a non-toxic cleaning process.
- Use hypoallergenic bedding made with all-natural fibers to reduce exposure to dust mites and other allergens. Some of the best options are: organic cotton mattress pads, natural cotton dust mite covers, and wool or silk comforters. If down bedding is preferred, find a brand that has pre-washed the feathers to remove allergens.
- Choose bedding with a higher thread count, which helps block allergens, and routinely wash bedding on the hottest setting in the washer and dryer.
- Choose premium pleated high-efficiency air filters and change them every three months, though checking monthly for build-up is best. (Check the MERV filter rating to ensure the filter is compatible with your HVAC system.)
- Use an air cleaning system or air purifier. Ultraviolet (UV) light, activated carbon, electrostatic precipitator, and HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) systems are all passive purifiers, which means they clean only the air that filters through the system or circulates near it. True HEPA air cleaners filter out 99.97% of larger airborne particles such as pollen and animal dander. The label must say “true” for it to be a certified HEPA product. Active purifiers do not use a filtration system; rather, they create reactions in the air to clean it. Ionization and advanced photo catalytic oxidation (APCO) remove smaller airborne particles that filters cannot, for example, VOCs, viruses, and pesticides. When considering an air cleaning system, first determine the pollutants you need removed from your environment. Then look for a system that combines technologies. Consider safety regulations, maintenance, cost, the size of the room(s), and sound output of the system.
- Poor ventilation sets up an environment for mold and mildew. Increase ventilation and air circulation by running fans and opening windows. Use a dehumidifier or exhaust/ventilation fans in areas that accumulate moisture.
- Use a shower filter to limit the chlorine that escapes from bath water. Quality shower filters can be found at Mercola.com or www.crystalquest.com.
- Install carbon monoxide detectors near bedrooms.
- Don’t let your car idle in an attached garage or outside area.
- Be aware of building materials that off-gas glues, formaldehyde, and other toxic vapors, such as engineered/pressed wood, paint, carpet, and carpet pads. Solid wood products, bamboo and hardwood floors, and wool carpets are lower in VOCs. Use non-toxic paints called “low-VOC” or “non-VOC” paint.
- Bring in nature’s air purifier: houseplants! Areca and bamboo palms are excellent plant varieties that detoxify indoor air. (If you have pets, check that your houseplants are non-toxic to animals.) It is recommended to have 1 plant every 100 feet if possible. Houseplants not only help clean the air you breathe but also add beauty to your home.
Sources and References:
Environmental Protection Agency. An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). epa.gov. Retrieved September 2, 2015 from http://www.epa.gov/iaq/ia-intro.html#justice
Environmental Protection Agency. An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality (IAQ): Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). epa.gov. Retrieved September 3, 2015 from http://www.epa.gov/iaq/voc.html
American Lung Association. What’s in a Cigarette? lung.org. Retrieved September 2, 2015 from http://www.lung.org/stop-smoking/about-smoking/facts-figures/whats-in-a-cigarette.html
American Lung Association. Keep Pollution Out of Your Home. lung.org. Retrieved September 3, 2015 from http://www.lung.org/healthy-air/home/resources/keep-pollution-out-of-your-home.html
American College of Asthma, Allergies & Immunology. Types of Allergies: Dust Allergy. acaai.org. Retrieved September 2, 2015 from
Allergy Consumer Review. Air Purifiers: Everything You Need to Know But Were Afraid to Ask. allergyconsumerreview.com. Retrieved September 10, 2015 from http://www.allergyconsumerreview.com/airpurifiers-information.html#sthash.lAppG2UD.dpbs
Miller, S-J. (2012, May 21) Natural ways to purify the air indoors. Naturalnews.com. Retrieved September 2, 2015 from http://www.naturalnews.com/035961_air_quality_indoors_purification.html
Rysavy. T (2014, February) Are Your Candles Toxic? greenamerica.org. Retrieved September 2, 2015 from http://www.greenamerica.org/livinggreen/candles.cfm
Evans, S. Sleep Safely with Organic Bedding. greenlivingideas.com.
Retrieved September 3, 2015 from http://greenlivingideas.com/2008/01/27/sleep-safely-with-organic-bedding/